Washington Adventures Part Deux

Another trip to Washington has come and gone, and once again I was treated to a mixed bag of weather, including some gloriously sunny (albeit chilly) days. I arrived in Seattle decked out in my newest winter coat: a calf-length, hooded down coat that feels like a form-fitting sleeping bag. Perfect! I learned a valuable lesson this winter…the best deals on absurd winter coats can be found in the desert. I stepped outside the airport swathed in my glorified Snuggie, only to watch locals traipse around in thin cotton long-sleeves, obviously enjoying their “seasonably warm” evening. This wasn’t the last time on my trip I felt ridiculously overdressed. Whatevs…a person needs time to acclimate, especially a scrawny, desert and beach-habituated person like myself!

The next few days were full of activity. There were a couple days when Andrew went to work pouring concrete, and I relaxed around the house with his family while he was gone. Otherwise I made sure we did our best to get outdoors when the weather allowed, and tried to find new things to do. We spent some time outdoors with Andrew’s sister and our little niece, planting some new blueberry bushes and peach trees. Andrew also worked hard pruning the apple and pear trees, and set up some suet to attract woodpeckers. We also spent time outdoors practicing archery, our new favorite pastime. Although I’m a much better shot with a gun, I have to say! I guess it’s a lot easier to aim when you have a sight to look through. We also took a few walks, some in the neighborhood and some through the woods. This part of Washington is wondrously full of gorgeous evergreen trees and ferns, and I don’t know if the novelty of all the greenery will ever wear off. I’m sure the novelty of grey days will be gone in a flash, however!

Andrew’s parents were generous enough to give us a night in Seattle at their timeshare, and so we packed a small bag and took the train into the city. It was a lot of fun to use the public transportation in Seattle. We used an above ground train, an underground train, and a monorail while we were there. Public transportation gives you a unique, more thorough view of any given city, partly because you are forced to walk between stations and experience the sidewalk culture firsthand. One thing I learned very quickly is you must avoid standing under the edges of the awnings, or you will quickly be drenched with dirty water. You must also not use an umbrella, and if you’re a real Seattlean (Seattler? Seattlian?) you don’t stand under the awnings at all. A little mist never hurt anyone!

We had a wonderful dinner at a hip place called Restaurant Zoe. If you are a foodie and you are in the area, I highly recommend this place! And make sure you order the duck confit. It was divine!! The chefs were amazing, and they even added little “extras” in between our courses, which made me feel very fancy indeed. After dinner we walked around the neighborhood and found our way into a very eclectic bar. I think their theme was some combination of Lucha Libre paraphernalia and photobooth pictures. Odd. We stopped in for a drink and to observe the locals in their native habitat.

The next day we headed over to Seattle Center area, where the famous Space Needle is located. We had gorgeous sunny weather, and enjoyed strolling around the grassy areas, absorbing as much UV rays as possible. We also caught a showing of the IMAX 3D movie about the Hubble space telescope. It was phenomenal! The images that they have procured from that thing are mind-blowing. After a huge brunch of eggs and hash browns at a very local, very divey, very excellent bar, we headed back home to Puyallup. And no, I still don’t know quite how to pronounce that.

Now I am back in Tucson, enjoying the warm (almost hot!) sunshine, but looking forward to a more permanent living situation with my husband. While I was up in Washington Andrew and I had a couple of “interviews” at organic farms. I don’t want to say too much, as we have some possibilities brewing at the moment and I’m afraid to jinx them. I hope to know soon what is in store, and if no farms pan out we have a pretty good backup plan involving working hard for the summer, going to Burning Man, and possibly visiting my parents in Australia next winter. Not too shabby of a “Plan B” if I do say so…  Fingers crossed that good things are a-brewin’ for your favorite traveling Ides!

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Ain’t Life Grand?

We entered Arizona on a blustery day, which led to several entertaining complications. Just as we crossed the border, Andrew yelled some profanities and I looked behind us to see that the hatchback to the trailer had managed to pop open. The latch for the hatchback had broken many miles and states before, but there was enough weight in the door to keep it down. I’m not sure if the wind is completely to blame, but for some reason the door had swung up and open, and so we pulled over to assess the damage. My first concern was for the coffee, especially since it had been so cold and wet these last few days and coffee has become my morning lifeblood. I ran back and saw that the coffee was still safe and sound, and assumed that meant everything else was in order. We secured the door with a bungee cord and continued on our way, unaware until later that we had actually lost four plastic cups and my vanilla sweetener somewhere down the highway.

