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Return To The Edge Of The World: Neah Bay, WA

Return To The Edge Of The World: Neah Bay, WA

Posted by on Jul 21, 2017 in Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, Washington | 9 comments

At the furthest northwesternmost point of the continental U.S., the wild, stormy coastline meets the deep, mysterious rainforest. This far-flung, untamed place is the land of the Makah, a Northwest Coastal people who have called the remote headland home for thousands of years.

We first visited Neah Bay and the Makah Reservation a couple of years ago, despite the advice we received from someone who told us, “There’s nothing there worth seeing.” Au contraire. This is exactly the kind of place that captures our interest, and we returned in mid-June for an adventure we missed the first time around.

Hiking to Cape Flattery

Just like last time, we hiked the trail to Cape Flattery, which is as far as you can go and still be in the continental U.S. This is sacred tribal land, and the Makah have declared Cape Flattery a nature sanctuary. A three-quarter mile rugged trail winds through the dense rainforest. At the end of the trail, cedar platforms resembling the prow of a canoe jut above the churning ocean, dramatic headlands, and hidden sea caves.

Trail through the rainforest to Cape Flattery

Viewing platforms built like the prow of a canoe

Cape Flattery looking north, with hidden sea caves tucked into the headlands

Hanging over the railing, we scanned the ocean for whales and puffins. No whales or puffins, but a family of sea otters appeared, rolling and playing in the waves, mama holding baby close.

Scanning the horizon at what feels like the edge of the world

A family of sea otters

Standing on the tip of Cape Flattery, we could see tiny Tatoosh Island in the distance. Once a fishing camp for the Makah, a lighthouse here has pointed mariners to the entrance of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca since 1857.

Tatoosh Island from Cape Flattery

Visiting the Museum of the Makah

We also paid a return visit to the Museum of the Makah Indian Nation, one of the most intriguing museums we’ve encountered anywhere in our travels. The artifacts within were discovered in 1970 at Ozette, a Makah village 15 miles south of Neah Bay.

The Makah Cultural Museum and Research Center totem archway

Entrance to the Museum of the Makah Indian Nation

During a storm in 1750, a catastrophic mudslide buried the village in 10 feet of clay, creating an oxygen-free environment that perfectly preserved five longhouses and objects of everyday life. For more than a decade, archaeologists and tribal members worked together to unearth more than 55,000 artifacts. It’s considered to be one of the most significant archaeological finds in North America.

Despite living in a challenging environment, buffeted by wild storms and drenched in 100 inches of rain each year, the Makah shaped a life of rich traditions, comfort, and beauty, creating what they needed from the abundance of the rainforest and ocean surrounding them. The museum is arranged according to the seasonal life of the Makah; thousands of artifacts in pristine condition are engagingly displayed. There’s a replica of a full-size longhouse and four beautiful cedar dugout canoes built by tribal members, and an excellent hour-long film on the Makah and the Ozette site.

Blankets woven of woodpecker feathers, dog hair, and cattail fluff; clothing woven of cedar bark (the inner bark was pounded until soft and pliable); baskets and boxes of red cedar; intricately carved and decorated tools and ceremonial items made of bone, shell, and wood; all survived centuries of burial in mud. It’s a remarkable and beautiful display of a unique culture. I wanted so much to take photos, but the tribe asks that we refrain, and we did.

Fabulous 20-foot tall carved cedar figures outside the Museum of the Makah Indian Nation

Hiking to Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches

“Generations of Makah people have used this area. If you are patient and respectful, its enduring beauty will enrich and teach you too.”

So reads a sign posted at the trail head to Shi Shi Beach (pronounced Shy-Shy). Located 8.5 miles south of Neah Bay, this remote beach bordering the Makah reservation became part of Olympic National Park in 1976. A two-mile hike through the rainforest (the first mile has partial boardwalk, built by the Makah) leads to the beach.

Trailhead for Shi Shi Beach

Cedar boardwalk through the forest; it starts off reasonably well

Beautiful fungi in the rainforest

Bridge on the Shi Shi Trail

We hiked this trail two years ago, but only to Shi Shi Beach. We returned this time to hike all the way to Point of Arches, for a total of 8 miles round-trip.

Never in all of our years of hiking have we encountered so much mud. The last time we hiked the trail to Shi Shi Beach it was muddy, but nothing like this. This was an epic mud bath, ankle deep in many places. We bushwhacked, made little bridges of logs, climbed trees, attempted great leaps. There was no way around the mud and the mud puddles. Why did we continue, you ask? Well, the worst of the mud didn’t start until about a mile in, and we kept thinking, “Surely this will improve!” It didn’t.

A muddy, miserable trail

Soggy, muddy, puddles—it has it all

Finally, after more than an hour of slogging, we reached the bluffs and caught our first glimpse of the beach below. A series of ropes help in navigating the 150-foot drop down to the beach. There, we stepped into the otherworldly landscape of rock spires, sea stacks, caves, and arches that decorate Shi Shi Beach.

