It has been a dazzling week of exploration, friendship, photography and adventure here in Driggs, Idaho and Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming. Oh, and a birthday, too!
The Condor Kid Reunion took place with folks coming from St. Louis, Colorado, California, Oregon and Idaho…eight in all of which four are original members of the Condor group from the old days at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo…named after their friendship camping together looking for the rare and endangered California condor. All four—Karen, Syd, Lynette and Ron—wrapped up their first degrees in wildlife and natural resources at Cal Poly…and Karen, Syd and Lynette were roommates. Ron and Lynette wrapped up their masters at Western State College of Colorado, where they were roommates. Every two years the group gets together in a different part of the country. Two years ago in Mammoth and two years before that in Colorado.
In Driggs, we all stayed together in a great two story log cabin home with a spectacular view of the Tetons Range. Our day outings took us fly fishing, hiking, canoeing, vodka tasting, photographing, boat touring and eateries. Evenings were spent with special home prepared dinners, hot tubing and campfires.
Our day trips have taken us to the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, Jenny Lake, Cascade Canyons Trail, Teton River, Bitch Creek, Buffalo River, Grand Targhee hiking (accessed by the ski lift), downtown Jackson, Snake River Brewery and the remarkable new GeoTourism Center in Driggs. Oh yes, huckleberry shakes in Victor and root beer floats in Ashton.
I’ll let the photos do the remainder of the talking as we’re packing up and heading to Yellowstone today.
It has been a dazzling week of exploration, friendship, photography and adventure here in Driggs, Idaho and Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming. Oh, and a birthday, too!
There has been an eery quiet and pall over the landscape the last few days. Smoke and quiescent clouds have owned the air-scape. The river though is unchanged, its sweet murmur constant, the cadence and rhythm static, predictable. The surrounding landscape is the driest I’ve seen. My camp is green though and unchanged since I arrived three weeks ago. Surrounded by springs, it keeps a verdantness deep into the summer.
I do have my walking paths to the river where I’ve tramped down the grass and the grass, too, has succumbed to my tent, shower, outside kitchen, writing table pavilion, fire-pit and the movement grounds (better known as a shovel/ dirt/ rock delineation).
I’ve spent many solo days in camp with occasional weekend company. I’m never alone though as I have my constant bird, squirrel and deer companions…and just last night an Angus bull who wandered in to graze and in my night nakedness, I tossed a couple of sticks at it (successfully), getting it to thunder away. Luckily it didn’t come after me as my tent retreat would be a mere matador’s cape.
The birds are most abundant…the first morning voices I hear and the last when the night’s curtain closes. Seated in my creek chair last night, the sky above me was a swirl with nighthawks. These crepuscular birds and the mammal kingdom bats arrive before dawn and at dusk and beyond. I marvel at their aerial acrobatics as they gather their insect dinners, maneuvering like circus acrobats and fighter jets.
As I write these words before 8 am and the sun just starting to peak through the mountain junipers and pines, I hear the rapid buzz of a hummingbird. The flycatchers are busy all day in camp, as are the woodpeckers (mainly Pacific sapsuckers), orioles, Rufus-side towhee, robin, dove, vireos, western tanager, belted kingfisher, white-faced ibis (rare they land here if they see me), tree sparrows, warblers and dippers. There is a resident osprey, too, and I occasionally have an owl, bald eagle or raptor visit.
There are a couple of resident chickaree (Douglas ground squirrels) that chide me from the creek cottonwood located beside my writing table. A couple of golden mantle ground squirrels inspect my kitchen table everyday for crumbs. I keep everything sealed though and food remains in coolers. Dried goods are encased in large plastic containers, kept in the pickup whereas I can easily access them from the tailgate.
Yesterday when arriving at camp near sunset, a doe and her two spotted fawns greeted me…or should I say, I greeted them. I clicked off a few nice photos before they bounded away.
I love camp days when I do not leave for anythings other than my daily 2-3 mile hike. Days are spent reading, writing, piddling on projects such as new backing and line for the recently purchased 5 weight fly rod and reel. Several times during the day, I’ll slip into the river to refresh and cool down.
I know and feel the camp similar to what naturalist Henry Beston once wrote: “I would answer that one’s first appreciation is a sense that the creation is still going on, that the creative forces are as great and active to-day as they have ever been, and that to-morrow’s mornings will be as heroic as any in the world.”
