Category Archives: Bucket List
My first trip to Alaska didn’t last nearly long enough. That said, my wife planned a heck of a trip in a tight time window. We flew late at night from Portland to Anchorage. After a few hours sleep, we ate breakfast at a nearby café which included reindeer sausage. Yep. Soon enough we had a rental car and headed north. Talkeetna, here we come. As soon as we passed the city limits, mountains loomed to the north and east. The forests were not as dense as those I am accustomed to in Oregon and Washington. The hemlocks and spruces were lovely, but on the small side. No matter. The scale of the land itself was cause for celebration. We stopped at a few different spots and saw stunning vistas. Mountains, lakes, wildlife and cute towns. I envisioned a hundred hikes on that two hour drive.
We arrived in Talkeetna a bit earlier than expected, and I moved up a flightseeing trip as a result. Twist my arm. Ten of us flew in a small plane courtesy of Talkeetna Air Taxi north to the Alaska Range. From the braided Susitna River to the Ruth Glacier and a fly by of big peaks, I was in heaven. We landed high on a glacier and gawked for fifteen minutes. Immaculate snowy peaks with massive cliffs were everywhere. The weather was perfect for us, if a bit warm for alpinists. For a mountain lover, this was almost a surreal experience, a bucket list trip to be sure.
Back in Talkeetna, Denise and I grubbed at Denali Brewing’s patio on a warm evening. They had a nice beer selection and great food. Mostly I remember the peanut butter pie. After exploring the town a bit more, including some unique street vendors, we retired to our room in the quaint Roadhouse. A nap was in order, but shortly after 11 p.m., we got up and headed out in search of the Aurora Borealis. We found it nearby. My photos are not great, but I include one for reference. Interestingly, there is a firm in Talkeetna that offers lesson on how to take photos the northern photos. Next time I will bring a better camera and take that lesson.
Not bad for one day. Look for more photos soon, including some of spectacular hiking in Denali National Park. Happy hiking.
I have intermittently dreamed about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail since I read Eric Ryback’s book about the trail when I was in high school. Naturally, life has taken random twists and turns, I’ve done a lot other cool things, from climbing cliffs and bungee jumping to getting married on a mountain to becoming a firefighter and publishing my writing. At my age, I’m not sure I can press pause on my life for five months it would require. Perhaps one day… Here is a tease I stumbled on today in which a hiker took a second-long video every day on the journey, which is compressed to a three-minute video. I’ve seen another version of this, where a man took a selfie every mile on the trail. It was interesting to see his face change, but I wanted to see the scenery more. This clip does that. Enjoy–especially those of you about to embark on the trail. If you can’t follow my link (and sorry about the ad), here’s the full URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=styiDn7YKhE
Vacations are funny creatures. They are so jam packed with fun activities, it seems as though they will never end. Then…poof! You are home. Visiting Joshua Tree National Park was like that. After wonderful short hikes at Hidden Valley and Barker Dam, we’d had a pleasant drive to Key’s Point, the highest spot in the park. Our next destination was uncertain.
I had no agenda in particular, but I knew we had miles to go before we slept. We didn’t have time for more significant hikes. Still, there was a vast range of desert sights to enjoy. Skull Rock sounded interesting, so we stopped there. And what do you know, close to the road, there was a rock with concavities which, when seen from a certain angle, lent it the appearance of a skull. An alien skull, perhaps, but a skull nonetheless. Fellow touristas were scrambling around the base of it, posing for silly photos. Not me. I am too dignified for that. Oh, wait…
Denise and I wandered around the Skull Rock area with Jackie Chan, finding cool rocks to climb on and bumping into dead end spots from which we couldn’t continue. It was a seemingly endless maze of rocks and sandy troughs with scrubby desert flora. Navigation was a challenge, but from any high point we could see the road. I could have stayed there for hours, happily getting lost in the afternoon shadows.
Alas, we needed to move on. The drive trended downhill soon after we turned towards the south entrance of the park. Major rock outcroppings became rarer, but the views extended further. It was a stupendous shift between the immediacy of rock piles near Skull Rock and vastness of views stretching dozens of miles across a desert without roads. My eyes shifted from focusing on a handhold right in front of me to ridges ten miles away.
