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Category: North America (Page 1 of 4)

Snowshoeing uphill

Snowshoeing on Hurricane Ridge

The Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge is a mountainous region in the Olympic National Park that overlooks Port Angeles and the adjacent Pacific Ocean.  Only 30 minutes from town, the road climbs from sea level to over 5,000 feet (1,600 m) where there is an average of over 400 inches of snow fall a year.



The post in-front of us is normally 10 feet tall. 

Terry by the pole.

Terry standing by the same pole. This was taken when we hiked the ‘hill’ last July.

School Hike

Terry and I jumped at the opportunity to join a school group to spend a day floating over the 70 + inches of snow currently on the trails.  Our fellow adventure seekers are primarily foreign students from China, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  Our fun was enhanced by their enthusiasm to see so much deep snow and unique scenery.

T with student

Terry with SJ, a Peninsula College student from Malaysia.

Snowshoes have been used for 4,000 to 6,000 years.  The equipment we rented is for the same purpose but is definitely from modern times as we had polished aluminum, plastic, and composites shoes rather than the hide, sinew, and wood of the classic models.  Hurricane Ridge turns out to be almost as active in the winter (although only open Friday through Sunday) as it is in the summer.

John holding poles

John about to embark in another adventure!

Chains are often required for the trip, but we had no issues and enjoyed the van ride joking with our fellow students, even though most are younger than our kids.  Terry even knew a few of their songs!  The mountain top visitor center hosts a small ski area with a tow rope, an overflowing parking lot and miles of snowshoeing trails.

Terry snowshoe

On top of the hill, cold but sweaty.

Thankfully snowshoeing is easier to learn than other winter sports (I am pointing my finger at you ice skating and downhill skiing!) and after adjusting a few straps we were plodding and darting across the snow.  Effective traction plates makes climbing steep hillsides a breeze.  You are only limited by your lungs, nerves, or sense of good judgement.

Soccer players snowshoeing

Three members of PC women’s champion soccer team enjoying the day.

Our group started out together up the Hurricane Hill Trail.  Soon we lost sight of our fast contingent of the NWAC Champion Female Soccer team.  During stops for water or photo opportunities we were approached by fluttering Camp Robbers (Gray Jays).


A Gray Jay bird.   Photo: wikimedia commons

These beautiful birds were cute enough that I hardly minded that Terry fed them most of my peanut butter sandwich.  A great day was had by all.  On the return trip the quiet bus full of sleeping Peninsula College students was proof positive that although snowshoeing is fun, it is also hard work!

And below is a short video of the trip

Have you ever gone snowshoeing? Did you enjoy it? We’d love to know some of your favorite spots. Thanks for reading!

Smith Rock

Remember the first time you visited an amusement park?  From the parking lot you could see the roller coaster.  It looks enormous and so high you feel excitement and fear at the same time, your palms get sweaty, you could feel your heart beating faster.

Bizarro Roller Coaster in New England (photo c/o travel channel)

Bizarro Roller Coaster in New England (photo c/o

It had the foreboding look that make you think you should turn around and go see something else yet it somehow drew you in, you just have to go and be on it! The Offpeakers had a similar experience when we followed the strong recommendations of locals and visited Smith Rock State Park.  Not far from Redmond & Bend, Smith Rock State Park is another reason we think life is great in Oregon.

Before the hike.

Before the hike, the impressive rock (should be a mountain!),  Crooked river & River trail behind us. 

The Smith Rock State Parks amusement park is 641 acres of weirdly eroded volcanic rock with the well named Crooked River twisting around and through it.  Our approach past the parking lot had us bouncing with excitement. Amazing views?  Check.  World class Rock Climbing? Check.  Challenging hiking trails?  Check.  Super volunteers and support staff enhancing the park?  Check.

Entrance sign to the State Park

Entrance to the State Park

This is a popular place as 750,000 day users a year enjoy these rugged outdoors but the myriad of trails, bike paths and cliffs seem to suck us all up so even on a busy Sunday, we never felt crowded. We occasionally shared space with people equally happy to be on the rock.  The $5 day use parking fee is a complete bargain.

We saw climbers even before we found a parking spot! Amazing!

We saw climbers even before we found a parking spot! Amazing!

Approaching the area, walking the rim towards the visitor center, we pin balled around looking over cliffs soaring 600 feet over the river. The rock walls were not only beautiful, but it is liberally peppered with incredibly talented rock climbers.  Smith Rock is generally considered the birthplace of modern American rock climbing, and it continues to be a destination and class room for those strong adventurous people that do not need (nor want) a path to get to the top of mountain.

Awesome volunteers at the Visitor Center. If you visit make sure you stop.

Jerry from the Welcome Center. If you visit make sure you stop.

Not all Visitor Centers are helpful, but Smith Rock’s maps, advice, cold water, and volunteers were all terrific.  The Offpeakers were fortunate to meet Jerry, who just may be Oregon’s number one advocate.  Jerry gave us super information on the best hiking trails, views, and where we could hopefully see beavers and/or otters.  We got even more information on the Oregon coast and history of the Brookings district, including interesting background on World War II Japanese incursions in the area.

The uphill trail is visible on Terry's right side

The uphill zigzag trail is visible by Terry’s right shoulder.  Such a fun hike!

Our fun conversation was cut a little short because we could not wait to get on the switchback trails that work their way up Misery Ridge to work our way up, on and around this intimidating outcropping.

Whew! We quickly made it passed the shoot

Whew! We quickly made it passed the Chute and up the Misery, we pity those below us! Hahaha!

From the Visitor Center we dropped down using the The Chute trail to take us down to river level.  Crossing Crooked River we watched people working their way up the steep initial portion of the trail.

