Route 89 and 89A – north from Flagstaff, AZ to somewhere in Utah

Other than an ocean view, this route pretty much has it all. Mountains, hills, forests, rivers, grasslands, deserts, canyons, plateaus, cliffs, and all in a few hours of driving time. If we’d stopped as often as we wanted to, why we might still be on 89 now. Let’s view it as a swift reconnaissance for future visits…this is a timeless place, and it’ll wait for our return. Here are a few grainy photographs (taken on the move and through a bug splattered windshield) and a few impressions here.

 

It has it all!

 

With all the variety, the weather was changeable – although mostly variations on hot. No complaints though; it’ll be a long winter soon enough above the 49th. The day we travelled, it was pleasantly cool in the early Arizona morning, warmed up across Navajo lands, got rather warm in the open desert, cooled off again on the high plateau, rained on us during and just after our descent, then the heat increased all the way on from there.

 

Blue skies, red cliffs

 

This road is such a colourful route! Sandstone hoodoos and clay soil, cliffs of pink and red strata, coral sands, dark green ponderosa forests, golden hay bales in enormous straw fields, and sluggish muddy rivers at the bottom of deep canyons. The vast skies also played their part in the colour palette. A huge reach from light to deep blue, high trailing wisps of cloud in the upper atmosphere, billowing white puffs gathering over the heights, and ominous heavy greys and hazy purples rushing in from and blotting out distant horizons.

Ominous…

 

Every now and then a few drops would spatter the windshield and you’d look about and up into the blue, wondering where the offending cloud might be. Other times you could see the veils of rain sweeping towards you, almost in touching distance, yet not a drop through the window. There was one mighty downpour that reduced visibility and speed for about five minutes, then bright sunshine soon after. What a joy to be traveling through high country where you can see weather coming – and going.

 

Wonderful setting

 

We had plans, so we couldn’t stop this time and see it all. I had to wrestle with that. Here’s what it sounded like in my head:

Ponderosas! Like them, they’re big.

Mmm, sagebrush.

I wonder what it’s like to be a cliff dweller?

Vermilion. Vermilion. A bit red.

That’s a long way down.

Roadside stalls selling Navajo rugs and jewelry (whisper that to Mrs PlaidCamper – but don’t wake her. Phew, close one!)

Do we have time for Bryce Canyon today? Don’t be silly. Next time.

Is the North Rim higher than the South?

Oh no, we’re in Utah on Sunday – can I get coffee?

Crap! It’s the  I-15 already! Left to Vegas, right to Salt Lake City. There has to be a better way.

No wonder Mrs PlaidCamper has her travel naps…

 

Fresh!

 

Ponderosa pine at 8000 feet smells like, well, ponderosa pine at 8000 feet. Exceptionally good! Deeply refreshing, clean, and as far from those old car air fresheners as can be. Roll down your windows! Sagebrush after the rain is real aromatherapy, and no New Age music, kaftans or essential price tags. The only cost is your time, with a willingness to take the long way round. (I know, gas is expensive, and cars are bad, but don’t be a curmudgeon – I can rain guilt on my own parade later).

It wasn’t open anyway…

 

So if you happen to find yourself in Flagstaff early one morning in summer, and you simply must go for a spin in your lovingly (but not overly) restored vintage pickup, head north on 89, then take 89A towards Vermilion Cliffs. Cross the desert and climb up the winding road to the Kaibab plateau. Carry on into Utah and you could stop off at Bryce Canyon. You won’t be disappointed, and you won’t have enough time to do it all in only a day. But that’s alright; do what we intend to do and make plans for a longer future stay! It’s not going anywhere, and this is a timeless place.

 

Find the time…

 

Who can resist the open road? Have you traveled on 89 and 89A up from Flagstaff? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

 

Just add an old pickup truck – maybe one day

The Long Beach challenge!

Less of a challenge when you approach it using the PlaidCamper method – although we did double the distance and likely set a new record time… 

 

This beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline is located midway between Ucluelet and Tofino, on the Pacific Rim Highway of Vancouver Island. It’s worth the trek to make the trek.

