The most scenic railroad, the longest fish ladder and the largest weathervane

July 30 – August 1, 2014

Our ferry from Wrangell to Skagway departed at the insane time of 2:30 AM. These ferries depart and arrive at the craziest times staying only a few hours at most ports. Trying to schedule a trip through the Inside Passage can be difficult given the whacky schedule. We wanted to spend time in Gustavus visiting Glacier Bay National Park but it would have added almost an additional week to the time traveling through the Inside Passage. Since we’ll never be able to see everything on this trip much will be left for future travels; Glacier Bay National Park will be on that list.

During this section of the Inside Passage from Wrangell to Juneau then onto Skagway we saw many glaciers in the distance.

Icebergs from the glacier in the distance. This glacier has retreated 30 miles over the past decade.
Icebergs from the glacier seen in the distance. The ferry slowed to a crawl as it passed through this section.

There was almost a three hour stop in Juneau so we decided to share a van ride into town with a few other couples. We had enough time to walk around the small downtown area which was jam packed with jewelry stores and fur stores. As we were walking through town we noticed that there were blue sheets of paper taped to the front windows of a few shops announcing that that they were Alaska owned shops. Our only guess was that many of the shops were owned by the cruise lines. Since I wasn’t in the market for jewelry or fur, I didn’t do much shopping! We did have lunch at one of the restaurants which was a welcome change to the ferry food service!

How many jewelry and fur shops does a place need? These were cruise ship shops for their tourists.
How many jewelry and fur shops does a place need? These were cruise ship shops for their tourists.

Back on the ferry we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the views and exchanging stories with our fellow passengers.

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One of the many glaciers that we saw on in the Inside Passage between Juneau and Skagway.
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Just another stunning sunset on the Inside Passage!
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We spent our days in awe watching the changing landscape on the ferry through the Inside Passage.

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The mountains looked like ice cream sundaes with cherry clouds set aglow by the sunset.

We arrived in Skagway at 4:40 AM. Did I tell you that these arrival times were crazy!? We feel so guilty driving our very loud diesel truck into RV campgrounds so early in the morning. We couldn’t find any open spots at the first RV campground where we had “reserved” a spot so we went to Pullen RV park right next to the marina and found an empty spot.

Before arriving in Skagway the plan was to stay 3-4 days but once we walked through town and realized it was very much a cruise ship port of call tourist town we decided that two days would be more than enough. The beautiful Dewey Lake Trailhead started just a few feet from the RV park entrance. This was a perfect place for a run! We certainly aren’t racking up the miles that we once ran but the terrain is much hillier and more technical than anything we ran in the Bay Area. We took a break during the run to watch some people jump 30 feet into the cold waters of Lower Dewey Lake.

We spent the following day on the White Pass & Yukon Route train tour. Our experience with tours is a bit spotty but we continue to go on those that we feel have the potential to expose us to something that we wouldn’t see otherwise. In this case, we heard that this narrow gauge train ride would take us through some of the most scenic areas of Alaska and the Yukon Territory. The scenery along the railway was breathtaking and considering the challenges of building this railway in 1898 makes it an engineering marvel. Riding the train hugging the mountain sides felt as if we were suspended in air. Looking out the window you could see that the width of the path for the train was only as wide as the train.

There were waterfalls and canyons, mountains and a river with class 7 rapids that have never been navigated. The route is an out and back which created a lot of discussion at the beginning of the trip with people strategizing as to which side to sit for the best views. People really never grow up! There was one man who shoved his way ahead of the crowds trying to get the best view. All of this was unnecessary since once we hit the end of the route the engineers move the engine from the front of the train and put it in the rear of the train making it the new front on the way down. All passengers switch sides and flip the back of the seats to the other side so we all face forward. If you followed all of the it means that if you were on the cliff side during the ride up the mountain then you have a canyon view on the way back down. No need to trample over your fellow passengers to get the best view!

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We did the White Pass Summit Excursion on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. The views were spectacular along the tour.

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Tourists hanging out on the platforms between the rail cars on the train ahead of us.
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These guys did a happy dance for the tourists as we passed by. The earlier trains would drop people off who wanted to hike for the day. The last train would pick them up to return to Skagway.

The rail line was practically obsolete at the time of completion since it was completed during the waning years of the gold rush. Most prospectors couldn’t afford passage by rail anyway! They could barely meet the Canadian Border Patrol obligation that all prospectors have 2 tonnes of supplies with them before entering Canada thus ensuring that Canada would not become burdened with an onslaught of prospectors that couldn’t survive the trip to Dawson City, the gateway to gold country. I can’t imagine the force of will of these men and woman who pursued golden dreams of riches. This is rugged terrain and they were carrying their loads on foot, horseback and dogsled through all types of weather.

 

After the train ride we had a late lunch and then started our next leg of the journey to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Once we arrived at Whitehorse we spent some time trying to find a secluded spot to spend the night. We saw on the GPS that there was a promising looking road along the river so we tried to find somewhere inconspicuous to park. We found what seemed to be a promising area and when we rounded the bend we were shocked to see Looking4Adventure‘s rig! We were in the middle of nowhere and ran into the same couple that we met back in March in Death Valley! They were actually out for a walk so we didn’t get to say hello. We left them to their awesome spot, not wanting to ruin their privacy.

We gave up on finding anything special so went to the local RV park. I was a little surprised that there wasn’t anyone around to check us in but Darryl gently let me know that it wasn’t unreasonable for an RV office to be closed after 11 pm! With almost 20 hours of daylight my internal clock was completely off!

Yukon River Trail in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Yukon River Trail in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

The next morning we went for a run at the place where we saw Looking4Adventure. Unfortunately they had already left but it was a beautiful run along the Yukon River.

