Haleakala National Park

Haleakala NP sign

In 1975, at the start of my parents’ year-long trip around the world, they hiked through Haleakala National Park. Forty years later they brought their kids back with their spouses to enjoy the same experience.

We started planning about six months ago making sure everyone would be ok with the idea. This included making sure my husband would be ok with the heights, my sister-in-law would be ok with the altitude, and my brother’s knee would hold out. My parents trained and the rest of us, in all honestly, kind of winged it. Although I did try doing everything at an incline at the gym, when I would go, to get my legs somewhat ready.

We left Lahaina at 6 a.m. March 30 to make the long two-hour drive up to the top. We opted not to drive up for sunrise because of the threat of how thick the fog could be on the roads. And once we were on the road headed to the park, I wouldn’t have wanted to be on it in the dark in a swath of fog. There are no guardrails and a lot of switchbacks. We drove through the clouds, and when we were above the cloud line it was amazing to see them from above. One cloud was billowing like an atomic explosion. We even passed a lavender farm on the way too.

View of the clouds on the drive up

View of the clouds on the drive up

We dropped one car off at the Halemau’u Trailhead parking lot because that is where we would be ending our hike. We all piled into the other car and took that to the summit. Once at the summit, we were able to go into the Visitor’s Center to look around. It is a nice lookout point to see into the crater. It is also so windy up there it took my favorite hat right off my head and I thought I almost lost it to the depths of the crater. In addition to the Visitor’s Center, there are also bathrooms to use before starting the trail. The rangers in the center also recommended three liters of water per person while hiking.

Haleakala Visitor Center

Haleakala Visitor Center

We started on the trail at about 8:30 a.m. for our 11.2 mile trek. The temperature was certainly colder than it is at the beach, so if hiking make sure to have layers. I was in a long sleeve shirt, fleece jacket and my rain/wind jacket over that with a hat and gloves.

Sweeping view of part of the crater

Sweeping view of part of the crater

The crater makes you feel like you have landed on Mars or the moon. There is almost no visible wildlife or plants and it is very quiet. The silty sand slopes down into the crater so that you can see for miles across it. It gave me a feeling of wanting to take a sled straight down the slope to the bottom, although that would be a dangerous ride, not to mention probably illegal.

Crater 2

For most of the morning we hiked downhill into the crater, occasionally slipping on the sand and giving our shins a test of strength and durability. We walked past silversword plants that looked like someone had come around and spray painted each one with bright silver paint. We even saw one that was in full bloom, which is pretty special as they only bloom once before then dying. They are an endangered plant species and only found in the Haleakala Crater.

A silversword

A silversword

A silversword in bloom

A silversword in bloom

We stopped near the bottom to enjoy some snacks and give our legs and feet a break. We had hiked for about four miles by then. We enjoyed sitting around and looking at where we had hiked from and seeing the red of the soil contrast with the blue of the sky. A few birds came by that we called Nenes because we hadn’t seen one yet, but they were really chukars. A little masked bandit looking for food.

A chukar

A chukar

Haleakala sign

Heading out for the next stretch!

After our stop, we had three and half miles to go before getting to the Holua cabin where we would stop for lunch. This was the first part of the hike where we started to go uphill and I could really feel the altitude. This is also where I started to realize that some cardio training to strengthen my lungs would have been a good idea. So, I took my time and hung back and hiked with my dad. My heart was pounding, my stomach was gurgling and my hips were starting to hurt.

On our way to Holua

On our way to Holua

About a mile out from the cabin, the landscape starts to change from the sandy soil to more plant life, low shrubs and ferns. The lava rocks become harder to hike over. It was a nice relief to be able to stop for lunch. At the cabin, which you have to book about a year in advance if you want to stay there, there is also an outhouse to use. The first one all hike. I recommend making sure that you go before your hike and to also know that there aren’t many places in the crater to go that are private if need be.

The landscape begins to dramatically shift to more plant life

The landscape begins to dramatically shift to more plant life

Holua cabin

Holua cabin

As lunch was ending and we were packing up, the clouds started to roll in and the fog was hovering. We started out on our hike and could see in the distance the switchback we needed to tackle to get out of the crater. We were officially out of the sandy area and now it felt more like hiking through Jurassic Park. My sister-in-law provided the theme song for us as we hiked. It felt like a raptor might run by at any moment.

Hiking across Jurassic Park to the switchback

Hiking across Jurassic Park to the switchback

We finally reached the gate to start the switchback climb. This climb is not for the faint of heart or for people who are scared of heights, like Blake. I am ok hiking at heights, they are nerve-racking of course, but they don’t give me much vertigo. For Blake, his hands were shaking, he was sweating and we had to continue without stopping. He did a great job and I am very proud of him. When we did stop briefly, because it is important to drink water, I had to turn him to face the mountain wall so he couldn’t see what was below him.

