Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Empty Desert Lake

The valley was green and brown, with signs proclaiming drought as we drove through California's Central Valley. Over the grapevine with the engine whining we crossed into Southern California where a controversy over water rights has raged for decades. As we turned east, chasing the distant lights of Las Vegas, pastel pink and periwinkle mountains rose out of the desert foreshadowing the beauty we were to find at Lake Mead.

We'd been warned not to visit Lake Mead this year. Water levels are at an all-time low, the lowest since the Hoover Dam was constructed and Lake Mead was formed by flooding the valley now hidden in its shifting waters. But we persisted, eager to get our sailing Hobie Cat kayak onto water. We envisioned sailing into tight canyons and seeing the southwest rock layers up close and personal.

Our boat, the Queen Bee, followed that yellow line from Temple Bar past The Temple, a large rock outcropping, through the somewhat narrow Virgin Canyon before coming to rest at a lovely sandbar just outside Hualapai Bay.
What we found was a massive lake, rimmed with colorful rocks showing the many levels the lake has rested at and then receded from over the years. The water lines resemble rings on a dirty bathtub, with invasive zebra mussel colonies hanging on for dear life twenty and more feet above the lake's surface. The tight twisty fingers we looked forward to floating in were dried up and instead looked like canyons rising out of the lake.

Enjoying the mesas and pretty clouds on a sunny day from the comfort of our boat.

In our three days on the lake, we saw just three other boaters, all in power boats speeding along in a hurry to get somewhere, I don't know where. One boat was piloted by a gentleman we'd met at Temple Bar when we were simultaneously launching our watercraft. He'd motored out into the lake to find us and make sure we were okay. We assured him we'd brought plenty of provisions and were self-sufficient, perhaps even better equipped than those back in the tiny outpost we'd left.

Our two nights of backcountry kayak-camping were superb. After sailing We set our camp up on a sheltered beach with lovely 360-degree views. Between our 4-man tent, our outdoor rug, our camp chairs and table set, our sun shelter and our doorstep swimming beach, it was like a private palace in the desert.

After sweeping aside some rocks and smoothing out the sand, we had a lovely foundation for our indoor/outdoor, sun-shaded, pop-up, backcountry cabin.

Our only visitors, apart from the concerned stranger, was a curious duck that swam by each evening. The first night as I lay comfy in our tent reading a novel, I heard an animal noise in the distance. It sounded like a howling coyote at first and I was very excited. Then the noise shifted to that of a donkey (wild burros are common at Lake Mead), before eventually revealing it's true source--a couple of lost cows calling out in anguish.

The sunset from our campsite was peaceful and placid, like we were the only people on the planet.

Our final sail started off with light winds and ended with gusts and water waves so strong that my entire cockpit filled up with water. The boat became a floating bathtub and I opted to sit on the trampolines and laugh like a hyena while the cold water pelted me and Josh sailed us back to dry land. It was an epic ending to our incredible adventure on Lake Mead.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Returning to Childhood Haunts

My hubby spent several of his formative years living in southern Humboldt County amidst the redwood trees and fog. So as we planned our travel route from the Pacific Northwest to Southern Utah, it came as no surprise that he wanted to take the coastal route and revisit some of his favorite childhood haunts. First up was Prairie Creek and Fern Canyon, which I blogged about already. These two destinations were places he'd taken me early in our romance and I enjoyed reliving those old times with him. Plus, seeing elk up close always makes me smile.

Our second day on the Northern California coast found us in places both familiar and new to me, as we continued along the pathway to Josh's childhood. Driving south on Highway 101, we hugged tight to the coastline and enjoyed sweeping views of rocky shores. Our first stop was at Patrick's Point State Park to take in the epic coastline and so I could pee while surrounded by wildflowers. (You know you would too if given the option.)

Pretty pink heart flowers spring to life on this Manzanita bush.

At Avenue of the Giants, we left the highway and meandered between the big trees and tiny towns enveloped within Humboldt Redwood State Park. A short hike in Founders Grove filled us with awe and harkened us back to both our childhoods spent measuring our smallness against the massive tree trunks. I recalled a grade school trip where it took all 28 of us kids holding hands outstretched to fully hug a redwood tree. And Josh and I laughed as we drove by scenes we'd photographed more than a decade ago on our first coastal California roadtrip together.

Josh's 6'3" stature is nothing compared to these old redwoods, which were much too tall to get all in the photo. You'll have to imagine them reaching three times as high into the blue sky.

The hollow in this tree is big enough to build a fort inside! Too bad that's against the rules here.

And then we pushed onwards to Redway, a small town where Josh's mom once worked in a bead shop. We drove down the narrow streets trying to identify the house he once lived in, before heading west on a winding road. The road ends at the bluffs of Shelter Cove, where we intended to camp in a public campground overlooking the shoreline that Josh had remembered fondly from his youth. To our disappointment, that campground had disappeared in the 25 years since he was last in Shelter Cove and so we made do with a grassy lawn set away from the bluff. (It was the only tenting option in town and we were much too weary to drive back inland in search of something else, although we wavered for a few minutes.)

