California Park Jam

The drive down California Highway 1 is truly spectacular. The splendor of the rocky coastline rivals any I’ve seen in the world, from Northern Ireland to New Zealand.

I fell in love with the ancient redwoods and bought a tourist-packaged sapling in San Francisco that I hope to plant back home in Georgia, provided it survives our trip.

The wild fires raging throughout the Napa Valley area altered our plans and continue to impact our travels. We veered southeast out of a smoky San Francisco and headed toward Yosemite when the fires shut down the Napa-area campground where we had reservations and had hoped to stay for a couple of days.

Park reservations are critical in California and you are required to make reservations at least 48 hours in advance at all state/federal parks. Good luck with that!

I don’t know if the wildfires have caused a mass exodus to California parks, but camping sites are extremely hard to come by in the state. Sites at Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks are totally booked — or closed for the season. In fact, no public or private camp sites in or around the parks are available.

We journeyed into Yosemite yesterday hoping to take advantage of a 3 p.m. “fire sale” on camp sites only to discover that we were 49th on a waiting list.

There was no parking available at the visitor’s center and the road through Yosemite Valley was jammed. All the congestion, reminiscent of a Monday morning commute, led us to exit the park as quickly as possible — an exercise that took hours due to traffic volume compounded by road maintenance.

Not to be denied at least one photographic memory, we did stop on occasion to try and capture the awesome-ness of this national treasure.

The absence or unavailability of camp sites drove us to Fresno where we’re ensconced in a hotel.

I can’t complain about exchanging the peaceful solitude of natural surroundings for the comfort of modern conveniences for a couple of days.

But here in John Muir country, the mountains will definitely call! And I will be compelled to go because as the sage of the Sierras said:

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

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The Ancient Groves

The trees talk. Be still in their towering presence and you can hear them. A creak. A moan. The wind, high above, rushing through their limbs.

I’ve come to the giant redwoods to humbly gape at their utter magnificence. The redwoods found here in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park are the tallest and among the oldest living things on earth. Soaring to heights of 379 feet (115 m), the coast redwood can live for more than 2,000 years. Hard to imagine that their cousin, the giant sequoia, can be older still — by a millenium.

Friend Robert takes the measure of a tree.

As you meander through the groves here, particularly Founders Grove, you understand why the British poet, John Masefield, said of them:

They are not like trees; they are like spirits. The glens in which they grow are not like places, they are like haunts — haunts of the centaurs or of the gods.

I liken them to Tolkien’s marching Ents. They seem older than time itself; their origins pre-dating dinosaurs by eons. Yet, they are not impervious to harm.

According to the National Park Service, by 1980, 95 percent of the old-growth redwood forests had been logged. Fortunately, a group of concerned citizens founded the Save the Redwoods League in 1918 and thanks to their efforts, more than 181,000 acres of redwood forest and supporting lands have been set aside, including portions of Redwood National and State Parks.

About 20,000 members from all over the world comprise the Save the Redwoods League. If you’re interested in joining or donating, contact Save the Redwoods League. Thanks to their efforts, these ancient groves survive.

Long may they reign.

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The Oregon Beach Bill

There’s a marker overlooking the Pacific coastline on Oregon’s scenic Highway 101 at Neahkahnie Mountain that reads:

If sight of sand and sky and sea has given respite from your daily cares then pause to thank Oswald West.

West was the governor of Oregon from 1911-1915. A visionary, he believed that the Oregon coastline was a public by way. He set aside almost 400 miles of coastline, from the Columbia River in the north to the California border in the south, for public use.

The good governor’s vision was challenged by a hotelier in 1966, but in 1967, the Oregon State Legislature passed the Beach Bill, declaring public easements of all beach areas up to the line of vegetation, regardless of underlying property rights. The citizens of Oregon overwhelmingly supported passage of the legislation.

Fifty years later, the result is public access to a predominantly uncommercialized coast dotted with parks and recreation areas available to all. Gov. West wouldn’t have had it any other way.

We started our trek down the scenic Oregon coast on Highway 101 at Fort Stevens State Park where the Columbia River dumps into the Pacific Ocean.

