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November 25, 2018 / annakpf11

When the Tide Calls Your Name

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“. . . Making the day expand in your heart and return, you play a limited part in whatever life is, practicing for that great gift when enlightenment comes, that long instant when the tide calls your name.”

—Excerpted from Waiting by the Sea, by William Stafford (1914—1993)

In Port Angeles, Washington, we board a ferry bound for Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Suzy travels in the hold with other vehicles, packed together like sardines, while we join our fellow passengers upstairs in the spacious observation deck. A garbled announcement over the loudspeaker, a gentle, gliding momentum, and the ship is underway. For the next hour and a half, the only decision we need to make is whether to read a book or look out the window. The water slides by, and a sense of relaxation washes over us, almost as if a magic carpet were transporting us across the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.

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Victoria, BC must be among the most idyllic cities on the planet. Clean and prosperous, with an enlightened mixture of traditional and modern architecture offering vistas across blue water to the distant peaks of the Olympic Mountain range, the city feels accessible, the quality of life high. We stroll along the quayside, explore neighborhoods and marvel at the miles of pristine public parks and shoreline.

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The warm, sunny weather might be exerting a positive influence on our opinion, but Victoria seems like a fabulous place to live. At lunchtime we park on the waterfront, open Suzy’s sliding door, and picnic with a view across the harbor.

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A parade of dog-walkers and pedestrians stroll past, and a man and a woman about our age pause as they come abreast of Suzy. They smile at us, and we smile back. And so begins an animated discussion about camper van models and the relative merits of life in Victoria. “We hope you move here,” they exclaim as we part. Somehow I doubt this will be possible (due to a minor issue called immigration law, if nothing else), but one can always dream.

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As much as we are captivated by the fantasy of living in Victoria, the city does not appeal as a place to camp, and so we head north in search of a more rural locale. Along the way, we detour to Butchart Gardens, a botanical masterpiece and national historic site that Anna has been told is a “must see.” Not surprisingly, Dave suggests that instead of paying two entrance fees, he should stay behind and take a nap.

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Created in the early 1900’s on the site of a former quarry and cement works, the expansive landscaped gardens now attract busloads of tourists every day. As I navigate the lattice of interconnected pathways, I decide that the park would be even lovelier in early morning or late evening, when fewer people swarmed its lush acreage.

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A distressing number of visitors stop squarely in the middle of walkways, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are blocking the path for everyone else. Never mind. Veni, vidi, vici.

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Back at Suzy, energized after his nap, Dave has scoured the AirBnB website and booked us a mini-respite from camping. A cottage about an hour’s drive north, in a wooded neighborhood near Shawnigan Lake.

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For two nights, Suzy sits in the driveway, temporarily abandoned while we luxuriate in a full size bed, a fast, reliable wifi connection, a washer/dryer, and ample floor space for yoga. The first evening, we roast salmon and vegetables in the well-equipped kitchen; the next, we treat ourselves to a Japanese meal in the village of Mill Bay.

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The autumnal equinox approaches, and instinct now impels us to fly south. Reluctant to part from the watery world of the Pacific Northwest, we plan our journey to include as many ferry rides as possible, beginning with a short, early morning hop across Saanich Inlet, followed by a three-hour passage threading through islands in the Puget Sound.

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Each time our ferry slips away from the dock, we surrender our fate to captain and crew, and wellbeing pervades our spirits. Nothing to do, except be.

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And so we depart Canada. Long lines at border control have Dave fuming at the inefficiency of the system, but eventually we land in Anacortes, a waterfront town where we stock up on groceries and gas. Our next stop is Deception Pass, one of the most photographed sites in Washington state, a deep, slender slice of water dividing Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. The channel is so narrow that it deceived early explorers into thinking it was a cul-de-sac, hence its name. Leaving Suzy safely parked in a layby, we set out on foot to get a good look.

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In an attempt to capture the drama of the precipitous gap, we risk vertigo (worst case, our lives) by stepping onto a narrow catwalk, venturing out to the middle of the span and aiming our cameras into the void. The bridge trembles under our feet as cars and trucks thunder past no further than an arm’s length away. It seems imperative not to think about falling. Photos do not do justice to the long, sheer drop, or the velocity of water sluicing underneath.

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Even driving across the bridge induces an uneasy feeling of vertigo. But it’s worth it to arrive at Deception Pass State Park, a place of extreme beauty where we have our pick of wooded campsites.

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Time to catch our breath and regroup. A late afternoon walk in the rainforest and along the shore, and then we prepare dinner of fresh scallops, sautéed cauliflower and basmati rice.

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The next day, we forsake the feathered ridgelines of Washington’s Cascade Mountains for the broad, fertile farmland of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

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South of Portland, we exit Highway 5 and head for Champoeg State Park, a heritage site, nature preserve and bluebird sanctuary offering three separate campgrounds and miles of walking and cycling trails. My kind of heaven.

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Campsites are assigned on a first-come basis, with self-service registration, and we hope that given the time of year, we will find a vacant spot. But we have arrived too late in the day. We cruise past every campsite and all are occupied, or have a “reserved” notice tacked to a numbered post.

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We are running out of daylight, and we are running out of options. Harvest Host doesn’t list any wineries in the area that offer overnight RV parking, and there are no other campgrounds within a reasonable distance. Simply pulling off the road to camp is illegal, not to mention unsafe. It’s time to improvise.