The second funny thing happened when we pulled over at a scenic overlook so Andrew could make a sandwich. It was incredibly windy so I decided to stay in the truck while Andrew fought the wind. Apparently the wind won out, as I once again heard Andrew swearing. I opened my door in time to see bread, ham, and cheese go flying past. Andrew had set his sandwich down for a second on the tailgate and the wind had lifted it up and sent it sailing. Not one to let a good sandwich go to waste, Andrew put it back together after attempting to brush out the gravel. It turned out to be a rather crunchy sandwich, and he ate begrudgingly with a hearty side of grumbling.

We continued on into Northern Arizona, driving through the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation on our way to the Grand Canyon. Heavy, dark clouds loomed ahead, warning us of the cold, wet weather to come. I zoned out in the warm truck, delirious from lack of sleep and the physical exertion of our morning hike in Zion. On the radio we picked up a local Navajo station, and I was lulled into a spiritual stupor by the steady drumbeat and harmonic chanting as we passed increasingly impressive chasms and colorful canyons.

Our first order of duty upon entering the National Park was to take showers. We arrived at 5 PM, and only had one hour before the showers closed so we high-tailed it over to the laundry/shower facility.  I was still cold and damp from our rain-soaked hike, so I was prepared to spend $4 for 16 minutes of shower time. As I put in my first two dollars, the machine got jammed, and when I pushed with force one of my quarters popped back out. I don’t know what happened, but the shower started running, and not only was the water hot and wonderful, somehow the timer was disabled and so I was able to shower as long as I liked for $1.75. I was so stoked for this little bit of luck, I felt like I could go out and buy a lottery ticket and win the jackpot.

After our showers we were wonderfully warm and dry, just in time for the hail/sleet/snow to start falling. At this point we couldn’t imagine sitting outside in the cold trying to cook and enjoy our dinner, so we took advantage of how developed the Grand Canyon is and headed to a restaurant. We had a mediocre and overpriced meal, but I would have paid double just to sit inside and drink my spiked coffee. After dinner we went back to our campsite to let Zephyr run a bit, since he had been cooped up in the truck all day. As we shivered in the snow, Zephyr ran, romped, rolled, and shook about, in love with the weather. Being half husky he is naturally prepared for the cold, and his joy was palpable. That night I made a promise to Zephyr that I would never take him to Florida, or any tropical locale, ever again!

The next morning I awoke early to the eerie silence that accompanies bitterly cold weather. I bundled up and went outside to let Zephyr out, but was thwarted by the frozen truck doors. After a lot of yanking, pulling, and cursing I pried open the back door and let him out. I fed him and then grabbed his water bowl, only to find a thick layer of ice instead! We had some fun sliding on frozen puddles, and then packed up and headed to an overlook parking lot that was in the sun to cook our breakfast.

Sun aside it was a frigid morning, with a temperature of 27° F and a wind-chill of 18° F! We ate our breakfast quickly, and had a brisk walk along the Grand Canyon’s rim. We would have preferred to take a hike down into the canyon, but dogs are strictly forbidden and so we satisfied ourselves with the occasional rock scramble to get some good photos. After our stroll we loaded up and drove out into the chilly Northern Arizona day with our cold noses pointed south towards my native city of Tucson.

You Ought to See Utah

Utah is a land of many wonders, and so although we were sad to leave Moab and our friends, we were excited to check out more National Parks in the state. We headed west and arrived at Canyonlands National Park after dark, so we quickly set up camp and headed to bed. The next morning we drove through some of the scenic areas and parked at a trailhead where we made breakfast and enjoyed the sunshine. As we were sitting there quietly drinking our coffee I heard the unmistakable revving of engines in duress, and I looked up to see some awesome Jeep off-roaders heading up the cliff side. Canyonlands is one of the few National Parks that allows this kind of activity, and it was fun to watch these little vehicles with giant tires navigate rocky paths and boulders while driving at 70-degree angles. After breakfast we took a little stroll with Zephyr to check out some “pothole communities,” which are little holes in the rock that fill up with water in the rainy season and allow strange creatures to thrive. Unfortunately all of the potholes were dry, but we enjoyed the surrounding red rock “needles” and the fresh air.