Whitehorse is home to a few of the world’s biggest that we just had to see. First on the itinerary was the world’s longest wooden fish ladder. I’ve never seen a fish ladder and really couldn’t imagine what one looked like or even how a fish could “climb” one! They have a wonderful exhibit at their fish ladder and the volunteers are eager to answer any of your questions about the fish ladder. I naively thought that a fish ladder would enable most of the salmon to return to their spawning grounds. I was shocked to learn that only about 1,500 would make it up the ladder this year compared to the tens of thousands that left here for the sea just 3-5 years ago. “Of about 750 smolts that head out for the ocean, only about two to six adults are expected to return to their natal streams.”

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“One fish, two fish” art exhibit coordinated in 1999 by local artist Donald Watt to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fish ladder.
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World’s longest wooden fish ladder in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. Only 1,597 salmon passed through it this year of which 372 were wild salmon. The remainder were fish hatchery salmon.

The next world’s largest is this DC-3 weathervane. I just wanted to drive by it to see it but since we were there we decided to visit the Yukon Transportation Museum where it was located. I found it fascinating to see the evolution of transportation in the Yukon covering rail, dog sleds, vehicles and aviation.

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Possibly the world’s largest weathervane is this DC-3 which is mounted to point into the wind. It’s installed at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.

We would continue our own little journey through the Yukon onto Tok, Alaska in our comfy XP Camper. Next post Tok and Chicken, Alaska!

Glaciers & temperate rain forests…Alaska, here we come!

July 26-29, 2014

The Washington Ferry from Port Townsend to Bellingham doesn’t actually drop you off in Bellingham. You arrive in a small port at Keystone on Whidbey Island. From there you drive across Whidbey Island then across the bridge to the mainland and north to Bellingham. It’s only an hour and half drive and the scenery along the island is beautiful.

Once in Bellingham we went to the ferry to get our tickets for the Alaska Marine Highway then walked into the small old town area and had lunch. We were told to be back to our vehicle by 3:30 so they could begin boarding. We arrived by 3:15 and waited, and waited, and waited for the boarding process to begin. We didn’t start boarding until 5:30! Once the boarding began it was a pretty quick process.

During our wait we spent the time talking with our fellow travelers. There was a bit of interest in the XP Camper and I gave out a few brochures that Marc provided to us. One of the men we met was from Cody, Wyoming. He had so many nice things to say about Cody that we added it to our travel itinerary during the Yellowstone to Colorado phase of the trip.

The solar deck was packed with campers.
Both the front deck and solar deck were packed with campers.
A view of the observation area overlooking the front deck.
A view of the observation area overlooking the front deck.

It was rainy and cold for the duration of our 44 hour ferry crossing from Bellingham to Wrangell 36 hours from Bellingham to Ketchikan then another 5 hours to Wrangell.

Our stop in Ketchikan was around 7 in the morning for a little over an hour. We got up to see the town which was a 10 minute cab ride away. We opted to have breakfast across from the ferry terminal instead. I was less than impressed with the food options available on the ferry which reminded me of the institutional meals from my school lunch program years and years ago.

It was soothing to sit in the observation lounge and take in the landscape.
The somber tones made me feel calm and reflective.

Back on the ferry I settled in for another wet day. I had envisioned seeing snow capped mountains and glaciers throughout the Inside Passage. We saw a few mountains with snow still on their peaks but no glaciers so far. The waters were a steely grey and there were fog banks obscuring parts of the islands. The islands were dressed in forest green covered in a fine grey gauze. The skies were varying shades of grey making the scenery a two-toned world of greens and grey.

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Ferry tracks
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At the tip of Campbell Island is the Dryad Point Lighthouse in Bella Bella, British Columbia.

Finally we arrived at Wrangell, Alaska, the third oldest community along the Alaskan Inside Passage with a population of 2,300 (2013) and where we would spend the next couple of days. It was a Sunday so most of the stores were closed. At first glance, the town did not seem to have any amenities for tourists. We went down the main street and found the Wrangell Convention and Visitor Center which looked closed. There was a woman in the office but closing it up. She informed us that they are typically closed on Sundays but with the Bearfest Marathon just finishing as she pointed out the last competitor walking under the balloon arch finish line. She spent a few minutes sharing with us what we should do during our couple of days in Wrangell and said we absolutely need to go to Anan. Her husband is a tour guide at Anan and said that the viewing has been great this year! She sent us back into town to where all of the tour operators are located near the small marina.

Armed with a small library of brochures about Wrangell activities we drove the main street back through the small town past two grocery stores, a handful of hardware and general merchandise stores, one clothing store, VFW hall and couple very tiny  restaurants. Wrangell has the feel of a small town that has no clue that one of its primary economic resources is tourism. We liked the feeling that we were in a real Alaskan town. There was only one tour operator that was open and we inquired about getting on the Anan Bears and Wildlife Observatory tour. This tour was why we chose Wrangell as a stopover along the Inside Passage. At Anan there are viewing platforms overlooking a river where salmon spawn and grizzlies feast. This was going to be one of the highlights of our Alaska trip. Unfortunately, they were completely booked for the following day due to a cruise ship coming to port. They provided us with a couple of other smaller tour operators to call but nobody else was open.

The funny thing about talking to small tour operators is that when you call them you’re likely calling their home. I called two of them and definitely felt that I was interrupting their Sunday evening. We decided to wait until their offices were open the next day to call any others. So far, everyone was booked…months in advance! Now time to explore Wrangell!

Although it was drizzling all day, people were out biking, running and doing yard work as if it were a dry sunny day. I guess a drizzly day is as good as a dry one when you live in a temperate rainforest where it gets almost 80 inches of rainfall a year! Coming from California, Darryl and I weren’t accustomed to all of this rain. Ever since arriving in Washington State there has been some level of precipitation every day. Up until then our trip was five straight months of sunny weather with maybe two or three days with a smattering of rain.

After driving through the small town (which took about five minutes) we drove about an hour out of town to the Nemo Campsites in the mountains. The sites were gorgeous and we were tempted to stay out there but we still needed to get our Anan tour tickets first thing in the morning. We opted to stay at campsites along Spur Road which is just 10 minutes from the tour operators. View from the Nemo campsites.

View from the Nemo campsites.