Worth the trek

From either the Long Beach parking lot, or the Kwisitis visitor centre near Florencia Bay, a willing hiker can walk almost 10km uninterrupted along the Pacific coast. The views up and down the shore are wonderful, and once you have gone further than 20 minutes, you are likely to have the beach almost entirely to yourself. For non human company, there’ll be bald eagles, gulls, ravens, and numerous other shorebirds.

 Keeping an eye on those hikers

Wolves, cougars and black bears are a possibility, as well as potential sightings of whales out in the ocean. We saw the birds, but no mammals. Not too sorry to avoid those encounters, better for all concerned.

Long views
Shore birds! (Marbled Godwits? Not sure…)

On one side you have tussocks of grass and low sand dunes fronting the fringe of rainforest. Huge logs washed up and tossed far onto the shore by the powerful storms that pound the coast later in the year are scattered everywhere. The views change constantly as you walk; the perspective of each bay, in front or behind, the mists and fog drifting in changing the light, concealing then revealing, and then concealing again. In the two days we hiked, the weather was sunny, then misty, then rainy, then sunny again, and often all in the same hour. 

Storm tossed logs

 Misty long views

Underfoot, depending how close you want to walk to the waves crashing ashore, the sand is hard packed and easy to walk on. There are thousands of tiny shells, middling shells and larger shells, all colourful. Pretty rocks and pebbles, shiny and speckled, mottled or plain, and many like little stone eggs, are uncovered as the ocean retreats. Huge lengths of bull kelp glisten in the light, and the occasional jelly fish is strewn across the sand, causing one to jump over and around at the last second as you catch sight of them. 

 Easy walking!

The Long Beach challenge is set up as a time trial for those who wish to try. If we were being timed, we definitely set some kind of record. The number of times we stopped to breathe in all that was surrounding us, the water breaks, the lunch stop perched on a log – yup, certainly a new time record! I can’t imagine wanting to complete the journey as quickly as possible, but that’s because I am OldPlaidCamper, not young PlaidCamper. As far as jogging goes, if you made me, I’d rather jog on Long Beach than do repeated circuits in a city park. 

More shore birds (the most cute least sandpipers? Maybe…)

From our campground near the beach, we were situated about a third of the distance from the Long Beach starting point. So we set off one day heading north to do a there and back again section, and the following day we turned south to go there and back for that section. The Long Beach challenge twice in two days, including lunch picnic stops – not so much of a challenge, it was more like two really delightful days of easy hiking in a wonderful setting. That’s a challenge I’m always up for! (The real challenge was having to leave).

I’m ready for this…

Do you have a favourite hike – or favourite beach? Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Chlorophyll camping in the rain at Green Point…

Summertime camping in a rainforest on the coast of the Canadian Pacific Northwest sounds exactly what it is – simply delightful – but what this old PlaidCamper really didn’t think about when reserving the campground many months ago, was the rain part of rainforest. Green Point campground, situated beautifully on a steep rise overlooking the Pacific, is also nestled in the fringes of a lush green forest – rainforest! 

It’s a rainforest!  

In recent years, most of our summertime camping has been in the deserts of SW USA, and our spring and fall camping at sites on the eastern side of the Rockies in Alberta. Generally, these locations are dry, often hot, and in the case of the Rockies, only an hour or two from home if heavy rain threatens to wash away the tent. (We did once abandon the campground at Lake Louise in early September, when the promised light rain showers became hours and hours of torrential deluge – small rivers were flowing past the tent, and if the grizzlies are paddling two by two, you know it’s time to go home). 

Don’t go home…

When we were approaching Green Point and the first few drops spattered the windshield, we weren’t too concerned. Our stay in the area had been dry and warm up to that point, and a little drizzle wasn’t going to be a problem…(we should have paid attention to the information at the botanical gardens, something along the lines of “autumn is wet, winter very wet, springtime it rains, and summers aren’t dry.” Annually, Tofino gets over three meters of rain! On some measures, two meters annually qualifies for rainforest, so Clayoquot has a super rainforest!) 

