Sitka’s walkable beauty

To enjoy cruising with my friends means to enjoy a lot of great food too. Which also means needing to do a lot of walking to keep up with my culinary intake. So… to help me with my walkies goal, this day’s shore excursion of choice took my cabin mate and me on a hike through a small part of the largest national forest in the United States: Tongass.

Encompassing a big chunk of the Pacific temperate rain forests, this gorgeously green place is home to five species of salmon—and their prey—as well as old growth trees, countless critters and floral varieties galore. And for a day, me—and our eager group of hikers…

Cause and care

Seeing an eagle in flight is a pretty cool thing—hunting, soaring or resting for just a moment on a tree branch, this beautiful raptor creates excitement for spectators with every glimpse. But when these feathered flying machines run into trouble—into cars, wires or other human obstacles—life becomes an instant struggle. Our first stop for the morning? A place that helps rehabilitate such birds of prey: the Alaska Raptor Center.

This wonderful nonprofit facility aids all injured raptors (and non-raptor birds too) with rescue, rehabilitation and rerelease into the wild, and has done so since 1980. Entering the building, our group was brought up to speed on the history of the organization, as well as raptor characteristics. But… how does one treat a bird of prey without compromising its chances of returning home? With a very sophisticated routine. And a pretty cool physical therapy room…

Entering the observation area of the raptors’ PT building meant we had to mind our manners. Not that the birds could see us, thanks to the one way mirror and camouflage netting. Recovering eagles (and other birds, like owls) receive their food—primarily salmon—twice daily, but no actual interaction with humans.

In an effort to reacclimate the birds to their natural environment, openings near the ceiling allow outside air and weather elements to enter the room. Perches and ropes of varying heights serve as PT equipment. The higher a bird can go, the readier it is to go home. But what about those who can no longer make the climb?

Outside the building, just behind the PT room, we observed the raptors’ “retirement” facility. These retirees have rooms and netted areas open to the sky. They also receive quit a bit of human interaction, participating in educational events like field trips—even traveling on airplanes and making guest appearances in the lower 48!

Canopy and culture

Leaving the Raptor Center, we continued our journey on foot, heading for the next leg of our adventure: the Sitka National Historical Park. Honoring both the native Tlingit tribe and the Russian settlers of Sitka, this park features beautiful wide trails, lots of totem poles, historical and wildlife placards—and TONS of salmon.

While I expected to see our fishy friends swimming upstream, I did not expect to see them—so many of them—just chillin. From our trail’s footbridge, it was easy to spot Pink and Chum salmon in the shallow water, resting. Preparing. It was as if they were waiting for a starting gun to fire…

Walking along under this incredible canopy of trees, our guide Dana talked about the salmon, fish-loving bears and eagles, and the forest itself: the trees, plants and flowers, and the importance of the rainforest’s existence that keeps it all in balance.

Exiting the forest, we came to the park’s visitor center. And gift shop! I picked up two pairs of earrings featuring both the eagle and the raven—birds that symbolize a key balance in the representation and harmony of the Tlingit people.

Colony and church

Continuing our on-foot adventure, we followed the Sitka Sea Walk along the marina toward the city’s center. We stopped at a few points of interest along the way, one in particular that claims space on the National Register of Historic Places: St. Peters-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.

Completed in 1899, this rustically attractive place of Christian worship features a Star of David at the center of its gorgeous rose window. Truth be told, it wasn’t the religious symbol the Episcopalians requested on the order form. A slight mix-up at the factory.

But… given the craftsmanship and time put into this beautiful stained glass feature—and the distance it had to travel from the East Coast to Sitka (no Panama Canal back then), they decided to keep it. Respectfully, they came to honor the window’s symboled Star as a reminder of their own faith’s very beginnings.

Do you know that Russia’s presence in Sitka lasted over 100 years? Initially drawn to this area for fur trading, Russian settlers planted roots in this coastal Alaskan town, establishing a colony and creating their own home in the New World. We found out a little more as we approached the city’s center…

Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, established 1837 and now a national historic landmark, houses several pieces of very old Russian-American art. Under the beautiful green domes, a fire in 1966 claimed most of the original structure, but not before many of the priceless artifacts were rescued by some very daring souls.