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Shadows lengthen as Dave guides Suzy down a bumpy lane leading to a winery where we hope we can persuade someone to let us park overnight. The tasting room door is open, but the cavernous barn is empty.  Our footsteps echo on the polished concrete floor.

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A door opens and closes, and a petite blonde woman wearing jeans, a Led Zepplin T-shirt and a plaid jacket steps into view. Dave explains that we’d like to taste some wine, and also that we need a place to park our rig overnight. She frowns. “I’ll have to ask the manager. Would you like to try some wine while you wait?” She uncorks a bottle of Pinot Gris and pours us each a taste.

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When the manager appears, a dark-haired, kind-eyed woman, she chats us up, presumably assessing whether or not we can be trusted, and after a time, gives us the nod, inviting us to stay. She also swears us to secrecy. While she is happy to do us this favor, she has no wish to set a precedent. We solemnly agree.

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While we’ve been talking, we’ve been tasting—Pinot Gris, Syrah, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir—and out of sincere appreciation for both the wine and the place to camp, we buy a mixed case.

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Dave parks Suzy on a level spot overlooking the vineyard. We unfurl our awning, pour a glass of Pinot and enjoy the sunset, all the while blessing our hosts for their kindness. We are alone, but we feel peaceful and safe in a way that we wouldn’t if we were trespassing in a random field, or stopped for the night on a lonely country lane.

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At first light the next morning, we drive south to Eugene, then head southeast. We are following the path of the Willamette River toward a region we’ve always been curious to visit, the northeastern edge of the Sierra Nevada.

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Our route travels through a rich riparian landscape of evergreen and deciduous trees, as well as mill towns whose economies have suffered from a decline in the timber industry. We wonder what new industries could sustain both the population and the environment.

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In the late afternoon, our daily quest for a campground ends at Casey’s Riverside RV Park, a peaceful place where a river flows by and a rainforest cloaks the surrounding hills. There’s not much space between campsites, but occupancy is low, and we find a spot with no immediate neighbors.

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Cradled by tall trees and the rustle of water, we might be tempted to stay more than one night, except we’ve reached a tipping point, the moment when instead of feeling invigorated by the discovery of new places, we’ve begun to long for the particular place we call home.

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And so we make haste, wheels churning over pavement, landscape blurring past, hapless insects splattering our windscreen. Forested hills give way to a semi-arid landscape, and in Klamath Falls, a name that evokes evergreen trees and gushing waterfalls, we are disappointed to find a forsaken collection of nondescript dwellings on a barren expanse of ground.

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We press on, through miles of monotonous landscape, eventually crossing the California border into the Modoc National Forest, an unexpectedly drab expanse of dun-colored grassland dotted with sagebrush and stunted pines.

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Dave is at the wheel, and Anna reads aloud from “The Big One,” a New Yorker article about the catastrophic potential of the Cascadia subduction zone, a line of tectonic tension capable of producing an earthquake and tsunami big enough to wipe out everything west of Highway 5 from Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino. A quiescent seismic monster, the Cascadia subduction zone only wakes up every 300 years or so—give or take a hundred—and as far as scientists can tell, it is overdue for another upheaval.

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It is sobering to be reminded how profoundly vulnerable we are to disaster. But once we accept the underlying uncertainty of everything we hold dear, we turn our attention to appreciating the small joys of daily life, not to mention the larger miracle that we are alive at all.

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We push on, driving through mostly uninhabited terrain until we come to Lake Almanour, a summer vacation and recreation area. A few of the RV parks are already closed for the season, and many do no accept short-term stays, but we manage to find a site for one night at a mom-and-pop campground that is about to shut down for winter.

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The next morning, loud scraping and banging noises startle us awake. We peer outside to see a workman stomping atop the roof of a nearby bathhouse, wielding an electric saw, ripping into the shingled surface and flinging debris to the ground. End-of-season repairs, it seems, are underway.

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Soon, we too are underway, ready for the long stretch of road ahead, and the deep satisfaction of returning to the blue bowl of bay and sky we call home.

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Postscript: Soon after our return, unprecedented wildfires scorched California, and for two weeks, our corner of the earth remained shrouded in a toxic, murky pall. The simple act of breathing could not be taken for granted.

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Rain finally arrived and the air cleared. Apocalypse averted, for now. Life goes on, even for those who’ve lost homes and loved ones, even as global warming gains speed and momentum. We do what we can, knowing that whatever small actions we take can multiply. We breathe in and out a thousand times every hour, and we no longer take anything for granted.

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November 5, 2018 / annakpf11

What We Need is Here

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“And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.”  Wendell Berry (1934— ), American farmer, poet, essayist, novelist, and environmental activist.

It is September. Schools are back in session, the weather has veered toward autumnal, and we expect to find plenty of available campsites on our journey to the Pacific Northwest. We have not made a single campground reservation, intentionally leaving our day-to-day travels unscripted, our fate as open as a wide blue sky.

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In keeping with our theme of nonchalant spontaneity, we begin our journey with a relaxed, mid-afternoon departure and a side trip to Cloverdale, where we stroll around a vintage car show before checking into Thousand Trails RV Campground. The prime campsites, located within stone-skipping distance of the Russian River, are all taken, but after navigating a labyrinth of dry, oak-pocked hillside (the touted 1,000 trails?) we manage to claim a reasonably level patch of ground for the night.