The next morning we learned a hard lesson about the impact of cruise ship tourism on these small Alaskan towns. Basically, the cruise ships booked every single one of the tour companies months in advance for 100% of their spots. So we weren’t going to Anan. Although bummed with the current situation due to our lack of planning I doubt that it will make us be better planners. We love living in the moment and staying someplace longer if it suits us and moving on if it doesn’t. We’ll just have to deal with the consequences.

There were three tours that all of the companies offered; Anan, the LeConte Glacier and the Stikine River Tour. They are listed in this order on all the signage and brochures and the prices are reflected high to low in this order. Both Anan and Leconte Glacier were fully booked leaving only the third tour as an option for the next day. We were hesitant to spend the $175 each for the third ranked tour but hey, we would be able to see Shakes Glacier and there was a chance we would see some wildlife. If John Muir called the Stikine River Valley as a “Yosemite 100 miles long” then it must be pretty spectacular. We purchased the tickets for the following day and spent the rest of the day visiting the museum and then off to the restored Chief Shakes Tribal House, I picked up a few produce items at the tiny natural foods market and then off to explore the backroads in the Tongass National Forest.

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The tribal home is made of beautifully hand carved red cedar.
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One of Chief Shakes totem poles. Historically totem poles were left to decay in the elements. Due to discouragement by missionaries and the US government’s, new totems were on the decline. Preservation of restoration of existing totems began in the 1930’s to preserve this cultural heritage.
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View of Wrangell from Chief Shakes Island.

Our Stikine River Tour started at 9 am with Alaska Waters Wilderness Adventure Tours. Captain James and First Mate Scott would be our tour guides for the day. When we booked the tour we asked about what we would see and were told that we would see Shakes Glacier. No bears but a glacier! I was pretty excited to see my first glacier! Scott and James had plenty of stories to share with us about the area and its history. The tour along the river was beautiful but doesn’t vary a lot until we arrived at the icebergs that split from Shakes Glacier after calving events earlier in the spring. They blocked access to the glacier so we weren’t going to see the actual glacier. I should have been more specific in my questions about the tour. “Will we see the whole glacier or just the bits and pieces that have broken off?” I must admit that I was thought touching the icebergs was pretty awesome; maybe not $175 / ticket awesome. I couldn’t believe the size of them which were like small islands floating in the river.

The color of these ice bergs was amazing!
The color of these ice bergs was amazing!
Ice bergs come in all shapes and colors.
Ice bergs come in all shapes and colors.

We saw a few float houses on the river. First Mate Scott told us the backstory about these float houses. When the Federal Government created the national forests, parks, wildernesses and preserves throughout Alaska it agreed to leave the rivers as state territory. Private property within the federally managed areas is not allowed however, the private property of long time residents was grandfathered in to be retained by the family. Because the rivers are state owned many Alaska residents own float houses.

Float house on Stikine River.
I would love to spend a week in this float house!

We weren’t lucky enough to see any wildlife during our tour. Although the scenery was beautiful, I don’t think that the tour was worth the cost and I wouldn’t recommend going on this particular tour. Try to get out to the LeConte Glacier if you can’t get to the #1 tour at the AnAn Bear Observatory. Our tour company was excellent and all of the tour companies bill the Stikine River tour as “seeing the Shakes Glacier”. We were so pleased with Alaska Waters that we booked a future visit to Anan on our return the the Inside Passage in a few weeks. They’ll pick us up from the Banana Point pick-up on Petersburg island.

Darryl and I spent our last hours in Wrangell exploring the coast. Our ferry would arrive at 2:30 am to take us to Skagway. Our time in Wrangell was short and extremely wet. We were seriously considering going to Alaska with the FJ and roof top tent. I think we would have been miserable trying to camp in the rain with that set-up. We were so happy to have our XP Camper at this point!

Our time on the inside passage would be drawing to a close soon. Next stop would be Juneau for just a few hours and then onto Skagway on the mainland….next post.

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Lichen covered Sitka Spruce
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I think everyone in Alaska has a boat and a car to get around.
Commercial fishing boat
Commercial fishing boat

Last Days in the Lower 48

July 20 – 25, 2014

Our time in the lower 48 states was quickly drawing to an end and we were really excited to get on the ferry and see Alaska. It has been on our bucket list for many years but we never really knew how we wanted to explore it. Neither of us are cruise ship travelers and we didn’t think that driving our Subaru to Alaska and camping in tents was the ideal vacation. But we had a lot of driving to do before catching our ferry from Bellingham, WA to Wrangell, AK.

Our first stop was at a Ford dealer in Sacramento, CA to check on a brake issue that cropped up as soon as we left Grass Valley. It seems like there is always something going on with the vehicles that we own!

Once the brakes were fixed we drove to Ashland, Oregon. Overall, this wasn’t the most exciting week for us on the trip since most of the time was spent retracing our route back through Oregon then onto Washington, cooking, eating, running and sleeping.

The runs were our highlight during this week. We enjoy getting out for a run as often as possible wherever we stay. It’s a great way to see a neighborhood and enjoy the outdoors. We made running a priority this week since we would be spending so much time driving and it would be the only exercise that we would get. Working out with regularity is one thing I miss on this trip. It’s been tough getting into a regular workout schedule but we can at least manage a weekly run.

Our second day was a relatively short drive to Portland so I could stop by Powell’s Books the next day to pick up the missing CD from the audio book “1,000 Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini which I purchased during our earlier visit. (As an aside, I loved the book and the characters Khaled created. I often think back on the lives of Laila and Mariam, the two protagonists of the story, and wish I could have a little more time with them.) We were living in the FJ when we visited Portland earlier in the trip. Compared to the XP Camper, our FJ was a dream to drive around the city. With the XP, parking is difficult because many lots have height restrictions that our XP exceeds and trying to parallel park this beast is almost as difficult as finding a spot long enough to fit into (we’re about 21 feet long)! So instead of parking, Darryl drove around the block, and around the block, and around the block…while I ran inside to make the exchange.