One of my favorite pleasures is to be seated in my river chair, enjoying nothingness but the moment. The river is filled with the activity of dragon and damsel flies. I have a table in front of the chair where I can prop my feet when I wish to get them out of the water. Oftentimes crayfish will nibble at my feet and toes but they give up quickly knowing that I’m not ripe enough for them! I have two umbrellas attached to the river chair…a small one when I want just my head out of the sun and a large one for complete shade. There is a guest chair, too, next to the table. Not once since I’ve been here has an uninvited vehicle driven down, nor has there been a fisherman wading or walking by. In the old days when the river was stocked, fisherman passing through the camp was not uncommon.
My kitchen is simple: a large table with a propane stove, water container, dish washing and cooking supplies. I eat and drink healthily. The simple elements nourish me well.
The camp is filled with memories of days gone by with my wife (some of her ashes were released in the river) and son, my family and friends. I started coming here as a kid. During higher water, I float the river with raft and kayak. I’ve been to the river’s source in the wilderness and I’ve been to its end at a high desert lake. I’ve fly fished practically every stretch of it…and I’ve hiked sections of it just for the pleasure and exercise. It is a river of dreams and memory…and a river of the moment, with new memories to be made.
In his book Upland Stream, W.D. Wetherell says, “Coming to the end of Walden Thoreau summed up his experiment in living thus: “That if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams…he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” This was written from optimism that seems amazing to us now, and yet there are people who every day learn the truth of this, and among them are fisherman, who in the precious hours on the water, possess an optimism and strength of purpose worthy of Thoreau.”
This river nourishes my soul deeper than any other. I have a love affair with it that will last for eternity.
In the doldrums of summer, in the land of my birth, I go to the mountains to quench my thirst.
It will be called UnNamed, USA where I go. All of us have a special place called UnNamed. Some are fortunate to have many. It’s not a place available for general public consumption, like we travel writers make a living exposing, or in most cases, ruminating about places from our own subjective experience that have been written about time after time. You have to find your UnNamed on your own. I’m sure you already have. If not, find your own and tell no one (or very few). There are places that I have found and that I have explored that I will not write about in specifics, though maybe so in broad, general, unnamed terms.
As a travel photographer/writer, I get to experience a variety of places in a variety of lands. It pays my bills and it always leaves me enriched and thankful for the breadth and depth of this Old Earth…and the reader can go there, too, either literally, vicariously, or both. Yet these journeys only partially fill me. UnNamed fills me completely. To the brim. To overflowing…and it is relatively inexpensive as it is close to home. In times of travel penny pinching, our UnNameds are wise travel investments.
My wife—mortally deceased fourteen years ago—and I spent part of many summers at UnNamed. Our son Steen—now 29—did, too. UnNamed was our camp, our sanctuary, our Shanghai-La. It was our eye from which we explored our region. Family and friends had and still have the pleasure of UnNamed, too.
Everyone should have an UnNamed. A place to go, to be alone, to be away from it all…or just to be with whom you want to be with.
My first memories at UnNamed were with my Dad and brother, often accompanied with other friends and family, too…and many times, just Dad and I. We came to fish this stream of dreams. It is where my Dad taught me to be a very proficient spin fisherman. Though I fly fish only now, my Dad made me into an expert at bait and spin fishing. Trout trembled at the approach of both of us…or so we liked to think. In those days, it was rare that we would catch and release. We had a large family to feed, with few resources, and we wanted to “bring home the bacon” to prove that we actually had been fishing. We didn’t want anyone outside the family to sense that we were having great fun in the process for fear that they would seek too much information about UnNamed and then we would have to stretch the truth and send them on a wild trout chase (few geese were involved) in the general vicinity without naming UnNamed specifically. When I took up fly-fishing, catch and release became the mantra, though the old black skillet still gets used on occasion.
We came to UnNamed right after the school year ended and before the summer haying began. Mom and Dad had a custom hay hauling business. Between hay cuttings in August, we came, too. Our lives were simple. We worked hard and played easy. Still do.