Moisture

We weren’t really that unprepared for camping in the rain, it’s just usually rain is a cue for us to not go camping. So the rain that started as we put up the tent, continued as we rigged up a tarp shelter, and did not stop that afternoon when we hiked along the beach, was outside our usual comfort zone. Still, with the tarp, decent waterproof gear in the backpack and a natty new toque, we managed just fine. Although wet, being summer it was not too cold, especially when hiking. 

Overlooking the Pacific (honest)

The trees collect the mist that drifts over from the beach, and all the moisture slowly drips and drops to the forest floor. Your camping soundtrack of rain pattering on the tarp and tent roof is soothing – and it sounds far wetter than it really is, with the dripping continuing long after any actual rainfall. Stepping out from under the tarp, we were surprised again and again by it not raining – or barely raining – when we thought it was! 

Greenery

All the moisture contributes to the creation of absolutely beautiful forests. The shades of green are numerous, and even the humid air seems to have a greenish tint. The air tastes and smells a verdant green, if that doesn’t sound too strange. Chlorophyll! Moss cloaks and hangs from the trees, and lichens cling to trunks. Small bushes, broad leaved plants and fern fronds crowd the forest floor, which itself is a rich decaying mulch, satisfyingly springy underfoot. Water, water, water, and growth, growth, growth in a delicate and unique ecosystem. 

Delicate and intricate

I’ve had to rethink my general dislike of rain, at least in settings as spectacular as the Clayoquot biosphere. At the information level of thinking, it is easy to understand that rain is important, but experiencing the natural wonder, by camping in a rainforest for a few days, has made me appreciate this precious resource in a far more vivid and tangible way. Knowing something is not the same as experiencing and then knowing it a little better. Funny how I sometimes forget the obvious from the comfort and distance of my modern life. Maybe we should all have a rainforest experience – go so far as to insist it is a mandatory part of a child’s education – then serious and real conservation efforts might be mainstream rather than marginal…Enough of that, school’s out and I’m on vacation.

Did I already say “green”?

It didn’t rain the entire time we were camping, and in fact our final day was a beauty – blue skies and an empty beach to wander along just a few minutes from the tent. 

Overlooking the Pacific!

I probably still wouldn’t go camping locally if the forecast calls for rain, but I would certainly camp in a NW rainforest again! 

Rainforest cooled…

Are you a happy camper in the rain – or would it take a rainforest to entice you?! Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Time out in Tofino, and realizing Thoreau probably had it right…

This post might seem a little off topic, but bear with me! I’ve been reading Walden and I think that I may, like many people, have been born in the wrong age…

We’ve been downsizing as far as we can recently, not because we are jumping on a particular bandwagon or vogue for small living, (although this is a good idea), but simply because the timing is right. Junior is about ready to forge her own path, heading out to be independent, and we don’t want to be living in a space that was designed to accommodate four or five people comfortably. Our empty nest can be smaller than that! We sold our family house, and we are renting a little apartment until our new little apartment has been built. 

This would be fine (cedar shack in Tofino botanical gardens)

This all seems simple and straightforward enough; a linear sell one, rent one, and then buy one. Couldn’t be easier. All you need is a small mortgage from a bank, a helpful legal person to do the necessary lawyer type things, and a builder. These three can then communicate with each other, working tirelessly and seamlessly on our behalf so we can secure the tiny apartment of our dreams. And they can collect well earned fees from us… 

Kerbside appeal without the kerb

I honestly cannot go into the complications experienced in trying to get these three parties all on the same page. If I had three more lifetimes ahead of me blogging to explain how frustrating the past couple weeks have been, I wouldn’t have enough time. I’d lose the will to live three times over. I’d rather have an operation than buy somewhere to live ever again. 

Maybe we’ll abandon the house, just hit the road instead

Thoreau had it right! I’m going to borrow an axe and start on my own place hewn by my own hands. (I will have to borrow an axe – I do have a little hatchet, but that’s not going to cut it. I’d be lucky to build a doll house or a birdhouse, never mind a tiny house. And I’d need those three lifetimes from above). Now, as an almost outdoorsman, I’d probably chop off my own limbs instead of a tree limb, and the finished article might not look like the finished article. But still, if you’d been in my shoes, you’d understand the attraction, trust me. 