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Unseasonably warm weather (stifling, in fact), and road noise from a two-lane thoroughfare abutting our campsite inspire us to nudge Suzy into the shade, turn on the air conditioning, take a nap (Dave), and make kale and quinoa salad (Anna).

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By dinnertime, the outside temperature cools enough to enjoy an al fresco meal of lamb chops braised in bone broth with white beans and fresh thyme. At bedtime, we fall sleep with windows open to the spicy scent of bay leaves, and any stray breeze that might find its way in.

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The next morning we continue traveling north, exploring small towns along the way to Arcata, and the home of dear friend, artist and sister-outlaw (technically ex-sister-in-law), Anna.

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She shows us around her house and recently completed art studio, strategically placed to preserve an existing garden shed and two mature Kadota trees. In fig season, Anna assures us, the trees provide abundant quantities of sweet, green-skinned, pink-fleshed fruit.

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As Dave and I often do, we consider what it might be like to live in this part of the world. Seated around the dine-in kitchen table with Anna, we swap updates, share memories and imagine possible futures.

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A glass of Zinfandel, a frothy, blue-veined goat cheese, seeded crackers, fresh peach and mint salsa precede a simple dinner of homemade corn chowder accompanied by a salad of organic greens so fresh they might’ve been harvested an hour ago. For dessert, Anna has concocted an irresistible peach and nectarine crumble. Later, despite her offer of a bedroom, we are content to sleep in Suzy, parked at the curb outside. This is a camping trip, after all.

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Before departing Arcata, we make time for a marshland walk, a stroll around the main square, grocery shopping at the local cooperative market, and a cursory investigation of the local real estate scene. We gather impressions and file them away. We vow to return. Preferably during fig season.

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Late morning, we regain the road and drive to Patrick’s Point, a forested state park perched above a breath-taking stretch of rugged coastline.

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We’ve been here before and camped overnight, but today we simply enjoy a picnic lunch and a hike along the cliff trail.

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Turning inland, Redwood Highway 199 takes us on a spectacularly scenic and also rather hair-raising ride along the Smith River. The winding route alternates between a nail-biting ribbon of road clutching the steep side of a gorge above a rock-churning maw, and a tree-shaded country lane overlooking the stillness of green river pools.

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It is Monday, it is off-season, and we expect we’ll easily find a campsite for one night at Jedediah Smith State Park. “Sorry,” the ranger at the gatehouse informs us, “We’re full.” We drive on, our insouciance slightly dented, and a few miles later come upon a roadside clearing rather grandly named ‘Redwood Meadows RV Resort’. Plenty of vacancies. Less scenic than Jedediah Smith Park, and no footpath leading to the Stout Redwood Grove, but never mind. We secure a flat site and set off with Suzy to visit the ancient giants.

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In their presence, we speak in hushed and reverent tones. A soft cushion of mulch absorbs our footfalls. Some of these trees have been here for over a thousand years, quietly growing since Viking ships roamed northern seas. The oldest have names: El Viejo del Norte, Aragorn, Elwing, Fangorn.

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I bend backward, my gaze sweeping up wide girths and rough trunks, some rising more than 300 feet above the forest floor. It seems entirely possible that these trees possess soul, and that a shared field of consciousness envelops us all.

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Finger-numbing cold greets us the next morning. Happily, Suzy’s Alde hydronic heating system is reliable, quiet and efficient. After a quick breakfast of muesli and banana (Dave), hardboiled egg and apple (Anna), we get off to an early start, rejoin Highway 199 and cross the border into Oregon.

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Every road seems to run alongside a river, and every river flows swift and full, even as summer ends. Saffron and rust-tinted leaves brighten evergreen-clad hills, and in the valleys, apple trees line the roadside, their branches laden with fruit.

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At Grant’s Pass, we merge onto Highway 5, a four-lane, north-south conduit packed with big rig trucks, RV’s and passenger vehicles. We travel for 100 miles on this road, through hills and valleys, past fields and farms.

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Before we reach Eugene, clouds mass overhead, and rain pelts Suzy’s windshield, but the sun reappears by the time we reach the laid-back college town. Our first stop is an auto-supply store (Suzy’s digital dashboard began alerting us to a BlueDef fluid deficit about 200 miles ago), and our second is MacKenzie River Music, “one of the best vintage guitar shops on the planet”, attests Dave, at the same time promising that he isn’t going to buy anything; he’s merely popping in for a browse. Somehow, neither of us is surprised an hour later when he emerges with a sheepish grin and a new acoustic guitar. (For any guitarists reading this, it’s a Martin D41.)

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Eugene makes a good impression. We take note of the generous number of bookstores, brewpubs and organic markets, the absence of traffic jams, and the prevalence of architecturally interesting buildings, flower and vegetable gardens. Perhaps we’ll return for a month in summer, escaping the season of fog and wind that compelled Mark Twain to declare that the coldest winter he ever knew was summer in San Francisco. Meanwhile, it is time to find a place to camp for the night.

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Unwilling to repeat the previous day’s experience of being turned away for lack of an available campsite, we ring ahead to a county park eight miles north of town, pre-pay by credit card, and hope for the best.