Ropes help on the climb down the 150 foot bluff trail

Shi Shi Beach on a misty day

Otherworldly rock formations

We didn’t linger long, because our destination—Point of Arches—was another two miles down the beach. The hike was gorgeous, with exposed rock formations and tide pools all along the way, and views of Point of Arches coming closer as we walked.

Rock formations and tidepools on the hike to Point of Arches

Ochre sea stars and giant green anemones

Point of Arches in the distance

Crossing Petroleum Creek on the way to Point of Arches

A lone surfer on the beach (I can’t believe he hauled his surfboard down that muddy trail)

The ideal time to visit Point of Arches is at low tide, when the numerous tidepools are exposed. It’s a beautiful, peaceful hike, and the reward is a picturesque seascape of dozens of sea stacks, spires, arches, and caves, with tidepools surrounding it all. Ideally, we would have stayed overnight on the beach, which is what most people seem to do after making the effort to get here. The sunsets are reputed to be spectacular.

Point of Arches rock formations

Tidepools at Point of Arches

Seastack and arches at Point of Arches

Oystercatchers on the beach

Halfway back to Shi Shi Beach

Heading back up the bluff trail

(Note that before you hike on this or any trail or beach on the Makah Reservation, you must obtain a $10 annual recreation permit, available in Neah Bay or at Hobuck RV Park.)

About the campground:

Just like last time, we stayed at Hobuck Beach RV Park and Campground. Last time, we stayed in the RV Park, which offers 10 full-hook up RV sites ($40 per night) with a fabulous view of the Pacific and easy access to the beach. This time, we opted for the big open field. It’s a free-for-all. You pay your $20 and stake out your spot anywhere that looks good to you.

We arrived on a Thursday and found a choice location. By Saturday, we were surrounded by tents, VW campers, boats, and surfers. This is apparently a prime fishing and surfing locale. Everyone was well behaved, and we enjoyed our stay. We had speedy Verizon coverage, a place to fill our water tanks, and amazingly, there was a free, almost new shower house with unlimited hot water.

Hobuck Campground and RV Park

Choose your spot and set up camp

Sunset on Hobuck Beach

Next Up: A Delightful Week At Salt Creek 

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Tidepools And Rainforests: Olympic National Park

Tidepools And Rainforests: Olympic National Park

Posted by on Jul 15, 2017 in Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, Washington | 40 comments

We first visited Olympic National Park two years ago in the fall, and immediately promised ourselves that we would return. With tidepools filled with colorful sea creatures, mysterious rainforests, snow-capped mountains, shimmering lakes, beautiful lodges, and a rich history of native culture, this is a diverse and enchanting park.

Although it’s possible to do a driving tour and get a quick peek at some of the splendors, Olympic National Park is not easy to corral into a day trip. No roads go through the park, travel is slow, and many of the treasures lie off the beaten path. We started our explorations this time with four days at the southwestern corner of the park, camped high on a bluff overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean.

At first glance, South Beach Campground doesn’t look all that appealing—it’s a primitive campground within the national park and the sites are staked out in the open. But the expansive views of the Pacific and our sightings of gray whales spouting offshore and sea otters frolicking in the waves far outweighed the lack of water, electricity, or privacy.

South Beach Campground in Olympic National Park

Scanning the horizon for whales and otters

We got excellent tips from Ranger Birdie at Kalaloch Ranger Station

The campground is just 10 miles from Ruby Beach, which we were told has extraordinary tidepools. It lived up to its reputation, with dozens of pools filled to bursting with sea stars and anemones. We were thrilled to see hundreds of orange and purple ochre sea stars—they’re making a healthy comeback after a devastating virus several years ago. There’s something mesmerizing about tidepools, offering a glimpse into the lives of creatures that endure the radical extremes of changing tides twice a day. The anemones look so delicate, but they’re obviously resilient.

A peaceful morning at Ruby Beach

Tidepools exposed at low tide

Ochre sea star and green anemones

A baby ochre sea star in my favorite color

A cluster of delicate-looking green anemones

Purple sea star and green anemones

Sharing the wonders of the tidepools

Sea stacks on Ruby Beach

During our stay at South Beach, we made two trips into the rainforest. Olympic National Park contains four temperate rainforests, defined by moderate temperatures and a staggering amount of rainfall—somewhere around 14 feet per year. The result is a primeval world of ancient giant trees draped with curtains of lichen, and a landscape lushly upholstered with ferns and mosses.

Given that the Hoh Rain Forest is an iconic feature of the park, of course we needed to see it for ourselves. In the heart of Olympic National Park and almost 40 miles from our campground, it was a long and winding drive. Once there, we endured hordes of tourists at the visitor center focused more on snapping selfies than admiring the wonders of the rainforest. But stepping onto the trails, we left the crowds behind. We looped together the Hall of Mosses Trail with the Spruce Trail for three miles of mossy splendor—it felt as though we were hiking in a forest cathedral.