Tofino bird house (with lawyer perched on the roof)

I’m lucky enough to be sitting on a deck, staying in a small cabin overlooking the inlet just outside Tofino. That means I get to calm down. This is a good thing for many obvious reasons. The less obvious reason is the one where you don’t get to hear a news story about some old guy wearing plaid running around downtown Calgary wielding a hatchet and cursing the modern home buying process:

“And the police gently disarmed the apparently harmless, yet clearly confused plaid-clad old man, leading him away from bewildered bystanders and committing him to a secure institution where further tests will be carried out to determine if he is fit to have his little hatchet back. And now the weather.” 

View from the dock – just breathe, PlaidCamper, just breathe…

Just to be clear, and before anyone calls the authorities, I’m not actually going to run amok anywhere wielding any sort of hatchet – that would be silly.

All complaining aside, I do know that with a little perspective, this is simply just another invisible Western problem; I should let it go, and accept it as one of the complicated processes that make up life for the privileged few in the modern world today. An irritating downside to accompany the many upsides? I don’t know. I could stand to live in another age – when life wasn’t easier, that’s for sure, but perhaps simpler? I still say Thoreau had it right… 

Head over the next mountain, just a little further…

Have you ever wanted to build your own little home, be a little more apart from the modern world? Please feel free to share a story or make a comment. Thanks for reading – I feel better now – and keep your guy ropes secure.

Paddleboarding! Recommended, and quick to learn…

…especially on almost mirror-flat water, where you can see the bottom! A short post here on our first SUP adventure.

If you’re tempted to try stand up paddleboarding, I honestly can’t think of a better place than on the inlet side of Tofino. Calm waters, stunning scenery, and a patient instructor, Michelle, who was quick to figure out our (un)fitness level very quickly – I was only pretending to take frequent breathers, because I was really taking in the panoramic views. That’s almost true.

We arranged to meet Michelle at 9am. While we waited for the mist to burn off, she was going to run through the basics, make sure I’d put on my wetsuit the right way round, and by then the tidal mud flats would be covered in water deep enough to paddle across. Starting out in water that shallow, I’d come to no harm…

 They didn’t have a wetsuit in a plaid…

It was a beautiful day, barely a breath of wind to ripple the surface. We are both able to snowboard, and I’d assumed, ignorantly as it turned out, that paddleboard balance would be similar. It was completely different! The sideways stance of a snowboarder is not the forward facing stance of a paddleboarder, and it did feel uncomfortable at first. I really wanted to stand sideways. But I also really wanted to not fall off, so soon got used to the new stance.

 Almost clear enough and deep enough! (Was this the rescue boat?)

I found the first twenty minutes quite difficult; in addition to being uncomfortable with the stance, my thighs were quite trembly as I tried to keep the board steady instead of going with the slight roll. Once I realized I was unlikely to tip the board, particularly in such calm conditions, I relaxed, had less wobbly legs, and really began to enjoy myself.

 Mrs PlaidCamper was way ahead of me!

It does feel unusual to be upright so close to the surface of the water, but I felt more free than sitting in a canoe, and far more controlled compared to the couple of times I’ve tried surfing – self propelled on a board rather than thrashing around in the surf. To be fair, surfing and paddleboarding shouldn’t be compared as each has merits, and they are so different. Paddleboarding was easier (for me) to learn!
 That tiny dot? OldPlaidCamper paddling his little heart out!

On the circuit Michelle guided for us, the water was so shallow that the wonderful aquatic plant life was visible just below the surface – and it was beautiful! We were on the water for a couple of hours, paddling passages between and around the little islands dotting the inlet.

 Quite relaxed for a novice (the water was shallow)

If you ever have the opportunity to try paddleboarding – especially on Tofino’s inlet waters – I highly recommend you take it. It is a marvellous way to explore a shoreline – peaceful, pretty relaxed, and yet can still be a workout if you want – you decide!

How did we celebrate enjoying this new adventure later that day? It had to be as follows:
 Tuff session ale, straight from the source!