Such beauty at every angle! We stop for a breather and to take the scenery in.

Such beauty at every angle! We stop for a breather often to enjoy the scenery in.

Soon we were on their heels, enjoying the fun of spectacular scenery that you have earned through hard labor.  The going was slow and steady with a steep elevation climb.

The group of students in front of us.

The group of fun and friendly students in front of us.

As sometimes happens on these outings, we ended up getting partnered with some outgoing pharmacy students taking a break from Pacific University.  I felt as if we were colleagues on this and peers, but at the top we were referred to affectionately as their “trail parents”.

Our trail "kids'

T with our trail “kids’

If I needed another reminder of our age besides my heaving chest and heavy feet, this was it.  The Misery Ridge trail loop is almost 6 miles long as it weaves up, behind, over and down the main outcropping.

The trail is so beautiful we didn't mind the hard climb!

The trail is so beautiful we didn’t mind the hard climb!

We loved every sweaty dusty step.  The views change, but remain consistently beautiful.  Yes it is a long ways down, but fear kept us careful even as we scanned around to see natural beauty, climbers, and distant snow clad mountains on this glorious day.

You can see Monkey Face in front of Terry

You can see Monkey Face in front of Terry

At the back we see the aptly named Monkey Face, which is an outcropping that bears an amazing resemblance to Curious George except you need to scale a 350 foot column to dance on his head.

On our way down

On our way down

Continuing down we intersect Mesa Verde and River trails.  Down here have close views of the climbers doing very good impersonations of Spiderman.

Can you spot the spider like humans on the cliff face?

Can you spot the spider like humans on the cliff face?

Men and women looked tiny as they worked their way up cliffs that have visible white marks from powder used to dry sweaty hands.

These 2 are on a "beginner" cliff! Looks scary to me!

These two are on a “beginner” cliff! doesn’t look like beginner stuff to us!

Across the river, beginner classes were taking place on cliffs that were still daunting even though they were in the shadows of their much bigger brothers.

There is no bad view on this site?

There is no bad view on Smith Rock only happy Offpeakers!

Smith Rock is a great place to feel the positive energy of the earth and people working together.  Everyone was in excited moods, pushing hard to see and do more.  What a fun experience to work hard yet feel energized at the same time.

what a beautiful place

What a beautiful place, we can’t wait to go back!

While they could have probably come up with a more inspirational name, we fail to imagine a better experience. This is our favorite sight in all of Oregon!  What’s yours?  Please share your favorite spot in Oregon or a time that you were reminded that you have gotten older.  Thank you for traveling with the Offpeakers!


Fort Clatsop & The Oregon Coast

Even the toughest people need to take a rest.  Fort Clatsop was an encampment where the 33 hale and hearty members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent a fairly miserable winter waiting for better weather to return home back east.

Photographs of Rossevelt, Lweis & Clark

Photographs of (L to R) Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis & William Clark

Located near the mouth of the Columbia River, the Fort Clatsop National Memorial houses a striking replica of the fort along with an interesting museum of the region and the Corp of Discovery.

We witness the flag lowering at the end of the day

We witnessed the flag lowering at the end of the day

A visit to the fort is enhanced by a group that in period costume that answers questions about life in the camp and in part reenact life as it may have been in this remote outpost.

Standing at corner of the rebuilt fort

Standing at corner of the rebuilt fort

Fort Clatsop was an encampment forced on the expedition in the winter of 1805-1806.  The heavy rains and limited food sources were less than ideal but the journey back had to be delayed waiting for snow melt in the Rocky Mountains.  After some investigation and even a vote that include all races and sexes, the Fort Clatsop site was chosen.  Construction by the party took three weeks.

A painting in the museum of the fort

A painting in the museum depicts a possible scene with the fort in the background

This is another of the indicators of what hard working people comprised the expedition.  The work force, not even the full 33 person team as there was a party gathering salt and another getting food during construction, completed most of the fort in three weeks.  Move in date was Christmas Eve, 1805.  The current replica of the fort, built in 2006, took over 700 people three months to construct.

A Bull Elk

A Bull Elk like this one provided sustenance to the expeditioners. Photo was taken at the Dean Creek Wildlife area.

The men ate a diet of mostly elk meat and roots.  The elk meat proved to be harder and harder to get and it spoiled quickly. Elk still inhabit the area in great numbers.

Beautiful elk grazing in the field

Bull elk grazing in the protected wildlife area in Dean Creek. So exciting to see them up close in a safe environment.

We enjoyed stopping at the Dean Creek Wildlife Area, an important habitat administered by the BLM.  Over 100 head of Roosevelt elk call this home.  It was exciting to see groups of large bulls in velvet up close.

A look at the inside of the fort

A look at the inside of the barebones fort

For most of the members, the three months in Fort Clatsop was the least favorite of the entire 2 year 4 month journey.  Besides tight quarters and poor food, many of the men had colds, influenza, and venereal diseases along with irritating skin conditions from the continual wet weather.  The team happily left the Fort on March 22, 1806 heading upstream in several canoes including one stolen from the neighboring Native Americans.  The Fort was left to the Indians for their use.  It rotted away in the wet weather, with no mention of it past the mid 1800’s.

We enjoyed walking on the empty beach

We enjoyed walking on the empty beach. We picked some shells that John just rinsed in this photo. 

Much like Lewis and Clark, we enjoyed Oregon’s gorgeous coastline.  Our 3 mile round trip hike on the Tahkenitch Trails tooks us from pine trees to sand dunes across swampy wetlands on to the beautiful beach.  In 45 minutes on the beach we only saw one other person.  We found a few interesting shells but only partial sand dollars.   The plovers were nesting so we had to stay on the wet sand in order to not disturb these tiny little shore birds.