Chips and coffee

Having worked up an appetite—specifically for fish & chips—my friend and I asked our tour guide for a recommendation. Her choice? The Sitka Hotel Restaurant and Lounge.

Not too far from the cathedral, we located its wooden façade and walked in. Clever driftwood art decorated the walls, with Mason jar lights illuminating the seating area. We found our table, placed our order and enjoyed some of the best fish & chips I’ve ever had!

To round out my Sitka mealtime, I topped off my tank with a latte from A Little Something espresso. A colorful place that serves an excellent cup of joe.

Our walkies adventure over, we made our way to the shuttle stop and awaited our ride back to the ship. Reflecting on our day, I couldn’t stop thinking about the clear stream, teeming with salmon, waiting for the next—possibility last—leg of their journey, just to complete their circle of life.

Except for a few bear and eagle interrupting their trip, I hope these fishy friends of the Tongass will always have that chance. J 🌲

 

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Up-n-down Juneau

Between the Gastineau Channel and the bases of Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau sits Alaska’s capital city: Juneau. Bearing a closer resemblance to a quaint coastal village than to a US government seat, this Southeast Alaskan hub packs a lot into its limited—and somewhat unreachable—locale.

At a recent cruise stop, I was able to experience a few of the literal highs and lows this town has to offer. While my cabin mate headed for Mendenhall Glacier, I opted for afternoon tea—about 1800 feet up…

Waterfront

Looking for a shore excursion that included a tour guide’s expertise (but also allowed for personal wandering time downtown) lead me to Gastineau Guiding’s Town, Tram & Timberline Trek. Our first stop? Saying hello to Tahku, the Humpback whale, who greats all his visitors with a splash roughly every few minutes.

This impressive fountain and statue—a beautiful life-like replica—lives at Overstreet Park, near the Juneau-Douglas Bridge. The statue’s detail is incredible, from the full breach pose down to the whale’s barnacles. Tahku came to town to help celebrate Alaska’s 50th anniversary of statehood. He’s simply gorgeous!

Upslope

After waving goodbye to Tahku, we headed to our mountainous mode of transportation: the Mount Roberts Tramway. Our sophisticated coach in the sky took us 1800 feet up (giving us spectacular views in the process!) to the next leg of our adventure: the Alpine Loop Trail.

Jocelyn—our fantastic guide—lead us along this meandering 1.5 mile path from the subalpine to the alpine level of Mount Roberts, bringing us up to speed on native plants and trees, the people of Juneau (native and otherwise), and also the “bear” facts, should we encounter any of the large fuzzy critters…

The views from the trail were amazing! The Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock provided natural frames for many a photo, including those I took of the cruise ships docked in the channel waaaaaaaay below our mountain perch. Several trees along the trail also sported carvings—stories being shared with each passerby…

Time for tea! One of my favorite events of any day, our little group of hikers entered the Alpine Tea Room, and enjoyed a few locally made teas, along with jams made from Alaskan berries and plants. My favorite brew was the Alaskan Wild Rose tea. And yes, I made a purchase of this item (plus a few other odds and ends) at their gift shop in the Mount Roberts Nature Center. Don’t judge…

Downtown

After returning to sea level via the tram, I made my way through the very walkable streets of Juneau to a rather famous watering hole: the Red Dog Saloon. Known as the oldest tourist attraction in town, it definitely has that “come inside” appeal. A friend and former Juneau resident suggested I stop in for a drink. Well, I didn’t want to let her down…

 

Meeting up with my cabin mate, we “bellied up to the bar” (…no—really! Not one table available; just two bar stools…), ordered our drinks and nosh, then swung around every so often to enjoy the live music. The sawdust on the floor politely hid the dirt from my hiking shoes. The décor on walls distracted us—in a fun way—from getting too carried away in conversation. One novelty in particular caught my eye: Wyatt Earp’s gun, framed and unclaimed behind the bar. Legendary!

