Transitions

What happens to a travel blog when the trip has ended? Not much, if recent (lack of) posts are any indication.

I’ve been reluctant to write a final summary, as it would mean the trip is really over. Which, of course, it is. We’ve had a temporary home in a cute little Healdsburg cottage for three weeks now. Patrick zips off to an office every day and I’m so close to being employed I actually attended a meeting yesterday. I’m making the most of my last two weeks of free time. The Russian River slips by just out of sight across the street from our house, and all day teens in bright bathing suits traipse past laden with inner tubes and rafts – summer vacation distilled.

This little gargoyle hangs out at our rental cottage.

Someone once told me people in general like change but dislike transition. They were speaking of politics, but the sentiment holds true for other life changes, too. There’s an uncertainty that’s both exciting and disquieting. It took us a few weeks to relax into our traveling schedule and become accustom to being around each other, and only each other, through all our splendid days. Now we’re going through that transition in reverse, getting back in the swing of schedules, responsibilities, deadlines. And then, in nine (!!) weeks, we’ll make that other big transition, from companions to husband and wife.

For the time being I feel suspended, neither a wayward traveler nor truly settled. It’s too early to know which memories will be enduring. The mind, old sieve, will filter out what it wishes and in a few years I’ll have a handful of solid moments, like a collection of stones. If I concentrate now, I could recount each day. But I’ll lose more and more moments the longer we’re home.

There’s a big hill behind our house. When I hiked up the other day, a squirrel crashed off in the underbrush, and though the air smelled of redwoods and bay laurel, it instantly brought me back to Graham Cave Sate Park in Missouri. In December we stopped there for a walk one cold afternoon, the only visitors as far as we could tell. Hoping to see deer, I was fooled time and time again by gray squirrels dashing through fallen leaves, sounding like animals ten times their size. I look forward to more of those sudden memories.

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Imnaha Springs, Oregon

An old Forest Service cabin, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Core in the 1930s, sits near Imnaha Springs in Southern Oregon. It’s a magical place where crystal clear water gushes out of mossy ground to form Imnaha Creek. Now available as a vacation rental, the cabin’s location is idyllic. Lush monkey flowers and miners lettuce line the stream banks, and the sound of gurgling water fills the forest. Lovely as it was, my dad and I didn’t linger. We’d come on a mission – to find King Bolete mushrooms.

Kooky mushroom expert David Arora calls them “the consummate creation, the peerless epitome of earthbound substance, a bald bulbous pillar of thick white flesh – the one aristocrat the peasants can eat!” If you’ve sampled this mushroom, you might find such effusive descriptions are apt for King Boletes, also known as porcini. Firm, meaty, with an earthy aroma, they are absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, little grubs and animals think they’re delicious also; sometimes fresh mushrooms are riddled with bugs. We didn’t find a bounty of boletes, but the one we brought home was absolutely perfect. The real excitement of the day, however, wasn’t of the fungi variety.

king bolete, porcini, oregon mushroom

king bolete, bolete mushroom, boletus edulis

Eyes trained at the ground, searching for mushroom caps, I was more focused on the forest floor than usual. A small spot of softness caught my attention. Can you see it?

fawn, baby deer, bambi,

A tiny fawn, no more than a week old, lay curled in the undergrowth. Young fawns rely on their spotted coat and stillness to hide from predators. Had I been simply hiking, I certainly would’ve walked right by.

fawn, camouflaged fawn, baby deer

I’d never seen any living thing be so utterly motionless. We stared through binoculars, trying to discern whether or not it was breathing. We thought we saw movement in its small body, but it was so hard to tell. We waited for the little thing to blink. To twitch an ear. Nothing.

Finally we moved on, trying to find a few more mushrooms. Thwarted, we circled back to see if the fawn was still there. This time I crept closer, and watched as the fawn took a big breath. I also saw it twitch its nose almost imperceptibly. It’s easy to see how people think fawns are injured or abandoned; I easily could’ve picked up this tiny fawn. But the doe was undoubtedly somewhere nearby. The fawn was simply acting on survival instinct to remain still and wait for its mother to return. It was incredible to be so close to something wild and beautiful.

Our single King Bolete was quickly sautéed with butter and viognier, an elegant addition to simple rice bowls. We kept talking about the fawn, our thoughts on a small, dappled body in a spot of green.

camouflage fawn

We Were There

Already I’m nostalgic about this trip, and it isn’t even entirely over. Patrick calls me “pre-sentimentalist.” One small thing I’ve enjoyed is when I’m listening to Talk of the Nation or Car Talk or some other radio show where people call up to say, “I’m Ellen from Magnolia, Arkansas.” Or, “This is Chris from Albuquerque.” “Jenny from Staunton, Virginia.” And we’ve been there. All these places, these small large sleepy urban ramshackle hipster remote towns we’ve seen. I feel like the whole country is mine now.