A Japanese submarine fired a few shots at Fort Stevens in 1942 — all to no avail. But checking out the remnants of the fort, first built during the Civil War, and other sites around the 4600-acre park uncovered some fantastic scenery.


Next up was the Ecola State Park where we stopped to watch the full moon set off Cannon Beach. I snagged a cool photo of John in the moon’s reflection.

Naturally, we hung around for the sunrise too. Stunning seems to be the best adjective for the drive down 101. It’s just one amazing vista after another.

Of course, stunning scenery and wildlife…

aren’t the only thing to capture your attention. Marijuana is legal in Oregon for medicinal and recreational use and dispensaries like this one can be found along the route.

If you’re more into milk than marijuana, stop in at the Tillamook dairy farmers co-op and taste the products. The cheese couldn’t be cheesier nor the ice cream creamier. They’re delightful.

And when you stop for gas (our Clampett mobile never passes a gas station it doesn’t like), sit back and relax. All gas stations are full service in Oregon by law.

Milk. Marijuana. Magnificent scenery. Wonder what Gov. West would think of his state’s coastline if he visited it today? I think he’d be proud of what he helped maintain — stunning natural beauty available for all to enjoy.

Thanks governor!

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Hello from Idaho

On my last trip out West, I discovered Idaho. It really is the best kept secret in the country for lovers of the Great Outdoors.

We’ve spent the last couple of days exploring the Priest Lake State Park in northern Idaho. I could get to Canada from Priest Lake, but not via a road. It would take a long, wilderness trek to see me across the border.

Priest Lake was formed by a glacier about 10,000 years ago. It was named after a catholic priest ministering to the Kalispell Indian tribe in the area. Now it’s home to lovely public lands that can be enjoyed by anyone lucky enough to find themselves in northern Idaho.

These two cowboys sure seem to be enjoying the park.

John and Robert kicking back.

As for me, I’ve managed to get in a couple of short, morning hikes while we’ve been here. After so much driving, a walk in the woods never felt so good! You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful forest.

Or more stunning views.

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The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wish I could claim authorship of this beautiful passage since it so aptly describes my love of the Great Outdoors, but the words belong to American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, Wendell Berry, from his The Peace of Wild Things.

If you’ve never journeyed where a vast wilderness still remains in America, I urge — no implore — you to do so. Yellowstone, Glacier and the Grand Tetons National Parks — put each and every one of them on your bucket list. Travel back in time to when this country was a vast wilderness filled with wild things, each a perfect cog in the marvelous wheel of life.

I feel very small in this big land with its big sky and towering mountains. The wilderness gives you perspective. It reminds you that you are only significant in your own mind and in the lives of those who love you. In the wild, you are no more or no less than the other creatures in it — each a connected part of the whole.

I saw a young buffalo a couple of days ago that had somehow broken its left, front leg. He was thin and struggling to stay with two other bulls who trod along in a continuous quest to graze. Watching the trio, I realized that the hurt bison probably won’t make it through the winter. Three legs won’t push through the deep snow to keep pace with the herd. He will lag behind and likely fall prey to wolves.

Harsh in its reality, the wilderness is sublime in the interrelation of all things. It reminds us of an eternal truth about the Creation. One life is often sustained by another’s death. Death is an integral part of the circle of life.

When I gaze upon the glory of the Creation, I face my own mortality. Life goes on with or without me. The only universe I am the center of is my own conciousness. Rather than disturb my soul, this truth calms it.

Old Faithful

There’s reassurance in the natural world. It’s strangely comforting to gaze upon Old Faithful and know, with certainty, that the geyser will shoot skyward every 35 to 120 minutes. Few events of such power and magnitude in life are so predictable.

But it’s the uncertainty of life, combined with the inevitability of its end, that join to create our joy. Would we appreciate the miracle that is life as much if it was infinite?

Therein lies the peace found in wild things. An exuberant participation in the Creation with no thought beyond survival. Each has its season with no expectation of more and no knowledge of less. Existence is the moment.