Mushroom exhibit in the Hoh Rain Forest visitor center

On The Hall of Mosses Trail

A moss-covered arch; it’s important to not stand still for too long lest the mosses take over

A cathedral of trees, mosses, and ferns

A raven in the rainforest

On our second foray into the rainforest, we drove 30 miles south to Lake Quinault on a misty day. Built in 1926, Lake Quinault Lodge is the quintessential national park lodge, with a cozy seating area, crackling fireplace, and stuffed elk decor. The grounds are lovely, with gently sloping lawns dotted with Adirondack chairs, a tranquil view of the lake, and a chimney adorned with a totem-pole rain gauge that measures rainfall in feet. We hiked from the lodge to the Gatton Creek Trail, picking up the Quinault Loop Trail for a six-mile hike. We finished out our day with a cup of tea in the lodge, followed by a drive on the 31-mile scenic road that loops around Lake Quinault and along the Quinault River. The scenic drive passes by several beautiful waterfalls, no hiking required.

Beautiful Lake Quinault Lodge; note the totem pole rain gauge on the chimney

It’s cozy inside the lodge

A scene from a gentler time

Geared up for a rainy day hike at Lake Quinault

One of many beautiful waterfalls

The negative ions are good medicine

On the shores of Lake Quinault

About the campground:

We loved our stay at South Beach Campground. The views are unsurpassed, even if you don’t score a front-row seat. We had to juggle sites to find one that we could get level in, but then life was grand (even on the day it rained non-stop for 24 hours). First-come, first-served, no hook-ups, bathroom with flush toilets but no potable water. Fresh water and a dump station are available at Kalaloch Campground, 3 miles up the road. Surprisingly, there was excellent Verizon coverage. $15 night/$7.50 for seniors.

Next Up: Revisiting The Edge Of The World: Neah Bay, WA

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It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad Caverns

It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad Caverns

Posted by on May 29, 2016 in Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, New Mexico, Travel | 32 comments

While perusing the website for Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we decided to make reservations for a guided tour. We knew we wanted to visit the Big Room, the main cavern that’s open for self-guided wandering. But—what the heck! Let’s do it all!

I was in charge of making the reservations, and considered signing up for one of the tours that requires ropes and ladders and belly crawling (what in the world was I thinking??). Fortunately, the only tour available was for the King’s Palace, a 1.5-hour exploration that descends into the deepest part of the caverns, but doesn’t involve anything challenging—other than the ability to stay calm in a pitch-black maze 830 feet below the surface of the earth.

Just to be clear about this adventure—neither Eric nor I is enamored with caves, caverns, mines, or anything subterranean. We much prefer our adventures above ground, in the sunshine and fresh air. But Carlsbad Caverns was on our trajectory north, it’s a National Park, and it seemed like we should go see it. We actually got pretty excited about our expedition.

To add to the adventure, the elevator that normally transports visitors from the surface to the Big Room was undergoing repairs. We had already planned to hike down into the caverns from the Natural Entrance, a 1.25-mile steep winding trail that drops 750 feet down into the caves. No elevator meant that we would also be hiking back out that same trail—which is totally fine, unless you start thinking about how far beneath the surface you are, and how dark it is, and what if the lights go out, and what if you freak out…. and the only way out is up that long, steep trail. There were a few moments when I had to have a reassuring talk with myself.

Our tour of the King’s Palace was great, except for our guide’s penchant for hanging out in the dark. We were told that we would have the “opportunity” to experience total darkness for a few moments during the tour, but she left us in an abyss of darkness for a good 15 minutes while she talked about how wonderful it was. As much as I appreciate dark nights, I also like a teeny bit of light to orient myself—a few stars, crescent moon, something.

We took a break after our tour to eat our picnic lunch in the darkness of the underground café, huddled in a dank corner like a pair of pack rats. “We’re already here,” said Eric. “I think we should go ahead and do the Big Room.” And so we did, walking the mile-and-a-quarter loop, taking in the beauty of the various formations created drip by drip over centuries. Five hours after our descent into the caverns, we hiked out the 1.25 mile trail on which we had entered the caverns. We emerged, blinking, into the glorious sunlight. Are we happy we did it? Absolutely. Would we do it again? No, once was enough. (The Caverns at Sonora in West Texas, however, are still on our list—glittering formations of crystals—we’re definitely up for that.)

As far as above ground adventures, we walked the short trails at Brantley Lake State Park, and spent part of a day exploring the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park near Carlsbad (about 10 miles from our campground). This small and lovely park is focused on the flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan Desert. We happened to arrive in the reptile house at feeding time, and the snakes were going berserk. It was fascinating—and unnerving—to be surrounded by a symphony of rattlers rattling in anticipation of their meal.

One day plunged into an abyss, the next in the company of rattlesnakes. Our stay in Carlsbad was kind of like an immersion camp for overcoming phobias.