While enjoying the sights and sounds of this happening place from the comfort of my own bar stool, I very much enjoyed my Copper River Queso and Chips as well (made with a ton of white cheddar!), along with a nice white Chardonnay all the way from California. But before you think I wimped out on having a real saloon drink, we ordered the penultimate shot: a Duck Fart…

You heard me! One part Kahlua, one part Bailey’s Irish Cream and one part Whiskey. After seeing this drink promoted just about everywhere in Alaska, I knew I couldn’t head back to the lower 48 without adding this experience to my memory bank. Truth be told, it was delicious! I now have a new favorite shot glass beverage, along with a copy of the recipe on a Red Dog Saloon magnet souvenir…

Our short-but-sweet trip to Juneau complete, we headed back to the ship. By sea or by air—the only two ways in and out of this capital city. Even though arrival and departure methods are a bit limited, a trek to this town is well worth the effort. And a Duck Fart at the Red Dog is worth it too… J 🥃

 

Awaiting grape things

Ah, springtime… Well into the season, everything’s abloom. It’s fun to happen upon flowers, fully awake from their long winter’s nap, sporting vibrant colors as the birds and bees do their thing, performing for Mother Nature.

Fields, on the other hand, seem a little quite. Cleaned up and seeded, they play a bit of a waiting game before taking center stage in autumn. For me, grapevines fall into this category.

Branches trimmed, far from sprouting their signature coils and marbles of fruity goodness, appear rather dormant. But when I take a closer look, I can see the subtle beginnings of their amazing journey…

The wine

East of the Cascades, Interstate 90 and the Columbia River meet up very near a favorite place of mine: Cave B. Next door neighbors to the Gorge Amphitheatre, Cave B’s 100+ acres of AVA vines enjoy one of the best views in the state.

Conveniently, Cave B has two tasting rooms where you can sample the fruits of their labor: one in Woodinville—quite the hub for wine tasting—and one in Quincy—nestled in full view of their vines. Wanting to hit the road for a girls weekend, their vineyard locale in Quincy was an easy choice…

Pulling into the property, I noticed how well the buildings—rounded and earth toned—blend in with the rocky, sage covered hillsides. Beautiful! Entering the large, circular tasting room, we found a lively group of patrons enjoying their wine flights. Before approaching the bar, we perused the merchandise.

Wine selections complete, we carried our glasses outside. What an amazing view! Sipping our vino as the sun was setting behind Cave B’s own Stage B Amphitheater, we couldn’t think of a better way to relax. Ah—but time to check in…

The inn

Just down the hill from the tasting room sits the Cave B Inn & Spa Resort. Elegant and unassuming, the lobby, restaurant—and each room—face the Columbia River and accompanying desert terrain. For the adventurous, hiking trails will take you all the way to the water. But for a little relaxation and pampering, there’s always the spa.

Talk about picturesque! The rooms blend in beautifully with the rocky hillsides. After checking in, we drove down a narrow road to our Cavern Room and dropped off our things. Floor-to-ceiling windows allowed us to continue enjoying the view. But we were getting hungry, so up the hill and through the grapevines we walked until we came to the restaurant…

Just off the lobby, we found Tendrils. Matching the inn’s motif, the restaurant and bar feature delicious food and beverage choices, which made narrowing down our selections a bit of a challenge—a good problem to have. We enjoyed chatting with the staff, trying their recommendations of wine pairings when we just couldn’t decide…

Tendrils also features a sit down breakfast Monday-Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. The bar also serves coffee drinks. I loved sipping my hand crafted latte on their patio!

The terrain

Between meals (and wine tasting), we walked the property and hiking trails for a bit of exercise. There’s something very relaxing and peaceful about the desert spring air and rocky hillsides that surround the vineyard and inn.