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Located on a shallow bluff above the MacKenzie River, Armitage County Park turns out to be a tree-shaded refuge offering all we could hope for and more. Most of the park is designated for daytime use, and when we arrive, an hour or so before daylight fades, we practically have the leafy acreage to ourselves. We unstrap our bikes and pedal alongside the river, carefree as kids at play.

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The next morning we resume our northward trajectory, stopping along the way to visit another college town, Corvallis, home to Oregon State University. Rain mists quiet downtown streets as we cruise the central district. We park Suzy under a billboard featuring a (presumably) local poet, pull on raincoats and set off on foot to explore.

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At the Corvallis Book Bin, a cooperative emporium of used and new books, we spend an hour combing through the stacks, and each of us comes away with an armful of bargain literary finds. At the outdoor Farmer’s Market, we buy fresh-picked kale and wild chanterelle mushrooms, nicely rounding out our sausage and potato supper plan.

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Perhaps because its population ebbs and flows according to the academic year, Corvallis seems to teeter between downturn and upswing. Nevertheless, there’s something appealing about the scale and vibe of this place. Less liberal than Eugene, less hipster than Portland, and much smaller than both, Corvallis feels accessible, friendly. I wonder if liberals and conservatives manage to live side-by-side without conflict here, finding common ground in their shared humanity. I’d like to believe that they do.

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Where shall we stop tonight? Each day we solve this puzzle anew, some days more successfully than others. In the wine-growing region north of Corvallis, we try our luck with Harvest Host, a phone app that identifies which wineries allow self-contained camping vehicles to park overnight.

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A plum-lined lane leads to the family-owned Laurel Ridge Winery, and a cheerful young woman welcomes us into the tasting room. A handful of people, obviously locals, are gathered at the bar, sharing stories and sipping glasses of wine, and the atmosphere feels friendly, almost like a village pub.

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The smiling woman introduces herself as the manager and vintner’s daughter, and when we explain that we are members of Harvest Host, she instantly invites us to park our rig overnight. We order an antipasto plate and a sample flight of wine (encouraged, but not required), and after tasting several varietals, we buy two bottles to take away, a Pinot Gris and a Pinot Noir.

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A rogue cloud unleashes needle streaks of rain just as we climb back inside Suzy and slam the door. We stay warm and dry, but the storm sounds like a herd of panicked cattle are trampling the roof.

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Eventually, the stampede diminishes to a sporadic tapping. A rainbow appears outside our windscreen, arcing across the valley. And then all is silent. Sleeping in a vineyard, we decide, is an excellent solution to the daily riddle of where to spend the night.

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The next evening, we are turned away from three campgrounds (no vacancies) before we finally come to a stop at ‘Rest-A-While Campground—a misnomer if there ever was one—a slim strip of pavement separating Highway 101 from the Hood Canal. Rain spits at the windshield as we slot Suzy into a tightly packed row of bus-sized RV’s. On a positive note, compared to the mammoth rigs on either side of us, Suzy’s 24-foot chassis looks positively petite.

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First thing in the morning, we head north along the filigree coastline of the Olympic Peninsula, searching for a campground where we might actually want to “rest-a-while”. We are looking for a place with access to walking trails, away from busy roads, and that does not require wedging Suzy into the middle of an RV sandwich. Our quest involves investigating and rejecting (or being rejected by) a handful of campgrounds before we discover Flagler County Park, 1,451 acres of shoreline and forest on the tip of Marrowstone Island, across the water from Port Townsend.

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Here is a place, I think, where we can take time to enter the landscape, to move over the earth at a human pace, feet treading soil and sand, the natural world opening to meet us.

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Fingers-crossed, we approach the gate and are relieved when the ranger assures us there are plenty of campsites. He also confirms that a cougar has been sighted in the park. “If you walk in the woods, you might see her,” he cautions. “Just make a lot of noise and act big. Whatever you do, don’t run away.” He shrugs. “You’ll probably be fine.” Maybe so, but I resolve to stick to the beach and bluff trails; no need to venture into the dense curtain of forest that is the lady lion’s domain.

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We set up camp in a grove of trees near the beach. Birds swoop between tree branches like miniature trapeze artists.

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I follow a footpath through a lacy border of Alder to a long curve of shoreline. Driftwood makes a comfortable seat, and a cloak of autumn sunshine warms my shoulders. Peace seeps into every cell.

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The park occupies land used as a military base from 1899 until 1953, and a walk along the bluff trail reveals abandoned gun emplacements that once stood guard over the coast. Many of the disused structures are open to the public, but I do not pause to examine the artifacts of war.

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I collect sea-washed stones, and gaze at clouds across the sound. I forage for fat, ripe blackberries, and eat them straight from the bramble.

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I cross the open ground of a tawny field, woodland on one side, water on the other, and sense movement in the air overhead. A bald eagle, wingspan as broad as the tallest of men, glides past. I stop and stand where I am, solitary witness to the slow, weighted wing-beats, the bright, feathered head, the raptor beak. This is a gift. It is a blessing. The eagle disappears over a ridge of treetops, but I do not move until the sensory memory has reached into the soft, convoluted folds of my brain and left its mark.

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Time spent in nature is as nourishing to the spirit as food is to the body, and after two days in Flagler County Park we feel replenished, ready to reclaim the road to Canada.

 

August 13, 2018 / annakpf11

North Coast

“This is the moment that bliss is what you glimpse from the corner of your eye, as you drive past running errands, and the wind comes up, and the surface of the water glitters hard against it.”