About the campground:

Brantley Lake State Park isn’t exactly close to Carlsbad Caverns, but from what we surmised, it’s the nicest place to stay. It’s a beautiful park, with spacious sites, many on the lake, and each with a covered picnic table. Water and 30/50 amp electric hookups, peaceful, dark night skies (but not too dark), nice bathrooms and showers, good Verizon. And lots of birdlife, which we love. It’s a bargain at $14 per night. The park is 12 miles north of Carlsbad, and 38 miles from the caverns.

Next Up: Back To Hiking: Oliver Lee State Park, NM

Heading Down Into The Caverns

It's Dark Down Here

The Trail Around The Big Room

Everything You Need To Know About Cave Decor

Some Of The Most Beautiful Formations

Relic From Early Cave Explorations

Mirror Lake

Richly Decorated Passages

Café Dismal

Happy To Be Above Ground

At The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens

Wonderful Displays On Desert Environments

Blooming Ocotillo In The Desert Uplands

Brilliant Prickly Pear Blooms

Snoozing Bobcat

Salad Bar For The Prairie Dog Family

Cool Snake Mural In The Reptile House

With His New Bat Buddy

Pond Habitat In The Desert

Campsite At Brantley Lake State Park

Bullock's Oriole On Ocotillo

Say's Phoebes Learning To Fly

Desert Bird Of Paradise

Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit

Heading Down Into The Caverns
It's Dark Down Here
The Trail Around The Big Room
Everything You Need To Know About Cave Decor
Some Of The Most Beautiful Formations
Relic From Early Cave Explorations
Mirror Lake
Richly Decorated Passages
Café Dismal
Happy To Be Above Ground
At The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens
Wonderful Displays On Desert Environments
Blooming Ocotillo In The Desert Uplands
Brilliant Prickly Pear Blooms
Snoozing Bobcat
Salad Bar For The Prairie Dog Family
Cool Snake Mural In The Reptile House
With His New Bat Buddy
Pond Habitat In The Desert
Campsite At Brantley Lake State Park
Bullock's Oriole On Ocotillo
Say's Phoebes Learning To Fly
Desert Bird Of Paradise
Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit
Heading Down Into The Caverns thumbnail
It's Dark Down Here thumbnail
The Trail Around The Big Room thumbnail
Everything You Need To Know About Cave Decor thumbnail
Some Of The Most Beautiful Formations thumbnail
Relic From Early Cave Explorations thumbnail
Mirror Lake thumbnail
Richly Decorated Passages thumbnail
Café Dismal thumbnail
Happy To Be Above Ground thumbnail
At The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens thumbnail
Wonderful Displays On Desert Environments thumbnail
Blooming Ocotillo In The Desert Uplands thumbnail
Brilliant Prickly Pear Blooms thumbnail
Snoozing Bobcat thumbnail
Salad Bar For The Prairie Dog Family thumbnail
Cool Snake Mural In The Reptile House thumbnail
With His New Bat Buddy thumbnail
Pond Habitat In The Desert thumbnail
Campsite At Brantley Lake State Park thumbnail
Bullock's Oriole On Ocotillo thumbnail
Say's Phoebes Learning To Fly thumbnail
Desert Bird Of Paradise thumbnail
Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit thumbnail

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Exploring Olympic National Park

Exploring Olympic National Park

Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 in Food, Hiking, National Parks, Travel, Washington | 26 comments

Whether you’re in the mood for alpine meadows and high mountain peaks; ancient forests, serene lakes and waterfalls; or rugged coastlines and tidepools, you can have it all in Olympic National Park. The diversity and splendor is so remarkable that the United Nations has declared the park both an international biosphere reserve and a World Heritage site. You can even encounter species that occur nowhere else in the world, such as the rare Olympic marmot, a cute buck-toothed furry critter.

Map Olympic National ParkIf you look at a map, you’ll see that the park is surrounded by water on three sides, which makes it somewhat of an ecological island. More than 95 percent of the 922,000 acres is remote wilderness—no roads cross the expanse, although two-lane highway 101 (and a few miles of connecting highways) makes a 320-mile loop around the park. A dozen spur roads lead into the park, with visitors centers, rustic campgrounds, lovely lodges, and numerous trails to scenic destinations just a few miles from the park’s perimeter.

In just one day you can do a speed-tour that includes mountains, lakes, forests, and coastline. But that’s not our style. We like to take our time, sinking in and savoring the essence of a place. And so we chose just a couple of activities, heading into the park for hikes and happy hour (yes, really). We had a wonderful taste of the park—just enough to entice us to return, sooner rather than later.

We explored Olympic National Park while staying at Salt Creek Recreation Area, 15 miles west of Port Angeles. Here, our adventures in the park:

•Hiking Hurricane Ridge:

Just 17 miles south of Port Angeles is Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, the most accessible mountain area in the park. The views of the distant mountains and glaciers are outstanding, even from the visitor center, and a network of trails offers the opportunity for more in-depth exploration.