I didn't have a lot of time with Blake hiking behind me, but I snapped this one fast to show high we had hiked up.

I didn’t have a lot of time with Blake hiking behind me, but I snapped this one fast to show high we had hiked up.

Never has cloud rain ever been so welcome during a hike. It was refreshing in the heat. I would also recommend good hiking pants that aren’t jeans, as I felt the water beaded off my Columbia pants quite well and then dried quickly afterwards. At one point the trail goes on a ledge where there is nothing on either side of you. Luckily, because we were hiking through clouds, I wasn’t quite sure what was below us.

One day I might like to know what's on either side, but I snapped another fast photo. Also, cloud rain - magical.

One day I might like to know what’s on either side, but I snapped another fast photo. Also, cloud rain = magical.

Eventually the switchbacks stopped, but we were still hiking uphill to the parking lot. It’s even more deceiving when you can see the parking lot in the distance, yet it still feels like you are hiking a long time to get there and not getting any closer. We crossed over into the parking lot at 3:30 in the afternoon. Exactly seven hours after we had left the summit.

So proud of him! A thumbs up after a really hard climb.

So proud of him! A thumbs up after a really hard climb.

Oh wait, not done yet! More trail to the parking lot

Oh wait, not done yet! More trail to the parking lot

What a sense of accomplishment! All six of us were quite tired, muscles burning but thrilled that we had hiked through the whole crater and that everyone had made it. We were even happier that we were able to share the experience with my mom and dad. We celebrated the next day with a lazy pool day.

We made it! 11.2 miles!

We made it! 11.2 miles!

Mom and Dad make it to the finish line!

Mom and Dad make it to the finish line!

Visit Haleakala National Park online to learn more and plan your own trip.

Back at the summit after our hike looking out over what we had just accomplished.

Back at the summit after our hike looking out over what we had just accomplished.

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Atlantic Heights Bed and Breakfast

Ireland had been on my and Blake’s list of places to see in our lifetime. We were lucky enough that 2014 was the year we finally got to see it. And for a special reason too. Thirty-nine years prior, my parents had spent about four months living in Glengarriff, Ireland on the southwest coast, and we were traveling as a family foursome back to the village so we could meet the grown kids of the family they had rented their house from years prior.

However, Blake and I started our journey alone in Galway after a bus trip in from the Dublin Airport; jet lag allowing me to sleep for most of the trip. And while Ireland is incredibly green, even stepping outside of the Dublin Airport I exclaimed, “It even smells green!” The majority of the middle of the country reminded me very much of the Midwest of the United States, quite uncanny to Iowa. And God knows I’ve driven through Iowa my fair share of times getting to Colorado.

So we arrived via bus in the middle of Galway and commenced to try to find a local bus that would take us to Salt Hill, a place that could be described as a small suburb just outside of city center Galway. We found the local bus, hopped on without exact change (don’t do this!), hopped off because we didn’t have exact change, hopped back on when the driver told us to just get back on the bus and made us change. See, the Irish are friendly.

I had my Google map printout with directions on how to get to Atlantic Heights. This doesn’t help much when the bus doesn’t announce where it is and the nice old man next to you only speaks Gaelic. But he tried to help me, he really did. So we got off the bus at what we thought was close to where we needed to be and started to hike with our suitcases. Turns out, this isn’t fun when it’s hot out for Ireland, you’re jetlagged and you really have no idea where you are going. A nice lady at a pharmacy up the street, and nice people in a pizzeria helped point us in the right direction.

We finally arrived at Atlantic Heights, sweaty but smiley that we were finally there. Catherine brought us tea and water while they “hoovered” our room for us since we were there a little early.

Atlantic Heights B&B

Atlantic Heights B&B

We stayed in Room E, a standard king ensuite room. Rooms are tight in Europe, but I found it very quaint and comfortable. It also had a really pretty view of Galway Bay.

Room E

Room E

After our showers to freshen up, we took a walk into Salthill. It is a delightful walk along the coastline and the beaches. On the way back to the B&B we were able to meet Madeline, the owner of the inn. She helped us book our tour to the Cliffs of Moher for the next day. In fact, the tour bus even pulls into the parking lot to load up the guests and then drives around to other local inns picking up guests for the tour. It was only about 50 Euros for the two of us for an all-day bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher. A great plan if you don’t want to drive on the other side of the road and you’re still suffering from jet lag.

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

For our second night we actually switched rooms. We had called the inn when booking because we wanted to stay here so bad we were wondering if we could book two separate rooms since they were fully booked on two night stays in their other rooms. Madeline was happy to accommodate us. In fact, the morning of the switch we just left our packed bags in our room and staff moved it to the second room during the day.