Robert Hass (1941— ), excerpted from his poem “September, Inverness”

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A winding two-lane road delivers us into the Anderson Valley, a northern California wine-making region best known for cool-climate Pinot Noirs, Alsatian-style whites and champagne-like sparkling wines.

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Big-name wineries compete for our attention, but a friend has recommended we sample the terroir at Toulouse, a small, peaceful vineyard heretofore unknown to us.

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We like what we taste, and come away with several bottles.

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Where the Navarro River meets the sea, we travel north along the coastline to the Mendocino Headlands.

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Anna keeps well back from the edge, but Dave strides to the lip of the nearest cliff, enraptured by the view.

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We spend the afternoon walking along the bluff and around the picture-book, chocolate-box town. And then it’s time to set up camp in Van Damme State Park.

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To reach our campsite we must drive across a creek, but the bridge has collapsed, and so we must navigate a flimsy-looking, temporary span of concrete that looks barely wide enough to accommodate a compact car. A sign declaring “Proceed at Your Own Risk” does not inspire confidence. However, we survive the crossing, and soon Suzy is tucked into trees surrounding a large open meadow.

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For dinner, Anna prepares one of our favorite camping meals: chicken molé tacos, carrot and cabbage slaw, sliced avocado and tomato salsa.

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In the morning, we head the few miles up the road to Mendocino, where the cell phone signal is strong enough to check email and read the newspaper online.

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Fog softens the light and adds layers of interest to the historic town.

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On the way to Fort Bragg, we stop at Russian Gulch, a worthwhile side-trip.

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“This coastline is unbelievably beautiful,” Dave keeps exclaiming.

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Indeed, a new wonder reveals itself every moment.

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At lunchtime, “Sea Pal Cove”, a seafood shack in Fort Bragg harbor, proves a perfect spot for a light meal, as well as a ringside seat of fishermen bringing in their catch.

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Our next stop, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 47 acres of coastal woodland, prairie and cultivated garden (recommended by the same friend who pointed us to Toulouse winery), turns out to be a highlight of the trip.

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While Dave elects to stay behind and scout real estate offerings in the area, Anna sets out to explore the four mile network of pathways leading to the sea.

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A rustic gate (meant to keep the deer out) leads to the Dahlia garden, where the flowers are at the peak of their bloom.

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It’s easy to lose track of time, hypnotized by the riot of color and form.

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The afternoon’s visual feast is followed by an edible feast in the evening. A friend (yes, the same twice-afore-mentioned oracle) has recommended that we reserve a table at Wild Fish, an intimate restaurant specializing in locally harvested ingredients.

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She has advised us well. We enjoy fresh oysters, sole filet (Dave), seared tuna (Anna), and finish with a lemon posset.

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We sleep soundly in our Suzy, and early the next morning, we pack up and depart.

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As we turn inland, the river reflects rose-gold light. Smoke from the Mendocino complex fire, 50 miles away, the largest wildfire in California history, has seeped westward. Nature at her most merciless still has a fierce beauty.

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By the time we reach the Anderson Valley, an apricot haze envelopes the landscape. We send out prayers for the firefighters, and for all who suffer during this season of fire.

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June 23, 2018 / annakpf11

Roads Not Taken

“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” —Confucius

DAYS TEN & ELEVEN: June 13 & 14: North Rim to Tehachapi to Richmond

I wake at 4:30 AM, as the sky begins to lighten and the birds begin to stir. Today we must vacate our campsite, but we have not decided on our next destination. My phone shows a tiny bar of cellular signal, and so I check for news of the wildfires in Colorado.

“Dave, are you awake?”

A muffled reply, “Now I am.”

“Another forest fire started in Colorado, and more roads have closed.”

Dave sits up in bed and pulls the duvet around his shoulders. “Given the information we have, there’s no clear answer.” He pauses. “We have to go with our gut, and make a choice.” Another pause. “If we drive to Barstow today, we could be home tomorrow afternoon.”

So be it. At first, we both feel deflated, but then, like a sailboat responding to a shift in the wind, we adjust our sails and set a new course. In the cool of early morning, we make our way through the gracious meadowland leading out of the park.

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A herd of buffalo moves across open ground beside us, including several nut-brown calves, one so young—or so thirsty—that it continually stops to nurse. The lead bison pauses for mother and child to catch up, and then they all plod on.

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When we turn onto Interstate 15, the busy, wind-wracked highway that will lead us through Nevada, Dave grips the wheel, and his shoulder muscles tense. Guiding Suzy in and out of turbulence on the crowded two-lane road is like steering a sailboat with a heavy weather helm.

As soon as my phone shows a strong enough signal, I take a deep breath and begin making calls to cancel reservations and plans we’d made for the next two weeks. Cutting our month-long trip short and missing out on visits with friends feels anti-climactic, and I have to remind myself that it’s no use dwelling on the road not taken.

At noon, we pass through Las Vegas, and Suzy’s outside temperature gauge reads 108 degrees. An hour later, when we stop for gas in Baker, I step out of the car and feel the soles of my shoes melt and my skin shrink closer to the bone. “Hell on earth,” says Dave. It is a frighteningly hot 113 degrees.