We chose the Hurricane Ridge trail, a 3-mile round trip hike with enough elevation gain to make it feel like a decent trek. The trail winds through alpine meadows and traverses a ridge with spectacular views along the way, leading to a really spectacular 360-degree view at the top—a panorama that includes the Olympic Mountain range with glaciers shimmering in the distance, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island in Canada. It’s called Hurricane Ridge for good reason—the winds are crazy. We had a picnic on top of the ridge (while holding everything down to keep it from blowing away) and enjoyed the views far below of the hillsides cloaked in their fall attire of crimson and gold.

•Exploring Lake Crescent:

Nestled into the valleys of Olympic National Park are some of the largest stands of ancient forests left in the country. These venerable western forests are filled with Douglas firs and Western hemlocks, many of which are more than 200 years old, and up to 300 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It is a quieting experience to stand among these beautiful giants.

We chose to explore the Lake Crescent area of the park, a 20-mile drive southwest from where we were staying at Salt Creek Recreation Area. A two-mile round trip hike leads to Marymere Falls, which although pretty, is not spectacular in the world of waterfalls. The hike, however, is a gorgeous trail through old growth forest rich with the spicy scent of firs and spruce.

The Lodge at Lake Crescent is one of the loveliest we’ve seen anywhere. Situated on the shore of the glacially carved lake with the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop, it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting. Vintage 1916 and charmingly simple, it’s the kind of place we would stay if we didn’t have our little home on wheels.

It was late afternoon when we finished our explorations of Lake Crescent, and we enjoyed sunset over the lake from the glassed-in porch of the lodge. A delicious plate of steamed Penn Cove mussels and a platter of local cheeses with lavender honey accompanied by drinks was the perfect ending for our brief forays into Olympic National Park. We can’t wait to return.

Exploring Olympic National Park

Storm King Ranger Station

Hike To Marymere Falls

Interesting Wooden Bridges

Not Exactly Rip Roaring Falls

Lake Crescent Lodge

Inside The Lodge

Relaxing At Lake Crescent Lodge

Penn Cove Mussels And Local Cheeses

Dusk Falling On Lake Crescent

Hiking To Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge

Looking Down At The Trail

It's Windy Up Here!

Beautiful Fall Colors

View From The Top

Mt. Olympus In The Distance

On Top Of Hurricane Ridge

Clark's Nutcracker

Curious Raven

Sweet Little Gray Jay

Rare Olympic Marmot

Marmots On The Trail

Map Olympic National Park

Giant Douglas Fir

Exploring Olympic National Park
Storm King Ranger Station
Hike To Marymere Falls
Interesting Wooden Bridges
Not Exactly Rip Roaring Falls
Lake Crescent Lodge
Inside The Lodge
Relaxing At Lake Crescent Lodge
Penn Cove Mussels And Local Cheeses
Dusk Falling On Lake Crescent
Hiking To Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge
Looking Down At The Trail
It's Windy Up Here!
Beautiful Fall Colors
View From The Top
Mt. Olympus In The Distance
On Top Of Hurricane Ridge
Clark's Nutcracker
Curious Raven
Sweet Little Gray Jay
Rare Olympic Marmot
Marmots On The Trail
Map Olympic National Park
Giant Douglas Fir
Exploring Olympic National Park  thumbnail
Storm King Ranger Station  thumbnail
Hike To Marymere Falls  thumbnail
Interesting Wooden Bridges  thumbnail
Not Exactly Rip Roaring Falls  thumbnail
Lake Crescent Lodge  thumbnail
Inside The Lodge  thumbnail
Relaxing At Lake Crescent Lodge  thumbnail
Penn Cove Mussels And Local Cheeses  thumbnail
Dusk Falling On Lake Crescent  thumbnail
Hiking To Hurricane Ridge  thumbnail
Hurricane Ridge  thumbnail
Looking Down At The Trail  thumbnail
It's Windy Up Here! thumbnail
Beautiful Fall Colors  thumbnail
View From The Top  thumbnail
Mt. Olympus In The Distance  thumbnail
On Top Of Hurricane Ridge  thumbnail
Clark's Nutcracker  thumbnail
Curious Raven thumbnail
Sweet Little Gray Jay  thumbnail
Rare Olympic Marmot  thumbnail
Marmots On The Trail  thumbnail
Map Olympic National Park thumbnail
Giant Douglas Fir  thumbnail

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Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park

Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, Nevada, Travel | 25 comments

Anchoring one end of “The Loneliest Highway in America,” Great Basin National Park has become one of our favorite parks. The hiking is spectacular, the spring and summer wildflowers abundant (in the fall, the leaf colors are equally stunning), the night skies for star gazing are among the finest in the country, and there’s even a beautiful cave to explore. (We didn’t do the cave tour this trip, but we did it when we visited in the fall of 2012.)

I find it interesting that Great Basin National Park consistently makes the top ten list of the least visited national parks. By comparison, Great Smoky Mountains NP attracts nine million visitors, and the Grand Canyon five million. Great Basin—at best—draws about 60,000 visitors a year. I suppose that’s not really surprising—after all, it’s in a remote corner of Nevada and it’s not exactly on the way to anywhere.