Our second night we stayed in Room D, a standard double ensuite room. The bathroom was actually slightly more spacious in this room than the other, and the window overlooked the back garden.

Room D

Room D

But, let’s discuss breakfast. They have a really pretty sunroom that looks at the garden set up with tables for breakfast. The first morning I had scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. Blake had scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, which is actually ham. Along with your breakfast entrees come a fruit bowl, a breadbasket, juice, and coffee and tea. They actually hand you a menu in the morning to choose from the many options available.

Eggs and sausage links

Eggs and sausage links

Our second morning Blake had scrambled eggs and sausage again, and I had, at the recommendation of a Canadian the morning before, porridge (oatmeal) with a shot of Bailey’s on the side. And Irish breakfast indeed! Not that you’d want a shot of Bailey’s every morning for breakfast on a normal morning, but when on vacation… It was quite good.

Porridge and Baileys - a fine Irish breakfast!

Porridge and Baileys – a fine Irish breakfast!

After our second breakfast, we packed our bags and got ready to check-out. It was about 186 Euro for our stay for two nights with breakfast. Madeline was a pleasure to talk to and even helped point out local areas of interest in Ireland that we might drive past during our stay. We actually stopped at a few of them, the Titanic museum in Cobh being one of them.

She also let us know that her and her husband Robbie plan on retiring and selling the B&B in about a year. I’d hate to see this inn be sold, but I can understand wanting to retire to their farm. She was even sweet enough to drive us into town and drop us off at the train station to catch our train. She did a little driving tour of Galway showing us the sites before arriving at the train station. Madeline hugged us good-bye and I was quite sad to see her go! She tops out at one of the sweetest B&B owners we’ve ever met.

I hope some day that we will return to Ireland. I would love to explore Galway a lot more than we were able to!

Atlantic Heights Bed and Breakfast
2 Cashelmara, Knocknacarra Cross
Salthill, Galway City, Ireland
Phone: +353 91 529466
Website: http://www.atlanticheightsgalway.com

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Alcatraz Island National Historic Landmark

At the dock - Pier 33

At the dock – Pier 33

I used to picture Alcatraz Island sitting off the shore of San Francisco in the Pacific Ocean, far away; however, as I found out this past July, this is not the case. Alcatraz Island actually sits in the middle of San Francisco Bay and is surrounded on all sides by views of land and bridges.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz has a rich history and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1986. I was excited for this part of our trip, as we were taking the night tour. The night tours sell out in advance. Because of this, we purchased our tickets the day they appeared online, which was exactly three months in advance of going. I would highly suggest doing this if you know ahead of time when you’ll be in the city. Night tours are offered every day of the week except Tuesday and Wednesday.

The tour takes off from Pier 33 and Alcatraz Cruises is very strict about leaving on time. We made the boat by three minutes because of waiting for a friend driving up from Palo Alto in rush-hour traffic.

On the boat tour to the island the views of San Francisco at sunset are very pretty. The boat takes you around the island and the guides narrate what you are seeing. I found it quite difficult to hear what they were saying over the loudspeaker, mainly because people were talking and it was very windy on deck. Make sure to dress warm for the night tour even in July! I had a fleece coat on with a raincoat on over it.

With my buddy Colleen and completely windblown!

With my buddy Colleen and completely windblown!

Alcatraz from the boat

Alcatraz from the boat

The boat pulls into dock and there are guides waiting on land to take groups up to the prison. They narrate along the way as they take you to the top. It was dusk and that certainly added a bit to the creepiness of it all, especially walking past the morgue. Once at the prison we entered the area where the prisoners would have received their uniforms and/or taken showers. At this point, visitors receive their headsets for a self-guided tour of Alcatraz.

Views from the hike up to the prison

Views from the hike up to the prison. This is the old officer’s club.

Got my headset and ready to start the tour!

Got my headset and ready to start the tour!

I’m always weary of headsets and self-guided tours, but I have to say this one was excellent. They have narrations by both past prisoners and prison guards as they lead you through the building. The directions of where to turn and stop are also spot-on. They also add in the sounds of what it would be like to have been imprisoned there, and it really adds a great third-dimension to it all. You can hear the shouting during the prison break or the clanging and yelling in the cafeteria during meal times. The tour even goes outside to the grounds.

Panoramic view from outside the prison

Panoramic view from outside the prison

I found Alcatraz to be much smaller than I had pictured for a prison. The cells were stacked three stories tall and on loud nights in San Francisco the prisoners could hear the people on shore. I also thought it was interesting that even some families of the guards lived on the island. It would have been nice to have been able to walk the island a bit more outside, but if I ever find myself back in San Francisco I will definitely book a daytime tour.