In front of the Sea Lion Cave entrance and store

In front of the Sea Lion Cave entrance and store

Further north of Florence there is an opportunity to visit the privately owned Sea Lion Caves.  For $15 a person, you can take an elevator 208 feet down to see the signature Sea Lions.

We watched sea lions swimming and catching suns rays on the rocks

We watched sea lions swimming and catching suns rays on the rocks

Being frugal Offpeakers, we stood at the top and saw the interesting marine mammals with binoculars and the camera’s zoom lens.

Beautiful view of the Heceta Lighthouse

Beautiful view of the Heceta Lighthouse

Further down the road we had a great view back at the Sea Lions along the coast as well as of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  This area is one of the most beautiful we have seen.  From this one spot you can see steep cliffs, crashing surf, swimming and sunning sea lions a the spectacular light house.

The coast was breathtaking

The coast was breathtaking

Less than half an hour further north, save time to investigate the Cape Perpetua Scenic area.  Included there is a nice Interpretive center from where you can reportedly see whales swim by earlier  in the year.  There are also short but interesting trails that can lead you down to the shoreline to see the Devil’s Churn, Cape Cove as well as tidal pools.

John found this beautiful starfish in one of the pools

John found this beautiful starfish in one of the pools

Heading north, Tillamook has a massive cheese factory that just cries out for a visit.  In a few minutes you can go on a self guided tour, enjoy nice restrooms, and sample a buffet line of cheeses.

We enjoyed sampling the cheeses at the factory

We enjoyed sampling the cheeses at the Tillamook factory

Of course you can purchase blocks of the cheese or tasty looking ice cream if you can brave the long lines and steep prices.  By now we were near Fort Clatsop, so we hurried on in the tradition of Lewis and Clark.  Our new home base is only a few hours away, so the Offpeakers will be back to see Fort Stevens (you can even hike to a shipwreck!), the Tillamook Aviation Museum among other notable sights in the area.

What an impressive bridge

The longest continuous truss bridge in North America, the impressive Astoria-Megler bridge. 

Our exit from the area was not in a hot canoe but still memorable.  The Astoria-Megler bridge crosses the mighty Columbia, taking us from Oregon to our new home state of Washington.  The towering 4.1 mile long bridge, with a top road height of 215 feet, is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.  7,100 cars a day take this vertigo inducing trip.

A view from the top of the bridge. Washington Ahoy!

A view from the top of the bridge. Washington Ahoy!

We felt safe despite the height as the bridge was built to withstand windstorms of 150 miles per hour. Reading about the bridge brings to mind how the cost of infrastructure continues to rise.  When bridge construction was completed in 1966, total cost was $24 million.  Just recently the bridge was painted for a cost nearly the same, $21 million!

We loved the Oregon Coast, we want to go back!

Oregon is a diverse state that we must explore more. The Offpeakers will be back.

Whether you are following the Lewis and Clark Trail or just want a fun outing in the area, the Offpeakers endorse a visit to the Fort Clatsop National Memorial and of course the beautiful Oregon coast.  With so many coastal related sight seeing opportunities in the immediate area, try to set aside additional time in order to take more of it in.  What are some of your favorites on the Oregon Coast?  Are you a fan of Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery?

Crater Lake National Park

Classic bands produce several albums, resulting in a variety of music to enjoy.  One hit wonders do not provide us with variety, but we still  can appreciate the fun of the single offering.  Crater Lake National Park is the one hit wonder of the park scene.

Photo not altered or filtered the lake is really THAT blue

Photo not altered or filtered the lake is really THAT blue

The hit is the memorable view of the fabulous blue lake waters.  Basically all of the 183,000 acre Crater Lake National Park is dedicated to providing the view.  Rim Drive is a 33 mile loop road surrounding the lake.  You can stay in Rim Village.  I would not work there.

The stops at rim drive offers lots of opportunities for photos but it is windy and cold!

The stops at rim drive offers lots of opportunities for photos but it is windy and cold!

Unfortunately, a major resurfacing project has half of this loop closed for most of the summer.  The road closure did prevent us seeing a few of the major sights including the Pinnacles rock formation and Lost Ship Island.  Crater Lake is the deepest lake in United States with its deepest measurement of 1,943 feet (592 meters).  At 6 miles wide at its greatest, it covers 20 square miles.

Photo taken by nice couple from Wisconsin.

Photo taken by nice couple (Mike & Carol) from Wisconsin.

There are no known outlets or streams flowing into it, yet its water is some of the purest in a large body of water.  The crater was filled solely by precipitation.  This is an area that does receive great amounts of snow.

There's plenty of snow on the ground. Enough for snowball fight in July!

There’s plenty of snow on the ground. Enough for snowball fight in July!

Even in mid July large drifts are visible.  Three different times the park has received 37 inches (96 cm) of snow in one day.  The highest yearly total was 903 inches (75 feet/2,290 cm).

We are standing on a massive volcanic crater! So cool!

We are standing on a massive volcanic crater! So cool!

The lake was formed when an immense 12,000 foot volcanic mountain (Mount Mazama) erupted almost 8,000 years ago.  This eruption was 150 times greater than that of Mount Saint Helens.  Having expelled its contents, the now hollow volcano collapsed, creating an immense bowl like depression in the remnants of the volcano’s crater.

Cleetwood trail, going down is easy, coming back up is a bit more challenging

Cleetwood Cove trail, the hike going down is easy, coming back up is a bit more challenging.  A jaunty hat always make the hike more interesting.