It was a pretty easy decision to get back to the highway rather than dealing with the Portland traffic so we decided to continue up the coast of Washington to the Screamin Eagle Campgrounds just outside of Ocean City, Washington. The cool thing about this campground is that it accommodates horses so I spent the following morning chatting with a couple about their Standardbreds. If you have ever watched harness racing this is likely the breed that was racing. They are the fastest trotters in the world and many of them have a unique natural gait called the pace, a two-beat lateral gait where the front and hind leg of one side move in unison. After our conversation I decided that I’m not quite ready to ride a breed that can pace a mile in under 2.5 minutes!

This was our running route on Washington Beach just behind our campsite.
This was our running route on Washington Beach just behind our campsite.

We made it to Port Townsend, Washington near the end of the next day. We were hoping that we arrived early enough to get an RV spot in the cute historic downtown area which also has a killer view on the water. It’s a popular spot but with very few spaces available so we weren’t surprised to see that it was completely full by the time we rolled in. Our only other option were the fairgrounds so off to the less scenic but spacious fairgrounds for our evening in Port Townsend. There were plenty of spaces available with clean bathrooms but without the gorgeous views and easy access to the downtown. The “early bird catches the worm” but Darryl and I are rarely early birds. Maybe this will change somewhere along the trip…but I highly doubt it! We did have to set our alarms for our early morning ferry departure to Bellingham, WA.

After packing up the XP the following morning we went into town to find a hot breakfast before boarding the ferry. It seemed that we were up far too early for most of the cafes as we walked by closed sign after closed sign. Darryl asked a couple that was walking along the street if they knew of a good breakfast place. They were on their way to their favorite spot, Sweet Laurette Cafe & Bistroand invited us to come along with them. We ended up having a wonderful breakfast with them! As chance would have it, he was born and raised in Alaska and had stories to share with us of his life in Alaska. He is also an avid cyclist who takes cycling vacations throughout the country while his wife drives a support vehicle for many of these journeys. We were so caught up in their stories that we almost missed our ferry! The check hadn’t arrived yet and we had to boogie!! They were so kind to treat us to our breakfast as payment for the many meals that they received on their journeys. Their only request was that we pay it forward to somebody else that we meet in the future. I completely forgot their names but I’ll just refer to them as our “Road Angels”.

We made it to the ferry with plenty of time to spare. We didn’t realize that there was so much time spent waiting to load when taking a ferry! This first ferry to Bellingham took only 30 minutes. Then once in Bellingham we had time for a quick lunch and then off to the Alaska Marine Highway ferry loading docks to wait for loading. During the long wait we had lots of time to check out the other vehicles making the trip to Alaska. Our XP caught the eye of a few admirers and we passed the time exchanging stories with our fellow travelers about our journey and they shared with us their adventures. I was surprised to meet so many people that travel to Alaska year after year for weeks at a time. And here I thought that our allotted six weeks in Alaska would be plenty of time to see the state. Now I’m having my doubts considering the extensive amount of time people spend in Alaska and yet they feel that there is so much more to see. We’ll soon find out if we budgeted enough time! If not, we can always make it back another day.

This week went by so quickly with much of the daylight hours spent driving that I didn’t take out my camera much. The photos below are the best that I can find in a very limited supply! I’m sure that once we make it to Alaska I’ll have more impressive photos to share. In the meantime stay tuned for our next update as we arrive in Alaska!

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All ready to board the Washington Ferry from Port Townsend to Bellingham!
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They really cram us in!
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A last look at Port Townsend, WA.
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All aboard the Alaska Marine Highway!! These ferries are huge!

FJ wrap-up…XP new beginnings

July 10 – 21, 2014

We finally get our XP and we wouldn’t even get to spend the first night in it!

Our original plan was to have the XP for a few weeks to get comfortable with the rig and flush out any issues with either the truck or the camper before going to Alaska. Because of some of the delays we would have just two weeks to get to our ferry in Washington. We still had a lot to do in this short window giving us very little time to get to know our new home. After Marc handed us the keys we went to dinner in Nevada City and took inventory of what needed to be done before boarding the ferry. Our first order of business was to get the F350’s 100k mile service completed ASAP. In our experience it’s never just taking a vehicle in for service since they always find something else to fix. We didn’t have time to waste so we decided to find a Ford service department who could begin work the next day. The Ford Store in Gilroy had a 7 am appointment available the next morning. This meant driving our FJ and XP the three hours to the Bay Area once we finished dinner. We stayed in a hotel just minutes away from the dealer. Our first night in the XP would have to wait.

We dropped off the vehicle and were told that it would take a couple of days to do the service and finish work on the additional items that we knew about it. Later that day we heard from the service department. They suggested that we take care of a few more issues which added another day. We spent these days visiting friends and buying some gear for the trip that we couldn’t fit into the FJ. There was even some time for my favorite run in the Bay Area at Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz.

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Perfect day for a run in Santa Cruz.
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This is my favorite part of this trail as we run along the cliffs overlooking Monterrey Bay.
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Darryl and I end every trip to Santa Cruz with a visit to Natural Bridges.

Now with our XP ready for the trip we were ready to move into our new home. After living in the FJ for four months, the XP feels like a palace! We now have a small kitchen with plenty of counter space to prepare meals. Everything runs on diesel so no more searches for propane canisters for the Coleman stove.

Our first guests were Cesar and his wife Brenda, longtime friends of Darryl’s. We gave them the ten cent tour of our XP which took just a few minutes. A quick spin around while standing in place is about all it takes to see everything! 🙂 There’s not enough room in the XP for a dinner party so we headed across the parking lot for dinner. Over dinner caught each other up the happenings in our lives. There was also plenty of talk about where to cross into Mexico and safe places to stay as well as places to avoid. As Mexican natives, Cesar and Brenda have been a wonderful source for us as we plan our trip into Mexico. We don’t expect to cross the border into Mexico until October but it’s never to early to start planning parts of the route!