The UnNamed River that runs through the canyon where I sit writing at this moment—at July’s ending, seated in a chair, in the water, wearing my summer black short shorts with a cold margarita placed on a flat rock a hand length’s away( it’s 80 plus in the sun; I’m in the cooler shade of the creek cottonwood)—has the soft cadence of languid summer days.
The river starts as a series of brooks that come together as a creek, cascading from the base of a wilderness area’s highest elevation. The flow is tamed by the first large valley where it meanders gently through pine, willow, aspen, red osier dogwood and alder thickets: home to small mountain brook trout, beaver, song birds, butterflies, deer, coyote, squirrels, raptors, a few eagles and occasionally elk. There are mountain lion and bobcat here, too, though I’ve never seen one. A few cattle graze this area, but less so than in years past.
FIRST HIKE 30 YEARS AGO
My first hike to the headwaters was 30 years ago. JJ and I hiked into the wilderness, setting up our mountaineering tent in a sequestered grove of aspens near a bend in the creek. The following morning, both of us fly fished for brooks en route to the source. Along the way we marveled at the richness of the summer wildflowers: delphiniums that towered above our heads, the delicate and intricate columbines, paintbrush, yellow monkey flowers, elephant heads and an array of penstemons. With her pad and drawing pencils, she illustrated several scenes.
Hummingbirds were active in this fecund garden of nature. Somewhere en route at a deep pool, we stripped naked and slipped into the water. The cold, clear, mountain creek was like a jolt of electricity, energizing us for the remainder of the upper valley trek. We eventually arrived at UnNamed’s source: a Garden of Eden.
The natural tending by Mother Nature was extraordinary: a scene mindful of manicured French and English gardens, abundant with a variety of wildflowers and a series of little brooks gushing from springs at the basaltic rock. There were still a few remnants of snow. Gathering as one, the little brooks tumbled from its high mountain nest over a small waterfall, the beginnings of NoName Creek which later (30 miles distant) gets a name change to NoName River—the only such body of water in the state which I know whose adolescent name is changed when reaching adulthood. From beginning to end, NoName winds from high pine and fir country to the high desert—a near hundred mile course—and then exhausts itself as though dying from old age.
Every time that I come to the camp at NoName, the past comes with me. I hear the laughter and stories of days gone by. I see my Dad in the prime of his life along solitary stretches of the river making casts toward the wary and elusive rainbow and red band trout. Occasionally, he would take a break and light up a Pall Mall, a habit which he overcame the last 20 years of his life, but he had to live with the lung damage along the way. His choice though, as I’ve recognized that all humans have vices, one way or the other, and some things that some people call vices are really not vices at all. It is the fabric of our intricate makeup. NoName makes me philosophic, yet, concurrently, it also makes me—that is, allows me—to be empty and pure again without any philosophy, religion, imprints, prejudices and DNA encoded weight. I’m light at NoName, like the feathered flight of warblers, spotted sandpipers, tree sparrows, flycatchers and the Western tanagers that frequent the camp. NoName is anonymity and anonymity is freedom.
The presence of my wife is here, as are part of her ashes, released the summer after her death, by our son and me, and her sister and husband. The last time we stayed here together as a family was the summer of the year she died. The three of us threw our bedrolls on the ground and slept under the stars. The night was still and the twinkling stars glistened in the heavens. We counted falling stars. Little did we know that her star would transcend later in the year.
Our NoName camp has been from simple to deluxe, depending on how much time we stayed. Sometimes, it would just be a pup tent or a sleeping bag on the ground. Most times though, we had a full tent (or the 16-foot antique camp trailer), a screened kitchen tent, two umbrella tables, two hammocks and a portable dining table. Often, we brought a kayak or inflatable raft. Often with family and friends, we spent the Fourth of July here, sometimes the camp swelling to 20 or so. Today, I’m camping alone.
NoName has many names, among them: love, family, honor, celebration, peace, tranquility, the moment, nature, harmony, simplicity, tradition.
Wherever your NoName is: attend to it. Let it flow through you and become a part of you, and never let it go. If let go, you are denying a vital aspect of your soul. In a sense, your NoName is an ultimate freedom.
It has been a 3-week adventure traveling down California Highway 101 and 1 along the coast from the Oregon border. We reached our southernmost camp at Morro Strand State Park, making it our eight and final encampment. These words are written at campsite A. The view is perfect of the beach. The sun has come out drenching unique Morro Rock—home of the peregrine falcon—with morning light, as foreground to fog and clouds at Montana de Oro in the background.