Trust me. If you like your nature experiences peaceful, gorgeous, uncrowded, and unique—you need to make the trek to this park.

This time, we spent four nights, and we were wishing we had another week to just soak in the beauty. We hiked a different trail each day—through aspen groves to turquoise colored glacial lakes, along rocky hillsides to ancient bristlecone pine forests, and through meadows of wildflowers along a beautiful creek. We came upon an entire meadow of shooting stars—a first for us, and absolutely spectacular!

There is an almost complete lack of civilization here. The nearest town, just a few miles away, is Baker, population 68. There’s an unattended gas station, an RV park of sorts, and a couple of cafes, including the LectroLux—which serves pizza, beer, and good wine—and curiously, is decorated with Electrolux vacuums suspended from the ceiling. We stopped by the LectroLux one evening for a glass of wine, and had the place to ourselves—our server was gracious, and then went back to reading “Gone With The Wind,” which she offered to lend to me as soon as she finished the last few pages.

A few caveats:

Stock up on groceries. Seriously. Bring everything you need and more, because the closest town is Ely, about 65 miles away (and Ely isn’t exactly a gourmet paradise).

Bring lots of leveling blocks. We love staying in the park, but virtually all of the sites are horribly unlevel. No hookups, first-come-first served, and unlevel sites—nonetheless, incredibly beautiful and peaceful. Our site in the Upper Lehman campground was one of the few good-sized sites, with a gorgeous sitting area by the creek. The Lower Lehman campground has bigger sites, but we couldn’t get our trailer level and gave up. If you have a big rig, you might be happier in the in-town park (Whispering Elms), which is very Baker-esque, but appears adequate.

Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park

Choosing Today's Hike

The Alpine Loop Trail

Along The Trail

Fresh Aspen Leaves

Beautiful Alpine Lakes

Stella Lake

Teresa Lake 10,000 Feet

Didn't Expect Snow

Bristlecone Pine Trail

Ancient Bristlecone Pine

Rocky Bristlecone Pine Trail

Turn Around Point On The Glacier Trail

Slow Down For Marmot Families

Baker Creek Trail

Paintbrush, Lupine, and Forget-Me-Nots

Lupine

Along The Creek

Crossing Baker Creek

Mountain Bluebells

Glorious Shooting Stars

Meadow Of Shooting Stars

Campsite Upper Lehman Creek

Spotty At Our Campsite

Relaxing At Camp

Hummingbird Drinking From Columbine

Visitor's Center Great Basin NP

Inside The Visitor's Center

Downtown Baker

Welcoming Committee

Museum Of The Future "Coming Soon"

The Only Gas Station For Miles

In-Town Campground

Decor At The Electrolux Cafe

On The Road To Baker

Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park
Choosing Today's Hike
The Alpine Loop Trail
Along The Trail
Fresh Aspen Leaves
Beautiful Alpine Lakes
Stella Lake
Teresa Lake 10,000 Feet
Didn't Expect Snow
Bristlecone Pine Trail
Ancient Bristlecone Pine
Rocky Bristlecone Pine Trail
Turn Around Point On The Glacier Trail
Slow Down For Marmot Families
Baker Creek Trail
Paintbrush, Lupine, and  Forget-Me-Nots
Lupine
Along The Creek
Crossing Baker Creek
Mountain Bluebells
Glorious Shooting Stars
Meadow Of Shooting Stars
Campsite Upper Lehman Creek
Spotty At Our Campsite
Relaxing At Camp
Hummingbird Drinking From Columbine
Visitor's Center Great Basin NP
Inside The Visitor's Center
Downtown Baker
Welcoming Committee
Museum Of The Future
The Only Gas Station For Miles
In-Town Campground
Decor At The Electrolux Cafe
On The Road To Baker
Great Basin: The Loneliest National Park  thumbnail
Choosing Today's Hike  thumbnail
The Alpine Loop Trail  thumbnail
Along The Trail  thumbnail
Fresh Aspen Leaves  thumbnail
Beautiful Alpine Lakes  thumbnail
Stella Lake  thumbnail
Teresa Lake 10,000 Feet  thumbnail
Didn't Expect Snow  thumbnail
Bristlecone Pine Trail  thumbnail
Ancient Bristlecone Pine  thumbnail
Rocky Bristlecone Pine Trail  thumbnail
Turn Around Point On The Glacier Trail  thumbnail
Slow Down For Marmot Families  thumbnail
Baker Creek Trail  thumbnail
Paintbrush, Lupine, and  Forget-Me-Nots  thumbnail
Lupine  thumbnail
Along The Creek  thumbnail
Crossing Baker Creek  thumbnail
Mountain Bluebells  thumbnail
Glorious Shooting Stars  thumbnail
Meadow Of Shooting Stars  thumbnail
Campsite Upper Lehman Creek  thumbnail
Spotty At Our Campsite  thumbnail
Relaxing At Camp  thumbnail
Hummingbird Drinking From Columbine  thumbnail
Visitor's Center Great Basin NP  thumbnail
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The Making Of LBJ

The Making Of LBJ

Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Gallery, National Parks, Texas, Travel | 22 comments

Idoodled and daydreamed my way through history classes in high school and college. Fortunately, my short-term memory was good enough that I could spend an evening memorizing dates/people/and events—just enough to pass exams. And then, of course, I promptly forgot everything.