The photos of us on the paddleboards were taken by our excellent instructor Michelle. Michelle and her partner Alan are wonderful advocates of healthy living and life in Tofino. We rented (and will be returning to) their delightful little waterside cabin located on the inlet. You can find out more here about all they have to offer.
I’ll leave you with the header picture once again – it really is this lovely:

  
Have you tried paddleboarding? Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Bug spray and bear spray – stories of scuttling and fluttering  creatures…

Our last visit to Joshua Tree was almost my last wilderness visit ever. Actually, that’s not strictly true. My first visit to a cabin in the woodlands of West Virginia many years ago was almost my first, last and only North American outdoor adventure. A little OldPlaidCamper family history might help to explain things here. (I’ll throw in a few more Joshua Tree photos to break up the tedium…)

Hundreds of Joshua Trees!

Growing up in the United Kingdom, early camping adventures for me were limited to an overnight tent stay with the Cub Scouts (very little memory about that, maybe hypnotherapy could bring it all back, but some things are best left buried), and the occasional week in a caravan with my family. Those static caravan sites were in North Wales – pretty but rainy – or on the Norfolk coast – windy, pretty but less rainy – near my grandparents. I’ve got happy memories of those holidays, although I don’t know how my parents survived with four young boys sardined into a tin can when the weather was really wet. I seem to recall a lot of bottles in the recycling. 

One year I got sick, and because a small boy throwing up in a small caravan is unpleasant for the other occupants, my grandparents came and took me back to their house to recover. I much preferred their house to the cramped caravan, and my “recovery” was timed to when we were about to go home. A naughty and unpleasant small boy, but one who didn’t like tiny accommodations – at least, not crowded.

Anyway, these early experiences were formative, in that, watching Jeremiah Johnson aside, I didn’t really see myself as the outdoors type, at least not as far as camping or caravaning goes. Then there was the wildlife. 

 Not the outdoorsy type? He is now!

My mother, Ma PlaidCamper, successfully passed on to us her fear of spiders, at least when we were younger. There were times when we heard screams of fear, and ran indoors from the back yard, expecting scenes of carnage – had our youngest brother finally jumped down all the stairs, believing (as he did) he could fly? Was the dog savaging an intruder? No. There was a spider in the bath tub. I can’t give Ma PlaidCamper all the credit, because my father, Pa PlaidCamper, had an irrational fear of moths. Spiders? I can see that. But moths?! So, scuttling and fluttering creatures were the enemy growing up.

 Good food, good coffee, and no bugs

Just to be clear, moths and spiders don’t grow to any extreme sizes in middle England, and they aren’t dangerous. Although there was one time when Ma PlaidCamper screamed and we all came running in from the garden to confront (there is no other word) the largest house spider I’ve ever seen. Normally, one of Ma PlaidCamper’s brave little soldiers would rescue the spider by placing a jam jar over it, sliding a piece of paper under, and taking it outside to freedom (where it would plan the next arachnid assault on the PlaidCamper house). This spider, Gigantica Grossa, to give it the improper Latin name, could not be captured inside a jar. Or a soup bowl. Not even under an overturned dinner plate. It was so large that Charlie, our bold Basset hound, wasn’t prepared to do what he normally did, and snack on the spider. Pa PlaidCamper ended the face off with the heel of his shoe. My stomach still lurches to this day…

 Anything scuttling in here?

This fascinating and lengthy insight is all a prelude to saying that the very first time we got to our little cabin in West Virginia, I was not emotionally or psychologically prepared for bugs. Bugs! They were everywhere! Bugs you could see. Bugs you couldn’t see. Bugs so ugly you didn’t want to see. They were noisy, numerous, and quick. I think I might have used up several (or more) containers of bug spray the first night in the cabin. I drew a chemical line in the sand around the bed and up the wall. If you had stocks and shares in DEET producers back then and made any money, it was thanks to me. Mrs PlaidCamper saved the day – and a small fortune – by pointing out that we had two weeks in the woods, the bugs had me outnumbered, weren’t likely to move out, and what kind of role model was I being to PlaidCamper Jr? I manned up (but I wish I’d had a heads up on lightning bugs – I thought I was hallucinating. You don’t know what you don’t know…)

 Relax, unwind…

Ever since then, this city boy has slowly and steadily grown up and accepted all aspects of outdoor life. Bugs don’t  bother me now – although I always pack bug spray before bear spray. Everything has been fine. Until our arrival at Joshua Tree.