The vines, looking more brown than green at this stage, still proved fascinating. Signage helped us identify wine grapes “in progress” nearest to the inn, which gave our imaginations something to look forward.

In a world of instant gratification, the wine grapes remind us that they will take the seasons they need to prepare for their own showtime. It’s as if they were saying to us, “Please be patient. Good things come to those who wait.” Sound advice from our vineyard friends… J 🍷

The Wild West

“Wide, open spaces.” “Riding off into the sunset.” “Go west, young man.” When you hear these old familiar phrases, what comes to mind? For me—rugged terrain, dusty trails, ghost towns, saloons, wooden facades, careworn faces, tumbleweeds…and land. Lots of land, as far as the eye can see. Over the last couple of centuries, the quest to defend or claim the land “out west” has flavored our history books, stage and TV shows, and of course the silver screen.

Legends—part truth, part romance—helped immortalize the historical events that shaped this southwest corner of today’s United States. My recent visit to southern Arizona gave me a chance to see for myself how this desert way of life preserves some of its past in the present..

Whimsical history

Ever heard of the O.K. Corral—or Boothill? Well, a shootout near one lead to a few burials at the other, all in the city of Tombstone, “The town too tough to die.” A three-hour drive south of Phoenix placed us squarely back in time—1881 to be more specific. Our first stop: the Boothill Graveyard.

It’s first official name was the Tombstone Cemetery, giving a final resting place to many of the town’s early inhabitants. From 1878 until the late 1880s, law abiding citizens and criminals alike were buried here until a new cemetery opened in a different part of town. Very soon, the incoming population of what became known as “the old cemetery” slowed down considerably.

After decades of neglect, tremendous effort on the part of many local individuals and historians brought this burial site back to life (so to speak), replacing what was left of the old wooden markers with stone lookalikes. The name Boothill, most likely a product of the early western cinemas, stuck.

Walking the cemetery, plot guidebooks in hand, we learned a bit about how and why some of Boothill’s occupants met their demise. The harsh terrain surrounding this place was a grave reminder to me of just how tough day-to-day living could be, all those years ago.

Our guidebook indicated a few slightly familiar names located in Row 2: the Clantons and the McLaurys. Three of them died October 26, 1881—shot to death—in a vacant lot just behind a rather famous landmark: the O.K. Corral.

In 1877, Tombstone became a boomtown, thanks to its founder Ed Schieffelin and his discovery of silver. Even in the days before cell phones and social media, news traveled fast—that is, when instantaneous potential wealth was at stake.

Prospectors and other opportunists arrived by the hundreds, ready to seek their fortune. And this eclectic collection of people, massed in such a concentrated area, experienced their fare share of trouble. Enter, stage left, a trio of brothers: the McLaurys and the Clantons—the cowboys, and the Earps, along with one Doc Holliday—the law.

Weeks of heated arguments between the two sides culminated in a gunfight that somehow became famous. The location: a vacant lot behind the O.K. Corral. After just 30 seconds, Frank & Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were dead. We timed our visit just right…

Entering the O.K. Corral’s arena, we purchased tickets that also included a 24-minute multimedia presentation of the town’s history, along with a live outdoor stage re-enactment of the gunfight. We climbed into the grandstands and took our seats, awaiting an infamous fight.

As instructed by “the law,” we cheered for Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil & Morgan, and Doc Holliday. And booed “cowboys” Frank & Tom McLaury, and Billy & Ike Clanton. Before the first bullet flew, Ike managed to run to safety, but the rest of his clan were not so lucky.

Post “gunfight,” we enjoyed the theatre and the museum grounds, as well as walking around Tombstone, visiting its many shops and other attractions. We even stopped by their local newspaper office—now a museum too—with plenty of printed history and items to peruse.

Leaving town, we had a newfound appreciation for our automobile, giving us the opportunity to ride off—comfortably—into the sunset…

Wild beauty

Have you ever seen a saguaro cactus? As in up close? Found only in the Sonoran Desert, this monumental symbol of the Southwest can grow to over 40 feet tall and live close to 200 years. Scottsdale’s Pinnacle Peak Park fast became my favorite way to walk among these beautiful giants.

