On the National Park Closures

In light of the recent tantrums being thrown in Washington, I thought I’d share my thoughts on how the behavior of our government is affecting travel, something I am obviously very passionate about. This is not a political post and I’m not opening a debate about whether or not this shutdown is right or wrong. That’s not the point of my writing. I am simply speaking to one of the results of this mess.

As you probably know, all U.S. National Parks are CLOSED until this government shutdown shuts up. I’m very disappointed that one of the consequences of all the squabbling is taking something away, not only from the American people, but also other visitors who may have planned for years to come and see an extraordinary piece of the world that the United States is fortunate enough to possess.

Think about it. School kids have been forced to cancel their field trips. Excited campers that reserved all the gear, researched the trails, bought plane tickets, have been forced to cancel their plans. This makes me sad. A great experience is being revoked, or at the very least, put on hold.

One of my many bucket list items (I don’t really have a bucket list because I find that even an infinite list is limiting), is to visit all 59 National Parks. Today, I feel so lucky to have crossed off as many as I have, which is only eight. The National Parks are special places. Treasures. Here are some of my favorite pictures from over the years….

Redwoods National Park

Redwood National Park

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

I also have been to Haleakala in Hawaii, but no digital pictures back in 1999!

What do you think? Can I make it to all 59? Do you share the same goal to visit them all? I’m especially gung ho for American Samoa out in the South Pacific. Maybe we should have gone there instead of Fiji for our honeymoon. …Nah. Our honeymoon was perfect.

Here’s hoping that they’ll reopen soon.

xxx

P.S. My post about Acadia. And Redwood. And Everglades.

 

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Labor Day in Maine

Happy Tuesday ya’ll. Over the weekend, autumn arrived here in Portland right on cue. Mornings are now dark; the days overcast; the rain sporadic. At night there is a new chill in the air that was blissfully absent last week.

Luckily, we bid adieu to summer 2013 in the best way possible. Over an extended Labor Day weekend, we flew coast to coast (Portland to Portland to be exact) to celebrate the nuptials of two very dear friends. A wedding is as good a reason as any to travel to places that you otherwise might not prioritize. It was a no brainer to share the best day of our friends’ lives with them, but seeing as we live on the opposite side of the country, we also knew we had to make the most it. Who knows when we’ll have the opportunity to go to Maine again? Especially with 10 of our close friends?

As I mentioned before, this was my first trip to Maine and I had all sorts of ideas as to what it would be like. Quaint. Charming. Rustic. Woodsy. These words were all buzzing in my head as we prepared for our visit.

Turns out, they’re all spot on. Yet, I was surprised at just how very secluded and remote Maine felt. Maybe that was because we had to drive for hours and hours to get from one place to another, or maybe it was because we didn’t have decent cell reception ever. Outside of Portland, the small towns that speckled the landscape were few and far between.

For part of the trip, we were at a resort up in the mountains and for the rest, we rented a log cabin near the coast and Acadia National Park. We spent one day in the park and Bar Harbor, but otherwise were relaxing at the cabin, eating lobster, swigging PBRs, and laughing more than anyone should. I was all over Instagram this trip, while Jaro manned the DSLR. The pictures tell the story better than I could, so here are my Instagrams…

Holy Donut doughnuts

Holy Donut doughnuts

the good stuff

the good stuff

pier beer

pier beer

covered bridge

covered bridge

Newry, ME

morning jog in Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

our log cabin

our log cabin

view from our log cabin

view out the back door

So… Maine is perfection. And just what we needed to welcome fall.

xxx

Trip Planning: Hiking the Kalalau Trail

Jaro and I are thrilled to be heading back to Kauai this fall. It can’t come soon enough! Aside from sunning on the beautiful beaches, snorkling with sea turtles, eating all the fresh poki we can handle, and enjoying time with Jaro’s aunt, we decided to try something new while we are there this time…

We’re going to hike the entire 11 mile Kalalau Trail that runs along the breathtaking NaPali Coast. Those 11 miles take the “good conditioned” hiker one full day. So obviously, coming back out will take another full day at a minimum. This will probably be a two night trip, so we can spend a day relaxing at the final destination- Kalalau Beach. It will also depend on weather, which can turn in an instant on Kauai.

Before we could do our happy dance, we had to clear two things: That the trail is passable during this time of year (it is, but there is always a risk of rain) and that we could obtain the overnight camping permits in time because they sell out quickly (we did). Fortunately, we have all the equipment for backcountry camping, so we’re all set. Although Jaro will take any excuse for another stroll through REI.

