Offpeakers

Maximize living, minimize annoyances

Tag: adventure (Page 1 of 6)

Aquaman and the Mermaid

For the vast majority of our adult life we were land bound. While we enjoyed the occasional paddle in a canoe, raft or kayak we never gave much thought to being in the water beyond regular showering. No prolonged soaks in a tub for us, unless its the hot bubbly kind. We have learned to appreciate the unknown and different which goes along with travelling and exploring new places.  As 75% of the globe is covered with water, it was time to go aquatic.

man on rock

Lets go exploring!

The beauty of the ocean, the sense of discovery, danger, anticipation as well as the previously unknown sense of fun splashing around weightlessly has made us shed our landlubber status.

2 divers

John during his open water dive course with our friend Silas in Roatan Island.

We were convinced by fellow travelers to visit Roatan Island, Honduras during previous travels. There we learned to dive and were entranced and coached on snorkeling by our great friends Naomi and Robert (thank you for your generosity and inspiration!) It was on Roatan we heard about Corn Island for the first time, having it be described as being “like Roatan was 30 years ago”. Preparing for an extended visit to Corn Island meant we would need to bring our own gear even though we want to travel light.  In this case, we got travel flippers to go along with our masks and snorkels.

Spotted eagle ray

This is a spotted eagle ray photographed by John. Mature rays can be up to 5 meters (16 ft) in length; the largest have a wingspan of up to 3 meters (10 ft) and a mass of 230 kilograms (507 lb).

My flippers in particular were abbreviated versions of the long flippers you typically would use for diving. Our friend (and diving instructor) Sherine loved to laugh and tease me about my little tiny flippers (try to imagine it in her French accent). Thankfully my wife has given me extensive experience handling good natured abuse from a beautiful talented lady. The proper response is to just walk away!  Big John is comfortable in his skin and his swim suit.  Unless it is cold.

Beach

After a fun day of snorkeling at Sally Peachy beach.

My little flippers accompanied us into the water almost every morning on Corn Island. The north portion of Corn Island, approximately 1 1/2 miles across, provides the best snorkeling. Comprised of two neighborhoods, Sally Peachie and the North End,this stretch, is completely open to swimmers (as is all of the island).  The beach is not fenced off for developments.  The road follows along the shore, providing great access. As we were on the island for an extended period, we explored to see our favorite spot. Our conclusion, hop into the water and enjoy.

Coral reef

A gorgeous reef complete with a Queen Angel fish and other fish friends. What a great find!

The coral follows the entire stretch with small, easily breached interruptions. Some spots had better soft coral.  In other areas the reef was closer to shore. Our favorite spot was the extreme northeast by the manta ray bus stop. There are examples of reef within 10 yards of shore, with the main reef 100 yards out.

staghorn_coral

John found and shot this beautiful healthy elkhorn coral off Sally Peachie

The snorkeling was great and there are no fishermen traveling through this area in motorized boats, just the occasional ocean going canoe. We had a couple close calls with motor boats in other locations.  In order to locate the reef, look for the white breaking waves offshore where the current coming in hits the reefs that are only submerged by 6-10 inches of water. Using a small GoPro camera, we enjoyed taking photos and short film clips of the underwater world. Unfortunately our camera died and apparently took the images on the SD card. Terry had saved a few we had captured with screen shots and those are primarily what we are sharing here.

golfball and brain corals

Some healthy golf-ball and brain corals.

Spending 2 to 3 hours in the water every day, we found the haunts of large eagle rays that would soar over and around the reef structures. Sherine taught us how to best view and interact. As excited are you are, if you swim out after the large rays in a frenzy, they will normally swim away from you and your thrashing little fins. If you act cool, the rays may very well swim around you, letting you watch in amazement as they swoop like a bird of prey. We also found favored retreats of nurse sharks. These are very skittish, and once they saw you were observing them, they would change time zones.

Nurse sharks

Nurse sharks spotted in their favorite hiding place.

The mermaid and I have different approaches to viewing the mysteries of the sea. I am in a rush to see what is ahead, around the corner, on the next reef. Terry preferred technique is an analytical approach. A slow swim while she studiously scans the contours and crevices.

