Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mt Tamalpais – Best camping ever!

Ever wondered what it feels like walking in the clouds as the cold, fluffy light clouds caress your body or sleeping to the waves of ocean?? Ever thought of waking up to chirping birds and see wild flowers in all colors and beautiful panoramic views with ocean on all sides just a few feet away?? Ever imagined of having a private beach with lot of sea stars and cliffs to explore all to yourself?? The life suddenly takes on an unhurried quiet pace and you forget the rest of the world! This is not a dream, but our experience camping at Rocky point-Steep Ravine Environmental Campground
A very foggy day, I felt pity for all those visitors in the passing by tourist buses. They had no clue what they were missing, even the Golden gate bridge towers weren’t visible to their entire length let alone Alcatraz Island or Bay bridge. But we decided to continue driving to Point Reyes, this time to explore the north end. It was the day of Far West Fest(voted Best Music Festival in Marin), so there were more people than usual near Inverness, a small community in Point Reyes.  The Tule Elk reserve was completely covered in fog so we missed the hundreds of pairs of eyes watching us except for two groups. 
At McClures beach, we saw a seal in the waves near to the beach staring at us as if it wanted to come out. We took Tomales point trail but returned halfway losing the amazing views to the fog. 
The Abbotts lagoon trail took us past a fresh water pond to a footbridge crossing the brackish lagoon with a sandy shoreline and a open ocean. We were shocked to see the lagoon totally engulfed in fog on our way back from the trail. 
The fog followed us to Highway 1. We were lost in it for a while, drove here and there but then finally found our campground at an unbelievable location. Just off hwy 1 with a locked gate on west, one mile south of Stinson Beach, Rocky point-Steep Ravine Cabins and Environmental Campground was part of Mt Tamalpais state park and right on pacific! (The gate could be opened with a key combination emailed upon reserving the campsite.) Two playful dears welcomed us and we drove carefully down the narrow road, nothing being visible on either sides. The campsites were little walk from parking, so carts were available to carry stuff to the sites. We were able to hear the loud waves setting up the tent and sure the ocean was close by. As the night passed, the clouds slowly moved away and we could see rows of lights from the Stinson beach across the shining ocean.

Next morning as we came out of our tent, the scenery had changed, nothing in common with the day before. The clouds dispersed and clear skies emerged. There were wild flowers everywhere, the sea shone blue and we could feel the warmth of the sun rays. 
We climbed down the cliff to the beach and played with the fierce waves hitting the rocks. 
We went exploring around, there were only seven primitive campsites and nine rustic cabins each with great views.We saw Bunnies running along, a seagull trying hard to eat sea star, fearless geckos and a snail. We enjoyed breakfast overlooking ocean, packed everything and started driving back. 
All along the way, we could see the rugged coast reminding us of Big Sur and the Muir overlook was just awesome. 
At the Golden gate bridge, there were huge crowds taking advantage of the perfectly clear day. 
We had lunch and walked on the streets near 19th Avenue sipping bubble tea, wondering what a perfect ending to our California trip.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Return to Seattle - North Cascades National Park

Exactly after an year, we were back in Seattle for a weekend trip to North Cascades National Park. It felt more special this time with our family, my 2 year old nephew and 4 year niece joining us on their first hike/National park visit. Our plan was to take the Cascade loop scenic highway covering the nine regions, as much as we could.
Day 1 - Ross Lake Recreation Area:  
From between the Mount Baker- Snoqualmie National Forest, we drove on WA State Route 20 along the Skagit river(Region 7), the most scenic mountain drive in Washington. We stopped at Buffalo Run restaurant in Marblemount for lunch where we had to wait over an hour to get four burgers! After collecting maps at visitor center at Newhalem, we visited Gorge creek falls and Gorge dam. 
We took a small detour to North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and strolled along the Diablo dam on Skagit river. Once the world’s tallest dam, it has art deco design, still admired in the graceful arches and original lampposts and was very windy. Diablo lake overlook offered great views of Diablo Lake with its unique, intense turquoise hue attributed to the surrounding glaciers, Sourdough Mountain and other peaks. 
As we drove past the Ross lake overlooks, there were small waterfalls on one side and creek to the other side of the road. A short hike at Washington pass in Okanogan National Forest, highest point on the cascades hwy, provided breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains. We spent the evening in the little downtown of Winthrop, had a great dinner and stayed there for the night.
Day 2 - Lake Chelan Recreation Area: 
It was a rushed morning as we had to get ready and drive to Chelan to catch the 8:30 ferry in Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in US(after Crater lake  and Lake Tahoe). The passenger ferry called “Lady of the Lake” was one of the three ways to Stehekin, a small wilderness-edge community in the north end of this 50-mile long lake (other options being float plane and hiking). The ride was 2.5 hours in “Lady Express”, making brief stops at point landing and Lucerne with splendid views of fjord-like lakeshore, waterfalls, and wildlife: mountain goats and dears.