This is an isolated lake but the beautiful sapphire blue waters are mesmerizing.  There is one path that will allow you to hike down to the level of the water, Cleetwood Cove trail.  It is 1 1/4 miles down to the lake, dropping about 800 feet in elevation.

The water is really clear and just as blue up close.  It is very cold, but a few people where joining the Polar Bear club by stripping down and plunging in.

The cold water did not stop some from taking a dip

The cold water did not stop some from taking a dip

A group of young students were making a film that featured a hunky guy jumping in and swimming. He had a very difficult time speaking due to the shivers and shakes.

The actor jumping in.

The actor in bright yellow shorts jumping in.  Terry offered to help with sun block.

If you want to see more shoreline, tickets are available ($40) for a boat tour around the lake.  I was surprised we saw several lizards in this cold, high altitude spot.

We saw several of these type of lizard along the trail.

We saw several of these type of lizard along the trail.

The lake had no native fish, but was stocked extensively through the 1950’s.  Visitors are allowed to fish and no fishing license is required.

The hike up was more difficult but with a view like THAT, it's totally worth it!

The hike up was more difficult but with a view like THAT, it’s totally worth it!

As expected, the hike up was a lot more work than the hike down.  A stop for a breather did allow some great photos and another look out over the heavenly blue waters.  Another stop provided a good place for  picnic and more of that great view.

Entrance to this Park (which is surprisingly the only National Park in Oregon) costs $15.  We received admittance for free via our well loved and used Inter Agency pass.  In order to make a full day of it, we additionally visited Newberry National Volcanic Monument, a couple hours north of Crater Lake.

We are walking on the trail in the big obsidian flow.

The trail is ON the big obsidian flow!

The Newberry Monument is 50,000 acres set aside inside the Deschutes National Forest dedicated to preserving interesting volcanic features.  We loved the Big Obsidian Flow.  This is a 700 acre, 150 foot deep deposit of obsidian and pumice deposited only 1,400 years ago.

No, you're not allowed to take them home.

No, you’re not allowed to take them home.

Obsidian and pumice have the same composition, what differs is if air was introduced while drying.  It makes an interesting hike where you see these rocks interspersed in great quantities.  Obsidian was a prized resource used to make tools such as spear and arrow heads and while rare and highly prized around most of the Americas, it is certainly in great supply here.

Behind us is Paulina Lake

Behind us is Paulina Lake

The Newberry Monument has several other attractions including Lava River Cave, a lava tube that tourists are allowed to explore (we did not), Lava Butte which is a 500 foot cinder cone, Lava Cast Forest, and two lakes, Paulina and East Lake.  Paulina Lake is picturesque and is circled by a trail for a peaceful hike.

At the summit of Paulina Peak

At the summit of Paulina Peak

Better views are available from the 8,000 foot summit of Paulina Peak where you can overlook the lakes, Big Obsidian Flow, and the surrounding mountains.  It is a steep drive but the view is worth every hairpin and nervous encounter with a car coming the other direction on the narrow road.

Beautiful lake

Beautiful Crater Lake

Crater Lake Park is a one hit wonder, but a fun stop if you are passing in the area.  Include Newberry National Volcanic Monument to make it a full interesting day. When visiting the Oregon coast or the other locales in Central Washington, we recommend you make a detour to include these sights.  What “One Hit Wonder” sights have you visited?

Painted Hills Oregon

If you travel a bit in North Central Oregon, you might start to wonder who in the hell is John Day. There are the towns of John Day and Dayville, the John Day River, and the John Day Dam.  John Day was an early trapper and hunter that made this rugged country home in the 1810’s.

We have never heard of him until we looked closely at the map of Oregon.

We have never heard of him until we looked closely at the map of Oregon.

The Offpeakers were interested about John Day due to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.   This Monument is comprised of three separate geographical locations comprising 14,000 acres. The three sights are separated by 150 miles in a sparsely populated region with few services.

We see endless clouds while driving on the Oregon Scenic byway

We see endless clouds while driving on the Oregon Scenic byway

Only 140,000 people a year visit any of the Units.  Gas stations are few and far between, and even if you manage to find a store or restaurant, places close early.  Plan ahead for this visit.  Out of the way travel is fun.

Serpentine roads and gorgeous views on the way to the Fossil bed monuments

Serpentine roads and gorgeous views on the way to the Fossil bed monuments

The drive is interesting as it will be flat rolling plains and a few miles later it is climbing to a timbered forest and then down to a relatively lush river bottom.

Great view surrounds the museum/visitor center

Great view of the geologic formations surrounds the museum/visitor center

The Sheep Rock Unit (35 miles west of Mitchell, OR) is the headquarters for the John Day Monument and hosts a very nice Paleontology Center (or as I would call it, a Fossil Museum). Included are many specimens of early mammals as well as plant fossils.  Large murals offer guesses as to what the area looked like in earlier periods. This was a wet, humid place with terrific volcanic activity.

Near the end of the blue basin hike

Near the end of the blue basin hiking trail surrounded by 29 million year old volcanic formations

Volcano eruptions would spread lava over hundreds of miles, vastly larger than any eruption in recorded times. This lava and aggregate rock would erode at different rates, helping to form another draw to the area besides fossils, the colored rock formations.  Near the Sheep Rock Unit are the Blue Basin and Foree locations. These locations allow short hikes of ½ to 1 mile to see rocks of different hues.  Blue Basin in particular leads you into a deep gulley of light blue tinted stone. A ranger aptly described it as making you feel like you are on a Star Trek planet.

On our way to our favorite

On our way to our favorite, John Day Fossils Bed National Monument Painted Hills  Unit!