Entering the trail head, we began our climb toward the peak. Expertly maintained, the path wove us through a terrain featuring several different cactus types, along with many other desert dwelling plants and shrubbery. The trail also provided our mini hike with rock formations, informational placards—and one stunning view after another!

But, for me, the stars of the show were the saguaro. Striking in every way, their stillness was almost statue like. Given their height, they could very well dominate their surroundings—only they didn’t. Instead, saguaros were living in harmony with their trail neighbors—flora and fauna alike.

Western eatery

Whenever I’m in this part of the world, I use my internal divining rod of hunger (and my phone’s GPS) to locate the nearest In-N-Out Burger. This restaurant chain of fresh deliciousness has fed hungry burger fanatics “out west” since 1948. And—yippee!—there’s one in Scottsdale!

It’s a simple menu too: just three combo meals offered, but served up perfectly every time by a truly friendly and professional staff. And their eateries are always clean, inside and out. My go-to order: Combo #2 Cheeseburger, fries and a drink—usually iced tea for me… as always, it hit the spot.

There’s something magical about Arizona’s wide open spaces. The rugged beauty, the wild history and the sheer grit people needed (all those years ago) just to survive. Be it silver, lots of land or other opportunities, I wonder—in the 1800s—what did the residents think of their surroundings? If only the old saguaro could talk… J 🌵

 

 

Scenic San Juan

How is it that a popular tourist destination at the height of tourist season can seem so…unpopulated? Welcome to the San Juans.

Enjoying a couple of three-day August weekends here gave me the chance to explore this archipelago’s namesake: the island of San Juan itself.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed prior visits to San Juan, as well as trips to Orcas and Lopez islands too, and I always reach the same conclusion. Once we leave the ferry, where does everyone go?

The town

Inches from the dock, Friday Harbor greets ferry passengers as they disembark, ready to take them into its many unique stores, restaurants, inns and other attractions. And so much can be accessed via colorful, well maintained shop allies.

Pedestrian friendly, even near the dock, this town takes walkable to a whole new level. Plenty of sidewalks and crosswalks accommodate visitors. And the drivers exhibit patience I usually witness only in Canada.

The beaches

When you’re ready to get outta town, you won’t have far to go. Just a few minutes from Friday Harbor, we found ourselves driving along the island’s byways through farmlands, forests and hilly terrain on our way to the not so distant shoreline.

San Juan island is home to several beachfront state and local parks, all very nicely maintained. But if you’re looking for one that features a few extras—like whale watching from rocky cliffs—Lime Kiln Point State Park topped our list.

Truth be told, the Orcas that happened to be swimming by just as we reached the cliffs were the highlight of our park visit. Watching the pod make its way through the channel, so close to the shore, was a treat I’ll remember forever. Lucky for us, we could hear some of their calls too, as well as hear—and see—their blowholes in action. A few of the whales even popped their heads out of the water for a bit, as if to sneak a peek at us too. Talk about cool!

Near the cliffs, we found lots of illustrations and information posted about the Orcas, which was helpful in understanding more about these magnificent marine mammals. Lime Kiln also features an interpretive center near its picturesque lighthouse, and a snack stand.

If you’re looking for a beach where you can feel the sand between your toes, well… we discovered one of those too: Jackson Beach Park. A long stretch of beach, driftwood and sand awaited our arrival. And for anyone who’d like to have a picnic complete with a bonfire, Jackson Beach provides the necessary amenities.

Cattle Point—part of San Juan Island’s National Historic Park—features a little of both: rocky cliffs, and sandy beaches. And trails too. Such a pretty place! It’s worth a stop, just for the scenery.

The activities

A little more inland, we found fields of purple at the Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Approaching the end of the season, their plants still offered plenty of color and fun photo ops. The gift shop and treats counter provided ample shopping and munching opportunities, and the looping video programs and attractive displays made learning all about lavender fun and fragrant.