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There were so many correct answers to our final WWWW – trusty Random.org chose our winner – congrats to Chris! This photo was taken in Zion. And thank you to everyone who has followed along and played each week.

 

Eagle Point, OR

Before I met Patrick, I lived alone for many years. I was accustom to my own company. I filled my spare time with books and baking and strolls to the market and simply putzing around the house. Friends, too, of course, but I relished coming home to my little apartment at the end of a night out or holing up every once in a while. Now I’m out of that habit. For the first time since before we kicked off the trip, I was absolutely alone for more than 24 hours over the weekend. I’m chicken-sitting, and Patrick is visiting his family. It’s been lovely and strange to be surrounded by so much quiet, to not have to collaborate on the day’s plans.

snap peas, gardenin

It’s not lonesome.

I read a huge stack of foodie magazines. I pulled weeds. I took a morning hike. I made dinner out of half an avocado and a handful of fresh garden peas, all sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt. Peaceful.

fresh eggs, organic eggs, beautiful eggs

But, I find I talk to myself. And to the chickens.

Sparkles the Chicken, Speckled Sussex, Chickens.

heritage chickens

Five Tips for Finding the Best Campsites, No Reservations Needed

The long Memorial Day Weekend was the official start of the summer camping and outdoor recreation season. Now through September, parks and campgrounds across the country will be more crowded as families take advantage of warm weather and closed schools. Have you reserved a campsite at your favorite destination? If not, you might face competition. A recent study by the Outdoor Industry Association indicated nearly 49 million people spent at least one night in a tent or RV in 2011, and camping continues to be a recession-friendly vacation option.

Advance planning isn’t always an option, though. In our more than 300 nights on the road, we’ve only had reservations twice. Here are our top tips for finding great campsites.

Camping, boondocking, Eastern Oregon, Ochoco National Forest

1. Arrive Early Many parks offer select sites on a first-come, first-served basis. Show up when the camp office opens and you’re likely to snag a site. We were able to get spots at a popular Oregon coast state park, Zion, Bryce and even Yellowstone this way.

2.  Or Get There Late On the other hand, you can also get great sites by showing up late in the day, after camp staff has had the chance to process no-shows and reservation cancellations. At Arches National Park, where sites at the single campground are booked months in advance, we were turned down when we arrived hoping to find a spot at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday. A few hours later, after people had canceled their unneeded sites, we were lucky enough to get two nights in a beautiful site surrounded by red rocks.

Arches National Park, Arches Campground, Arches at Night

3. Know Your Public Land Looking for pristine views and solitude? Free or low-cost camping is available on National Forest or BLM land, where you’ll find a variety of sites from full-service to unimproved. It’s typically legal to camp anywhere on public land, though you should always obey posted signs. What you’ll give up in amenities you’ll more than make up for privacy. Our most beautiful campsites weren’t in real campgrounds at all – throughout the West, especially, we found myriad spots that met our highest Camp Site Wishes – free, waterfront, with a view. Gazetteers from Benchmark or DeLorme are invaluable for knowing exactly where public land boundaries fall. If you choose to boondock, please be respectful. Stay of forest roads. Pack out your trash. And, make sure to bring extra drinking water or a water filter; potable water is not often available.

boondocking, free campsites, Colorado

4. Go During the Off Season If you visit Yosemite National Park in July, it’s going to be crowded. Ditto for the Grand Canyon. Zion. The Great Smoky Mountains. Want to see more sights than busloads of tourists? Visit during the off-season.

We stopped at Mammoth Caves in December and participated in two guided tours. During the summer months, these walks sell out every hour, sending huge groups of 120 people traipsing down into the caves. Our tour? We had eight people. Not only did our guide spend more time answering questions, she also took our tiny group into a few areas off the standard tour route. We saw and learned more than we ever would have during the crush of summer high season. Now is the perfect time to start planning a post-Labor Day trip.

Can’t wait that long? Consider visiting spots off the beaten track. Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota offers great cave tours, hiking and wildlife sightings, with a fraction of the annual visitors as better-known parks.

5. Embrace Technology Constantly checking in on a Smartphone may not seem like a true camping experience, but we’ve found a few apps that make packing a phone charger worth the effort.

  • CampWhere – location-based service offers detailed descriptions of public campgrounds for both tent campers and RVers. Lists reviews, amenities and contact information.

