Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Another favorite place: Havasupai, the Grand Canyon. This is part of the Grand Canyon National Park and also home to the Supai Indians. To the right is a picture of the Havasu Falls. I've been twice and would love to go again. The best time to go is in the spring before it gets too hot. It is also best to hike in the early morning or in the evening, or at night if you have a full moon. It's only about an 8 mile hike from the rim, but the first time I went, we hiked in the middle of the day. I thought I was going to die of thirst - all my water bottles were empty. Then I saw one of my friends ahead drop his pack and start running and I knew we were at the river. It's hard to carry enough water when the temperature is in the 100's. The second time I went it was a month earlier in the year and we hiked at night. No water shortages that time. All this happened a while ago, but then the routine was to make reservations ahead of time to camp in the National Park - if you can't get a campsite there, you can camp on the reservation for a nominal fee. Either way, you check in at the village at the bottom.

This area is know for the water falls and pools. To the left is a picture of the pools below Havasu Falls. Once you get to the bottom and set up your camp, it's play time. Swimming and diving and swinging off a rope. Hiking to the next falls and swimming there. Catching some sun and going for another swim. Get the picture? The water is full of minerals which give it the magnificent turquoise color, but keep it from being potable. No problem though, hike further along the river trail, keeping your eyes on the canyon wall, and look for some watercress. When you find it, you've found the fresh water spring and you can fill your bottles.

Here is Mooney Falls. The canyon is closer here and the falls get less sunlight, but they are even bigger than Havasu Falls. It's a great place to backpack into because you don't need much gear; a bedroll (insulite pad and sheet), swimsuit, shorts and T-shirts, sneakers and flip flops, food and toiletries, MOSQUITO REPELLANT. I've had the most mosquito bites in my life here and the worst bites in my life. Once a mosquito bit me on my eyelid and my eye was swollen shut for almost 3 days! I don't know what makes them so different than others, but they are impressive in their ability to cause misery. Which brings me to socks - you have to sleep in socks - especially if you have sweet blood. I forgot one night and I had 14 bites on one foot and 12 on the other - some were in between my toes. Excruciating.

Here's another view of Havasu Falls. You can hike down to the Colorado River from here, but it is not an easy trek and you'll have to spend the night at the river. But why leave? It's so great where you are. We spent a week in the canyon both times that I went. It's backpacking and it's a relaxing vacation. You should go for a walk in the evening, through the pines, when the bats come out. They play their little bat games, dive-bombing and skimming through your hair. Harmless stuff, but a bit disconcerting if you're not ready for it.
This is definitely another worthwhile destination. From Kingman, AZ - take 66 to Peach Springs. From Flagstaff take 40 east to 66 to Peach Springs. From Peach Springs take the dirt road (it may be partially paved now, who knows?), about 40 miles to the parking lot at the canyon rim. From the rim, hike down - when you come face to face with a canyon wall with a river in front of it, TURN LEFT. Do not turn right, you'll just get lost in the canyons, and you don't want to do that. But that is my only caution - go to Havasupai and have a great trip!

Friday, August 25, 2006


Joshua Tree National Park is a spectacular place. It's located east of Palm Springs and a little south. Desert plains and hills are punctuated by giagantic boulders that have pushed up out of the earth. It is such a unusual landscape that people often say it feels like another planet - and indeed many Star Trek episodes (and SUV commercials) used Joshua Tree as a film location (as well as Vasquez Rocks to the northwest). Many of the boulders push up at an angle - you can hike up the backside of them and then, perched on top of the face, look out over the valleys. Or you can climb the face of the boulders - Joshua Tree is a popular destination for rock climbers.
The place is named for the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia), pictured here on the left. Its native habitat is in the deserts of California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, but they thrive in Lost Horse Valley and Queen Valley - both located in Joshua Tree National Park. The tree was named by the Mormons in the mid 1800's. It grows slowly - in the first year it will grow from about 4"-8" - after that, the Joshua Tree averages only about 4" of growth per year and can live for a couple of hundred years if it survives the harsh desert conditions. The trees can reach about 50 feet tall, but I have never seen one that big. My favorite time to visit Joshua Tree is in the spring, during a full moon. The desert blooms with miraculous color in the springtime. The Joshua Trees get the big, pointy stalks of white flowers; the California Poppy washes the hills in profuse orange; the cacti bloom flowers as varied as the species. There are even the tiniest flowers beneath your feet, blooming from a ground cover type plant that gives softly when you walk on it, and sprigs back as soon as you move on.
You can also see a lot of wild life in the springtime, but you have to find a place to sit quietly for awhile. One day as I sat on a hillside I saw, lizards, snakes, jackrabbits, coyotes, hawks and Desert Bighorn Sheep.