The winner here for me was the deliciously different lavender ice cream sandwich. Locally made vanilla lavender icy goodness squished between two double chocolate cookies…YUM! 😋

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If you’re in the mood for cuteness overload, check out the Krystal Acres Alpaca Country Store. Well, the cuteness is actually behind the store, roaming the fields. Alpacas—over 50 of them—didn’t seem to mind being photographed as they grazed, sauntered and otherwise enjoyed the day in their own mellow way. Some even seemed willing to strike a pose for our cameras!

Inside the store, we found beautiful wool garments (many imported from Peru), as well as yarn produced by our wooly photo models out back. As yarn is my weakness, I made a purchase. The yarn’s tags featured the photos and names of the Alpacas who provided the wool—how fun!

When we were ready for a sip of vino, we made our way to San Juan Vineyards. Under new management, this quiet, beautiful location features a brand new wine bar that runs the length of the historic school house—a structure featured on all their wine labels—with several stand up tables to accommodate many patrons.

After completing a wine tasting, my friends selected a bottle of their favorite. San Juan Vineyards also sells their wines on the ferries that service the islands; nice to see the success of their efforts expanding off the island.

Time to stretch our legs! The annual IslandRec 8.8k loop fun run celebrated its 41st year this month! And we were lucky enough to be a part of the event. Also lucky (for me), walking the route was perfectly acceptable. So I did, along with a friend who didn’t mind not competing for a placement ribbon…

A quiet yet well supervised course, water stations and event volunteers greeted us at almost every mile marker. And at the finish line, another annual event awaited our arrival: the San Juan County Fair.

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I love fairs! The exhibits, the animals, the food—and the competitions. Like chicken races. Nothing more adorable than watching young handlers release their fierce competitors at the words “Ready, set, GO!” Equally adorable is watching said handlers chase down and recapture their feathered friends, post race. (Okay, maybe more amusing than adorable…)

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The cuisine

Having a total of six days on San Juan allowed me the glorious opportunity to visit several eateries. Here’s a highlight of my favorites:

Vinney’s. When you’re in the mood for Italian food, this place tops my list—as in I wish it were closer to home! Excellent cuisine, great service and very popular with the locals. We dined here twice during one of my weekend trips.

The Cheesecake Café & Bakery. A dangerously delicious place. I enjoyed the ham & cheese croissants, lattes, and Nutella Rice Krispie treats. My friends enjoyed the cheesecakes—two of the many flavors, anyway. Tables available inside and out, in full view of the ferry dock, which just happens to be next door.

The Bean Café. Yummy lattes, cookies and more—just a very short walk from the dock. Seating inside and out, this location also features a TV displaying a live feed of the ferry dock; a noteworthy item for anyone timing an arrival or departure.

Blue Water Bar and Grill. When you’re up for seafood and wine, nachos and beer or something in between—all in full view of the dock—this is a great place to be.

McMillin’s. Located on the other end of the island in Roche Harbor, this place is worth the drive. An extensive menu and a wonderful view of its marina make it a great choice for an upscale lunch or an elegant evening.

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Downriggers. Facing Friday Harbor’s marina, very near the ferry dock, this is one of my favorites for a nice evening out. Excellent food and service; and excellent views too! We enjoyed watching float planes land behind arriving ferries, as well as dining in a lively—but not too loud—atmosphere.

From lively restaurants to quiet beaches, from Orca whales to wooly Alpacas, we enjoyed every inch of San Juan Island. And with plenty of elbow room too.

So are you ready for an island getaway? Come check out San Juan. The Orcas just might wave hello. J 🐳

 

 

An absent waterfall

Road trip. What comes to mind when you hear these words? Family vacations, away games, work, Grandma’s house? Campus tours, time with friends, or just seeking adventures?

In my life, I’ve enjoyed all these options, along with various degrees of traffic, car troubles, weather conditions and a variety of pass-the-time activities my parents would give us (in the days before handheld DVD players and smartphones).