Blake gazes up at the three levels of cells

Blake gazes up at the three levels of cells

The cool thing about the night tour though is that they open the hospital wing on the top floor so you can walk through it. I didn’t find the prison area as creepy as I thought, but the hospital wing was certainly where the creepy factor kicks in They put camping lanterns in the hospital rooms that gave off an eerie blue glow as we gazed at 1950s-ish equipment for surgery, X-rays and “water therapy.” We also saw the room where they kept a notorious prisoner, the Birdman, in solitary confinement.

Operating room

Operating room

The water therapy room. I'm not sure how much "therapy" was actually going on in here.

The water therapy room. I’m not sure how much “therapy” was actually going on in here.

During the evening tour they also have a few presentations that you can sit in on where they talk more in-depth about the island. We went to Myths and Misconceptions about Alcatraz and didn’t find it very good. However, the Sound of the Slammer was excellent. The guide talked about the prison cells and then did a demonstration on how all the doors worked. It was very enlightening and very loud. View the video I took below: 

Back outside, they loaded us on to the ferry. By then, it was very dark and the prison looked quite scary from the outside. And while we were loading on to a ferry, a school group was heading in to spend the night in the prison cells. No thanks.

Alcatraz at night

Alcatraz at night

It was a quick trip back to the mainland dock and the tour was over. As I mentioned earlier, I would definitely do a daytime tour on my next visit so I could spend more time walking the grounds and seeing the island as a whole. However, I would recommend the nighttime tour to anyone going to San Francisco for their first visit. Book in advance though!

San Francisco at night

San Francisco at night

Tour website: http://www.alcatrazcruises.com

And if interested in finding out more about the latest research on the prison outbreak that happened in 1962, visit the below website. The research says there is a possibility they could have survived. http://www.iflscience.com/technology/prisoners-1962-alcatraz-escape-could-have-survived

The group of us

The group of us

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Muir Woods National Monument

The entrance

The entrance

I was excited to see Muir Woods this past July and experience the magic of the Redwoods again. When we had visited the Redwood National Park in 2011 it was one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had, and I will never forget getting out of the car to go on our first hike and the silence that surrounded me.

Muir Woods was entirely the opposite experience in every way. First, the parking lots are incredibly small and so parking turns into the side of the road for another mile or so and people need to hike back to the Visitor’s Center. When we left after our visit, there was no more parking along the side of the road. At the entrance, it was $7 a person to get through the gates. The Redwood NP is free to get into.

Muir wood trees

I’d like to think that it was so crowded and busy because we were there on a Friday in July. And so if that is the case, I would suggest finding a day when there is no one there. What really took the magic away from me were two things. The first was a man whistling and yelling at a deer so he could take a picture of it. This is not a zoo. Even if it was a zoo, you should never yell at a wild animal. The second thing was the sign that read, “enter quietly” into Cathedral Grove and people were ignoring the sign. To me, the enchantment of the Redwoods is the silence. So, for there to be no silence was disheartening.

Muir woods sign

Final thoughts? Do I sound like a Redwood snob? Probably. I think it’s always fascinating to see Redwoods. If you’ve never seen one, and you don’t think you’ll ever get up to Northern California, and you’re in the San Francisco area, by all means, go experience them. If you’ve been to the Redwood National Park and thoroughly enjoyed it, I’d say you can skip this one.

Muir Woods is a 560-acre park and includes six miles of trails. Although when I was there I was only aware of the main, canyon floor trails that are paved and were about a loop of a mile and a half. The unpaved trails out of the canyon connect to Mt. Tamalpais State Park.

If we had time, I would have loved to have also seen Point Reyes National Sea Shore not that far down the road.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/muwo/index.htm

R&B in Muir Woods

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2015 a new year!

This is my fifth year doing Parks & Pancakes and over the last five years I’ve been fortunate to have seen a lot around the world. I don’t always update as much I should be and I’m normally behind on posting on our trips, but perhaps I can take a turn in 2015 and really get this going. I have a few more posts to catch up on places I saw in California this past summer, and the places we stayed in in Ireland in September. And then maybe I can really start posting about national park news and bed and breakfasts. Future vacation coming up will be Maui in the spring and I can knock another national park off the list when we hike the Haleakala Crater!

Excited to see what 2015 has in store for us!

Excited to see what 2015 has in store for us!

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Black Rock Inn

Black Rock sign

This past July we stayed at the Black Rock Inn in St. Helena, California in the Napa Valley Region. Unlike many of the places we choose to travel to, Napa Valley was swimming in bed and breakfasts. It was difficult to not only decide on just one, but also what region of the Napa Valley we wanted to stay in. Plus, cost played a factor, as places to stay there are incredibly expensive.

The front of the inn

The front of the inn

We chose the Black Rock Inn for the clean, modern look of their rooms and for the great reviews on Trip Advisor boasting of a wonderful host that will pack you a lunch for during the day and wine tastings at night from his private collection.

