The Olympic Peninsula, WA

I apologize for neglecting the Blog for a few weeks.  When that happens it usually means we’re having so many adventures that I can’t keep up with the photographs.  After our Stikine River trip we were busy getting the boat ready for winter, and then we headed out in the RV to explore Washington’s Olympic peninsula – Port Townsend, Port Angeles, and the Olympic National Park.We started at Port Townsend, camping right on the beach where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets Puget Sound, on the site of the former Fort Worden.In the photo below you can see the Point Wilson lighthouse, a tall radar that tracks shipping in the Strait and the Sound, and Mount Baker (in the distance on the right).Fort Worden is a lovely property, now used as a conference/event center and a woodworking school.  Besides its fame as the shooting location for “An Officer and a Gentleman”, it was an important artillery installation for coastal protection in the early 1900s.

We hiked around the concrete structures where the 10″ barbette guns were mounted and fed with ammunition.  The guns weighed 63 tons each, and could fire a projectile up to 7 miles!  These guns were designed and built in 1898 – and we were amazed at the technology available at the time to build such weapons.There were a number of gun emplacements as well as some mortar wells nearby.  We tried to imagine the thunderous noise when these guns were fired.  Many of the Fort’s guns were removed around 1918 to serve as railroad-mounted weapons for WWI, and the rest were decommissioned in 1945 since ships and eventually aircraft could do a better job of coastal protection than the stationary guns.

We hiked all over the Fort’s grounds, through forest……the parade ground, and the artillery museum.  Living in the land of glaciers, we’re attuned to signs of glaciation so we were quick to spot the impacts of ice ages on the land.  Scientists believe that glaciation began about 2 million years ago and that the region has had at least 6 cycles of advancing and retreating since then.

In addition to the Fort, we enjoyed walking around the town of Port Townsend checking out the shops and cafes, and especially the wooden boat school.

From Port T we headed west to Port Angeles, on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and across from Victoria, British Columbia.  Port A became our base of operations to unhitch the truck and do some exploring, and our first stop was the ranger station in the Olympic National Park to figure out how to best spend a week.  Olympic is a huge park with mountains, rain forests, and wild beaches.  It’s much more spread out than we appreciated, and we left plenty of things for future trips.

We headed up to Hurricane Ridge for some hiking, and got a quick reminder that we’re used to living at sea level!  Ah, but the views were gorgeous and worth some huffing and puffing.If you look closely at the above photo you can see Victoria in the middle distance, and the town of Port Angeles on the lower right.  We were so happy to have perfect weather after the cool rainy summer.  We even enjoyed watching the Olympic chipmunks (a distinct species)……and deer……and beautiful wildflowers.This was just the beginning of exploring the park.  Stay tuned for much more, and a bonus day trip to Victoria, BC.

Wrapping Up the Road Trip

It’s time to wrap up the tales from our late winter road trip since, in reality, we’re now about to cast off the lines and get ADVENTURES underway for summer cruising on the water.  We certainly enjoyed cruising on the land, but it can’t compare to cruising on the water, especially here in southeast Alaska.  It’s a wonderful place to find some peace and healing.

The final park we visited was Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah.  The “reef” is a monocline – a natural wrinkle in the earth’s crust that’s almost 100 miles long.  The “capitol” part of the park’s name comes from some light colored pointed dome features.The park has a nice variety of hikes, with natural arches……large washes……round depressions that capture water called “tanks”, odd holes and shapes from wind and water erosion……and wonderful petroglyphs.Although we wanted to explore the farther reaches of the reef, we were running short on time and had to settle for the Scenic Drive… not too shabby!Jim had fun shooting panoramics……and I loved the vivid colors in the rock layers.Deer and wild turkeys were the dominant wildlife that we observed, and we definitely plan to return when we have more time.We were staying in a campground about 20 miles outside the park, and we passed a little area that we remembered visiting with a photo group when we lived in Salt Lake 25 years ago.  After poking around we finally found the right road and were rewarded with a view of Factory Butte.Although it was tempting to hike out to the foot of the butte (it’s one of those things where it looks closer than it is, and you hike and hike and hike and it never gets closer), there are some washes nearby with odd colors and shapes.  Add some approaching storm clouds and Jim had a tough time getting me to leave.Oh, and remember – always keep a sharp lookout for wildlife on the road.  You never know what you’ll run into.We put the camper to bed for the summer, took the very interesting Boeing Factory Tour, and checked out Paul Allen’s excellent Warbird Museum before we did a little shopping and set up a pallet to go on the barge to Petersburg.I don’t remember how many miles we traveled, but we visited 7 National Park/Monuments and 3 state parks, and we had a ball.

 

Goblin Valley

Another gem of a place in southern Utah that I’ve always wanted to visit is Goblin Valley State Park, just east of Capitol Reef National Park.  For you quirky science fiction fans, it’s also one of the filming sites used in the Star Trek spoof movie Galaxy Quest.Goblin Valley is home to thousands of small hoodoos – eroded mushroom shaped Entrada sandstone formations about 170 million years old.  It’s a magical place to explore.If you look carefully in the photo above you can spot a person standing next to the goblins to the left of center.  In the photo below you can see Wild Horse Mesa in the background, and some crumbly green rock in the foreground.

stormy

We spent two days exploring the goblins, wandering deep into the valley to find caves, climb the odd cone-shaped mounds, and to let our imaginations see things in the rocks – especially faces.