 Tree after tree…

The welcome booklet/binder at our vacation home was full of all the useful need to know items about the house and surrounding area. Wonderful! It also had a lengthy page or three about spiders, scorpions, and snakes, listing where they hid around the house, and what to do in the event of being bitten, stung, eaten or laughed at by said creatures. Not so wonderful. Maybe I was tired from the drive, or maybe it was the heat, but I regressed back to prePlaidCamper days. I know you sometimes do need to know what you don’t know, but just then I didn’t need to know there were tarantulas nesting under the deck. Or black widows lurking in corners. Trap door and wolf spiders? Spare me!

 Spare me! And bring me a beer!

I’m pleased to write that this time it was me who gave myself a stern talking to, and I climbed down from the chair, put my feet on the floor (after checking inside shoes carefully), and proceeded to have a thoroughly enjoyable time in the desert. With a container of bug spray readily available in my backpack. We didn’t see any spiders, snakes, scorpions – or moths. It was too hot for them, and they quite sensibly stayed out of the heat and out of my sight. Thank you wildlife!

 Get off the chair (and check under the deck)

Do you have an irrational (or perfectly reasonable) dislike of certain wilderness creatures? Please feel free to share – I’ll feel less foolish. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

 This was the biggest bug I saw down there. Sorry.

The desert is beckoning and we just can’t resist…

I’m generally an undemonstrative OldPlaidCamper – I say that I’m smiling on the inside – but I will confess to being and even appearing rather excited this week. Why? We have arranged to visit Joshua Tree this coming summer! I love this place! We met up with old friends there a couple of summers ago, and will be meeting them again in August. Why do I love this particular desert so much? Is it because the scenery is amazing?

We’d seen Joshua trees in pictures (and on album covers…) but those images did not prepare us for how strangely unique they are. Each one is so very different; they have an almost alien beauty. They grow in a desert full of rocky outcrops and sandy stretches, with mountains in the far distance – these are landscapes you just don’t see every day.

 Quite remarkable…

I will confess that we weren’t camping on our last stay. We’d been on the road for about a month, a trip from Alberta, zigzagging down to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and over to Joshua Tree, mixing up a few nights in a tent with a few nights in a cabin. A campground owner took pity on us in Needles, renting us a cabin that had a hardworking air conditioning unit. If you’ve ever been through Needles, CA in the summer, you’ll forgive us the air con unit…hottest place I’ve never camped! Anyway, no tent for us in Joshua Tree, rather this lovely little house perched on a rise above the town and overlooking the desert:

 Mrs PlaidCamper always finds great vacation rentals!

 Lovely vacation home!

Our jobs mean we take our vacations in the summer, a time of year that is off-season down in the desert. The high temperatures were fine provided we stayed in the shade, kept hydrated, moved slowly, and used sunblock. The National Park and town were pretty quiet in terms of other visitors, and when we headed up into the park, either early in the morning or towards dusk, there were few people about. I’m not an artist or photographer, but these times of day were really special in terms of the quality of light, and it was easy to see why the area attracts artists. Scenery plus light equals spectacular!Pretty shades

Intense shades

I am so excited to be returning here. Maybe it was the heat, but we really slowed down and relaxed thoroughly, soaking up this amazing place. At night, the lack of light pollution afforded us tremendous views of the Milky Way – this August, maybe I’ll try taking a photo…

Next time, I’ll write a little more about our trip to Joshua Tree, and how it was almost a wilderness too far upon our arrival. (Don’t wait up, it’s not as exciting as it sounds). I know, it’s the header picture again. But this place, love it, love it, love it!

 It isn’t on fire or smouldering, just looks that way!

Have you visited Joshua Tree? Where’s the hottest place you almost camped? (I’m such a boy!) Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.