Black Rock Inn is situated on the Silverado Trail road, which is great for access to a variety of wineries. In fact, Duckhorn Vineyards is right across the street. If you are venturing to the inn, be wary that the inn sits on a sharp curve in the road and the speed limit is high. It wasn’t so bad on the weekends, but come Monday morning when the trucks are roaring down the road, it was a bit harrowing trying to get out of the driveway quickly. Also keep in mind that the roads are quite dark at night.

We arrived at the inn on Saturday afternoon after a nice lunch in St. Helena at the Long Meadow Ranch Farmstead. Unfortunately, our odd stay starts here. Blake and I have stayed at quite a few bed and breakfasts by this point, so we’ve come to expect a certain level of hospitality that they all offer. A host normally greets you, gives you a tour of the house and grounds so you feel comfortable in their home and not like a stranger, and then shows you to the room explaining things along the way. Jeff greeted us, and immediately showed us to our room, where he handed us a sheet of paper with specific things we might need to know and left us. He’s not an incredibly engaging person, and I could never get the vibe if that was just him, or the San Francisco/Napa Valley region in general.

A little while later he did help us find a restaurant we could go to in town for dinner. Cook was a very good restaurant with nice-sized portions that weren’t too big, but I’d say the service was lacking some. The friendly busser was more helpful than our server.

In the morning, Jeff does breakfast family style. Everyone had their own bowl of yogurt with fruit for breakfast and then he brought out bowls of scrambled eggs, potatoes and a platter of scones. While this is nice, we had the same breakfast three days in a row with only slight variation. In fact one morning he served us slightly brown guacamole that he had made the night before for a party with his friends. I realize we were the only ones at breakfast that morning, but it would be nice to have fresh food. The key to a great b&b is the variety in breakfasts they serve if guests are staying multiple nights. We had scrambled eggs and potatoes every morning, with only the sweet being switched out.

On our second night at the inn we traveled to Napa around dinnertime to walk around. Jeff had mentioned before we left that he would be having friends over for dinner. We had gone to many wineries during the day and weren’t really feeling it for dinner. Not to mention, Napa is a very interesting town. Along the river walk is very pretty with some nice looking restaurants, but the other parts of the town seem quite run down and a bit shady. It wasn’t what I was expecting to see at all. So we settled on frozen yogurt for dinner, because that sounded good. And ice cream for dinner when you’re on vacation is a perfectly acceptable treat.

When we arrived back to the inn, not a single light was on in the hallway for us to be able to find our way up to the room. We stood in the entryway for quite a bit of time trying to find a light switch. We also heard people in the kitchen, who once they heard us come in immediately said they had to go. I assume we crashed the party. Jeff invited us into his kitchen, and immediately laid into us for driving all the way to Napa and only getting frozen yogurt. I wasn’t quite sure what the big deal was, it’s our vacation. He was also three sheets to the wind, and in my opinion, acting completely inappropriate in front of his guests who had paid a pretty penny to spend the night there. He offered us some flank steak he had cooked for his friends and the guacamole that he then reserved us the next morning.

Aside from that, our room was quite nice and spacious there. We stayed in Suite 4, which sits in the back of the house. We had a nice little deck to sit out on with a glass of wine and a bathroom with both a stand-up shower and a jetted tub. The views are of the wooded hillside.

Suite 4

Suite 4

Deck off our room

Deck off our room

Pros of this trip? We had a lovely room. We met Jeff’s girlfriend Jennifer who is the tasting room manager at Muscardini in Sonoma and who we visited for a tasting. We ended up buying a few bottles of wine including our almond sparkling wine we opened to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary. Jeff did help us book a tour at Schramsburg and gave us a glass or two of wine during our stay.

Cons? There was no offer to make lunches for the day. There were no wine and cheese tastings at night like people said. I did not find the inn on a whole a very welcoming place.

I think Black Rock Inn has a lot of potential to be a great locale. I don’t think it’s fully there yet.

Black Rock Inn
3100 N. Silverado Trail
St. Helena, CA
Phone: 707.968.7893
Website: http://www.blackrockinn.net

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Olympic National Park – The Mountains

Olympic NP sign

The third section of the national park we visited in August 2012 was the mountains at Hurricane Ridge. We first stopped at the visitor center to learn about the area before traveling 17 miles up the road. It was a nerve-racking road with twists and turns and made me very anxious, maybe because I wasn’t driving and had more time to look at the drop out the window.

Amazing views

Amazing views

Once there, we stopped in the visitor center at the top before venturing out on to the trails. The views of the distant mountains are unbelievable from the top. The valley stretches out and then pitches forward and down. It was a bit Sound of Music-esque. You wish you could climb over the fence and just twirl around in circles.