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As soon as we picked up our truck from Ford we went over to our storage locker to transfer everything from our FJ into the XP and to pick up our cold weather clothes which we’ll need at some point in the upcoming months. Our next stop is to say good-bye to the FJ and leave it in storage until after the trip. The FJ was an awesome vehicle for us during the last four months. We had absolutely no mechanical issues with it and it handled all of our off-road adventures with ease. Although our XP will beat the FJ + roof top tent in the comfort category it won’t hold a candle to the FJ in the off-road capability category.

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Now with our FJ tucked away in storage and us settled into our new home we had one last stop to make before saying good-bye to California. Back in June I met Gypsy Vanner breeder Lynn Strauss of the Gypsy Rose Ranch at the Western States Horse Expo. After talking with her about the breed I asked if we could stop by her ranch in Lodi, CA to spend a little more time with her horses and take a riding lesson with her on a Gypsy Vanner. We would be driving by Lodi so I called her up and scheduled a time to meet the next day. We spent most of the following day at the ranch learning about the operations and meeting the horse. I fell in love with all of them!

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These horses were so friendly! As soon as we walked into their paddocks they all crowded around us to say hello.
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This little colt was a doll! If only I had a home for him I would take him now.
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I really love the look and disposition of the Gypsy Vanner.

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We had to make one more stop at XP in Grass Valley to have our rear window replaced and then we’re off to catch our ferry in a week out of Bellingham. We spent the night in the Tahoe National Forest after fixing the window. I really felt the elevation during our morning run the following day!

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At White Cloud Campground in the Tahoe National Forest.

We’re super excited about starting our adventure in Alaska. Just one more week in the lower 48 and we’ll be catching our ferry!

“We’re movin’ on up” like George and Weezie!

To give a little back story to this post, I have to start all the way to the beginning of our planning for this trip over three years ago. I promise to give the short version here and later we’ll document in more detail our journey to our XP Camper decision.

During the first stage of our trip planning we spent many, many hours researching and discussing our perfect vehicle for this trip. We decided on a Sportsmobile and made the big purchase last June, eight months before the start of our big trip and plenty of time for us to get comfortable with the Sportsmobile and prepare ourselves for almost two years of living in it.

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Unfortunately, after a few weekend getaways we quickly realized that the Sportsmobile wasn’t going to work for us. Now we have to quickly find a plan B since our start date was only three months away. We gave Marc at XP Camper a call and put in our order for an XP Camper. These campers are awesome but we would have to wait until October of 2014 to get it. We were expecting to start our trip the first week of March! We decided that it would be worth the wait and we would find an intermediate solution to take us through Baja then up to Alaska and we would stop by Grass Valley in October to pick up our new XP. So now we had to find something economical that would carry us through to October. An FJ Cruiser with a Cascadia Vehicle Tent was our solution.

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The roof top tent (RTT) was great in the warmer climates but we weren’t so excited about the experience during the colder, windier and wetter days. We started to worry about how comfortable we would be once we started heading into the cooler and wetter climates of Oregon, Washington and then Alaska. Then one day while we were in Baja we received a call from Marc saying that a used XP Camper was available and would we want to buy it!? This would be ready 8 weeks earlier than the new XP and we could have it for our trip to Alaska! We jumped at the opportunity and made some changes to our Alaska ferry and Denali camping reservations. Things are looking up!!

XP Camper is a small operation in Grass Valley and as such, the timelines are a little fluid. We were given about a 4-6 week time frame when the XP would be ready so we decided to spend much of this waiting time around California and Utah. Dates were slipping a bit so we finally decided that we should just start driving north and hit the Oregon Coast and continue on to Seattle so we wouldn’t miss our ferry. We couldn’t delay our Alaska trip any longer so if the XP wasn’t ready, we would just have to spend a little more time with our FJ and RTT.

And then we received the phone call!! Our XP would be completed by the end of the week! We received the call when we were in Astoria, OR so we made a quick U-turn to drive back to California and pick up our XP. We would only have 14 days to make sure that everything was in working order before getting onto the Alaska ferry but no more living out of a tent!!

We still had a long day ahead of us to get to Grass Valley, CA and pick up our XP Camper. There were more than 400 miles between our campsite and Grass Valley, CA, our destination for the end of the day. Fortunately, the miles were beautiful, driving through the Avenue of the Giants along highway 20. The smell of the redwoods brought back memories of mountain biking with friends through the Santa Cruz mountains in California. DSC04424

We stopped at a picnic area along what was once a river but now is a wide rock bed with a narrow stream of water that might be called a creek. Then later in the evening we had a very nice dinner at the Blue Wing Cafe in Upper Lake, California. We were surprised to see this cute little town just north of Clear Lake. We were expecting to find a run down little town for the seasonal angler and instead we found a cute renovated historic area. Our next stop would be the Holbrook Hotel in Grass Valley. We didn’t arrive until well past midnight. Although it was a long day of driving, I had a hard time sleeping. I felt like a little kid on Christmas Eve wondering what grand present Santa had waiting for me under the Christmas Tree!

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And then we finally got to see our new home for the next year!! We arrived at XP in the early afternoon. Marc and the team were putting the final touches on our camper as we walked in. I couldn’t wait to get moved into our new home.

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Finally we will have a place where I can cook a meal inside and place any leftovers in a real refrigerator! Actually, we have two refrigerators, one in the camper and one behind the driver’s seat in the cab. No more buying bags of ice and throwing away food because I couldn’t keep it cold enough. We have a wonderful little dining area at the rear of our camper where we can enjoy our meals in the comfort of the camper. And last but not at all least, we will have a wet bath! Although our storage capacity has almost doubled, Darryl is firm on keeping our gear at a minimum. No need to fill up every nook and cranny of the camper, and there are many!

Marc and Toni spent a couple of hours with us going over the details of the camper and how everything worked. Our plan for the day was to pick up the camper and then drive our XP Camper and FJ Cruiser to the Bay Area to do the big swap. Just before closing time, Marc was ready to move the truck out of the garage for us. He turned the ignition and nothing happened. We knew that there were issues with the battery but we thought that they had been replaced already. We already learned well before the beginning of our trip that things would not always go as planned and we would have to be patient with some of these curve balls. We waited for two new batteries to be installed and then drove to the Bay Area, a little later than expected, but we were so excited to have an awesome new home that our enthusiasm wouldn’t be dampened by a little battery issue!