We loved all the views from the different sections of the valley, and it was very easy to lose one another since most of the goblins are taller than we are.On the second day we hiked around the end of the ridge to reach the Goblin’s Lair – a large cavern accessible either by roping down or by a rough scramble over boulders to the entrance, and then a rather challenging climb down boulders to the bottom.  Whichever way you get down into the Lair, you have to climb over the boulders to hike out.Of all the places we visited on this road trip, Goblin Valley made us feel the most like little kids, finding fertile ground for our imaginations, scrambling and running around like someone forgot to give us Ritalin.

Goblin Valley is known for its extremely dark skies, making it a perfect place for stargazing (and star photography).  Of course on the days we were there we had too many clouds to see much, but as we say about all the places we fall in love with – we’ll be back, and next time we’ll camp right in the park.On this trip our campground was a 45 minute drive from Goblin Valley, but after dinner one evening we thought we might get skies clear enough for some nice sunset light, and we were glad we drove all the way back out there.We spotted some small herds of pronghorn as we traveled in southern Utah, and were lucky enough to get close to some near the park entrance.I know I keep calling so many places “favorite”… but who says you can only have one?

Island in the Sky

The 528 square miles of Canyonlands National Park is divided into four distinct districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the Rivers – the Colorado and Green Rivers that wind through the park and helped shape the land.  Island in the Sky is closest to the town of Moab and Arches National Park, so it’s the most visited part of Canyonlands.  Entrance to the Needles district is about 100 miles to the south, and the Maze district entrance is around to the west, accessible only by 4 wheel drive and backcountry hiking.  We’ve been to the overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab several times to look down into this part of Canyonlands, but we were anxious to explore at least the Island in the Sky district a little more closely.  Here’s a map to help you see where things are in relation to Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, and so you can see how close Arches and Canyonlands are to each other.Island in the Sky is a flat mesa at an altitude of 5900′ on the Colorado Plateau, 2200′ above the Colorado and Green Rivers.  Sheer cliffs drop 1200′ to a plateau topped by white sandstone carved by the mighty rivers another 1000′ below.Monuments, buttes, spires, fins and arches are all found in this improbable landscape, though so much of the park is very difficult to access.  The sweeping views from the rim of the Island mesa are breathtaking, and there were several shorter hikes that we took to see some of the highlights, such as the Mesa Arch…

…and the Grand Overlook…

…and the Upheaval Crater – which has two possible theories about its creation, but no one can agree……but we wanted to see more.  The rangers told us that we would be able to negotiate a short section of the famed White Rim Trail (1200′ below the mesa top) in our long 4 wheel drive truck, and that we should be able to ascend the steep switchbacks of the Shafer Trail to get back up on top.  Armed with a backcountry permit and the ranger’s assurances, we set out for a day trip onto the lower rim.

From the town of Moab we picked up the Potash Road on the north side of the Colorado River, traveling along a dirt road that slowly climbed higher to give us nice views of the river’s muddy flow.The road leads past potash (potassium salts used primarily in fertilizers) drying pools and railroad sidings, a reminder that this area has a great deal of mining (including uranium) in its history.  The 4 wheel drive trails in this area are outside the park boundary and are popular with OHVs – Off Highway Vehicles with beefy suspensions and big tires that can tackle the rough terrain with impunity.  We were jealous at how easily they zipped along, but going slow gave us more time to appreciate the magical scenery.

We reached the lower entry (a cattle gate with a sign) to Canyonlands, and connected with the White Rim Trail – for mountain bikes or sturdy 4 wheel drive vehicles only.  It takes 2-3 days to traverse the entire 100 miles of the trail in a 4 wheel drive, and several more days to do it on mountain bikes.  We took the ranger’s advice and only traveled about 15 miles to the Musselman Arch – by then we were ready to turn back.  The road hugs the rim of white sandstone, and there were limited places where we could pull off to the side to allow other trucks or mountain bikes to pass.

Whew!  Now we just had to get out of the canyon and we had two choices: return on the long rough dirt road back the way we came, or take the shorter, scenic, challenging Shafer Trail that climbs 1200′ to the top of the mesa.  That tan line in the middle of the photo above is the beginning of the Shafer – the easy part.  The photo below shows some of the switchbacks on the not-so-easy part.The challenge with the switchbacks is that our 21′ long truck was a little too long to make the sharp turns, and the road is narrow, dirt, and it has no guardrails.  Jim had to drive up and almost kiss the cliff face, then back up a few feet in order to make each tight turn.  I really didn’t like the backing up part!  Passing another vehicle is something you’d like to avoid, but it happens.  You just have to choose a spot that feels wider and pull the side mirrors in.  Next time, maybe we’ll rent a small jeep.  But it was an adventure, we had a great time… and I had a big glass of wine when we got back to the camper.  We loved what we saw of Canyonlands, and we hope to explore more of it on another trip.

Here’s a little video that Jim shot with a camera mounted on the dashboard.  The switchback section has been sped up to 4x normal speed – we took it slow and easy in real life.