ONP mountains

We started out on a trail behind the visitor’s center and found snow on the ground, in August! The trails still had wildflowers left from earlier in the summer. We also found two, baby black-tailed deer grazing in a field along with the snow patrol cottage for the winter, which looked so forlorn, beaten down and lonely.

Snow!

Snow!

Ski patrol hut

 

Baby deer

Due to Blake’s fear of heights, he sat out while I continued to hike along a small ridge called High Ridge Trail to get to Sunrise Point outlook area. Another couple and I stood in a cloud for a while unable to see anything in front of us, until a tiny mountain peak peeked its head out.

Looking back down the trail from Sunrise Point

Looking back down the trail from Sunrise Point

Coming down the trail Blake and I ran into a female deer walking straight up the trail. We and two other ladies moved aside as she continued her way up the path. It was wacky. We were so close we could have reached out and touched her.

Why hello there!

Why hello there!

Back in the parking lot another deer was just walking along. After lunch, we drove up Hurricane Hill Road to get to Hurricane Hill trail. The wild flowers were still blooming there as well. I made it further up the trail, as Blake hung back again, and really, really wanted to continue to see where it led because I just know the views were even more stunning on the other side. But alas, we had to turn back to get back to the bed and breakfast for wine and appetizer hour.

On Hurricane Hill trail

On the way back down the road there is a pull off and you can see the Dungeness Spit stretching out into the Strait along with Canada and the San Juan Islands. I would highly recommend pulling over, as it’s very cool to see the spit from so high up. Really gives you a perspective on long it really is.

Views from the pull off

Views from the pull off

I wish we could have spent more time here really taking our time to hike the trails. As I do plan to make the trip back to go to Colette’s B&B, I know I will find myself back at Hurricane Ridge.

Another view from a trail I took near the visitor center

Another view from a trail I took near the visitor center

He's a good sport

He’s a good sport

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Olympic National Park – Forests

Hoh Rainforest sign

The Olympic National Park has two types of forests amongst its many types of ecosystems. The first is the rainforest and the second is the lowland forest. We visited the Hoh Rainforest first in August 2012.

Spruce Nature Trail

Spruce Nature Trail

From Highway 101 we traveled up Upper Hoh Road for 19 miles to get to the visitor’s center. The road running along the Hoh River was beautiful and you could see the mountains in the distance. Once we arrived at the visitor center it was a necessity to get my passport stamped to prove my visit. We then started out on the Spruce Nature Trail, a 1.2-mile hike that lead through the moss laden trees and eventually brought us down to the Hoh River. The water was blue but still murky we were told due to the rocks breaking up underneath from the force of the river and the mud was very grey. We also saw a river otter swimming upstream!

The Hoh River

The Hoh River

A river otter

A river otter

Further along on the trail we saw a black-tailed deer eating in the forest. We then took the Hall of Mosses Trail, or as Blake called it the Hall of Moses. The trail is a short .8 miles and leads through mossy trees and fallen nurse logs, which are named so because they provide nutrients to the other trees. We also found extremely large trees lined up in a “colonnade” and they stand on huge roots called stilts because that is where their nurse log used to be.

Trees in a colonnade with stilt roots

Trees in a colonnade with stilt roots

The moss drapes from the trees in large masses and it really illustrates how the park does get over 12 feet of rain a year. The National Geographic will tell you that sometimes even the air looks green.

Hoh rainforest

Hoh rainforest

We discovered the lowland forest at the Sol Duc Falls. It was a .8-mile hike on the Sol Duc Falls Trail to get to the waterfalls. The trail was one of my favorites of the trip with the creeks and streams running through the trees. In the distance you can hear the thunder of the falls. There is also an old shelter cabin before reaching the falls that reminded me of my summer at Philmont in New Mexico.

Shelter cabin

Shelter cabin

Beautiful streams running through the trail

Beautiful streams running through the trail

When we got to the falls I was surprised to see that you stand above the falls as oppose to looking up at them from below. They roar over the rocks in three jet streams into a deep crevice. We spent quite a bit of time here wandering the trail and walking out onto the rocks in the creek being careful not to slip so we wouldn’t get swept away in the current.

Sol Duc Falls

Sol Duc Falls

Blake out on the rocks

Blake out on the rocks

On our way back down, we stopped at the Sol Duc Hot Springs where they were celebrating their 100th anniversary. Maybe we caught it on a busy day, but the three hot spring pools and the one swimming pool were packed with people. The water seemed dirty and the smell of sulfur was quite strong. The hot water felt really nice and relaxing, but I couldn’t get over the smell and so after 20 minutes we got out. We had paid $12.25 each to get in and get our bracelet. For a 20 minute stay, I’d say that’s pretty expensive, but I’m happy to say that I at least tried my first hot spring.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

After the hot springs we ventured past Lake Crescent to get to Port Angeles. Stunning even on a cloudy day! The lake felt very European to me with the mountains surrounding it and then plummeting right in. Maybe next time I’ll stop for a little bit and take it all in.