The John Day Unit we enjoyed the most was the Painted Hills, which we learned is listed as one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders!  Just eight miles west of Mitchell, you are in this brilliant colored vista with alternating layers. Have your camera ready. The Painted Hills Unit again has several locations such as Overlook Trail, Red Hill Trail, and Painted Cove Trail where a little walking will earn you unusual sights.


Pictures don’t do justice on how beautiful this location really is. Amazing!

In the same area, Leaf Hill trail shows were literally thousands of leaf specimens were earlier collected. A few are on display incorporated into a trail side sign.

No filter used on this photo. It looks like a painting

No filter used on this photo. It really looks like a painting or for those old enough to remember, sand art.

There is a picnic area and restrooms at the location. Do be warned that if you linger too long in the restroom, the other patrons do get quite antsy and impatient. Hold to your guns, as sometimes it takes a little time to do the job right.


Clarno unit of the monument, not as big as the other two  units

The Clarno Unit of the Monument is the northernmost location. This Unit receives the fewest tourists and we would suggest you not visit . While this is a beautiful location, it is lacking in the “wow” factor as compared to so many other locations in the area. The Clarno unit is known for leaf fossils fused into a scattering of boulders. These fossils are hard to see.

The fossils are hard to see

The fossils are hard to see, I think I found an avocado leaf!

A few signs have directions such as “See the leaf fossil one foot to the left” and even with this help, we had difficulty seeing the specimen. There are two very short trails here, one ¼ mile, one ½ mile so you don’t get much of a hike in either.

I have used Mitchell, Oregon as a reference point for these visits. Mitchell is the closest this area has to a large town with a population of 140. There is no gas station but it does have a nice family run hotel/bed & breakfast, The Oregon Hotel.

Sam watched over us while we sleep. No one dared bother us!

Sam watched over us while we sleep. No one dared bother us!

A variety of rooms are available at a nice price.  Food options are limited.  Don’t wait too late even on a Saturday night, as the Little Pine Cafe closed promptly at 8 PM.  And it would have been a real shame to miss one of the finest Hamburger and Fries that we have EVER tried.  This alone would be worth the interesting drive.

We had the best burgers at Little Pine Cafe.

Little Pine Cafe (left) in Mitchell, Oregon, yummy food and friendly service, what a find!

Our meal was enhanced by a couple of tourists who snapped a picture of a wild animal on the town’s lone street. They refused to believe the waitress that the tan cat they photographed was her pet tom cat, insisting it was a cougar.  It made them happy and secretly pleased the locals, so no harm.

We are loving Oregon! We're glad it's our neighboring state!

We are loving Oregon! We’re glad it’s our neighboring state!

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was interesting and we enjoyed its remote location. However, if your travel days are limited, there are other sights in Oregon that might bring you more joy.  Let us know if you have travel suggestions for the Pacific Northwest.

Thank you for traveling along with the Offpeakers.

Mount St. Helens

On May 18, 1980 Mount Saint Helens volcano in Washington state erupted.  Over the next weeks this was a major story on TV and in print. Most impressively I remember a fine film of ash covering our local roads 890 miles away in Billings, Montana.  With the Offpeakers traveling in Washington State, we could not pass up a visit to see the still active volcano and the fascinating Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.   We were right in the neighborhood on a futile effort to get a view of Mount Rainier.

Mt. St Helens canopy is covered with clouds

Mt. St Helens on the right side of park sign is partially covered with clouds

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was set-aside for research, recreation, and education. Inside the 110,000 acre Monument, the environment is left to respond naturally to the havoc created from the eruption.  The large sight has a variety of entrances, viewing areas, informational and educational displays, and opportunities for entertainment.  A $5 pass for Monument access is required.

Scenic & traffic free drive to the park

The roads are lined with evergreens, peaceful, scenic  & traffic free drive to the park

This admission is also covered by the useful Inter Agency pass.  Mount Saint Helens is a popular destination.  It sits only 75 minutes north of Portland and 2 hours south of Seattle.  This is the high country, so a visit is best made in the summer, as many of the Forest Service Roads (the Monument sits inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest) are only open from July to October.

Wildflowers such as these pink foxgloves line the side of the road

Wildflowers such as these pink foxgloves line the side of the road

Most visitors enter from the west side along Interstate 5.  Our approach to the Monument was from the east side. This is a series of little used roads that have scenery worthy of a visit themselves.  In an hour we saw active logging areas, thickly timbered land, mossy trees, clear streams, varieties of wild flowers, and evidence that a patriotic man does not care for Nancy anymore.

We laughed at this eye catching sign

Eye catching sign dedicated to Nancy, complete with the American flag!

Top off the gas tank and bring along lunch, because there are very few services in the direct area.

Forest Service road 99 goes all the way into Windy Ridge, right between Spirit Lake and four miles to the crater.  As we drove in starting 15 miles from the crater two things surprised us: how visible the effects of the eruptions were 36 years after the fact, and the resiliency of life.

Young trees and wildflowers now surrounding the dead trees

Young trees and wildflowers now surrounding the dead trees

Information displays at Bear Meadow show where some of the famous photos of the blast were taken 13 miles from the crater.  An amateur photographer was camping with two friends on a ridge.  He managed to snap 22 pictures in 30 seconds.  He quickly realized that even at this distance he was not safe and they managed to get in their car and careen down the primitive roads, just getting behind a steep ridge to avoid the worst of the blast and survive.

Pictures of the eruption May 18, 1980

Pictures of the eruption May 18, 1980

The power of the eruption was immense.  The side of the volcano had been expanding by 6 feet a day.  The intense pressure sent a shock wave that traveled 670 miles per hour with temperatures of 700 degrees F.   There were zones around the north eastern side (direction of the blast) where for several miles everything was incinerated and destroyed.  In this area even the topsoil was stripped and recovery is much slower.