A collage

Some of Terry’s finds. Top L – The Magnifica Anemone, Top R – a Puffer fish & a Four eye Butterfly fish, bottom L – inside of a broken Conch shell, Bottom R – A Spotted Sea Hare (Sea Slug) 

She sees coral worms, tiny crabs, and sea hares that eluded my more cursory review. Terry is a quick study on identifying what we have seen. Internet allowing, she enjoys researching the species and sharing the details. Her keen observational skills also extend to people passing on the road. I no longer was surprised to return to land to find us stocked with mangoes, avocados, fish or guava jelly that she had purchased from passing merchants.

Collage of Terry's scavenger finds

Other finds: 1) Avocados, 2) Fresh yellow-tail fish ready for dinner, 3) A bag of mangoes 4) Eggs with mango & avocado for breakfast

Terry’s best find was new friends. Special places attract special people. The beach at Sally Peachie introduced us to a fun couple from Germany on their honeymoon. Thomas and Angelina specialized in finding large eagle rays and generating smiles. Two good features to have in island friends. We wish them continued happiness.

Friends

With our friends Tom and Angie at the beach in Long Bay, Big Corn Island, Nicaragua.

Our view is that the reefs are easy and safe to find and you can explore them on their own. Of course not everyone has a great deal of time to get comfortable in the water. If you visit the island without snorkel gear or feel more comfortable with a guide, we see there are three options. We loved Sherine and Matteo at Corn Island Dive Center.

Friends

We miss our friends Sharine and Matteo.

Whether you are diving or snorkeling, they will get you in the water and make it a safe, fun, memorable time. If Corn Island Dive Center is booked, we also heard good things about Dos Tiburones Dive shop. Dorsey Campbell gives snorkeling tours and rents equipment based from his home on the Sally Peachie beach right next to the Victoria Comedor (and across the street from our favorite snorkel spot at Sally Peachie).

Terry at the beach

Another beach day. Crystal clear water and white sands with just us or in this case just Terry.

If you go to Yellowstone, you should see the Old Faithful geyser, if you visit Paris, you should see the Eiffel Tower. If you go to Corn Island, get in the water and enjoy the amazing work of nature. Beaches and warm weather are available all over the world. Isolated coral reefs are something special. You may discover your inner Aquaman and Mermaid. We are glad we made it part of our life and we will never forget the experience.

Do you have a favorite or suggested spot to see underwater beauty? Please share it with us, we’d love to hear all about it!

BCI beach at Long Bay

Introduction to Corn Island, Nicaragua

Opportunity Knocked

When we were kids, Terry and I both dreamed of living on a tropical island. The kind of place you see on TV with clean beaches, warm blue water, tropical fish and plenty of coconuts (can we include Ginger and Maryann?).  While you are at it, get rid of the tourist infrastructure, the people trying to sell you souvenirs and beaches choked with chaise lounges and incontinent kids. That dream came true when we found an opportunity to house sit on Corn Island.

A photo of a beach with a quote from H C Anderson

The background picture is the beach in front of the house we house sat.

Where is Corn Island?

Map of Corn Island

Corn Island is circled in Orange. Map c/o wikipedia

Corn Island is located 43 miles off of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.  The island is about 5 square miles (10 square kilometers) with a high point of 371 feet (Mount Pleasant Hill).

Picture of Long Bay in Big Corn Island

View of Long Bay, Big Corn Island, Nicaragua from Pleasant Hill.

This tropical isle is home to around 5,000 people, most of which are of a English speaking Creole background that could have you think you are in Jamaica with their distinctive accents and lively music (unless their second favorite music playing – classic old country.  What a surprise to see young people enjoying Conway Twitty’s greatest hits!)  The main driver to the economy is commercial lobster fishing.  This replaced the coconut farms that were destroyed 25 years ago in a major hurricane.

Lobsters and a queen triggerfish

Immature spiny lobster (or Langusta) and sadly a Queen Triggerfish caught by one of the locals.  Spiny lobster have no claws but a tasty tail.  There are size limitations for legal catch but these are seldom respected in our experience.

Island Life

Life is a bit isolated on Corn Island.  There is a twice a week ferry arriving from a remote Nicaraguan coastal community, Bluefields.  Most tourists arrive on a La Costeña flight.  People excitedly emerge from the little planes.

Guy and the planes

He thought we were riding the plane on his left…wrong! It was the tiny 8 seater on his right! Yikes!!!