Not a great photo of Lake Crescent, but you get the gist.

Not a great photo of Lake Crescent, but you get the gist.

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Olympic National Park – The Coast

There are three distinct parts of Olympic National Park: the coast, the rainforest and the mountains. The first part that we visited in August 2012 was the coast. We flew into the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and drove directly to Forks on the Olympic Peninsula. It was about a four-hour drive.

Ruby Beach

Ruby Beach

Our first stop along the way was Ruby Beach. It was the first time we could really stretch our legs and get a break from the continuous, evergreen-lined highway scenery. It’s only a quarter mile hike down to a beautiful beach to see large sea stacks standing in the water. It was an overcast day and a little bit of drizzle, but it didn’t deter us from hiking around. The high tide seemed to be coming back in when we arrived so there were no tide pools. Unfortunately there was a dead sea otter on the beach, and even more unfortunate, the only one I would get to see on the entire trip. Nonetheless, it was very cool to look at him up close. We climbed around on the logs and rocks before heading on to our final destination of Forks.

The poor sea otter... at least he looks peaceful

The poor sea otter… at least he looks peaceful

Ruby Beach shoreline

Ruby Beach shoreline

Our second day we continued up the coast to reach Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly tip of the continental United States. From Forks it was a pretty drive on 101 to 113 to the scenic 112 Juan de Fuca Byway. There are great views along the way of the strait and you can see all the way to Canada. We pulled over at a roadside pull off near Sekiu to hike along one of the little beaches.

Welcome to Sekiu

Welcome to Sekiu

To get to Cape Flattery you enter the Makah Indian Reservation and need to get a recreational use permit to be on their land. You can either stop at the Makah Tribal Center, which I highly recommend NOT doing as that was by far the rudest man we met on the trip and they had no permits, and heading straight to the general store on the left hand side for a permit. It was a $10 registration fee in 2012. You’ll also pass the Neah Bay United States Coast Guard on the right, which is cool to see. I’ve never been to Alaska, but I picture it looking just like that with the hills, the bay and little fishing boats.

Neah Bay harbor

Neah Bay harbor

The road ends at Cape Flattery and it’s a .75 mile hike to the point. Along the trail there are four lookout points to stop at that offer amazing, colorful views of sea caves and wildlife.

Cape Flattery coastline

Cape Flattery coastline

To stand at the most northwestern point of the continental United States is an extremely weird feeling. To know you are at where the United States ends or begins (glass half empty or full?) makes you feel like you’ve accomplished some feat not many people get to experience. In the distance was Tatoosh Island and on another small, rocky island was a hoard of barking sea lions. It was well worth the hike and the registration fee.

The most northwestern tip of the continental US

The most northwestern tip of the continental US

From Cape Flattery we headed to Cape Alava in Ozette, the most western point of the continental United States. It’s a 3.1-mile hike along a wooded boardwalk from Lake Ozette. I highly recommend not getting there as the sun is on its way down as a 3.1-mile hike does take some time! Tide was so far out when we arrived at the Cape there wasn’t a lot to see and it stunk to high heavens of sulfur and rotten eggs. There wasn’t anything of interest in the tide pools, just kelp, seaweed and lots of flies. Maybe I caught Cape Alava on a bad day, but I have no desire to return. On the hike back about a mile out I thought I heard a woodpecker, then it sounded like a deep guttural growl and Blake and I got the hell out of there as fast as we could. Near the parking lot we saw a little boy and his dad who had hiked the three miles to Sand Point and saw lots of sea otters. I wish we had gone that route instead. However, I am glad to say I conquered the most western point of the United States.

Cape Alava - most western point of the continental US

Cape Alava – most western point of the continental US

Cape Alava trail through the woods

Cape Alava trail through the woods

On our third day we tried to find Rialto Beach and ended up at First Beach in La Push for sunset. Absolutely gorgeous at sunset. You can sit on the beach and take in the waves and surrounding views of the evergreen dotted hillsides or sit on the rocks with the rest of the photographers and try to capture the perfect sunset photo.

First Beach

First Beach

Beautiful sunset at First Beach

Beautiful sunset at First Beach

This was a perfect ending to our Olympic National Park coastal experience.

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Colette’s Bed and Breakfast

Colette's sign

Ah, Colette’s. This B&B will always hold a special place in my heart.