Flattened miners car

Flattened miners car

Further was the knock down zone where all trees in the direct blast were leveled.  An interesting relic from the blast is the “Miner’s car”.  This 1973 Pontiac Bonneville had been driven in by three people working a small mining claim.  They had been warned of the danger and had signed release of liability forms.  The car was flattened by the shock wave, the men disappeared.

Much of this area is showing signs of recovery.  Downed timber has rotted away, adding nutrients to the scorched soil.  Areas on the back side of hills were less damaged and seeds survived.  The recovery of the area was greatly enhanced by the time of year of the eruption.  As it was mid May, there was still significant snow on the ground.  In the protected areas at least 8 miles from the blast, the three feet of snow allowed seeds (and in some cases, even small animals such as mice) to survive and begin the gradual recovery.

New tress are growing where the old timbers are now rotting

New trees are growing where the old timbers are now rotting

Driving in there, are several trail heads and informative displays to explain the eruption and aftermath.  Further from the knock down zone is the vast areas where the hot gases scorched the trees bad enough to kill them.  To this day the burned dead trees fill the sides of hills as monuments to the blast.  All the way in at Windy Ridge, the ground is still gray pebbly matter from inside the volcano.


Spirit Lake – note the logs still floating along the distant shore and the bare hillside to the left where all soil was scoured away by the landslide.

Here you can see visible remnants of one other onslaught from the eruption, a massive landslide. The side of the mountain broke free and slid down the valley.  It roared up the other side, scouring the hillsides down to the bedrock.  Over 300 feet of debris ended up piled on the ground around Spirit Lake.  The slide roared over the lake and up the steep hills on the other side.


How can these two be so happy at the sight of a disaster?

When it receded, it took the thick stand of trees that stood there back to the water, creating a thick mat of tree trunks that still choke a significant part of the recovering lake.  A steep hike up a neighboring butte took us to a long ridge that has amazing views of the crater, lake, and surrounding areas.  Just now plants are beginning to come into this area.

Wildflowers & berries are now growing

Wildflowers & berries are now growing

Thick wildflowers and young grasses are coming up in areas.   We were surprised to see elk tracks along the damp path.

We saw a group of elk including this bull, cow & calf

We saw a group of elk including this bull, cow & calf

Even more so it was a pleasure to actually see the small group of elk that were beginning to make this area part of their range.  On this overcast day we were pleased to receive a quick view of the mountain’s new, less lofty summit.

Hmm...Not sure of there are apes in that cave

Hmm…that cave will probably make a monkey out of us

Take some time and see other sights affiliated with Mount Saint Helens.  There is a Visitor Center on the west side of the Monument.  On the southern side, the Offpeakers just had to see Ape Cave.  Ape Cave is a 2.5 mile long lava tube from a previous eruption, it is open for hikes but in total darkness.  There is good access to a significant portion of it with two options, normal or more extreme.

The cave is dark and cold and did I mention dark?

The cave is dark and cold and did I mention dark?

On this day we chose the normal option.  It is a chilly 43 degrees F year round in the tube.  While we enjoyed the twenty minute hike in the dark, we wished we had better flashlights or had arrived in time to rent the available lanterns.

We enjoyed our visit to Mt St Helens National Monument.

We enjoyed our visit to Mt St Helens National Monument.

Interesting numbers help visualize the eruption.   Mount Saint Helens lost over 1,300 feet of elevation in the event.  The ash thrown out comprised nearly a cubic mile in volume.  If the ash was piled onto a football field, the stack would be 150 miles high.  Great scenery, fun hikes, learning, this is another National Monument that has it all.  The Offpeakers suggest you work Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument into your Northwest travel plans.

Do you have any volcano memories?  Share them with us below!

Mount Rainier

Moving can be stressful along with hunting for a new place to live.  After the search is over, then there is the waiting game to move-in.  Waiting for ours gave us a good excuse (not that we need any) to go on another road trip and get to know our new neighborhood, the beautiful Pacific Northwest or PNW.  Sometimes referred to as Cascadia, PNW is a geographic region and megaregion in western North America bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and loosely, by the Rocky Mountains on the east . Though no agreed boundary exists, a common conception includes the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia.

At the entrance, photo c/o two nice gentlemen on their mormon mission.

At the entrance, photo c/o two nice gentlemen on their LDS/Mormon mission.

Our first stop was Mount Rainier National Park.  The park is known for its crowning jewel Mt. Rainier, the highest mountain of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, and the highest mountain in the U.S. state of Washington.  If you’ve visited Seattle and it’s not rainy then you have seen this towering beauty.  Established in 1899 this national park encompasses over 236,ooo acres! There are many activities in or out of the park year-round such as biking, fishing, camping, and hiking to name a few.  Park fee is $25 per vehicle which is covered by our annual Inter Agency National Parks pass.

Yup it was winter up in Paradise

Yup it was winter up in Paradise

It was cloudy and cold during our visit so we did not get to see the glaciers up close.  But the weather did not stop us from enjoying the natural beauty of the park.  After a brief stop at the wintery Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise we proceeded to our first hike at the Bench/Snow Lake Trail.  The park ranger recommended this short and beautiful trail after we have expressed our desire to see some sub-alpine wildflowers.

The trail leading to Bench lake

The trail leading to Bench lake, a bit hard to see the tiny white Glacier lillies

The trailhead is located just a few steps from the parking lot right off Stevens Canyon Road.