But for me, there really is no better way to pass the time on a road trip than to enjoy the scenery. It’s always changing! Sometimes gradually, sometimes drastically, but decidedly different around each and every corner, curve and hill. Take, for example, the highways of Central Washington…

Dirt & rocks

Just east of the Cascade mountains, Central and Eastern Washington boast a wide variety of terrain: a dry desert climate, snowy winters, fertile soil for thriving agricultural crops, lakes and rivers for the recreation-minded vacationers and an abundance of wide-open spaces. And rocks. Big rocks, wide gorges, canyons and giant waterfalls—absent the water.

Noticing the many different layers of rock and sediment exposed to the elements, it’s easy for me to marvel at the geology, and to wonder. How did it all come to be?

In 1923, geologist J Harlen Bretz posed a theory about this region’s past that no one—not even his peers—would believe. His infamously dismissed statement? That a giant, catastrophic flood tore through this area, compliments of the Ice Age.

About 40 years after sharing his theory, and thankfully during his lifetime, aerial photography and satellite images proved Bretz right.

Water & ice

In Western Montana, during the Ice Age, a sheet of the ice blocked the Clark-Fork River, causing water from retreating glaciers to back up behind a dam of ice. Over time, this activity formed a glacial lake about 2000 feet deep.

Eventually the dam, about a half a mile high, could no longer contain this lake. The water—some 500 cubic miles of it—burst through the dam.

Making its way to the Pacific, the water traveled at speeds faster than 65 mph, carrying boulders and top soil along for the ride, depositing much of the dirt and sediment in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Eastern and Central Washington, stripped down to their lava bedrock, became carved out areas of canyons, gorges, and waterfalls.

Over a span of no more than two days, the rush of Lake Missoula (the Ice Age lake responsible for the flood) all but stopped. The “lake” was empty. In time, the waterlogged sections of Washington and Oregon settled into their newfound topography, and most of the temporary waterfalls dried up.

Before humans migrated to this section of North America, the ice-water-dam-flood pattern would repeat itself several times. Today, modern geologists, finding plenty of evidence in the canyon walls, coulees and rocky valleys, continue to prove Bretz right.

People & roads

Along highway 17 rests a particularly quiet, picturesque spot that features an excellent example of this catastrophically natural event: Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park & Visitor Center.

Visible from the road, the visitor center itself boasts the best view of Dry Falls. It’s totally worth the stop! Just a few steps from the parking lot, we were taking in one of the most spectacular and unobstructed views around.

Inside the center, we found museum-like exhibits, a theater running a documentary on Bretz and the area, large windows overlooking Dry Falls and a fun gift shop. Oh, and clean restrooms—an important discovery for any road trip.

Park rangers were available to answer questions about the history of the area, as well as help with recreational ideas. For anyone seeking a place to fish or play on or in the water—absent the large crowds—Sun Lakes has you covered. There’s even a golf course!

Food & drink*

When it was time to stop for a coffee, we found the perfect place. The Banks Lake Brew & Bistro sits just a few miles northeast of Dry Falls Visitor Center along highway 2 in Coulee City.

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Sharing its locale with a gas station, the bistro provides its patrons with a drive-through window, indoor seating, and a gift shop featuring crafts from local artists. And very yummy lattes, treats and entrees!

*Closed for the rest of this season due to a family emergency, Top Chef Concessions normally parks a very popular food trailer at Dry Falls Visitor Center. Top Chef’s trailer should be back in business at Dry Falls this coming spring.

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So, where are you heading on your next road trip? What will you tote along to pass the time?

Whatever your plans for your journey and your destination, remember to take in the scenery along the way. You just might discover something worth stopping for… J 🚗

 

Hutchinson Island Zen

Ah, summer—today’s the first day! The very name of the season evokes a Zen feeling. What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Zen?” Meditation, relaxation, calmness? Vacation—a break from the everyday life? Associated with Zen Buddhism, this powerful three-letter word enjoys a positive place in our modern vocabulary.