This may be due to the intoxicating view of the Caribbean you enjoy in your approach or you know you pushed your luck in a rough sounding little single engine craft that is as easy to board and exit as a tight pair of jeans.  The airfield bisects the small island. Conveniently, in between the three daily flights you are allowed to short cut across the airfield to reach destinations on the other side of the island, saving over a mile in the process.

Crossing airfield

We crossed the airport runway to get to the other side of the island.

Island Transportation

Getting around the island is convenient.  There is a paved loop approximately 6 miles long that generally follows the beach.  Taxis, in the form of small economy cars, circle regularly.  Customers have a flat rate of 20 cordobas (66 cents US) for your destination.  The car will be shared with any other passengers the driver encounters.  An even more economical approach is to take the bus.  The bus circles in a clockwise direction, taking people for the rock bottom fare of 10 cordobas (33 cents).

Bus and taxis

Several modes of island transportation is pictured, 2 taxis, a motorcycle, a bicycle and the torquoise bus aptly labeled ‘My Bus” in the front.

The bus is a fun way to meet people as well as get the insider information on needed supplies or destination.  Dexter the bus driver knows the island like few others and will point out (and drop you off in front of) a barber, good hardware store, or yell out to fishermen unloading their canoe when you want VERY fresh fish.  Walking or riding a bike are also efficient ways to get around if you get started early or later in the day as the sun is intense.  There is always something to see with great views over the water, diverse fruit trees, and people that became friends.

Low hanging fruits

John showing off some of the island’s “low hanging fruits”! Not a metaphor but the real thing 🙂

Our Temporary Home

Home during our over 9-week stay is on the appropriately titled “Long Bay”. Beautiful sand and little development makes this half mile long beach facing the rising sun a lovely location to start the day.

Housesit front porch

Enjoying the front porch while listening to the waves.

This beach features bigger waves super for boogie boarding or a cool dip on an always hot day, but protected beaches with exceptional snorkeling and swimming are only a short distance away.  We are in a  comfortable home with not one but two cute lively beach dogs that enjoy treats even more than they want attention.

Girl and dog

Terry with one of our temporary pets Sweeney during one of our afternoon beach walks.

Sweeney and Brownie are great company with one small exception.  They feel the beach in front of the house is theirs, and any man, child, dog, horse or cow that attempts to walk past is chased and intimidated.

Chasing Cows

Here are Sweeney and Brownie in action against the cows!

Island life is relaxed and is unique from other places we have visited. Groceries are different. While there are many tiny stores here and a few markets/commisarios that would be similar to what we know, the choices are limited and it is common to run out of staple items in between boat arrivals.

Island stores

One of the local pulperia or variety store besides a clothing store.

Produce is mainly limited to old potatoes, cabbage that has had better days, onions, tomatoes, and squash.  Bananas surprisingly are one of the items not always available.  Sliced bread is at the store, but the island is blessed with home based bakeries that produce excellent coconut bread (pan de coco).  But without an official distribution cycle, you have to know where to knock to see if today is a baking day and what is still in stock.

Islanders are  passionate about baseball, and as small as the island is, it features one of the finest stadiums in Central America.  Home games are lively and are the center of island activity.  A great place to enjoy the loud fans, tasty treats, and cold Toña beer.  Terry watched over three innings before she gave up on baseball and headed home.  That is longer than she gave the New York Yankees.

Beach

After a fun day of snorkeling at Sally Peachy beach.

Our real passion is the water and its coral reefs.  Corn Island is a dream come true if your dreams involves warm water, private beaches with white sands, viewing abandoned ship wreck, tons of colorful fish, warm clear water and easily obtainable reefs. We will talk about that in our next post.

Have you been to to the Corn Islands?  Do you agree with our description? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Olympic Mountains

Time to Say Goodbye to Port Angeles…for now

Leaving Port Angeles

Reluctant exits are in a way better than those times you are just glad to be down the road.  When we left New Jersey it was with glee to be on the road off to new adventures.  Our recent departure from the beautiful Olympic Peninsula was much more subdued.   Our year in Port Angeles, Washington was a wonderful experience.

School campus

The yellow/gold building is where Terry’s Multimedia classes are held.