Located in Port Angeles, WA, Colette’s Bed and Breakfast is located on the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the base of the Olympic National Park mountain range. It is truly gorgeous. To add to the beauty of it all are the amazing gardens weaving themselves around the property. The gardens were even featured in an issue of Fine Gardening magazine.

In August 2012, when we pulled into the property we found it entirely gated off to keep the deer out of the gardens. When we left the property four days later, the deer were actually lined up at the gate trying to get in. Lesson here is, keep the gate closed.

Can we come in?

Can we come in?

There are few places that I have been that have actually reduced me to tears upon arrival, but this was one of them. The view of the ocean, the gardens and the beautiful room was more than I could handle.

Beautiful grounds

Beautiful grounds

Carrie, a staff person, greeted us when we walked into the Great Room, which has huge, 40-foot windows that overlook the grounds, the ocean and the San Juan Islands in the distance. There are couches to relax in, movies to pick from and lots of books and brochures to read about the area. There is also the dining room where breakfast is served in the morning along with a cocktail and appetizer hour in the evening.

Great room and dining room

Great room and dining room

We stayed in the Azalea Suite, which had a great view of the ocean from the bed and a cozy little fireplace in the corner. There was also a nice bathroom with a big Jacuzzi tub for relaxing. (From the pictures on the website, they have changed their furniture at some point, whether before we got there or sometime since.)

Azalea Suite

Azalea Suite

View outside the Azalea Room

View outside the Azalea Room

Dae and Cliff run the B&B and they are truly sweet people who do a very nice job. They are there in the evening to serve wine and appetizers and help book dinner reservations and make recommendations. They serve a stellar breakfast in the morning and interact with guests. They are friendly people who love the area and are willing to help.

In fact, little to my knowledge, Dae had been in cahoots with Blake before our arrival to step up a perfect place for a proposal. She went out of her way to set up a private bench with a view of the ocean and completely decorated in ivy, daisies, yellow roses and blankets. Complete with a champagne bucket and glasses propped into the fence. (Hence now why Colette’s holds a special place in my heart.) They were excited for us, the other guests were excited to hear the news and it was a great experience. Dae and Cliff even took all the flowers afterwards while we were at dinner and put them leading up to our room door and around our room. In the morning, Dae went the extra mile and made heart-shaped biscuits to celebrate.

The Engagement Bench

The Engagement Bench

Breakfasts here were great. Our first morning we started with a poached pear, followed by a potato strata with squash in it and apple chicken sausage. To finish we had a fig with cheese inside.

Fig with cheese inside

Fig with cheese inside

Our second breakfast was a starter of orange slices , blueberries and some nuts, followed by smoked salmon on polenta with the heart-shaped cheese biscuits. We then finished with homemade mint ice cream because Dae said, “Why not have ice cream for breakfast?”

Smoked salmon on polenta with heart-shaped biscuits

Smoked salmon on polenta with heart-shaped biscuits

Our third breakfast consisted of starting with bananas, blueberries and raspberries followed by apple chicken sausage with a spinach quiche made with custard to make it fluffier. To finish we had a peach with crumble on top.

Spinach quiche and chicken sausage

Spinach quiche and chicken sausage

We ate at two good places for dinner during our stay there. The first was Sabai Thai in Port Angeles. It was delicious! Blake had garlic with beef and broccoli and I had Thai fried rice with beef. For dessert we shared coconut ice cream. The second place we ate at was the Alder Wood Bistro in Sequim to celebrate our engagement. Blake had the meatloaf and mashed potatoes and I had the planked salmon. To finish with dessert we shared their chocolate flourless brownie dessert and ice cream. It too was really good food.

Mmm flourless chocolate brownie

Mmm flourless chocolate brownie

For activities in the area, we enjoyed visiting the lavender farms, especially Purple Haze where you can U-pick your own lavender, which I thought was a fantastic experience. Certainly don’t have that back in Illinois or Michigan. Purple Haze has a gift shop on site and also a larger one in the town of Sequim.

U-pick lavender farm!

U-pick lavender farm!

We also visited the Dungeness Spit, the longest natural sand spit in the nation. It’s a five-mile hike out to the end of it, which I wish we could have done but were short on time. It was a really beautiful area with sea birds and sea lions. If you want a full list of animals you could possibly see there, visit here.

Dungeness Spit

Dungeness Spit

We also spent one day visiting Olympic National Park, which I will include our visit in another entry.

Our visit at Colette’s was sincerely enjoyable and relaxing. We even met Sharon the gardener who has been on the property since 2001 and designed and installed the whole garden. We thank Dae and Cliff for a wonderful stay and a memorable experience!

Me, Dae and Cliff

Cliff, me and Dae

Me and Sharon

Sharon and me

Colette’s Bed and Breakfast
339 Finn Hall Road
Port Angeles, WA 98362
Phone: 877-457-9777
Website: http://www.colettes.com

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