It has come to describe people, places and things that equate to feelings of clarity and control, brought about by experiencing wonder, beauty and life’s simple pleasures.

These Zen moments can last just long enough for us to catch our breath, recharge our batteries and return to our daily challenges with a bit more energy—a fresher pair of eyes.

For me, Zen equals Hutchinson Island, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. No matter what I have going on in my life, time spent here in this quite beautiful place always gives me the clarity and calmness I didn’t know I needed until I arrive.

While this locale is very vacation worthy (think long weekend or longer), sometimes I only have a day… but I’ll take it! Time to share my recent island Zen day with you.

Sea life

Cute and cuddly critters like puppies and kitties can give us that warm-and-fuzzy Zen feeling in our hearts almost instantly. But what about H2O critters? One visit to the Florida Oceanographic and Coastal Center’s stingray feeding program with melt your heart and calm your nerves quickly, as you learn how to pet and feed these entertaining rays.

Time for a pop quiz! Rays are a type of:

A) Fish
B) Dolphin
C) Shark

Answer: A) Fish! They’re just a lot flatter then your average finned swimmer. And these Coastal Center residents have their barbs filed down regularly, so there’s no chance for human visitors to be hurt.

My family and I have paid them many visits over the years, and we never tire of interacting with these amazing sea critters.

Along with the rays, rescued sea turtles and game fish enjoy ocean-fed pavilions and lagoons throughout the 57-acre property. The nature trail and visitors center—even a butterfly garden—and several hands-on displays help educate (as they entertain) patrons of all ages.

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Watching this facility grow over the years gives me a good feeling inside too. The employees are friendly, knowledgeable and dedicated to sharing what life is all about for their marine residents.

Past life

Directly across the street from the Coastal Center sits a modern museum with a flare for transportation: the Elliott Museum. Since their invention, classic cars from almost every decade are on display in a garage-type setting.

But before you happen upon these vehicles, you’ll find variations of bicycles as they evolved from styles of yesteryear, leading up to the most significant style of all: the precursor to the automobile. Sterling Elliot was the inventor and manufacturer of this pre-auto contraption. He managed to own quite a few patents, several having to do with modes of transportation. Many of his inventions greet you near the front entrance.

I enjoyed discovering those early bicycles and tricycles—many of their parts made from wood—as I made my way to the temporary exhibit: kites from around the world. I’d never thought of using these quiet, aerodynamic works of art to tell stories or share history, but show-and-tell they did.

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My price of admission to the Elliott Museum included entry to another museum a few miles down the road: the House of Refuge. So down the road I drove.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, walking into this structure was truly a step back in time. Located on one of the island’s backroads, the serenity of this area made it difficult to imagine the building’s once historical purpose: to serve as a haven for shipwrecked sailors.

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But the rocky beach was a reminder to me that the ease and success of navigation was largely dependent on the weather—and at what angle the shore and the ships met.

Beach life

Looking forward to dipping my toes in the sand, I headed north to Jensen Beach. Plenty of sand and shore awaited me, along with a very welcome ocean breeze. Time to stretch my legs!

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I start to relax just seeing this place from the parking lot. As I pass the Sand Dune Café (a nice walk-up by the way!) and head toward the water, I notice the most artful sandcastle I’ve ever seen: a sea monster of sorts 🦑, facing the ocean. Very impressive—kudos to the sculptor!

The monster facing the ocean. As I continued walking along the beach, I remembered some sage advice I hear often whenever I’m visiting the shore: never turn your back on the ocean. At least not when standing at its edge.

Ready for some refreshment and a little late lunch, I head a bit farther along the road to one of my favorite watering holes: Kyle G’s. Lucky for me, there was an available seat at the bar outside that included a perfect ocean view. James the bartender created a wonderful white sangria at my request. I enjoyed it very much, along with a delicious plate of fried oysters. My final Zen moment of the day.

Whatever your plans for summer, I hope you fit in a few activities designed to help you relax and recharge. Safe travels, and enjoy your Zen moments! J 🏖