Peninsula College provided challenging classes, new skills, fun activities, and dynamic class mates.  The small apartment we called home with its own ocean view actually came with extensive grounds.  Olympic National Park was a terrific back yard.  With tremendous hiking, snowshoeing, camping, biking, migrating salmon and scenic opportunities. We were never reluctant to go out for our required yard work.   The Pacific Ocean/Strait of Juan de Fuca was our front yard and gave us a chance to wander the coast, investigate tide pools, watch otters and seals, and even complete John’s first Marathon on the beautiful Olympic Discovery trail.

JB crossing the finish line

Under 5 1/2 hrs for his 1st full marathon! Amazing said his wife 🙂

Yes, there were LOTS of cloudy days (from November to March?) but the weather was mild and almost always allowed us to be outside, being neither too cold or too hot. Wanting to be more active, we tried to use the Subaru only one day a week, otherwise relying on our new found biking skills and walking.

Terry and classmates

Terry with her professor and classmates at the College’s Moving Pictures Festival

Through our classmates and the welcoming small town atmosphere we made fun interesting friends who we miss. As we exited Port Angeles, our Dad was kind enough to let us store our U-Haul trailer of belongings in his barn.

Uhaul and Subaru

The U-haul trailer is pack and we’re ready to go.

He also continues to provide an eight acre empire to our cat Milo who loves patrolling his world to control the mice and vole population.

Family

Fun times with our Montana family.familfriends,

While back in Montana we were happy to spend time with family (our nieces and nephews continue to amaze us with their skills and energy) and even utilize new carpentry skills on the back deck (Grandpa is ready for a big party).

Deck

Go to the light!

While we love the Olympic Peninsula, and may return in the future, we left to pursue wanderlust.  We have enjoyed our house-sitting adventures in Florida, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island.  We made great friends with homeowners, neighbors and loved the pets as well as enjoyed new locations.

Collage

Some of our friends from Port Angeles

Next Stop Corn Island

The Offpeakers will now be going for a new adventure.  We will spend the next three 1/2 months on Big Corn Island. This five square mile isle is 50 miles off the east coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean.  Growing up land locked, we did not feel we could pass up this opportunity to live next to warm (83 F) water and catch up on the diving and snorkeling of which we have been dreaming.  The plan is to use this blog as our trip scrapbook and perhaps share what we learn and special experiences.  We hope you travel along with the Offpeakers.

 

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.

 

J&T

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).

grayjay

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!

Panama Viejo

Panama 2016

Last year January 12 we celebrated Mr. Offpeaker’s birthday Off-peak style (meaning free or frugal, is there any other way?) in Panama City, Panama. After a restful sleep we enjoyed a sumptuous all-you-can-eat breakfast included with our stay at the beautiful hotel Country Inn Panama Canal Hotel.

Breakfast at the hotel

Our agenda for the day: 1)learn the bus system in preparation for our trip to the Miraflores Locks(Panama Canal) the following day 2)Explore Panama Viejo Ruins (more on this later) 3)Splurge on the birthday boy!

Dressed in our well-worn shorts, shirts and tennis shoes, we took the free hotel shuttle to Albrook Mall the largest mall in the Americas. The megamall happens to be right across the enormous regional bus terminal.

Buses of all kinds waiting for passenger at Panama City Bus Terminal

Public Transportation in Panama City

Taxis are plentiful in Panama City, they are convenient but you have to haggle and agree on the price first before you board the car otherwise you will be fleeced big time. Each ride will cost you anywhere from $5 to $25 depending on distance/destination. But if you’re looking for an adventure and you’re an Offpeaker like us, we suggest the public transportation. For $0.35 cents you can take any buses or the subway train, just make sure you do your homework and keep your city map handy.

Inside the Albrook Mall, it looks just like any mall in N. America.

Finding our way around the mall was easy, there were plenty of maps and directions are in Spanish and English. Once at the terminal, bus tickets are available via vending machine and ticket booths. Buses do not take cash. Finding the proper bus was facilitated by asking people “Donde esta el bus para Panama Viejo?”. Once we found the proper location we follow the queue.

The view of the modern city by bus.

The buses were nice, modern clean and air-conditioned. The ride to the old capital gave us a nice view of the very modern and vibrant city.

By a church ruins.

The Old Capital

Panama Viejo which is in the suburbs of the city, is the old capital of the country. The Spanish established the settlement in the 1500’s and was an important base where gold and silver from the south was sent to Spain. The city suffered a number of fires, earthquake and pirate attacks but it was believed that attack led by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan in 1671 led to the destruction of the city.