The first time we went to Kauai together, back in 2008 (!), we hiked the first 2 miles to the Hanakapi’ai waterfalls. Climbing past giant bamboo, mountain streams and wild lychee, it was truly an unforgettable experience. Here are some pics from our little point and shoot we were using back then. These were all shot in one day and you can see how the weather changes pretty drastically from clear, to completely overcast and back.

I can’t wait for the shots we’ll take with our better camera and better photography skills!

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

one last look at NaPali

a rewarding sunset at Ke'e Beach

xxx

Road Trip: Redwoods National Park

Perhaps my last post made it seem like we don’t do anything fun anymore. That’s not true. We do lots of fun things. And by fun things I mean pretty freaking awesome things.

For instance: When a friend says they’re getting married in Napa over the 4th of July, you say, SEE YOU THERE. Automatically. Without a second’s hesitation.

It was the perfect opportunity to take our first vacation since our move, especially now that we are on the west coast. Like the Barefoot Contessa would say, how easy is that? Speaking of food, we were hungry for more (like Napa was not enough?). We decided that, rather than fly straight to wine country, we’d road trip through the Redwood National Park for some scenic breaks along the way.

So that’s what this post is about. Those redwoods. I’ll get to Napa later. Did you know that the California redwoods are the tallest organisms on earth? With towering heights over 300 feet, no other living thing reaches so close to the sun.

The straight shot from Portland to Napa takes about 10 hours and could feasibly be done in a day. Adding the redwoods to our trip meant an extra 4-5 hours to our journey, so we chose to split it up over two days. Throwing our camping equipment into the truck (and caution to the wind), we figured we’d find a campground to crash for the night. I had read about some coastal dune camping that got us excited.

Fast forward through a gorgeous 7 hour drive through the Pacific Northwest (did you know Northern California is part of it?) and the trees suddenly look as if on steroids. We were in the national park. It’s late afternoon by this point and we needed to find a spot to set up our tent. After a quick visit to the state park visitor center, we see that the dune camping is full. Sad face. But it is first come, first serve and who did we think we were showing up at 4 in the afternoon? Myself, getting a little panicky and Jaro, staying ever so calm, head to a county campground, hoping for some available sites.

We pulled up to a tiny pitch tent campground that, thank god, had ample space and a friendly host. It was located on the banks of a pretty river and filled with giant redwoods. We set up quickly. Sitting on the riverbank, we enjoyed wine and the cool breeze as the sun went down. When the shadows chased us back to our campsite, we huddled around a fire, devouring grilled cheese sandwiches and taking small sips of whiskey.

Riverbank at sunset

riverbank at sunset

Grilled brie, blue and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

grilled brie, blue, munster and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

Our roof for the night. Redwoods National Park, CA

our roof for the night

It was very secluded; very quiet, which was only partially comforting as there was a state prison nearby.

MOVING ON.

Upon our survival without a murderer stalking us through the night, we packed up and headed to Big Tree, at the urging of my guidebook. That’s the name. It was… big. As we stood at the base, I stared up in wonder. There’s something about being dwarfed by nature that is so humbling and beautiful. That’s really all I can say about that.

Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

morning fog. Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

Redwood National Park, CA

there’s the sun. Redwood National Park, CA

Big Tree

Big Tree

Neck cramp at Big Tree

neck cramp at Big Tree

Feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

Once we felt satisfyingly shrunken and tiny, we drove down to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, an easy one mile loop according to my book (and saw bears en route!). While flat, well-maintained, “easy”, etc., it took us a few hours to walk around this gem of a path. Your eyes don’t know what to do with themselves. There was so much to see. So many colors, textures and, not to mention, heights. We noticed all sorts of special moments, both big and small. High and low. Well worth the time to mosey around this one.

momma bear and cub sighting!

momma bear and cub sighting!

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

a reminder.

a sweet reminder

Our final farewell to the woods was a tour down the Avenue of the Giants and through the ever so cliché Drive Thru Tree. The former is a stretch of road that parallels the highway, but offers a more intimate experience than the wide open 101. Driving through a maze of Mother Nature’s skyscrapers gave us this sense of awe that we couldn’t (and still can’t) shake. The latter, well, is pretty self-explanatory.

grazing elk

grazing elk

avenue of giants

avenue of giants

drive thru tree

drive thru tree with all the tourists

So that was our brief trip through the redwoods. More on Napa soon…

xxx

P.S. Most photographs were taken by my talented husband.