Soon after reaching Stehekin, we took the bus to Rainbow falls. The guide explained us about the place and living there with a set of laminated pictures and the facts amazed us(population 95, no medical facilities!). The 312-foot falls drenched us and the bus got us back showing historic Buckner Orchard, one room schoolhouse and Stehekin pastry company. We had lunch at a picnic area near boat landing and kayaked to the other side of the lake to see petroglyphs on a rock face on Lake Chelan by ancient Native Americans. 
The Golden West visitor center, just up the hill from Stehekin Landing and the Crafts shop(the house that Jack built) were other attractions overlooking the beautiful lake amid towering glaciers. We took “Lady of the lake II” in our return, which allowed us to stay back and enjoy this quiet paced isolated valley longer. Also, this one had a better layout and came at a comfortable pace(4 hour long), so we enjoyed the views better. Sitting on the top deck in cold breeze with a hot cup of cocoa was a reason for delight! But, it was late to take the Cascade loop further as the kids were exhausted already. We stopped at the Rocky Reach dam in Wenatchee on the Columbia River with beautiful park arboretum and drove back to Seattle.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Camping @ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

Unlike my previous posts, this one doesn’t describe a place or a trip. I want to share my thoughts on the way I experience camping and how I feel about it. Two years ago, I went on my first camping trip around this time. I still remember the day we drove to Upnorth Michigan and camped at Brimley state park(my first blog post). The nights were so cold and frankly, I felt its just not my type. Over the last two years, we visited and camped at few national and state parks. Each time, I realized camping is the best way to enjoy nature’s rugged beauty..I liked it even more!

 We usually do hiking or tour local attractions for most of the day. As we go on these nature trails, the best things always come unexpected. We walk to a waterfall, a viewpoint or a landmark but we see many true wonders all the way. Its surprising to see hardcore backpackers to determined older couples, curious kids and people hiking with toddlers on their backs, everyone enjoy their share. There is definitely a lot of passion involved and we build a relationship with nature, between us and ourselves! I remember the lines I read from the Ken Burns interview(the filmmaker of The National Parks: America's Best Idea), “That's what happens in a national park. You can stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and see rock that is 1.7 billion years old, but it matters very much who's holding your hand. We save these places, and they show us a glimpse of what the land was like before–but there are also intimate histories. Parks are places where we forge connections.” As quoted by John Muir, In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. Some find God, some draw inspiration, some just have good times while some make memories for a lifetime. We capture few in camera while others get imprinted on our mind forever, whatever it is, we are sure to return with a smile. 

After a physically tiring day, we like to spend the evening at the campsite in solitude. Far from the crowds and the modern lifestyle, we would sit at the campfire with a favorite book, cook listening to oldies, enjoy the nature sounds: the birds, the creeks and the waves, talk endlessly into the night watching skies or take a walk in the campground and meet the friendly neighbors. Once there was this old couple at smokies who helped us set up our canopy and saved our firewood from rain when we were out hiking. Then there was this another group who got their preschoolers along,  invited us to their campsite for a coffee on a cold night and said they were building their character. No doubt, there is so much to learn: the endurance to climates, become outdoorsy, adjust, act responsible and several opportunities to learn life lessons with fun. After years, these kids will come back, bring their children and memories along and the saga continues. Visited by generations, there is, as John Muir said, a practical sort of immortality in these parks. I hope, my friends, when you make a visit to a park next time, camp a night or take time for a short hike with your beloved ones. Pause for a second from your busy lives and experience the deep abiding love and power of Mother Nature!