The Joshua Trees disappeared, but now we saw cholla and ocotillo dotting the landscape. We had made the transition to the Colorado Desert, a sub-region of the greater Sonoran Desert. It reminded me of the brief period in my dreaming early adulthood when I lived on a ranch in Arizona, wanting to be a cowboy. I’d got more than a few barbs in my skin through curiosity then. Not this time. We found pullouts designed to look at the views and plant life. The pleasures of these spots were very different than those at the mazes of rocks above but equally enthralling.
The wide open spaces were gorgeous, punctuated with occasional rock piles or bumpy ridges alongside smooth looking plains. We surmised that the smooth part had been the bottom of the ocean in another geological era. A few times, we got out of the car a few times to stretch our legs and soak up the solitude. In this part of the park, cars might pass on the road every five minutes or so, but there was nobody else around.
Eventually the dramatic scenery tailed off as we approached the southern entrance to the park. A couple motorcycle riders sped around us, stopped roadside, then sped around us again ten minutes later. I can’t help but think they missed some of the beauty of this desert world by focusing on the mundane pleasure of speed. Maybe I am just getting old, but I wish I had missed nothing. Joshua Tree National Park is an amazing place, and I hope I am lucky enough to return, perhaps with climbing gear and a tent, perhaps with a four wheel drive rig to check out some side roads with mining history. So many places to go! Our drive back to Palm Desert was filled with smiles.
I highly recommend a trip to Joshua Tree. If you visit, carry plenty of water.
Since I first heard of Joshua Tree National Park in the eighties, I have wanted to visit there. Well, duh, it’s my name, I love to climb rocks, and U2 was one of my favorite bands in the mid 80s when they came out with their breakthrough Joshua Tree CD. It seemed a destination carved in the stars. Why it took me decades to get there is one of the many mysteries of my life, but I finally went there last week with my wife and our dog, Jackie Chan. I was not disappointed.
J Tree, as many climbers call it, features the boundary of two great deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran. The first is relatively high in elevation and features the park’s namesake trees. We approached from the north after gaining a significant amount of elevation on the road through Yucca Valley. I wanted to smile when I started seeing Joshua Trees, AKA yucca brevifolia. The rocks were not yet dramatic, but finally the outcroppings popped up more and more often until their rounded granite domes and crags seemed ubiquitous. We stopped at a picnic area for a first taste of the rocks, and then we made our way to the famed Hidden Valley area, so named because supposed rustlers a century ago or more would hide their stolen beasts amid the chaotic jumble of rock which would deter most people from finding them.
We started seeing climbers carefully scaling a few of the crags, rope snaking upwards, and I was nostalgic for my climbing days. Scrambling sans rope on a small boulder is fun, but it does not produce the same thrill as climbing a vertical face 80 feet high. Ah, well. The trail was a loop winding around the interior of the so-called valley. After a while, it became very difficult to orient myself. There were hundreds if not thousands of house sized rocks to pass. Luckily, the path was easy to follow, and the sun was out, gloriously warm. I was actually surprised at how few climbers we saw, but I guess it’s an odd time of year for some people. March through May might be prime time.
After leaving Hidden Valley, we drove nearby to the Barker Dam trail, where locals augmented a natural water source with a dam to save water for their cattle in the early 20th century. The trail was similar to Hidden Valley, but more wide open in spots. On the return leg, we encountered a rock with petroglyphs. Unfortunately, some movie studio geniuses marred the images by painting over them to make them more visible.
At this point, we had done enough hiking for while, and I thought driving to Key’s Point, the highest point in the park, would be a nice change of pace. On the way up, we saw some great stands of Joshua Trees.
The golden rocks faded away. The land sloped upward. On top, there was a big parking lot with a dozen or more vehicles. The views from the short paved path were stunning. Rumpled brown ridges fell away in all directions to the low desert and the Salton Sea beyond. Dozens of people milled about, gawking and talking, pointing at views and posing for photos.
We drove away from Key’s Point, already amazed the by scale of Joshua Tree. I could spend days here hiking and scrambling and working on a tan. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for this trip, but we weren’t done yet. There would be more to come. Tune in next time for more images and tales about Joshua Tree National Park.
In between rounds at the Waterfront Blues Festival, I needed a decent hike, but I had little time, which was frustrating. I always have the fantasy of trekking in Nepal or circumnavigating Mont Blanc, but most of my hikes are local and casual. So it goes. Yesterday, I opted to start in Lower Macleay Park, as I have done in the past, seeking what passes for elevation gain inside Portland city limits.