Ruins of the courtyard.

We enjoyed our visit to the UNESCO designated Heritage site.  Catching the bus back to the city was easy as there were plenty of bus stops along the way and we just head back where we came from. We have explored the city seafood market and have read reviews that the restaurant in the market is a must. Well we have been there twice already and today the birthday boy wanted to go back there again. The place is simple, but the food was fresh, tasty and reasonably priced. We both love the seafood soup, fried whole fish, yucca fries and coconut rice. Yum, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. We head back to the mall, catch our shuttle back to our hotel so we can hit the pool. Panama City is exciting, fun and full of history. We are excited for we are going to see the historical Locks tomorrow!

 

 

Ediz Hook

We’re Baack!

Wow! It’s Finals week! Team Offpeakers survived our first quarter of being back to school! It is/was everything we had hoped for and more!

Peninsula College

Free coffee and muffins welcomed the students during the first day of the quarter.

Our experiences at Peninsula College proved to be nothing but wonderful right from the start. A picturesque campus with great facilities, combined with knowledgeable and caring staff. What a fun, satisfying and fulfilling experience. We also love that we get to ride our bikes to school!

Bike

We enjoy riding our bikes to school and exploring new trails  around the area.

Since it’s been so long since our last post, some of you may have already forgotten why we are back at school and what we are studying.  John is taking the Construction/Green Building Course and Terry is focusing on Multimedia Communications. Why are we doing this? Because it’s fun, challenging and serves as a preparation for our next adventures, wherever or whatever that may be.

Terry, PASC

Terry enjoyed teaching Facebook to members of Port Angeles Senior Center.

Terry has learned and done so much, she learned how to code using HTML, CSS and bootstrap. She developed and published 2 websites, a personal portfolio and a country website, where she focused on one of our favorite country, Colombia. Please click on the provided link to see her work.

Halloween, PC

The pirate and his sailor girl attended PC’s Halloween dance.

She also learned how to make animation, edit videos, create animated banners, multi-page publications, edit & enhance photographs.  She even took a photojournalism class and her photographs were published in the school’s award-winning newspaper!  Terry’s photography allowed us to become avid fans of our school’s championship women’s soccer team.  All of these on top of volunteering at our local Habitat for Humanity store and teaching Facebook classes at the Port Angeles Senior Center.

The green-builders figuring out the framing for the dog house.

John has been quite busy as well. He is now a member of the Construction Committee for our local Habitat for Humanity. They have built decks, install doors and siding, replaced a window with a slider and painted a volunteer’s home. On Saturday’s John volunteer’s at the Habitat store preparing donated furniture for sale as Terry works the cash register making the sale.  For his construction/green-building program, this first quarter focused on framing work and basic woodworking.  The class also built a media/photographer’s platform at the school’s soccer field and what may be the world’s strongest dog houses!

dog, green building

Ta daaa! They finished this and 4 others…lucky dogs will stay warm this winter.

We are really enjoying our Off-peak life in Port Angeles, which is the headquarters of the Olympic National Park. We don’t have cable so our entertainment nowadays are mostly books and the great outdoors. Our apartment is within walking distance of couple of hiking trails and grocery stores.

From the Salmon cascades near Sol Duc Hot Springs.

We get to walk to the beach almost everyday. A few weeks ago, we got to observe Salmon swimming upstream on a couple of occasions.  We’ve seen family of otters playing in the ocean and on the beach.  We’ve yet to see an Orca, but we will one day.

The school quarter went fast, we are wrapping up for finals this week. And we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning. The whole place looks magical with the fresh snow.

Snow covered Peninsula College looks magical.

Snow covered Peninsula College looks magical. Terry’s Media class is in that building.

It is a reminder that it is the holiday season.  Life goes by so fast, we are happy with our decision to downsize, pursue our dreams and live an Offpeaker life.  We are thankful that you are reading this post.  We hope you are all well, enjoying and  loving whatever you are doing. If not, we wish you the courage to pursue and live the life that you want.  We leave you with a line from one of Eminem’s song “Look, if you have one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, would you capture it or let it slip?”

 

 

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?

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.

DSC05840

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.

Still

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.

CAPTION!!

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.

Caption

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.

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