Now, though, we’re on The Mother of All Field Trips, visiting places where history happened, and hearing personal stories of the involved parties. And I’m finding history to be far more interesting.

While staying in Fredericksburg, we immersed ourselves in a crash course on Lyndon Baines Johnson, a native of the Hill Country and, as you know, the 36th president of our country. We didn’t intend to spend an entire day focused on LBJ, but we found ourselves drawn into the story of his life. We started in Johnson City (founded by LBJ’s family in the 1870’s), where we toured the white clapboard farmhouse that was his boyhood home (no electricity, no indoor plumbing) and learned a bit about his family (a grandiose, alcoholic politician for a father and a domineering, intellectual mother). A photo of Lyndon, age 7, hangs in his childhood bedroom; he sits on the front steps in overalls and a cowboy hat—the inscription reads, “In a pensive mood. No doubt.

The excellent LBJ National Park Visitor Center is just around the corner, where we learned about Johnson’s life and what he accomplished in his relatively brief 64 years on this earth. The short story: LBJ was a complicated man with a burning agenda to create The Great Society, with the goal of eliminating racial injustice and poverty. While many think of him as dictatorial and grandiose, an equal number remember him as compassionate and generous.

Despite his personality flaws, there’s no question that Johnson was dedicated to improving the lot of those less fortunate—he was never far from his memories of a childhood without electricity or running water and his education in a one-room schoolhouse. Johnson’s astonishing legacy includes the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the War on Poverty, Medicare, and protection for the environment. Throughout his administration, more National Park Service sites were designated or expanded than during any other.

Sadly, the Vietnam War overshadowed Johnson’s presidency—he believed that the war was essential to stop the spread of Communism (as did the majority of his advisors) and he couldn’t manage to extricate himself or our country. He was painfully aware of public sentiment and agonized that people would remember him only for the war, and not for his commitment to creating the Great Society. After leaving the Presidency, he was often depressed, morosely listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” his favorite song—“When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes… And friends just can’t be found…”

We continued our immersion in LBJ’s life in nearby Stonewall, the site of the LBJ Ranch and home. LBJ and Lady Bird spent so much time here during his presidency that it came to be known as the Texas White House. Many important state meetings took place on the front lawn in the shade of the 400-year old oaks overlooking the Pedernales River.

Walking into the Texas White House is like stepping back into the 1960’s, down to the chrome yellow Formica kitchen countertops and the turquoise Naugahyde furniture in President Johnson’s office. It was as though they had just stepped out for a moment; Johnson’s suits, cowboy boots and Stetsons in his closet; tailored dresses and brightly colored kaftans in Lady Bird’s closets. A pillow on LBJ’s recliner is embroidered in turquoise script that says, “This is my ranch, and I do as I damn please.” The embroidered pillows on Lady Bird’s bed say, “I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty. I awoke and found that life was duty.” Amazing how a sentence embroidered on a pillow can sum up an approach to life.

It was interesting to hear stories of exactly how President Johnson accomplished so much. He lived and breathed politics 18-20 hours a day, and demanded that everyone who worked for him do the same. He had 72 phones installed in the Texas White House, including one in the dining room table handy to his outrageous brown-and-white cowhide upholstered swivel-dining chair (which Lady Bird despised), where he carried on phone conversations while entertaining guests. He was crude, charming, and relentless. The isolation of the Texas White House served his purposes—once there, guests were captive until President Johnson got his way.

LBJ was also fond of practical jokes; he loved taking unsuspecting visitors for a ride in his amphibious car, pretending the brakes had failed while driving full speed into the lake. And he enjoyed giving gifts—there’s an entire room filled with leftover gifts emblazoned with the Presidential seal, including the usual cigarette lighters and cuff links, but also his trademark Stetsons—and bizarrely enough, electric toothbrushes. When asked, “Why toothbrushes?” he said, “I want people to think of me right away when they wake up and right before they go to bed.”

He was undoubtedly enormously challenging to live with, but Lady Bird was always at his side to smooth things over. She was powerful in her own gracious, genteel way—her legacy is the Beautification Act of 1965, which pioneered environmental protection and beautification and is responsible for the wildflowers abundantly found along Texas highways.