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The good news is that traveling in Suzy, we can cover a lot of ground. No need to stop for food, drink or restrooms; everything is on board within easy reach. We average 18 miles per gallon of diesel fuel, and our solar panels supply all our electrical needs except for microwave (so far only used as a breadbox) and air conditioning. If we need to operate the AC without electricity, we can run our built-in, propane-powered generator. If cloudy weather prevents our solar panels from storing enough energy, the generator will fill in any gaps. In short, we feel quite self-sufficient.

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After nine hours and 500 miles of sunbaked highway, we reach the oak and pine-covered slopes of Tehachapi Mountain. A steep cul-de-sac leads to a scattering of day-use picnic areas and primitive campsites, many of them closed or inaccessible. The place is deserted except for two lethargic young women sprawled at a day-use picnic table and a group of six men and women who have pitched tents and seem to be playing a rowdy game of Beer Pong. The sloping “park” has the seedy, slightly eerie feeling of a place that has fallen into disrepair and disuse, but it seems quiet (aside from the Pong Party), and all we care about is a good night’s sleep and an early start in the morning. So we settle Suzy into a shaded site, walk a half-mile down the road to the self-registration kiosk, seal an $18 camping fee into an envelope, drop it in a metal slot and then hike back up the hill, breathing heavily in the heat.

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Back at Suzy, I pour water over my head and tie a wet bandana (purchased in Bryce for just this purpose) around my neck. Instant relief. Sipping an ice-cold beer helps too. For dinner, we cobble together a picnic of canned tuna, potato salad, a packet of Madras lentils, and reconstituted dehydrated broccoli. Camping rations, and they taste just fine. While we are washing the dishes, I smell smoke, and see that the Pong People have ignited a roaring campfire. Surely they saw the CAMPFIRES STRICTLY FORBIDDEN and HIGH FIRE DANGER signs posted at the park entrance? Dave and I gaze at the crackling flames and exchange a worried look.

Adding to our discomfort, a creeping parade of vehicles has begun cruising up and down the dead-end road. Windows down, music thumping, each vehicle slows as it passes and the occupants eye our rig. Perhaps they are simply admiring Suzy, but there’s a vague sense of menace in the fixed gaze. I go outside, alone, to empty a pan of water, and a dark gray sedan pulls off the road and stops next to our campsite. My scalp prickles. I call to Dave, who quickly appears, and the car accelerates up the hill. Even if all this activity is perfectly innocent, we won’t get a good night’s rest. Within five minutes, lawn chairs and bikes are back on the rig, dinner dishes put away, and we’re heading down the mountain. If you need to leave somewhere in a hurry, Suzy is your gal.

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We escape to the Valley Airport and RV Park on the outskirts of Tehachapi, a mom-and-pop campground that is far more beautiful and infinitely more peaceful than the name implies.

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The next day, a five-hour drive lands us on our doorstep with a renewed appreciation for the temperate climate where we live, and the natural wonders in our own backyard. We have learned that we love traveling together with Suzy; she is the right rig for us. Our next adventure beckons, but for now we’re content where we are, in this thin slice of the world.

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June 22, 2018 / annakpf11

At Nature’s Mercy

 “Adopt the pace of Nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

DAYS EIGHT & NINE: June 11 & 12: Grand Canyon

Being on the road again after two nights at Bryce Canyon feels right and good, like a pair of shoes that have molded to fit our feet.

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At lunchtime, we park at a scenic spot, avail ourselves of our in-house kitchen, and then resume our drive through a surprising and ever-changing landscape. A cliff face dripping with brick-red streaks looks as if Jackson Pollack has spilled gallons of rust-colored paint. Pink swirls of color embedded in the rounded contours of white stone bring a strawberry parfait to mind.

In the town of Kanab (or Kebab, as Dave likes to call it), we stock up on groceries at Honey’s Market, and then begin the 40-mile approach to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The road leading to the national park entrance rolls like a long green hallway through a seemingly endless series of broad meadows bordered by pine and aspen trees. At the park gate, we wait in a brief queue and then show our pass to the ranger, who waves us through. The valley narrows and the trees march closer to the road, as if escorting us the final ten miles.

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Eager for our first sight of one of the seven wonders, we bypass the campground and drive all the way to the lodge, perched, it seems, at the very edge of the world.

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A small lobby leads to an observation lounge, and then, beneath and beyond us, we see the patient handiwork of the Colorado River.

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A mind-boggling array of layered cliffs created by hard and soft substances eroding at different rates.

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This place is like a staircase through time, a testament to the transformative power of incremental change.

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After gazing our fill (for now), we make our way to our campsite, a gently sloping piece of ground shaded by slender aspen trees. Not a breath of wind ruffles their heart-shaped leaves, and the temperature pushes towards 90 degrees.

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Dave positions our folding chairs in the shade, and we relax with a cold beer. I try to check the weather forecast on my mobile phone, but the signal is too weak. We know the occasional data blackout is to be expected—even relished; we are camping, after all—and so without the ability to check local weather, research the area, stay in touch with loved ones or keep abreast of current events, we do our best to surrender to the mercy of what we don’t know.

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For dinner, Dave hooks up our portable propane barbecue in preparation for grilling steaks. He opens a bottle of Côtes du Rhone and pours us each a glass. I stand at Suzy’s two-burner stove, gratefully basking in the steam from simmering zucchini and farro. The high desert climate has left my skin feeling as withered as shed snakeskin, and as rough to the touch.