By the time I had cruised three quarters of a mile along Balch Creek and joined the Wildwood Trail, I’d passed 25-35 people. This is not the trail for solitude on a weekend. Normally I would avoid it on a weekend, but it is close, pretty, and still offers a challenge.
The Wildwood Trail climbs in half a mile to the Audubon Sanctuary on Cornell Road, then continues toward Pittock Mansion. There are a couple of trail junctions, including one which called to mind my recent trip to Maryland.
Many people were walking and running in the forested hills, over many switchbacks. Running shoes were definitely the footwear of choice. With few exceptions, the trail is very smooth and make for easy walking, although effort is required. All told, there is around almost 900 feet of elevation gain. Not bad for inside the city limits.
The Pittock Mansion is a unique destination for the top of an ascent. It is a great old building, and there are spectacular views to the east. Should you desire, you can drive up and pay for guided tours through the mansion, learning a chunk of Portland history. I took a quick look at the building and turned around.
Here’s a fun bit of trivia: Henry Pittock, for whom the mansion is named, and who was an avid outdoorsman besides being publisher of The Oregonian, is credited by most with the first ascent of Mount Hood, on July 11, 1857. I think my hike just got more credibility.
On the descent, I veered onto the Upper Macleay Trail to make a bit of a loop. It was pleasant, but offered little to recommend it over the Wildwood Trail. I made good time back to the Cornell Road crossing and then to the bottom of Balch Creek Canyon, where the crowd increased.
I was happy to return to the car, and soon, drove to the Blues Festival for the closing night. My wife and I love going each year, and this year we brought our pup into the fest. This year’s festival, while not without controversy for a couple reasons, was as good as any in recent memory. Try this variety and talent on for size: Nikki Hill, Robert Randolph, Mavis Staples, Chubby Carrier, and Taj Mahal. And that’s just one day.
There was also some guy named Robert Plant singing a ditty about a whole lot of love. He did many familiar songs, including a great cover of “Spoonful,” and some Zeppelin songs were reworked with more of a world music feel. Amazingly, Plant still has the magic. After seeing Eric Burdon a couple nights earlier singing “It’s My Life” and “House of the Rising Sun”, and now hearing Plant sing “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Whole Lotta Love”, I ticked off a bucket list item without planning on it. What a weekend.
Life has been hectic, and I haven’t been hiking or posting as much as I’d like. After a few weeks of nice weather, and good timing, luck ran out. The end of the school year is always a tad goofy, and family visiting to celebrate a graduation made our days completely filled for a week or so.
The weather is now entirely disagreeable for outdoor adventures. So I think once again of small recent outdoor moments to savor, but I also must dream big. I greatly admire my fellow blogger Lesley Carter and her dedication to an annual bucket list. I’m not quite sure how she pulls it off, but there’s no time like the present to set my own goals and try to follow suit.
Hence a brief Bucket List:
Climb Mount Rainier. I’ve climbed Mount Hood eight times, but its not the same. I first attempted Rainier as a teenager, but got sick and wimped out. The next year I was in great shape and raring to go, but our group was slow and it was warm. We didn’t trust the snow bridges on the glacier and we turned back.
Hike a long section of the Pacific Crest Trail. I probably first set foot on the PCT when I was 12 or 13, but I have never hiked a long distance on it. I ready Eric Ryback’s book about it when I was in high school. It’s about time I did my own trip.
Raft the Grand Canyon with my family. Whitewater is something I’ve always loved but have rarely indulged in recent years. Next summer, Mom!
Hike the entire Wildwood Trail. This trail in Portland’s Forest Park is dozens of wooded miles long. It’s another path I’ve hiked on since I was very young, but it’s about time I link all the sections.
Revive my harmonica skills. This is the ultimate musical instrument for hiking trips, since it’s pocket sized. It’s time to really learn those scales and play more advanced tunes than “You Are My Sunshine” or a butchered “Scotland the Brave”.
Completing Cycle Oregon. I once thought about riding across the nation, but this seems a bit more feasible.
Building my blog. A vague goal, to be sure, but it would be nice if the energy I invest here reached a more sizable audience. Tell your friends!
I have other ideas for mountains to climb and sacred spots to visit and skills to learn, but that’s a nice start. If readers have list worthy ideas, drop me a line.