LBJ genuinely felt a deep attachment to the land and his heritage. He longed for the Hill Country, “where people know when you are sick, love you while you are alive, and miss you when you die.” He was born, lived for the last two decades of his life, died, and was buried on the LBJ Ranch in the Johnson Family Cemetery. The President and Mrs. Johnson donated the ranch and their home to the National Park Service as a historic site, and Lady Bird lived there part-time—often seen waving to visitors from the porch—until her death in 2007.

We returned another day to visit the Sauer-Beckmann Farm, a living history farm that is part of the LBJ Historical Park. It’s an authentic Hill Country farmstead that recreates life as it was in the early 1900’s for a Texas-German family; the rangers and volunteers do everything just as it was done at that time: milking cows and making butter and cheese, keeping chickens and collecting eggs, raising hogs for meat, making soap, growing a vegetable garden and tending fruit trees, keeping house and cooking meals. Walking through the gate, we felt as though we had stepped back in time 100 years. We liked it so much that we’re considering volunteering there for a month or two at some point in our travels. (But not during hog butchering season.)

A note about the photos: For some ridiculous unexplained reason, photos are not allowed inside of the Texas White House. So I scrounged around and found a couple of interior shots on the Internet that were taken by people who didn’t have a companion hissing, “Don’t even THINK about taking photos with your phone!”

The Making Of LBJ

Boyhood Home

Scenery Along The Way

LBJ's Childhood Bedroom

Lyndon's Baseball Glove

As A Young Boy

Kitchen Of Boyhood Home

Bluebonnets In Johnson City

On The Front Porch

Entrance To LBJ Ranch

LBJ's Herefords

The Texas White House

400-Year-Old Oak Tree

Three TV's In Every Room

LBJ's Office At Texas White House

LBJ's Lazy Boy

Gifts From The President

LBJ's Amphibious Car

Air Force One-Half

LBJ And LadyBird's Final Resting Place

LBJ State Historic Park

Sauer Beckmann Farm

Windmill And Water Tank

Wandering The Farmstead

The Barn And Milk Cow

Just Stepped Out Of A Mud Bath

An Enormous Ram

Egg Suppliers

Park Ranger In Authentic Dress

The Farmhouse Kitchen

Fresh Eggs

Kitchen Cupboard

Pickles And Preserves

Farmhouse Bedroom

Antique Rocking Horse

Home Remedies

Lard For Soapmaking

Cold Cellar

The Making Of LBJ
Boyhood Home
Scenery Along The Way
LBJ's Childhood Bedroom
Lyndon's Baseball Glove
As A Young Boy
Kitchen Of Boyhood Home
Bluebonnets In Johnson City
On The Front Porch
Entrance To LBJ Ranch
LBJ's Herefords
The Texas White House
400-Year-Old Oak Tree
Three TV's In Every Room
LBJ's Office At Texas White House
LBJ's Lazy Boy
Gifts From The President
LBJ's Amphibious Car
Air Force One-Half
LBJ And LadyBird's Final Resting Place
LBJ State Historic Park
Sauer Beckmann Farm
Windmill And Water Tank
Wandering The Farmstead
The Barn And Milk Cow
Just Stepped Out Of A Mud Bath
An Enormous Ram
Egg Suppliers
Park Ranger In  Authentic Dress
The Farmhouse Kitchen
Fresh Eggs
Kitchen Cupboard
Pickles And Preserves
Farmhouse Bedroom
Antique Rocking Horse
Home Remedies
Lard For Soapmaking
Cold Cellar
The Making Of LBJ  thumbnail
Boyhood Home  thumbnail
Scenery Along The Way  thumbnail
LBJ's Childhood Bedroom thumbnail
Lyndon's Baseball Glove  thumbnail
As A Young Boy  thumbnail
Kitchen Of Boyhood Home  thumbnail
Bluebonnets In Johnson City  thumbnail
On The Front Porch thumbnail
Entrance To LBJ Ranch  thumbnail
LBJ's Herefords  thumbnail
The Texas White House  thumbnail
400-Year-Old Oak Tree  thumbnail
Three TV's In Every Room thumbnail
LBJ's Office At Texas White House  thumbnail
LBJ's Lazy Boy  thumbnail
Gifts From The President  thumbnail
LBJ's Amphibious Car  thumbnail
Air Force One-Half  thumbnail
LBJ And LadyBird's Final Resting Place  thumbnail
LBJ State Historic Park  thumbnail
Sauer Beckmann Farm  thumbnail
Windmill And Water Tank  thumbnail
Wandering The Farmstead  thumbnail
The Barn And Milk Cow thumbnail
Just Stepped Out Of A Mud Bath  thumbnail
An Enormous Ram  thumbnail
Egg Suppliers  thumbnail
Park Ranger In  Authentic Dress thumbnail
The Farmhouse Kitchen  thumbnail
Fresh Eggs  thumbnail
Kitchen Cupboard  thumbnail
Pickles And Preserves  thumbnail
Farmhouse Bedroom  thumbnail
Antique Rocking Horse  thumbnail
Home Remedies thumbnail
Lard For Soapmaking  thumbnail
Cold Cellar  thumbnail

Read More