Our campsite is unique and campground host Jeanie says it’s the best site tho’ overlooked by most because of the proximity to the restrooms and the walking trail to the beach. Our tent is on a small dune, abuts to the snowy plover protection zone for breeding and nesting purposes. Literally our tent is against the cable, directly facing the Pacific…indeed, a room with a view and surprising privacy, too. It is amazingly quiet here during the week. Surfers come for the weekend and things amp up.
Daily we walk the beach for exercise and refreshment…and photography. The coastline is quieter here, much less rugged than what we’ve seen driving down. The strands of waves that come in are lace-like, as they break on the gentle, ample beach. There is a constant conversation between the surf and shoreline. Our friend Kevin at Big Lagoon camp (where we stayed on the first leg of the journey) mentioned that when he got a motel in Eureka one night to stay, he couldn’t sleep because he couldn’t hear the surf. Shore birds are abundant.
Our eight campground stays: Big Lagoon (3 nights; our only encampment off Highway 101; the remainder were off Highway 1), Westport, Gualala, Sunset State Park (near Monterrey), Limekiln (Big Sur), Kirk (Big Sur), San Simeon State Park (near Hearst Castle) and Morro Strand. We’ve stayed mainly in state parks with the exception of one county park (Big Lagoon) and a private campground south of Gualala. Five nights were spent sleeping in the back of Lynette’s pickup and the remaining nights in my 5-star tent. Each encampment has had its’ own uniqueness, beauty and pleasure.
Highway 1 is one of the most picturesque highways in America. The coastline is spectacular with a combination of rugged (mainly) and gentle scenery. Spring is a great time for travel because of the abundance of wildflowers, greenness and mild weather…and less traffic during the summer months.
We intentionally started with no itinerary, as this is my favorite travel mode, to go with the whims of the wind, if you will…to stay where you wish, as long as you wish. Only once did we find a campground full whereas we had to go elsewhere.
Our notion was to explore back roads as much as possible…and so we did. Literally, the first day—after departing Talent, Oregon—we departed the main road to the coast, traveling a dirt road through Stout Redwood Grove, ending up south of Crescent City. Yahoo!
The Big Lagoon camp was the perfect start. Our view was idyllic. The following day we explored the charming hamlet of Trinidad with its’ lighthouse, new dock, art shops, eateries (we had clam chowder) and the wonderful Moonstone Crossing (www.moonstonecrossing.com) Wine Shop with their whimsical wine label names such as Wish Upon a Star, Temptation of Angels and Midnight Caress.
The day of our departure we joined Kevin at the Arcata Saturday Farmer’s Market. Try out their famous waffle and potato/gravy concoction (which they’re famous for). We purchased some artisan bread (a couple of days later, a skunk made a raid in our food box, absconding with a $7 loaf!), greens and fruit for the road.
Driving south, we went through the Avenue of the Giants…the land of redwoods that will leave you awestruck. At Leggett, we departed Highway 101 for the start of Highway 1, winding our way to the coast, north of Westport, where we had a campsite not to die for…because if you did, you would miss the glorious sunset which we experienced. We had cocktails on the bluff overlooking this magnificent coastline.
Quaint, quiet and under-spoken Westport (which I had a history with 30 years ago) was our first stop the following day as we wandered the streets, getting in our morning walk. Passing through Fort Bragg, we made our way to Point Arena Lighthouse (a must stop), the town of Point Arena (a town that I could live in) and the old, funky, charming Point Arena dock where we ate fish and chips, a great Manhattan chowder and drank a couple of Old Rasputin beers. Heaven! Then we made our way past Gualala and found a private campsite for the night.
Bodega Bay, Tomales, Tomales Bay, Point Reyes, Stinson Beach, San Francisco and Santa Cruz we traveled through the following day, en route to our Sunset Camp. We walked to the beach that evening and had it all to ourselves. This campground is a nice find and it is unique being right next to farm fields. I fell in love with Tomales and Tomales Bay with fresh oysters and lamb sandwiches to be had. The countryside pulsated with spring green.