Visiting the park on full moon days is the way to go. It is so bright on a full moon night that you can hike without a flashlight. The first time I camped there, it was a full moon weekend (not by plan, just by luck) and it was my first experience of seeing my moonshadow. Up until that night I thought a moonshadow was a fanciful, fictional idea invented by Cat Stevens.
Desert flora and fauna are all very nice, but the rocks are the real draw of the place. How did they come to be here? I've never researched it, but my theory is that from the freezing of the earth at the last ice age to the warming of the earth in our present age, the rocks were pushed up through the ground by pressure. How does that sound? Or maybe it has something to do with the fault lines and tectonic plates. Whatever the cause, they are here and they are magnificent. But as you hike around you'll see that other forces of nature have been at work - mainly water and wind. On the tops of the boulders you will come across perfectly round depressions. If you are there shortly after a rain, they may be filled with water. There are also many little caves in the side of the rocks, some only big enough for a person to sit cross-legged inside.
If you are ever in California and you have the time, or opportunity, Joshua Tree National Park is definitely a worthwhile detour or destination.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


A favorite place of mine is the Outer Banks of North Carolina - yes, I know, another island, another beach. What can I say, I love beaches and salt water. As you can see by the map, this long strip of sand dune is in the path of hurricanes. When the storms come through the Caribbean they either go east to Florida and the gulf, or they head north and crash into the Outer Banks.
I spent a most memorable week there with my Aunt Pammie and Uncle Bruce when I was in high school and I have always wanted to go back. The beaches are very similar to those on Amelia Island - long stretches of white sand with dunes and sea oats.
The water is more treacherous though. Rip tides and ocean rivers abound. I don't know if there really is such a thing as an ocean river, but I got caught in something one day that felt like one. I was on my beach raft floating and paddling around, looking deep into the water for sea creatures. When I looked back up, the shore was quite far away and I was heading out to sea at a relatively fast rate. I started yelling and my uncle came swimming out to me and pulled me back in. My uncle is a big, strong guy, and he had to work hard to get us back to shore. After that we paid close attention to the tides.
These tides also wreak havoc on ships - the strange currents and the almost right angle curve of the coastline leave shifting underwater shoals and sand bars that have wrecked many a ship. The islands are dotted with lighthouses, the most famous being the Cape Hatteras lighthouse pictured here. You can climb to the top and look out and down, and we did. People look funny when you are peering straight down on them. I was impressed.
Go north a bit from Cape Hatteras and you will come to Kitty Hawk, in Kill Devil Hills - the site of the Wright Brothers historic first flight. The wide flat sand of the beaches and the steady off-shore
winds made this an ideal site for attempting flight. There is a museum dedicated to the Wright Brothers and the early history of flight.
The houses are built on pylons to protect them from water damage during storms. I'm not sure how strong or safe they are in hurricanes though.
I will never forget that bit of summer I spent here. If you love beaches as much as I do, you definitely have to plan a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


It happened in the heat of the moment. You know how it goes. You have no intention whatsoever of getting involved and the next thing you know you're saying: You really should go. I can drive you.

Now you've gone and done it. You planned a relaxing weekend on the beach, some sun, swimming, checking out the guys. Instead you're up early, only to sit in the car for half an hour waiting for him to shower and shave, because of course he can't show up looking like the bum he is.

The thing is, he's really not a bum. And I wish I didn't have this big, fat crush on him.

He smoked like a man possessed all the way there. He fidgeted. Could not carry on a conversation.

Once inside the trailer in the desert "community" his parents retired to, we sat stiffly on the edge of our chairs while his Mom poured another bourbon for herself and urged us to go ahead and have a drink. His father sat on the sofa; a beach towel between himself and the upholstery, the unmistakable spread and smell of urine – not camouflaged by the towel's bright pattern. Ten AM.

Looking to the bright side I think: At least when he finally realizes he loves me I won't have to worry about in-laws – they'll be dead soon.

And I hear him say: We can't stay long. We just dropped by on our way to Mexico.

I love him even more.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Amelia Island, Florida: A barrier island, the southern-most of the Sea Islands, on the east coast of Florida, just below the Georgia border. I love this place. I have family there, which is the only readon why I know about it. It is 13 miles long and about 4 miles wide. The beaches on the eastern, ocean side are spectacular. Thirteen miles of white sand bordered by Dunes and sea oats. At the north end of the island is Fort Clinch State Park, and at the southern end is Amelia Island State Park.