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There are no bears here, and we are able to sleep with Suzy’s back doors wide-open, cool breeze on our pillows. Stars as bright as spotlights shine through gaps in the trees. I think of the long river of geologic time, the brief span of our mortal lives, and how glad I am to be here now.

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The next morning, before the sun becomes uncomfortably hot, Dave rides his bike to the lodge for lunch, a little over a mile away. I elect to walk (better for building bone density), and prepare for the trek by dousing my long-sleeved cotton shirt with water. For about five minutes, I feel blissfully cool and damp.

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After an hour, I return to our campsite covered with a thin veneer of trail dust, every cell in my body sucked dry. I pack a bike pannier with the requisite washing supplies and bicycle to the shower hut, only to realize I have forgotten the most vital ingredient: cash. Six quarters for six minutes. I cycle back to Suzy, grab my wallet, ride to the campground store, procure change for two dollars, and finally pedal back (uphill) to the shower house. Out of four stalls, one is occupied and two display hand-written signs declaring “OUT OF ORDER”. I scurry into the available cubicle, lock the door, and dutifully insert quarters into the coin tray. A short pause, and then the blessed sound of splashing water. The faucet is turned all the way to HOT, but the water temperature never gets past warm. Never mind. At least it’s wet. I quickly shampoo, condition and rinse my hair, finishing just as the water goes cold, and well before six minutes are up. The automatic shower keeps running, an unfortunate waste of resources, but there’s no way to shut it off.

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Late in the afternoon, a text from a friend somehow crosses the data blackout zone. There are wildfires, she writes, road closures and poor air quality in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. This is where we are heading tomorrow. She includes a link to a news article that I cannot access with the minimal phone signal at our campsite. Seeking enlightenment, Dave and I hike to the campground store and join other tourists with heads bent to their phones, patiently attempting to use a public wifi signal about as speedy as the forces that shaped the Grand Canyon. Eventually we manage to find out some bad news about the fires. We also learn that temperatures in Denver and the Moab area are predicted to soar into the upper 90’s and 100’s. On a more inspiring note, we make the acquaintance of a seasoned canine traveler.

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Back at Suzy, we weigh our options. We consider changing our route, but we’d have to go to Alaska or South America to find cooler temperatures. Or San Francisco, but the idea of cutting our trip short feels like giving up. Besides, we’re looking forward to pre-arranged meet-ups with friends in Moab and Denver. “We’re in the middle of HOT,” Dave says, punctuating his statement with a sip of chilled Chablis.

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Both of us are enjoying the rhythm of the road, and yet if we carry on, we fear we will spend most of the next two weeks avoiding toxic smoke and punishing heat. For now, we defer making any decisions. It is our last night in the Grand Canyon, and in this moment all is well, and we have everything we need.

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June 19, 2018 / annakpf11

Wonderland

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.”—John Muir

 DAYS SIX & SEVEN:  June 9 & 10: Bryce Canyon

One side effect of crowded campgrounds is the opportunity to meet one’s neighbors. At Zion, we park next to a friendly retired couple and their dog, and they recommend a scenic route to reach Bryce Canyon, our next destination.

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We follow their directions to the vibrant town of Cedar Creek, and then turn onto Highway 14, where we happily trade desert mesa landscape for the alpine scenery of Dixie National Forest. Temperatures cool as we climb to a summit over 9,600 feet, and we drink in the sight of evergreen and aspen trees marching up and down slopes of coral colored earth.

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During the drive, Dave’s skill and experience behind the wheel saves us from mishap more than once: when a trucker swerves into our lane on a multi-lane highway, and later, when an oncoming SUV decides that a blind curve is a good place pull into our lane and pass a cyclist. Just before arriving at Bryce Canyon, we somehow manage to avoid colliding with a Northern Flicker, a large spotted woodpecker who flies at our windshield. I glimpse the flash of variegated feathers and cover my eyes, unwilling to watch the impact. But it never happens. “It veered away at the last minute,” Dave assures me.

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Once we enter the National Park, we make a beeline for the lodge, where Dave has reserved us a room for two nights. It’s too early to check in, so we take a moment to admire the historic structure, especially the whimsically flowing pattern of roof shingles, before walking the short distance to the canyon rim.

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Nothing has prepared us for what awaits: a natural amphitheater of time-sculpted rock formations that look like the dribble sand castles we made as children, only these fanciful creations glow with peach and salmon hues.

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Also, there is no railing. Pale-breasted swallows glide past us and dip into the void. For any creature without wings, one false step guarantees a long slide to death or assorted bodily mayhem.

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We inch closer to the brink, bewitched by the fantastical shapes and colors of the weird sandstone fins and spires called “hoodoos”, a term borrowed from folk-magic. We snap photos as long as we dare, until increasing ripples of vertigo compel us to back away.

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After our initial flirtation with the abyss, we stick to the safety of prescribed paths.

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Late afternoon heat eventually drives us into the hotel lobby, where the desk clerk, a fresh-faced schoolgirl, hands us the keys to our “room”, which turns out to be a storybook cabin.

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Built in the 1920’s of rough-hewn logs, our cabin has a shady front porch, a high peaked ceiling and exposed log beams, and is equipped with two queen beds, good reading lights, a tiny refrigerator (perfect for chilling beer and wine), a table and chairs, a full bath, a separate dressing room with sink and vanity, and even a fireplace.