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” and that is what our journey has been but I wouldn’t change a thing! We have had and we are having an amazing adventure.

We have had the unique experience of living on the road in three different types of overland vehicles. We will document what has worked and hasn’t worked for us in each of these vehicles in later posts.

Beaches along the Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast has been on my bucket list of places to experience ever since I moved to the Bay Area almost 18 years ago. Over the years we never made the time for the drive opting for California destinations that were only a few hours away. If we felt like spending a day at the ocean we would drive to Santa Cruz or Monterrey, Tahoe was the solution for a dose of mountain beauty, and for granite monoliths or high meadows we would go to Yosemite. But now, we are finally going to make the famous Oregon Coast drive. When I think of the Pacific Coast, beaches of driftwood and rugged cliffs dotted with lighthouses come to mind. This is classic Oregon Coast and it is our next destination!

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Goonies house

Our first stop was the little town of Astoria. We didn’t spend much time here but had lunch along the pier and spent some time walking and taking photographs of the area. I met a biker touring the US from Ireland. Over the past few days we noticed that there were a lot of touring bikes on the roads. I was curious about the routes, where they stayed, how many miles they rode a day, etc. He told me all about his epic adventure of circumnavigating the US by bike. He averages about 60 miles a day on a hybrid bike fully loaded with camping gear. What an adventure! I think I would want a support team to carry my gear and have camp set up at the end of the day with a hot meal prepared for me! Below are Darryl’s cool pics taken as I chatted.

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Boat-reflection

After registering for our campsite at Fort Stevens we went to see the Iredale shipwreck which ran aground in 1906. The sunset was beautiful with the silhouette of the shipwreck in the foreground. Our first evening walking along the coast was picture perfect.

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We spent the first part of the next morning exploring Battery Russell on Fort Stevens. There were the remains of a military bunker first put into service in 1904 until deactivation in December of 1944. It was the only mainland military installation that was attacked during WWII. A Japanese submarine fired upon the fort on June 21, 1942 damaging only the backstop of the fort’s baseball field and a power line.DSC04226

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Coast along Fort Stevens

Our original Oregon coast plan was to drive the 350 miles in two days since we had to get to Grass Valley, CA by the end of the week. There are only a few dates that we need to meet on this trip and this was our first deadline. By the end of our first day we made it a whopping 87 miles from Fort Stevens to Pacific City. Our timing was off a little but we had a spectacular day walking along the beaches, scrambling along the rocks and admiring the tide pools.

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Indian Beach
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We loved the tide pools at Indian beach!

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We stayed in Pacific City where I had my first experience with food poisoning. The whole experience at The Pelican Pub & Brewery was sub-par. From the start to the bitter end when half way through my meal I immediately felt ill and had to leave to rest in the car. The host at the campsite told us that the restaurant has a bad reputatIon amongst the locals as being over priced and poor quality. Epic bad choice for a restaurant!

Fortunately, I felt better the next day and we continued on down the coast. This would be a very long day of driving and against our rule of driving only 4 hours, or 5 tops, a day. We’ll see how this math works as we get further along our journey!

As we were driving through Lincoln City I spotted four old Land Cruisers for sale on the other side of the road. Darryl loves these cars so we made a U-turn to take a look since it’s unusual to see four different Land Cruiser models just sitting alongside the road for sale. What’s the story?

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When we pulled up we saw someone walking down the gravel road behind the property. We asked him about the cars and he told us that they refurbish the Land Cruisers and that he has a bunch more that are completed or in various stages of the refurbishing process just up the lane. “Are you interested in taking a look?” Do you need to ask?! YES!

The shop is Restored FJ40 and their workmanship is beautiful. They walked us through the restoration process which starts with a full dismantling of the vehicle to send off the parts to be dipped in a wash to remove the paint then a complete rebuild. They use all OEM parts and then for the older models they might do some custom upgrades as requested by the purchaser such as updated shocks and suspension, conversion to left wheel drive, adding automatic steering, converting manual transmission to automatic, etc. Who knows, after the trip Darryl might be trading in the Subaru for a refurbed Landie! If you’re into this stuff, check them out. You’ll be waiting almost a year for your car but looks like it’s worth the wait!

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This beauty is all ready for its new home in Pittsburg.

Farther along the coast was Newport, OR where we stopped for lunch and to stretch our legs a bit. Our time along the Oregon Coast was quickly drawing to an end. We spent our last night at Alfred A Loeb State Park and then had to boogie on to Grass Valley, CA to pick up something very special! Stay tuned!!

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Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, OR
Farther along the coast was Newport, OR where we stopped for lunch and to stretch our legs a bit.
Newport, OR marina

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Off to Portland!

We love waterfalls but evidently so does everybody else! The route we expected to follow into Portland was along old Hwy 30 where we could stop and admire the dozens of waterfalls along the way. Unfortunately, we don’t have a very high tolerance for crowds, packed highways and traffic backed up for miles waiting for a handful of openings at the overcrowded parking lots next to the more popular falls. So we didn’t make it to all of the falls that we wanted to see. We’ll leave that for another trip. We did stop at Wahkeena Falls, the most popular of the falls along this route. There is a paved path that takes you to the top of the falls which took us about 45 minutes at a brisk pace. The gradient was very moderate but just enough to get my heart rate up to where I could consider this a light workout, very light. Once at the top we took a few minutes to admire the view and gaze down at the crowds below then snap a few photos and make our way back down.