After leaving Canyonlands we continued to head southwest through Utah. The geology of this mostly uninhabited region of the United States is phenomenal. We wished multiple times that we had a magic lamp we could rub to summon my geologist stepfather Dale, so we could learn about these amazing formations. The next National Park we hit was Capitol Reef, a park I had never even heard of before we arrived. It is a small park with similar geology to Canyonlands, but through the center of the canyon is a small river that provides enough water for an orchard and homestead that pioneer Mormons established back in the day. We camped near the orchards, but were disappointed that the fruit trees were done producing for the season. Apparently if you arrive at the right time you are free to go collect as much fruit as you want!

Up next in Utah was Bryce Canyon, which now sits at the top of my list of most beautiful places visited on this trip. We arrived thinking we would just do the usual drive through, but Ranger Kevin in the visitor center advised us that Bryce Canyon has the “best three-mile hike in the world.” It is even printed on their map as such, and so we felt compelled to check it out. We left Zephyr in the truck (with a silent prayer that he stays put), and gave ourselves a goal of finishing the hike in one hour and 15 minutes. We managed to meet this goal, despite stopping a million times to take photographs of the wondrous rock formations. At one point on the trail we discovered a Cairn forest, and of course we built our own Cairns to leave our temporary mark on this wonderful hike. (If you don’t know what a Cairn is, see the photo below.) We hurried back to the visitor center to thank Ranger Kevin and we had to concur: so far that was definitely the best three-mile hike we have ever been on!

I was sad to leave Bryce, but the call of Zion was strong, and so we headed even further west to this famous site. Several times as we drove through Utah and visited its marvels I thought to myself, I can see why the Mormons settled here! Coming across the plains in a covered wagon and stumbling into this wild land with its enormous, balancing red rocks, spires, and arches, it’s no wonder they thought this was sacred land! Of course this land was sacred to the native peoples well before the Mormons arrived, and I am happy to add myself to the long list of people who find wonder, awe, and inspiration in this amazing place.

When we arrived at Zion I immediately compared it to Bryce Canyon. Zion is huge, incredibly developed, and immensely popular, while Bryce allows more of a feeling of new discovery to the visitor. Initially I was dubious about Zion’s merits, especially since the campground we pulled into was crowded, unimpressive, and expensive. The night was cold and wet, and I had a hard time sleeping with the howling wind and fat raindrops beating on the teardrop. The next morning we awoke early and drove to a trailhead for a hike Andrew was determined to accomplish. Initially I was worried about leaving Zephyr in the truck for so long, since the hike was a steep and difficult 5.4 miles. Fortunately the weather was miserable, and so we were confident Zephyr would be more than happy in his warm truck house for several hours.

We headed up the trail to Angel’s Landing in the cold drizzle, which involved many switchbacks and steep hills. After a few hours of climbing, we arrived at a point where you basically scramble up boulders while clinging to chains that have been installed “for safety.” The chains were wet, cold, and slippery, and I had to wear my mittens to keep the blood flowing to my fingers. We finally arrived at the top, and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the immense valley that was carved eons ago by the beautiful Virgin River. As we sat amazed and stupefied by the scenery, the skies opened and hail began to fall. We made a hasty retreat back down the rocks, mumbling curses as large hailstones made contact with our heads. The hike back down was hard on the knees, but we were smart enough to bring our hiking poles, which definitely helped. Despite being good planners and having our raincoats on, I had stubbornly worn my jeans and suffered for it. By the time we arrived back at the truck we were soaked and cold to the bone.

We did a quick clothing change in the parking lot as one lone thunderclap exploded overhead. I was grateful we had safely descended before the weather became dangerous. As we hiked down we saw many people just starting their ascent, including a group of teenagers hiking in cotton sweatshirts and tennis shoes. I crossed my fingers that they were smart enough to know when to turn back. As we piled into the truck we said hello to Zephyr, who (as predicted), had enjoyed a nice warm nap. We blasted the heater in an attempt to warm our bodies to a temperature that matched our exhilarated spirits, and then headed out of Utah and towards the Grand Canyon.