Bench lake

Bench Lake

Gradual succession of ups and downs leads us to the first lake called “The Bench” so named because of the surrounding flat area. The trails continues to a flat meadow dotted with white bear grass flowers and glacier lilies.

Snow Lake

Snow Lake

We crossed a stream towards a series of twisty & uphill trail and was excited to finally see the clear turquoise green waters of “Snow lake”.

Surrounding mountain

Tatoosh mountain range surrounding Snow lake.

The lake got its name because it is filled by icy melt from the surrounding Tatoosh mountain range.  It’s fun to see snow mid-July!  We continued and enjoyed the very scenic drive along Stevens Canyon Road towards Ohanapecosh to hike an old growth forest trail.

Canyon bridge, can you spot John?

Canyon bridge, can you spot John?

Along the way we stopped to see the box canyon. From the bridge, 180 feet (55 meters) below we saw water rushing through a narrow slot canyon. We remembered the time we swam the deep volcanic fissure of Las Grietas in Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.

We felt tiny

We felt tiny by these two!

Grove of the Patriarchs Trail visits an old growth forest.  It is an easy hike through thousand year old cedar, hemlock and douglas fir trees.

by the root of a fallen tree.

by the root of a fallen tree.

We had fun crossing the suspension bridge, enjoying the multicolored rocks visible in the waters of the Ohanapecosh river and sharing in everyone’s joyous spirit.v We felt tiny as well as blessed to be walking through these giant trees.

Lake Crescent

When the Offpeakers asked around for fun places to visit near our new home in Port Angeles, Washington, Lake Crescent was mentioned several times.  On a bright morning we drove 17 miles west on Highway 101 to see for ourselves.

Wow! Crescent lake is so beautiful!

Wow! Lake Crescent is so beautiful! Crystal clear cold water.

Lake Crescent is a deep vivid blue reminiscent of Caribbean Ocean water. The color is due to a lack of nitrogen that prevents the growth of algae that obscures other lakes. Crescent is large with a length of 12 miles and surface area of 5,000 acres as well as being one of the deepest lakes in Washington state.

Flowery fields by the visitor center.

Flowery field by the Lake Crescent Storm King visitor center.

This Olympic National Park lake is popular with boaters and kayakers. People drop in for a snapshot and linger, walking along the shore and going out on the pier to marvel at the clear water.

The water is so clear, we can see the bottom.

The water is so clear, we can see the bottom.

Our primary interest was the network of hiking trails leading from the lake. Our first trail was an easy but beautiful hike to Marymere Falls.

Beautiful trail leading to the falls

Beautiful trail leading to the waterfalls

A fast two mile trek, the Marymere Falls trail is one of the most well traveled paths in the region. The trail begins at the Storm King Ranger Stations, skirts the lake, ducks under the highway, and then takes you back in time. Huge moss covered trees and ferns remind you of the heavy rainfall this area receives.

Easy to imagine the time when dinosaur roam in the surroundings

Easy to imagine the time when the dinosaurs roam inside the ancient forest

The air is cool and heavy. The trail beckons you but there is so much to see in all directions. The more adventurous can branch off to other longer trails (Barnes Creek, Storm King), but we wanted to see Falls Creek plummet down its granite course.

One of the bridge leading up to the falls

One of the bridge leading up to the falls

A couple of fun bridges (you can alternatively bound from rock to rock if you choose) later and it is time for a brief ascent up switch backs and stairs. The payoff is a gentle but pleasing 90 foot high cascade.

We made it to the waterfalls

Climbing to the higher viewing area provides more exercise but a poorer photo opportunity. Now that this goal was achieved, we quickly followed the same route back to find our next adventure. We loved the hike and recommend that you include it in your Olympic National Park visit.

Paved bike path near the trail head.

Paved bike path near the trail head.

With this as a warm up, the Subaru took us to the east side of the lake’s East Beach Road in order to hike the Spruce Railroad Trail. The Spruce Railroad trail skirts the northern edge of Lake Crescent. This trail primarily follows the route of a railroad line worked on during World War I. This line was intended to open up new areas of spruce to log to support the war effort. Fortunately the war was ended before the route was fully complete, saving the forest but wasting all the hard work of the construction crews.

The trail

Step lightly Offpeaker!

The workers had even nearly finished a large tunnel through solid rock. While the work did not result in a usable rail line, it has evolved into a nice hiking path. The trail is an easy 8 mile round trip. As this was a railroad grade, there are few hills. The first people we saw on the trail were mountain bikers, followed by people with happy dogs. Several spots on the well groomed route accessed sandy beaches on Lake Crescent.

Near the area where we saw people swimming the frigid waters

Area where we saw people swimming the frigid waters

Just as we were wondering if the water was too cold for bathers, an impressive group of athletes appeared swimming smartly. Dressed in wet suits, this appears to be a normal occurrence as we saw two other (admittedly less rigorous) groups of swimmers.

Devil's punch bridge, we saw 2 people jumping off the cliff!

Devil’s punch bowl is to the right of the bridge, we saw people jumping off the cliff!

Further on, we crossed over a steel bridge next to the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Our timing was perfect as we saw a young lady scale the rock cliff along the lake and, after a big of preparation, jump at least 25 feet down into the mesmerizing blue water. As maybe expected, she surfaced sputtering “COLD!!!!” amid our applause. On our return, a motorboat full of anxious swimmers arrived and tied up at this popular point. Our hike continued. The tall timber shaded us from much of the direct sun.

We almost missed it.

We almost missed this impressive tunnel.

We almost walked right past the tunnel. It is nearly closed on the leading side and situated well above the foot path. A quick scramble got us a the edge of the tunnel and we just had to walk through it on the jumble of fallen rock and remnants of timbers. Much manual labor was expended for this relic. We cheered their achievement and our joy to be enjoying this beautiful area.