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View from top of Wahkeena Falls
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Horsetail Falls

We stopped at Horsetail Falls and then pulled over to make ourselves a light lunch before continuing to Portland. This would be our first time to Portland and we were looking forward to eating out at some very good restaurants. We met a couple from Portland during our stay in Hood River and they gave us a list of restaurants that we should try. We were told that the Yelp reviews for Portland were spot on! Finally, I have a shot at picking out some winners! Our first stop was “Por Que No”, a taco stand that is so popular that the line runs down the block. We were early for dinner so we thought we had a shot at getting in with no wait but the line was already down the block. We decided to go for the second place on the list, “Apizza Scholls” which serves pizza in only one size and that’s a large. The pizza was amazing! To me, the secret to a good pizza is all about the crust and a tasty sauce. They hit it out of the park on both of these points! They set the bar for me as far as pizza goes. Darryl is still a die-hard NY Pizza sort of guy so it maybe ranked up in his top 5 pizza places.

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Sausage & Mama pizza (house made sausage plus Mama Lil’s Kick Butt Peppers)

Later that night we walked to Voodoo Donuts. I’m not into donuts but we went just because we heard from friends that Voo Doo Donuts are the best and it’s ranked up there as one of the top 10 places to go when in Portland in many of the travel articles that we read. I can tell you that it’s definitely a popular local spot. We didn’t go until sometime after midnight and there was a line out the door and around the corner! There were some interesting choices like the maple bacon donut, Orangatang donut, and the loop donut which is covered in fruit loops but I wasn’t so venturous sticking to a Kelly’s Jelly Donut which was filled with raspberry jelly. My donut standard is Dunkin’ Donuts and it’s a toss-up between Voo Doo and Dunkin’ Donuts for me. If you love donuts, check them out and don’t let my neutral feelings about the place influence your decision! 🙂

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We spent a day visiting the gardens around Portland’s huge Washington Park. At the Japanese Gardens I was able to catch my one and only glimpse of Mount Hood.

Sand & stone garden (karesansui) which celebrates the "beauty of blank space".
Sand & stone or karesansui garden which celebrates the “beauty of blank space”.
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Mount Hood makes an appearance far off in the distance.
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International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park.

Portland is a city of bridges connecting its NE & NW Portland to its SE & SW districts. There are at least eleven bridges spanning the Willamette River. I loved strolling along the waterfront admiring the variety of bridge designs.

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Hawthorne Bridge which is a truss bridge with a vertical lift built in 1911.

We made it to Powell’s Books which was heaven for me! I love spending time in book stores, leafing through books and becoming overwhelmed with the number of great books that I have yet to discover. I don’t know if I’ll ever get accustomed to the changes in book culture influenced by technology and the advent of digital books. I love to feel the book in my hands and turning the pages as I get lost in a story. Because of the limited room that we have in our vehicle, I have limited the number of hard copy books that I have with me on this trip, grudgingly relying upon the digital format. We did buy an audio book, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. I loved his first book, “The Kite Runner” and I’m looking forward to getting lost in another of his tales.

We spent most of our time walking through the city and enjoying the street life. There were children playing in the fire hydrants, marching bands playing in one of the squares and far too many young people begging on the street.

We gave her a "donation" to take her photo.
We gave her a “donation” to take her photo.

This last one really had us confused. There was an unusually large number of homeless youths sitting on the street corners begging for a few cents or hanging out in groups on the lawns sitting on their sleeping bags passing the day away. I’ve seen the homeless on the streets of San Francisco, throughout the Bay Area and on the streets in my hometown of Davenport, Iowa but never this many in their late teens and early 20’s. I wonder about their stories and worry for their future.

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We had the most spectacular meal at “The Screen Door” restaurant in Northeast Portland. We started out with a spinach & beet salad that could be a meal of its own. For the main course I ordered the amazing crispy fried buttermilk-battered chicken and Darryl had the lowcountry shrimp & grits. My chicken was amazingly moist with the most spectacular crispy coating. Usually the crispy coating is greasy and tastes like fried salty flour but this was tasty, crisp and not oily in the least. No wonder they get the highest ratings for their fried chicken and waffle brunch special! We ended with an amazing blueberry cornbread cobbler. The cobbler didn’t last long enough for a photo. The only downside to this experience is that I don’t believe that I’ll ever have fried chicken this good anyplace else. They set the bar, now I just need to figure out how to prepare the dish for myself!

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Hood River , Oregon

It was a rainy drive to Hood River but that didn’t put a damper on the scenery. Sometimes the rain makes everything more dramatic with the stormy clouds and grey textures added to the vast landscapes we are driving through.

We arrived sometime after 9 in the evening and we were ready for some dinner. It’s been hit or miss with the restaurants that we pick even with the help of Yelp or TripAdvisor. We still haven’t figured out the magic formula to identifying a decent restaurant. Sometimes the highly rated restaurants are good and sometimes they’re not, sometimes the “fancy” looking restaurants are good and sometimes they’re not, sometimes the pricey restaurants are good and, well, you get the picture. This night we picked a good one! We’re always excited to find great food at a reasonable cost that’s prepared well and is scrumdilliicious. Solstice Wood Fire Pizza did not disappoint. For the record, this had high yelp reviews, a comfortable atmosphere and great views on the water and and we didn’t break the bank to pay the bill.

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Grilled shrimp on a bed of tabouli and sashimi grade tuna with tzatziki sauce

The rained continued through most of our time in Hood River so we splurged for a hotel rather than sleeping in a tent every night. We didn’t want the ordeal of folding up a wet tent every morning and then set it up in the rain at night. It was really nice to sleep in a real bed and have a bathroom nearby. This camping really makes you appreciate the little comforts of home!

The weather mostly cleared up during the day making for a pleasant afternoon taking in the sights and people watching along the Columbia River. We spent a bit of time watching the wind surfers along the river. Every day that we were here the area was packed with wind surfers of all ages and abilities.

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They start them young here!

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We dropped by the Hood River museum to learn about the history of the area. They had some exhibits about the logging industry which has been their primary industry for years. I always find it interesting to learn about the local characters that make a mark on a town. These are the ones whose names I see on the map next to streets, mountains, lakes, rivers and other such landmarks named after them. Darryl recognized the name of the local entrepreneur, Lurh Jensen, from his fishing days as a youth. He fished with lures manufactured by this company out of Hood River. The museum had another exhibit telling of a darker past of bigotry against their fellow Japanese neighbors during the war years which was also rampant across the nation at that time. All of their exhibits were informative set against a backdrop of individual stories of the local townspeople of the time.