  • AllStaysCampRV – lists public, private, government and public land campsites, as well as rest areas, service stations and scenic viewpoints. Also provides details on casinos and Wal-Mart stores that allow overnight camping. This app is geared more to RVers, but tent campers can also find some good information.

What are your favorite tips for finding great campsites? We’d love to hear them. Happy camping!

 

 

Zucchini & Parmesan Salad

Snow blanked the shady path on the way to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our boots were sturdy, but still we could’ve used the extra security of hiking poles. Later, we stopped at the Continental Divide, and hiked through ear-numbing wind to 12, 875 feet. Snow-capped peaks stretched in every direction. I gasped, equal parts awe and elevation, I’m sure. We spent a few nights near Leadville, CO, at 10,152 the highest incorporated town in the US.

Colorado Rockies, Rocky Mountains, Continental Divide

Coming down out of the mountains we shed coats and sweaters when the warm air of the arid high plains came blowing through the windows. In Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, reached the bumpy way via Hwy 318, a tiny road that switches without warning from pavement to dirt at the CO/UT border, the sun bakes the sagebrush and the rocks are bright red as if collecting colors of the sunset. Damming the Green River formed the long lake there. From our site we watched boats zip around the expanse of water and smelled smoke from campfires made with fallen juniper branches. For the first time in weeks it was warm enough to eat outside.

zucchini parmesan salad

Zucchini & Parmesan Salad

1 small, thin zucchini (about 1 ½” in diameter)

Parmesan cheese

½ lemon

Olive Oil

Flat leaf parsley

Salt & Pepper

Using a vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini lengthwise into long, thin ribbons. Shave thin pieces of parmesan, to taste. Aim for about ¼ the volume of the zucchini. Pile zucchini and parmesan in a bowl. Squeeze over lemon juice and drizzle olive oil. Toss. Add a handful of parsley, salt & pepper and toss again. Serve immediately. Serves two. Tastes better when prepared & eaten outdoors.

zucchini and parmesan salad

Niagara Falls

We visited Niagara Falls on Saturday. By volume one of the largest waterfalls in the world, the falling water sounds like thunder. Swirling winds pick up the spray and drench the overlooks, where rainbows appear and fade in the mist. Like the Grand Canyon, it was almost too big to comprehend – undeniably powerful and impressive. I have to say, it was also fairly awful. Monetized. Built up. Teeming with tourists who apparently never developed a sense of appropriate public behavior – elbowing their way through the crowd only to stop suddenly to take cell-phone photo in the middle of the sidewalk, letting small children and dogs jump on strangers, sticking their heads into photos.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, Rainbow Bridge

The RV safely parked in a gigantic lot, we walked across the famed Rainbow Bridge and crossed the border to Canada.  Surprisingly, the U.S. side of the falls felt remarkably restrained; a state park graces the edges of the Niagara Gorge. The Canadian side, with its better views, was a tawdry maze of theme restaurants and mini golf and neon-lit mega hotel casinos. It’s like Disney Land and Las Vegas mated and produced Niagara Falls, Ontario. Trying to get into the spirit of things, I thought we should go up to a revolving restaurant and grab a drink at the bar. But there was no bar; there was only a $34.95 per person (plus tax, gratuity and drinks) all you can eat buffet where food quality was certainly not the draw. We slunk into the Hard Rock Café instead. I mean, we’d just walked to Canada. Didn’t we deserve a drink?

I began to think unkind things about all the people around me. And then, quietly, I began voicing these things so only Patrick could hear. Our nerves were shot, but we couldn’t leave. Oh no, not yet. Each evening giant spotlights shoot over from Canada to illuminate the falls. Not just any spotlights, but 5.25 billion candlepower worth of color-changing spotlights. So you may enjoy the falls glowing bright orange or red or blue. Am I jaded because I prefer the falls plain? I know I talked about glowing waves, but those were natural and unaccompanied by a group of teenagers whose only means of communication was yowling.

Niagara Falls at Night

Visiting dozens of National Parks and countless National Forests on this trip has my deepened my respect for these institutions, which preserve dramatic natural sights and protect them from the kind of commercialization so evident at Niagara. Are National Parks, monuments and historic sites crowded? Certainly. Together they receive more than 275 million visitors every year. But the focus is on the natural scenery and education about its 84 million acres of protected land. The Canadian parks we visited, too, helped maintain a distance between commercial areas and major natural features. I don’t wish to begrudge anyone a souvenir photograph or fun night out at a casino, but my lasting impression is that Niagara has been exploited. Support conservation! While I’m at it, Choose Organic! Say No to GMOs! Buckle Up, Save the Whales and KONY 2012. OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Oh Niagara Falls, if I had worn blinders so that I saw only your rushing waters, I would have been so awed. But I was distracted by the glitz, the spectacle, the tour buses. Though I love traveling this country and marveling at its sights, I am not a tourist at heart. Give me a quiet stream in the mountains. Let me be the only there.