Turn, turn, turn.

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From the Netherlands to the Badlands

What do a drug store in the middle of nowhere, the Badlands and The Netherlands have in common?

It took me traveling to all three to see the common thread. You’ll have to muddle through this blog for the answer!

This month I have, weirdly enough, had the opportunity to journey from The Netherlands of Europe to the Badlands of South Dakota. The topography of the two areas couldn’t be more different, but both owe their landscapes, in large part, to water.

Netherlands literally means “lower countries” which is more than apt since only about half of The Netherlands is three feet above sea level. Most of the areas below sea level are artificial with about 17 percent being reclaimed from the sea since the late 16th century.

The Badlands are as dry as the Netherlands are wet, but it’s the power of erosion wrought by wind and water that formed the Badlands.

The Badlands were called “mako sica” or “land bad” by the Lakota people. French-Canadian fur trappers in the early 1900’s dubbed it “les mauvais terres pour traverse” or “bad lands to travel through.” It’s easy to understand why. Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and rugged terrain make it a hostile environment.

Today, from the comfort of our air-conditioned vehicles, we can focus on the geologic definition as we tour the Badlands National Park. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded (by wind and water) in a dry climate. The result are some breathtaking vistas.

Water also played a role in creating a manmade tourist attraction in the area as well. While in the Badlands National Park, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to visit Wall Drug in Wall, SD.

For literally hundreds of miles across the prairies of South Dakota, I saw the billboards advertising Wall Drug. After what seemed like the one hundredth billboard, I googled the store, proving once again that advertising works.

I learned that it all started in 1931 with a free glass of ice water. Dorothy and Ted Hustead bought the drug store in the tiny town of Wall and were on the verge of going bust until Dorothy had a great idea. She suggested her husband make lots of little signs offering free ice water and place them at intervals on the side of the highway. Advertising works and pretty soon the Husteads had a thriving business that has grown ever since.

Today, Wall Drug is a 76,000-square-foot menagerie of Americana.

So whether it’s The Netherlands, the Badlands or Wall Drug, water is the tie that binds.

And this lucky human, who is 60 percent water, saw all three this September.

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Ode to “Gezellig”

The Dutch have a word — gezellig–which doesn’t have an English equivalent. It’s pronounced, for those brave enough to try, heh-SELL-ick.(Yes, even nice Dutch words like gezellig sound like you’re about to puke.)

The word captures the essence of the culture here as the Dutch tend to love all things gezellig. It carries a lot of different meanings (cozy, quaint, or just plain nice), but it also captures the feeling you get when enjoying life’s pleasures — like spending time with friends or reading a great book while sipping your favorite drink.

Gezellig describes the Dutch awareness that joy can be found in the simplest things…real pleasure awaits in the details.

Take something as mundane as a light cord in a hotel bathroom, add a tiny wooden clog — and you’ve got gezellig!

Admit it. That little shoe makes you smile, doesn’t it?

Most cafes and restaurants here in Amsterdam have gezillig. They’re adorned with pillows and throws and cute little knick knacks placed just so. My favorite is Mr. Sister which sits on the water right outside Amsterdam Central train/bus station. We nickednamed it “Genie in a Bottle.”

Good food + great ambience = fond memories. That’s just one of the many formulas for gezellig.

Speaking of ingesting…I am now a mint tea addict. Americans have their coffee…the French their wine…the Italians their espressos…and the Dutch their fresh mint tea. Add the honey — it’s definitely gezellig!

I even liked the fresh mint in my ginger ale.

And nothing is more gezillig than stroopwafles. These chewy pieces of heaven are like my all-time favorite — macarons — I can never eat just one.

Lots of places in Amsterdam are gezellig. Heck, how else could you essentially turn a swamp into one of Europe’s most charming cities?

Gezillig is one of the reasons I can leave my daughter in Amsterdam with very little heaviness in my heart. She caught the positive vibe right away. She’ll thrive here.

May she, and all the Dutch, continue to find plenty of gezillig in life.

A gezellig moment in Giethoorn.

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