One of my favorite pastimes is to walk the beach looking for fossilized shark's teeth. Bits of black mussel shells can fool you into thinking you've found one, but when you finally do find one, the shells will never fool you again. The best times to find the teeth are after a big storm or after the northern channel is dredged for the boomers. When I'm on the island I like to be on the beach at any time during the day or night. Morning walks with my cup of coffee, days swimming and sunning, evenings just sitting and watching the pelicans fly inches from the water, looking for an easy meal. Midnight swims with my cousins after playing pool at the Palace Saloon - the oldest bar in the United States...

...Which brings me to the town of Fernandina Beach. A historic place with a quaint walking/shopping area that goes right down to the docks on the western, river side of the island. This district is full
of historic victorian homes, many of which have been turned into charming Bed & Breakfast establish-ments. Take an early morning walk and see the homes while it's still cool out and then head over to T-Rays and have a great breakfast - it's a small place but it gives you the chance to share a table with the locals.
Afternoon and early evening kayaking or canoeing on the river and into the wetlands gives one an entirely different experience of the island. To see what the island looked like before it was settled, take a hike through Fort Clinch. I was astonished at how densely the palms and brush could grow! If golf is your bag, there are several courses on the island. I've played the public course and it was great, but then, I'm biased - that was the day that I realized after years of competing against my older brother, and never winning, golf was the one sport that I was finally better at than he was - He has a wicked slice, and all the water hazards were on the right!

There are beach houses and vacation condos to rent as well as resonable hotels. If you like a resort style vacation, there's always the Ritz Carlton. One of the best times I've ever had on Amelia was in a beach house with a screened in back porch overlooking the sand and water. One night there was a thunder storm off-shore, and I sat out on the porch with my brother till 4 AM, watching the lightning on the horizon. It was magical. The wine probably helped!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I've been living in Seattle for 14 years now and I really do love it. I like the vibrant downtown action of the city, the water views practically everywhere I turn - I've even become acclimated to the weather; cooler temperatures in the summer, crisp breezes off the sound in the evenings. There are however, a few things I really miss about California - besides my friends, or course.

In no particular order:

A) I miss Jacaranda tress. The beautiful shape, wide branching canopy, the heady scent and spectacular display of lavender leaves in the spring and summer! And the soft carpet of purple that the flowers create when they drop. What more could you want in a tree? Unless it's a...

B) Pepper tree! Towering, assymetrical shape, majestic shade provider. The delicate curving leaves and drooping tertiary branches make this tree a graceful addition to the California landscape.

As if that weren't enough, you also get the red berries hanging in festive clusters. If you're industrious enough, you can pick them and dry them and have fresh pepper for your mill. Did I mention the scent?

C) The beaches. Here's one of my favorites: Laguna Beach. One wide sandy beach, zillions of small sandy coves, cliffs, rocks below, tide pools, you can spend days swimming, sunning, surfing & exploring on the beach in Laguna and never get bored.
Another favorite - La Jolla (hoya) Beach. A bit further south and much smaller than Laguna, but just as spectacular. Big Cliffs and coves, with grassy play areas above. Lots of tidal pools and wildlife. An unexpected plus to both of these beaches - wild aloe grows along the cliffs - if you cut your foot or get sunburned, just break off a piece or two and rub the gel on your tender injured bits.
And a little bit further south is Coronado Beach on Coronado Island in San Diego. I think this is possibly the widest, longest, whitest beach in all of California. I've never seen it full - even when it's busy it feels kind of empty. In addition the sea bed is shallow and extends "way out" as we used to say when we were kids. The swimming, body surfing and bogey-boarding is great at this beach - you can catch a wave and ride for 50 or 60 yards, maybe more.

When you're tired of the beach, just take a walk to the famous Coronado Hotel (Some Like It Hot was filmed there) and have a drink in the cool bar.

Going back up the coast to the L.A. area there is Venice Beach. Actually the whole coast from Santa Monica down to Redondo Beach is great - it's all wide, sandy beaches with good surfing and swimming. The true gem of this stretch though is the boardwalk - it goes the entire length! It's not a boardwalk in the tradition of the old wooden style, but rather, a wide paved path that you can walk, roller skate, skateboard or bike on from one end to the other. I used to ride my bike from West Hollywood to Santa Monica, and then down the Boardwalk to Hermosa Beach and back to Venice, then take Pico Avenue home. I don't know how many miles that is, but I'd sleep for 12 hours afterwards!

One cannot talk about these beaches without mentioning the scene in Venice. How can I describe it? Street performers, sidewalk vendors, cafes, bars, pizza windows, Muscle Beach, music, people, people, dogs, more people. It's fabulous! You can't go to L.A. without checking out Venice - it would be a sin!

D) The golden I miss the golden hills. This picture doesn't do them justice, but I love the hills with the grass dried to a shimmering gold, rolling endlessly, dotted with sage and live oaks. All in all, Seattle is a bit too green for me, I'd like some Golden Hills to rest my eyes on.