Niagara Falls

Where Were We Wednesdays (#5)

Image

Each week in WWWW I post a photo of somewhere we’ve visited during our trip. Guess where we were, and you could win a little prize! This week’s winner will receive a few artsy Polaroid photos.

Here’s this week’s picture.

Where Were We?

Rules/Hints/Etc.

Enter by posting in the “Comments” section. Guess as many times as you wish. Winner chosen at random from all correct answers. It might help to look back at our Itinerary or our Facebook albums.

Last Week’s Winner

This photo was taken at Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park. Rose had the correct answer yet again! Luckily we still haven’t sent her prize from last week, so now she’ll get both a souvenir penny and some seashells. And, we’ll send Gus some goodies, too, for being a first-time player!

Pensacola Beach, FL

All of Saturday the rain played the roof like a snare drum. A wet morning slid into a wet afternoon passed with Words With Friends and cups of tea. The wind slashed at the bushes. Someone put a raincoat on a dog. With dark nearing, we lumbered into town for chowder and a beer. The restaurant was an enclosed patio, excellent if there’s sunshine to bask in, but despite heat lamps and tropical shirts on all the waitresses, it felt chilly during the storm. The Minnie was warm and snug, glowing like a lantern and welcoming us back home.

Pensacola Beach, white sand beach, Florida

Pensacola Beach, White Sand Beach, Florida

Sunday dawned bright and blue as if there never were things called clouds. The sand here is the whitest in the world, if you believe the tourist information. I wouldn’t be one to argue, because the sand is amazing. Pure clean white, with a texture that begs for bare toes. All through the campground people were jolly and blinking in the sun as though the rain had stayed for months, not just a day. “This is the life,” shouted a shorts-wearing sunbather as I strolled by. At sunset the sand turned pink as the orange orb slowly sank into the sea. It was the kind of day that makes a gal feel lucky. Continue reading

New Orleans, LA

Window shop for chandeliers and antique suits of armor on the way to Sylvain on Royal for silky chicken liver pate and a crispy fried chicken sandwich, all washed down with a glass of rosé. Let a magician wave you in for his performance, suspend skepticism, let yourself be impressed when he cuts into a kiwi fruit to reveal a $20 bill. Hear an old man beat out the blues. Walked and walk and walk some more. Have a daiquiri in a plastic cup, because it seems like the thing to do. Café du Monde for powdered sugar deep-fried dough & chicory café au lait. Keep the energy up!

New Orleans, Jackson Square

New Orleans, daquari, French Market

New Orleans, Jazz, Drummer, Soul

New Orleans, Cafe du Monde, beignets

Nightfall. All the doors are open spilling sound to collide in the neon street the tunes of a hundred musicians amplified by booze, frozen rum rainbows in a plastic cup held by a sorority girl in a mini skirt who can’t walk in her platform shoes. Come on in! Come inside say the hucksters with their signs and flyers they want you to just come on in, hey girly, come on now, two-for-ones and just a dollar will get you through the door for tonight’s special is right on stage. You don’t need a sign post to know you’re on Bourbon Street because the balconies are dancing and someone’s still throwing beads into an entertainer’s upturned hat and the swamp smell is sticking to the edges of the gutters. Then turn the corner and all is quiet.

New Orleans, Bourbon Street

Follow a different kind of crowd tumbling down Frenchman Street. This is where we like to be. Grab a seat at The Three Muses bar to nibble crawfish beignets and sip an Old Fashioned while the band swings. At set break, the brass blare of a trombone calls from outside where a 12-piece band covers Billie Jean and the cars are honking ‘cause people are dancing right in the street. I’m enchanted. Here the notes jitterbug out onto the sidewalk with the flip of a skirt and a backward glance to lure us inside The Spotted Cat Club where a small stage is crammed with talent and soul. Everyone’s feet are tap tap tapping and even the doorman is grinning under his mustache. Hey!

New Orleans, Frenchman Street, Jazz

New Orleans, Spotted Cat, Jazz

Then it’s time to sneak past the ghosts in the high walled cemetery, feeling the music still in our tired feet, to slip through safe gates back to our Minnie to sleep.

New Orleans, Cemetery

New Orleans, Cemetery