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After spending so much time in the more arid parts of the country, Hood River was a welcome change. Everywhere we look it’s green and it even “smells” green! There were storm clouds always on the horizon and a slight chill in the air. We hiked out to Tamanawas Falls in the Mount Hood National Forest. The trail passes through a beautiful forest alongside a stream fed by the falls. I was reminded how out of shape I have gotten as this group of teens went running past me along the trail. Once we have access to showers on a regular basis we’ll get back into running. For now, I’ll just have to enjoy taking in my surroundings at a more leisurely pace.

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Horsing around in Bend, OR

We spent almost a week in Bend, OR on this trip. We fell in love with Bend a few years ago over a Fourth of July weekend. The historic old town area has a some really nice restaurants to choose from and it’s just a couple of blocks from beautiful Drake Park which overlooks the Deschutes River. We are seriously considering moving to Bend after this trip so we wanted to spend a bit more time there. As an added bonus we will see our old friends John & Emily who who moved from the Bay Area to Bend this past year. What I didn’t realize is just how popular horse ownership is in the area. I did a little bit of research and found Flyspur Ranch which offered trail riding and lessons. I booked a lesson for the following day and a trail ride for the day after that.

Kevin and Therese are the owners of Flyspur Ranch. They moved to Bend from the East Coast around 10-15 years ago and haven’t regretted the move one bit. It was evident how much they love their work which isn’t a job for them but a lifestyle. We talked with them about the challenges of owning your own business and specifically what it’s like to own a horse business like theirs. It’s a dream of mine to own a horse or maybe a few horses but we also love to travel. After our conversations with Kevin and Therese I see that there will be some interesting choices to make regarding these two lifestyles. But on this day, the only choice I had to make was choosing a horse to ride! Therese’s horse is a Tennessee Walker and she offered to let me ride him to feel its gait. They have a unique gait that makes them ideal trail riding horses, nice and smooth on long trail rides and trail riding is what I expect to do with my future horse. I completely forgot to take any photos of Scout but you can see him here on their website: http://www.flyspur.com/ride.html. I was able to get a feel for his gait only a couple of times because the indoor arena didn’t give Scout the room he needs to really show off his smooth riding style. Plus my inexperience in riding didn’t help matters!

The following day I decided to take their Percheron Bullwinkle (Bull for short) out on the trail. IMG_1734This was a completely different ride and I was amazed at how gentle this giant of a horse was with me. He stands about 15 hands high at the withers which is 60 inches. I’m 5′ 10″ tall but Bull made me look small! There was a deep river crossing on our ride, the first I’ve ever done, but on Bull, I didn’t even have to pull my feet out of the stirrups to keep them out of the water which was over four feet deep. I loved how sweet and good natured Bull was with me during our ride. I can already see that when I eventually do buy a horse I will have a difficult time making a choice between these different breeds.

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Kevin giving me some pointers.

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Horse tails.

The next day we had a chance to catch up with our good friends John & Emily. We met for dinner at the Tumalo Feed Store. Good food, great company and entertaining stories were on the agenda for this evening and we hit four stars across all three. IMG_1581John shared his latest mountain climbing adventure in Nepal, Emily shared her tales of the first year as a new business owner of Call of the Wild; a guiding company that focuses on adventure travel for women, and Darryl and I caught them up on our adventures. There was a time when we saw each other every weekend but our lives have taken us in different directions so I cherish these moments when our travels allow us to cross paths with our friends from a former life.

We made it to the High Desert Museum to see the Raptor Show which we also saw on our last visit to Bend. It’s an amazing experience where they have trained raptors who have been rescued and cannot be released due to their injuries. These birds have been trained to fly from perch to perch with hand signals indicating which perch to fly to and find their food reward. On this day we saw a barn owl, turkey vulture, falcon and a two others but I forgot what species. My favorite was the barn owl. They also brought out a great horned owl for photos.

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Check out this cool video of the barn owl flying over our heads. They tell parents at the beginning of the show that they should not have their children on their shoulders because the birds might accidentally strike them as they fly overhead. That’s how close they get to us!

The rest of our time in Bend was spent eating at our favorite lunch spot (Planks) and running along the beautiful Deschutes River. We spent many hours just walking along the river and watching the various water activities. They have the coolest little dog park on the bank where dogs can fetch tennis balls from the river for hours on end.DSC03663

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This is definitely a place that we could call home but there are a few more spots for us to see before we make this a final decision.

An afternoon at Crater Lake

After our day at the Horse Expo we returned to the originally planned route to Oregon. We arrived late in Ashland, Oregon which is just north of the California border. We stayed long enough to get some rest at the Columbia Hotel in downtown Ashland. We were pleasantly surprised with how charming the hotel was. I had my doubts when I saw that we would be sharing a bathroom with the other guests but our stay there was great.

We had breakfast at Morning Glory restaurant, again. Darryl found the restaurant the last time we visited Ashland. Why try something new when we know this will be excellent?!

Our stay in Ashland was short since we wanted to get on the road to see some new territory and today that would be Crater Lake. I spoke with the National Forest ranger to find out where there was dispersed camping near Crater Lake. He recommended Union Creek just off of highway 62 near Prospect, OR. This place was recommended by the couple we met at Boulder Beach campground in Lake Mead so we decided to make that our destination.

I haven't felt this small in years!
I haven’t felt this small in years!
Enjoying the solitude.
Enjoying the solitude.

The next morning we drove to Crater Lake and spent the day enjoying the views. There was still snow on the ground and it was a bit chilly out. I was expecting to see cabins and boats around the lake similar to Lake Tahoe so it was a surprise to see the lake practically untouched by development. There is a small boat dock on the lake that can take people to the island at the center but you can’t see it from most of the viewpoints. We hiked down to the boat dock at lake’s edge and watched the younger crowd jump into the lake’s chilly waters. We preferred staying warm and dry!

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180° view of Crater Lake

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