P.P.S. I visited other redwoods earlier this year. And the last time we camped. Seems like ages ago.

Hello Spring

Well, guys, spring is here! This is the season when my girly nature really goes nuts because I am obsessed with flowers. I just love them. They make me happy. Although it’s rainy here in Portland, I’m thinking about what all this rain will bring. I’m also reminded of that time last year when we went to Istanbul and I could not believe my eyes because there were so many gorgeous flowers everywhere. Especially the gardens at Topkapi Palace. It was just too much.

Istanbul, TurkeyIstanbul, Turkey Istanbul, Turkey Istanbul, Turkey Istanbul, Turkey Istanbul, Turkey Istanbul, Turkey

See what I mean? Spring is the best. So is Turkey.

xxx

P.S. Provence looks like an incredible place to visit in the spring.

Monday Travel Memory: The Sea

Hey all! It’s a sunny Monday and we are officially within the two week mark until we move into our house. After a great weekend, I can’t be anything but excited as we enter this final stretch getting into our home. We’ve been literally displaced for four and a half months now and emotionally displaced for eight and a half. I am so ready to feel settled. Beyond ready. Let’s be real.

For this Monday travel memory, I have a confession to make: I am totally awe-struck by the ocean. Anybody else? My entire life, I have felt this compelling urge drawing me to it. For awhile, I was even considering being a marine biologist and I’m pretty sure it’s because I thought I could play in the water everyday with dolphins or something.

Maybe it’s due to my upbringing in the Midwest; I was far, far away from any coastline and it always felt like this magical, imaginary place that I was lucky enough to see once a year when we would take family trips down to Florida. It was special.

Lake Michigan, while great (get it?), was not the same. It was not enough. And now, I live 90 minutes away from the Pacific Coast here in Oregon. We have gone out to it twice (here and here). Still, when I see signs on the highway pointing to “Ocean Beaches” I can’t help but do a double-take. Oh yeah, it’s right down the road.

As a kid, I loved playing in the sand, collecting shells, chasing crabs. As a teenager, I loved laying out under the sun, listening to TLC and N’Sync refined musical selections on my discman; my skin getting so fried to a crisp tanned that I was unrecognizable. As an adult, I do those things (now with strong SPF), but also just stare out and watch the waves. Feeling small. I know I can only speak for myself, but I tend to have a big personality (probably to make up for my petite size). Sitting and staring out at the ocean, is humbling in a way. You can’t help but feel small.

Pula, Croatia

This photo was taken one early morning on the rocky shores when we road-tripped through Croatia. I think as I age, I become more and more captivated by the sea. I can sit there in total stillness for hours. Mesmerized. So how fitting is this shot? A quiet moment of calm at the insanely gorgeous Croatian coastline near Pula. Wish I could be back there.

xxx

Sunday Drive: Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge, ORHey dudes. Guess what we finally checked out? (Here is a clue.)

Last week, Jaro and I decided to sieze the (sunny and temperate) day and drive out to the Columbia River Gorge. I have been wanting to see it since we moved, but we hadn’t found the chance until recently. While we didn’t get around to hiking, canoeing or visiting the little towns (Hood River, The Dalles, etc), we did sit back and enjoy a lovely Sunday drive.

Here you can see rolling hills of grape vines and Mount Hood in the distance…

Columbia River Gorge, OR

And here’s another cool shot of the Washington side…

Columbia River Gorge, OR

Not sure what was going on with the white balance of these photos, but you get the idea. So scenic and peaceful. We passed heaps of wineries and, at only an hour’s drive away from Portland, I know we’ll be making regular trips out there in the summer.

xxx

California Trip: Redwoods & Wineries

Happy Wednesday all! I’m feeling better and this week is looking up. Way up. Woo hoo!

So, yesterday I shared the coastal part of my trip to Cali, today is the next installment when we drove north from the bay. Our first stop was Guerneville, a somewhat remote town on the edge of some majestic redwood forests. It’s a tiny one-street “downtown”, perfect for stopping and stretching your legs.

Then we headed into the woods. We explored nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. The thing about redwoods, if you didn’t know, is that they’re really tall. Like 300 feet tall. And they’re really old. Like 1,300 years old. This is what we saw as we walked among the giants…

Armstrong Redwoods

Armstrong RedwoodsArmstrong Redwoods

Pictures really don’t do them justice. They be huge. And reserve itself is really nice and close enough to the bay that you can get your redwood fill without having to drive four hours up to the national park. (Though I still want to visit there sometime.)