Prairie Dog Salvation, All Hallow’s Eve, and a Bucket Shower

The scenery during our several-hour drive through the Texas panhandle was fairly monotonous, with lots of heavy machinery emblazoned with the Halliburton logo, dirt, scrub brush, more dirt, and jack pumps sprinkled throughout. Our favorite Texas memory was witnessing the world’s fattest prairie dog run for his life across a freeway on ramp. He barely escaped death by rubber, and as soon as he crossed safely he collapsed flat on his big belly and tried to catch his breath. It was adorable, and much better than witnessing a fresh road kill!

We passed through Texas without stopping, and entered New Mexico where we stopped for lunch along a random dirt road in an open ranch area. We drove over several large bumps, and though we were careful to make sure Gertie was secure, we managed to knock off the license plate on our trailer. Of course we didn’t notice this until we were long gone, and I imagine some cattleman on his horse finding a California license plate out in the middle of nowhere and thinking how crazy Californians must truly be.

In Santa Fe we hit up our two favorite stores: REI and Trader Joe’s. We tried to get some ideas for Halloween fun, but most of the young people we talked to said that Santa Fe is more of a quiet, retiree town so we decided to head up the mountain to Los Alamos for some camping and sightseeing. We drove up the mountain pass at night and twice we had to hit our brakes hard as large bull elk bounded across the road in front of the truck. We have seen plenty of elk on this trip, but when they are that close to you their size and antlers are nothing short of breathtaking.

At this point I hadn’t had a hot shower since leaving Hot Springs several days ago, but we opted to camp out in the National Forest without any amenities.  It was a very cold night with a brilliant full moon, and the next morning we were a little grumpy when we discovered that the regulator on our stove was shot, and we would have to go without our coffee. We drove through the area admiring the geological sights, including a giant caldera that looked like a huge dry grassland, complete with a massive elk party. We thanked New Mexico for her hospitality and beauty, and then headed into southern Colorado to check out Great Sand Dunes National Park.

By the time we arrived at Great Sand Dunes it was late in the day, and since it was Halloween we put on the masks we bought in New Orleans and set up camp. There were several other campers in the campground, although we were the only ones silly enough to dress up. I was tempted to go trick or treating, but Andrew convinced me that it was very unlikely the elderly couple in the trailer next door had a surplus of candy and/or alcohol, so I was contented to sit by the fire with my husband and dog (who was decidedly perplexed by my newly acquired cat face).

I was still desperate for a shower, so before the sun set completely Andrew set up one of his famous “bucket showers.” We have two galvanized buckets, one of which has holes poked into the bottom. We stack them together, and heat up water on the fire. Then Andrew places them up high on a tree branch and when I’m ready he pulls the outer bucket off and I have a shower! We try to place the extra bucket down below in a way to catch some runoff, and this way he can refill my shower for me a couple of times before the water runs out. It wasn’t as nice as a real shower, but desperate times call for desperate measures and I’m grateful that my husband is so clever and handy!

The next day we hiked up the sand dunes with Zephyr, who is a pro at sand dune hiking since we took him on a similar hike in the Mojave Preserve last year. Hiking to the top is excruciatingly slow and difficult, and requires lots of resting. As you climb up it’s basically two steps forward, one step back, but the views at the top and the satisfaction of completing your goal are well worth it. Even better is the fun of sliding, running, rolling, and skating down the sand dunes once you’re done! This is also Zephyr’s favorite part, and the three of us yelping, running, and streaming down the dunes must have been a sight to behold!

That night we headed west to Durango, a small fun Colorado town I had previously visited as a child. We found a replacement regulator (hallelujah!), did some laundry, and hit up Durango Joe’s coffee shop for some chai tea lattes and free Wi-Fi. Andrew took Zephyr on a walk and made friends with some locals, who advised us to take the drive up to Telluride, which would add about five hours to our trip but is supposedly well-worth it, with a crazy mountain pass and beautiful vistas.

That night we found a campground next to a lake, and picked a spot that costs $34 in the summer season. Fortunately for us it was off-season, and with our inter-agency annual pass we only needed to pay $4.75. Thank goodness too, because even the bathrooms were locked and we were required to dig our own holes, hoping all along that the resident black bears were already dormant for the winter.  We went to bed early shivering in the cold, ready for our next Colorado adventure.