Our campsite near one of the only trees in the park. It wasn't private but it was available and that was good enough for one night.

Luckily we came prepared with a nice bottle of sparkling rose from our favorite winery in Oregon's Applegate Valley. And so as afternoon turned to evening I joined Josh in his brown hiking pants and black soft shell jacket traversing the dark rocks that form tide pools just below the crest of Shelter Cove. Behind us yellow mustard flowers and purple prickly thistles climbed the exposed sandy hillside. And beneath my feet, gray polished pebbles filled my slip-on shoes as the sun warmed my shoulders. We listened to the waves crash and tumble against the rocks and a lone gull screeching on the breeze. The salty sea air filled my nose, displacing the earthy scent of redwood forest we'd left behind that morning. The world felt complete as I sipped my wine while watching a momma seal and her young pup play in the rollicking waters.

Seals and seal pups playing in the cold Pacific Ocean. This shot is from the next day at Seal Rock, just a short drive from our campsite, still in Shelter Cove.

Then, hand in hand, Josh and I climbed back up the cliff and returned to our campsite to make dinner and watch the fog roll in, hiding any view of the ocean and wrapping us in its chilly embrace.

Enjoying some Oregon wine from my sippy cup at the retired Cape Mendocino Lighthouse which now stands on the edge of Shelter Cove. I felt a little ironic drinking wine here as the lighthouse door sported a hand-lettered sign announcing Thursday AA meetings upstairs.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hello from the Road

After a year of traveling abroad (off-and-mostly-on), we are back in the United States exploring our backyard and beyond. A recap of the first month:

  • On March 26, we arrived in Seattle at midnight and spent the next 19 days catching up with old friends; visiting our doctors, dentists and physical therapists; and enjoying all that Seattle has to offer in the springtime.
  • By Tax Day (April 15 for you international readers), we were headed south to see Josh's family in Oregon and then his brother and our nieces and nephew in Redding, California.
  • 4/20 brought us back north to the Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon for some paragliding and welcome conversations with our pals there. It was like returning home after a year away and I was so thankful to reconnect with the community and landscape that helped nurse me back to health after my accident last year.
  • The following Sunday, April 26, we said farewell to Oregon's wine country and drove the winding road past deer and redwood trees into coastal California. In my mind, our roadtrip began there, in Prairie Creek, California--having already driven more than 900 miles from our home base in Seattle, Washington.

One of several vistas we ogled on the drive along California's wild north coast. These yellow mustard flowers always remind me of my dad who, regardless of the times I picked bouquets for him, is allergic to them.

Prairie Creek

We arrived in the mid-afternoon on a sunny spring day. The golden grasses glowed in the fields, the redwood trees towered in the distance and we were in search of a campsite with a beach view and a flat place to pitch our tent. We settled for a slightly sloping sandy tent site protected on three sides by tall green bushes with a weather-beaten and camper-engraved picnic table just a short jaunt from the ocean. It was divine.

Our plush camping palace complete with plastic outdoor rug and plenty of space for us and our crap inside.

While I drew, Josh walked on the beach. Then together we loaded up into our overloaded Subaru and drove the couple miles to the start of the Fern Canyon trail.

We had to ford a couple streams to get out to the trailhead. Luckily, we didn't need to unpack our boat from the roof to make it.

More than a decade ago, Josh took me to Prairie Creek and Fern Canyon on a camping trip with his high school besties. That same trip, his friend Jonny declared us a perfect couple when I emerged from our tent wearing a dorky headlamp which matched the one Josh sported. Little did Jonny know that thousands of other practical outdoorsmen rely on headlamps, and little did we know that Jonny's declaration would be proven out over the following many years. But I digress.

The hike up Fern Canyon at the end of April this year was beautiful. The ferns flanked the hillsides--albeit not as densely as in pre-drought days--and the winding canyon and its creek provided amble opportunities for Josh to show off his strength as he piggybacked me over the wettest stretches. You see, although my feet are about 75% back to normal, I still need to wear sneakers when I hike, while Josh can skip upcreek in his trusty Chaco sandals.

My matching top and sneakers was a happy accident; the smile plastered on my face is the result of our adventurous life.

On our return to the car, we met an unperturbed juvenile elk peacefully grazing alongside the trail. For more than ten minutes we watched him chew green grass, pose for photos, and generally do his elk-thing while wild children and loud adults hiked past just feet away. I was amazed that a 800+ lb creature calmly devoured his vegetarian dinner while I gazed on. This was one of the highlights of my day and probably even of the week. What can I say? I love wildlife.

So I drew the elk and all his velvet-horned glory.

Back at camp that night we feasted on sausage and vegetables grilled in a single pan and eaten straight from it to avoid any unnecessary washing up. The evening ended with stars overhead and comfy sleeping bags beneath us. Our Western States road trip was off to a good start.