Departing Sunset, we made our way to Big Sur, stopping by Caramel-by-the-Sea briefly. Forty years ago, it was charming. I couldn’t wait to leave this time tho’ because of tourists like me. I have no desire to go back. I remember back then photographing the Bing Crosby Open (I met Pat Summerall and Katherine Crosby) and pissing off Johnny Miller because my shutter went off prematurely when he was putting! Yahoo!
The Big Sur coastline is as I had remembered it from years ago. Rugged, stellar, achingly beautiful…but with much more traffic than way by then. Our Limekiln and Kirk Creek encampments were blessed, as was our hike to a nearby waterfall and rocky beach explorations. This is a place (especially Kirk) to take a deep breath and exhale slowly a landscape that is utterly profound to the eyes and heart. Get one of poet Robinson Jeffers books and read about this area.
I’ve never been to Disneyland and I have no desire to. Hearst Castle the same…but we did stop at the Hearst Ranch Winery after departing Big Sur and it was most enjoyable. I did photograph the castle in the background and we stayed at nearby San Simeon State Park which was pleasant. The following day we arrived at Morro Bay.
The Morro Bay stay has been memorable with day trips to beautiful downtown San Luis Obispo (Lynette got her first degree at Cal Poly), Morro Bay Harbor, Montana de Oro, Los Osos, Avila Beach, San Luis Bay and downtown Morro Bay.
The pics will tell the rest of the story.
Just released my latest story on www.highonadventure.com. It’s about my recent trip to Whistler, BC, Canada…skiing, bobsledding (with famous Jamaican bobsled coach Pat Brown from the movie Cool Runnings) ziplining and exploring the Olympic Village. Enjoy and read and the photos of this world class destination.
At 365 yards, we reached 80 MPH in the four-man bobsled and G forces of 4plus. It was the most exhilarating ride that I’ve ever taken…likened to astronauts being blasted into space. My respect for bobsledders reached a new level with the experience at the Whistler (Canada) Sliding Center, the site of the luge, bobsledding and skeleton events during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. And of all things, the driver of our sled was Pat Brown who once coached the Jamaican Bobsled Team, made famous in the movie Cool Runnings. View the general public offering at www.whistlerslidingcentre.com. I was rider #2, in the yellow jacket, right behind Pat. My friend John Paulsen was rider #4 in the sled. Out of seven teams we had the top time Last Saturday evening which was also the top time of the week and our top speed was equal to that of the Sochi Games (where Pat just returned from as a bobsled women’s judge) winners. The Whistler track is the fastest in the world.
Death Valley National Park is one of my favorite places on this old and beautiful earth…especially during the winter months when one can warm up like a lizard within the comfortable embrace of this unique zone which encompasses the lowest place in the USA (-284 feet below sea level) and is near the highest elevation in the Lower 48 States: Mount Whitney. My favorite camping area is Panamint Springs, space 27. However I like Stovepipe Wells Campground, too…and the access to the swimming pool…which we had all to ourselves for a week recently. Death Valley is perfect for hiking and exploring, just bring plenty of water, some energy food…and watch out for the sidewinders, especially in and around the sand dunes! With offroad travel in the park, bring an extra tire or gunk for filling up flats. We had one flat. The only repair station is the Chevron in Furnace Creek. Enjoy the laid back ambience of Panamint Springs. 180 beers are available, including several nice tap selections. They even had one of my alltime favorites: Deschutes Brewery’s Abyss! January and February day temps get into the 70s. Nice! Nights can be cool, though, so prepare yourself appropriately.
My latest story at www.highonadventure.com is about skiing and exploring Red Mountain and Rossland, British Columbia, Canada…the hometown and mountain of my friend Nancy Green who was named Canada’s Female Athlete of the Century a few years ago. Enjoy the read and photos!
Rainie Falls Trail is a relatively easy four-mile trek into the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, Oregon. The Trail is accessed 25 miles from Interstate 5, taking the Merlin exit to Grave Creek Bridge which is along the Merlin-Galice Road. The Trail is on the left side of the river. It is steep in places but well worth one’s time as you trek through some very picturesque country beside this famous river. Salmon and steelhead can be seen jumping the falls as they migrate upstream to their spawning grounds. My friend Rick Ponte and I recently took this trek. November is a great time to do the hike though it can be hiked any time of the year if one is properly prepared.