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We have time before dinner for a bike ride, showers, and even a glass of wine on the front porch. A short walk leads to the lodge dining room, where we enjoy an expertly prepared meal of trout, roasted vegetables and herbed wild rice. Afterwards, we return to the canyon overlook, and in the gathering dusk, the columns of weathered stone glimmer like candles.

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Early the next morning, I embark on a hike into the canyon, armed against heat and sunlight with a full water bottle, long-sleeved shirt, sunscreen, and hat.

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Strictly speaking, Bryce is not a “real” canyon, because it is not carved by flowing water, but by a process known as “frost-wedging”. Temperatures fluctuate above and below freezing every day for almost seven months of the year, enabling melt water to seep into fractures during the day, only to freeze and expand at night. The ice exerts a tremendous force, and over time it shatters and pries rock apart. Rain, which is naturally acidic, plays a role too, slowly dissolving the limestone, rounding off edges and washing away debris.

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The view from below the chiseled rock forms is just as magical as the view from above. As I follow the trail’s winding course, I pass loads of enthusiastic tourists, some wandering closer to the sheer drop offs than I care to, and most speaking to each other in languages other than English. I hear Mandarin, French, Italian, German, Japanese and many more that I can’t readily identify. I stop to chat with a French woman from Montpellier, and she informs me that she and her husband find Bryce so inspiring, they return year after year.

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On the steep ascent back up to the rim, I pass tourists coming down wearing street shoes—even heels—as they navigate the gritty path. Some hug the side of the trail furthest from the void, but many walk right up to the precipice and pose for selfies. Just watching them makes me feel queasy.

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In fact, a mildly vertiginous feeling in the pit of my stomach never entirely abates during our two days here. I’m not so much worried for myself as for the heedless child who scampers too close to the edge, or the brash tourist who loses his footing while focusing his camera. But surely my worries are unfounded?

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At the top of the climb, I happen to pass a suntanned, gray-bearded gentleman wearing the uniform of a Search and Rescue volunteer. “Doesn’t it drive you crazy when people stand near the edge?” I ask. “Sure does,” he nods and smiles. “But only about three people fall every year. Out of three million visitors. Not bad odds, really.”

Suffice to say, I highly recommend a visit to the fairyland that is Bryce. But please take care. And no matter how much you want that special photo, stay away from the edge.

June 16, 2018 / annakpf11

Riparian Refuge

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”—John Muir

DAYS FOUR & FIVE: June 7 & 8: Zion

It is not yet 6:30 AM when we pull into a parking space in the empty parking lot at the entrance to Zion national park. We were told to get here early, before the lot filled up, but perhaps we overdid it.

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With Suzy’s spot secured, we focus on breakfast, conveniently at hand about an arm’s length away. Meanwhile, as if a faucet has been turned on, pedestrians, cyclists, cars and RV’s begin pouring into the park. Perhaps we didn’t arrive too early after all. We finish our meal, leave the unwashed dishes in the sink, fill a daypack with water bottles, cameras, snacks and sunscreen, and set off on foot to the shuttle bus stop. Where we join an already lengthy queue.

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Following advice gleaned from fellow campers, we board the shuttle and ride all the way to the end of the line. From here, it’s possible to wade upstream to the Narrows, where the canyon’s red rock walls taper to only twenty feet apart, and soar a thousand feet overhead.

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We opt to walk the path along the Virgin River, and gaze in wonder at impossibly sheer rock walls the color of persimmons and rubies. We did not expect to find such grandeur here.

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“This place is like Yosemite,” observes Dave, “only smaller, with red rock instead of granite, and without the falls.”

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For generations, this stunning gorge was a seasonal camping ground for the Paiute Indians. They called it Mukuntuweap, which translates as straight canyon, or straight arrow.

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When Mormon settlers took over the area in the 1850s, they gave it a biblical name, Zion, denoting sanctuary, or place of refuge.

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We find the place uplifting, in the same way a visit to Yosemite National Park elevates our spirits. I spot a red-breasted nuthatch, creeping up the bark of a pine tree, and glimpse countless birds flitting through the landscape. Do they migrate here every year, I wonder? Or do some species live year ’round in this magical canyon? Some enchanted lifetime that would be.

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Hours later, an unforgettable walk in the canyon ends at the Zion Lodge, where we refill our water bottles and relax into rocking chairs, temptingly placed on the hotel’s shady veranda. Soon it will be too hot to remain outdoors. But now we are content to sit awhile, savoring a last view of Zion, and contemplating our plans for the afternoon.

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We decide to ride a shuttle down the mountain, drive to the RV park, plug into shore power and turn on the AC. It is the only livable option.

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By late afternoon, stepping outside is like walking into a pizza oven. I am tempted to cool off in the swimming pool, until I see it is a mosh pit of bobbing heads and thrashing limbs. Never mind. Suzy is our sanctuary.

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Note to selves (and any potential visitors to Zion who might be reading this): Our campground for two nights, the Zion River Resort RV Park and Campground, is probably a great place for families, but it provides far more amenities than we need or use.

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If we return to Zion, we’ll come in April or October, and we’ll stay in the town of Springdale, at the Zion Canyon Campground and RV Park, offering the necessities without the frills, and within walking distance to the entrance of Zion National Park.