Beautiful trail from beginning to end

It’s  a scenic and fun trail from beginning to end

Overall the hike was fun and scenic, just as advertised. If we get active with our bikes this will be one of the early off road trails we will enjoy owing to its gentle grade, proximity to Port Angeles, and fun scenery. Hiking these Olympic Peninsula trails is great to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. What are some of your favorite hiking areas? Share them with us, we promise not to litter!

Dungeness Spit

A record setting spit can brighten anyone’s Independence Day.  The Offpeaker’s Fourth of July centered around an 11 mile hike on the Dungeness Spit here on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula.

Caption here

Sure it’s only 5 miles each way! but nobody mentioned the stones!!

Yes, we are now in the beautiful Pacific Northwest!  If you have visited the area and love the great outdoors, you will understand why.  The Dungeness Spit, named by explorer George Vancouver, is the longest spit (a deposition sand bar or beach found off coasts) in North America.

At the start of the hike...wait, where's the lighthouse?

At the start of the hike…wait, where’s the lighthouse?

The Dungeness National Wildlife refuge contains the spit among its 770 acre holding just outside Sequim, Washington.  The refuge is home to more than 250 species of birds, 41 species of land mammals, a harbor seal birthing area, excellent infrastructure, an operational 1857 lighthouse, and a near constant powerful wind.  This wind, varying in strength from strong to wicked, was our hiking partner the entire day.

You can tell by the smiles that this is at the beginning of the hike :-)

Still smiling so this must be at the beginning of the hike 🙂

Our hike along the spit to the lighthouse would be 11 miles long including the return. The entrance fee is $3, which was waived as we are proud holders of a National Park Service Interagency Annual Pass. For $80, we get 12 months access to more than 2,000 sites governed by 5 federal agencies.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Now that the Olympic National Park is our new back yard, we needed affordable long term access. An early start was chosen to beat the holiday crowds. With a packed lunch and cameras, we hit the trail. The first half mile goes through heavy ferns and old growth cedar and spruce.

The heavily wooded path to the trail

The heavily wooded path that leads to the spit.

If you don’t have time for the full hike, you will enjoy the short walk and view from a nice platform over the beach. Our arrival coincided with low tide, so we had the maximum width of the spit (maybe 40 yards?) to travel.

The shore birds

Shore birds resting on huge tree stumps.

After the initial mile, hikers have to stay on the north side of the spit, leaving the south side for the many shore birds. We were impressed by the huge stumps and logs that had blown up on the spit. A few imprints in the sand and two cars in the parking lot told us we were not the first on the trail today.

Park ranger ATV bringing supplies to the lighhouse

Park ranger ATV bringing supplies to the light house and a container ship in the background.

A lone ATV passed us, taking supplies to the light house. We were walking along the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Occasionally we saw large boat traffic heading for Seattle/Bremerton including container and cruise ships. Not many interesting shells to be found, but lots of well polished interesting stones.

John don't want these so T just made a cairn. Not as good as Matt's.

John didn’t want these rocks in his pocket so T just made a cairn. Not as good as Matt’s.

Terry excels at finding the rocks, John is judged to be the better carrier.  Orcas and seals are routinely spotted, we did not encounter any on this day. Although the walk was flat, it was a bit hard on the legs with spots of soft sand and shifting rocks.  About three and half miles in we rounded a long curve in the route and saw the distant light house.

Ya, there is a light house!

Yay, there is a light house!

This encouraged us to speed up and achieve our goal. Hikers are welcomed at the site with potable water, restrooms, and a nice picnic area. The Offpeakers took the opportunity to enjoy sandwiches and empty our boots of sand.

Great spot for a picnic!

Great spot for a picnic!

Although mostly overcast, it made the day special to enjoy the meal under our Stars and Stripes surrounded by coast and the light house structures. The New Dungeness Light House is not very new, having been activated in December of 1857. The Coast Guard removed its personnel in the early 1990’s. Staffing was resumed by a volunteer organization from Sequim.

In front of the light house

In front of the light house, feeling patriotic on Independence Day!

The volunteers maintain the site and host tours. We enjoyed the climb up the tower, but were disappointed that only the official volunteers are allowed out on the cat walk. We did get a nice (and warm) view from the interior of the tower. The old lamp and surrounding trim and railings are just some of the brass that needs continual polishing. If you sign up, you can experience a week long stint as a lighthouse keeper.

The small museum & light house behind us

The small museum & light house behind us

It is not cheap ($375), as the funds go towards conservation of the site. While we probably won’t be marooning ourselves here for seven days anytime in the future, we are grateful to those that do that allow our visit. Refreshed, we prepared to return to the mainland. Instead of warming up, the increasing wind had made it quite cold.

There are more hikers coming and going on our way back

There are more hikers coming and going on our way back

A fast pace (like yours Irena!) soon had us warmed up, where we could share greetings with the inbound hikers. As we search for an apartment to be the Offpeaker World Headquarters in the Peninsula while we go to school, we are enjoying putting downtime into fun outdoor activities. So far we love the area and we will share the special places we encounter. How did you spend your Fourth of July? Do you have a favorite lighthouse? Share with us in the comments below!

Offpeakers American Road-trip Travel Tips

Travel and adventure do not need to involve international border crossings or high expenditures. The Offpeakers just completed a 2-month combined house-sitting/road-trip where we visited 11 states, 20 US cities. We drove through 5 other states but were not included in the count since we didn’t make a significant stop. Believe it or not our budget averaged under $70 per day! That’s for 2 people. In the following slide-show we will share how we did it.

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