After a morning “hike” through the reserve, we obviously needed refreshments and headed into wine country. Not far away in the Russian River Valley, was a stretch of small, adorable wineries along a country road called Westside. We stopped at Matrix (which does not distribute) and tried maybe 8-10 wines for only 5 bucks! Try finding that kind of deal over in Napa. Traveler Tip: Want to experience the vineyards without all the hype (or the traffic)? Check out the options in the Russian River Valley. They are much more low key. I definitely suggest it to fellow wine lovers out there!

After that grueling morning, we realized we were becoming hangry. So we drove over to Calistoga, a sweet town at the north end of the Napa county, for lunch. Stopped into Checkers for some hearty salads and then continued merrily on our way down the Silverado Trail through all those lovely vineyards. Traveler Tip: The Silverado Trail runs parallel to the main drag through Napa, Route 29, but is much less congested. Highly recommend if you just want to drive through Napa and take in the scenery, but not necessarily visit the heavy hitters like Sterling or Robert Modavi (you’d have to get on 29 for them). These were our views…

Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley, CaliforniaWe finished out the day in Sonoma. Traveler Tip: Sonoma is the underdog of Napa Valley. Don’t get me wrong, I love the glamour of Napa and Yountville from my last visit, but with that comes higher prices and more people. This was a different experience and maybe that’s because of the time of year too. February isn’t as hot a ticket as September. I guess I’ll have to go back again to be sure. Anyway, it took a bit of effort to climb over the ridge to get to Sonoma, but it was so worth it. I’m definitely making it a priority the next time I’m in the valley. Such a pretty town, with a cute main square and lots of little boutiques and wine bars. I only managed to get this shot of the sunset over the trees…

Sonoma, California

The sky looked like, I don’t know, cotton candy? Not that I’d ever eat it, but it’s pretty.

Another great day in California comes to an end. Still more to share about our adventuring in Oakland and San Francisco. Coming soon…

xxx

California Trip: Route 1

Hey friends. It’s safe to say that I’m in love with California. It’s the state that has it all. Dramatic coastlines, sandy beaches, rugged mountains, charming vineyards, towering redwood forests, sophisticated cities, the SUN, and so much more. What a spoiled state. (One could say that Oregon has these things, but the weather being what it is, I haven’t experienced them, so hmph.)

For one day, we drove south from Oakland on Route 1, otherwise known as the Cabrillo Highway. We occasionally pulled over to take in views like this… California

strolled along the coast through Monterey and Pacific Grove after a huge meal at Cannery Row Brewing Company

Monterey, California

detoured to do the famous 17 Mile Drive, which includes Spanish Bay…

Spanish Bay, California

Spanish Bay, California

Point Joe…
Pacific Grove, California

California

and the gorgeous Fanshell Cove…
Fanshell Cove, California

Then we came upon The Lone Cypress, landmark of the Pebble Beach Golf Club…

The Lone Cypress, California

And played under this pier…

Pebble Beach Golf Club, California

Before heading back home, we drove through part of Big Sur (which is lovely, but we never found a good spot to pull over for pics on those twisty roads) at sunset.

I highly recommend this drive; it is so scenic. Even the 17 Mile Drive, which costs 10 bucks just to enter, is totally worth it. The beauty in this route is that it can be done any time of year. You are guaranteed incredible views. We experienced some strong wind, but the sunshine was plentiful and the skies were clear. Traveler Tip: In some stretches, towns are few and far between, so fill up your tank and bring snacks. No one likes a hangry passenger.

Stay tuned for more Cali adventures…

xxx

Monday Travel Memory: Cannon Beach

Happy Monday, kids. It’s a cold, wet day in Portland, but what’s new. Got a recent (and sunny) memory to share. Last Monday, Jaro had the day off (let’s not forget why) and we decided to head to the Oregon coast. We needed a little breather from all the house hunting stress. A two hour drive through pine forests lead us to Cannon Beach- a quaint, little beach town filled with art galleries and cafes. So cute. We strolled through town, wandered down a huge stretch of sand and finished the afternoon warming up over made-from-scratch clam chowder.Oregon

Cannon Beach, ORCannon Beach, OR

Cannon Beach, OR

It will be interesting to see how our definition of travel changes as we adjust to life back in the U.S. We have to realize that not all travel needs to be exotic or foreign. Sometimes, it can be a short ride away. More on that later.

xxx