Hitched Up: Desert Dwelling

Hitched Up: Desert Dwelling

We’ve parked our little home on wheels in all sorts of different climates and environments on our travel journey but setting up camp out among the desert cacti would be a new experience for us. My unorthodox way of planning our adventures thus far has been opening up Google Maps and zooming in on the green areas, which indicate a national or state park, and picking destinations that sound interesting. Through this method I stumbled across Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and began researching the area.

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Ranking as California’s largest state park, Anza Borrego is pretty remote with the nearest town being the small community of Borrego Springs. When I looked further into Borrego Springs, one of the first images that popped up in my search results was a huge metal sculpture of a dragon weaving through the sandy desert floor. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and since Mitch has always loved dragons I knew right away we had to see this work of art in person. You won’t find a Walmart or fast food restaurant in Borrego Springs but we were pleased with several locally-owned restaurants and markets to choose from. The Center Market had the best prepared foods in their deli section- if you get the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend the mango, jicama salad.  

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We camped in the Palm Canyon Campground located within the state park and surrounded by tall, rocky mountains. Our site had had full-hookups, which means we were able to run our air conditioning in the dry heat of November. From May until October, temperatures stay in the triple-digits and even in November the high of 85 felt more like 95. We had one of the pull-thru sites on the edge of the campground loop (#28). These sites offer more privacy, however the utilities sit on the same side as the picnic table and fire pit which means most RVs will either need hoses and electrical cords long enough to reach around the RV, or camp will be set up with the RV door opening to the road instead of the campsite. Luckily we have long hoses and cords and we were able to get hooked up with no problem.

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The campground has four accessible full hook up sites (#3, 21, 49 and 52) and three accessible developed sites (#118, 119 and 120) which have no hook ups. Accessible restrooms and showers are available in each campground loop and each building has an accessible parking space out front.

We went on a few hikes during our stay, the first being a canyoneering adventure on the Slot Canyon Trail. Reaching the trail requires a 2-mile drive down a rocky, sandy road. I had read 4-wheel drive was recommended because the sand was soft in some areas and cars can easily get stuck, but we saw several small sedans and low-clearance vehicles handle the terrain with no problem.

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A large parking area is located at the trailhead but beyond the parking area the road serves as a multi-use, 4wd and hiking trail. The Slot Canyon Trail can be hiked as a loop by taking the 4wd road back to the parking area or as an out-and-back by heading back into the canyon instead. There is one sign pointing to the trail near the parking area and from there the trail leads into the slot canyon without many opportunities for getting lost. The canyon isn’t as colorful as some of the famous slot canyons of Arizona and Utah but it was still beautiful and a lot of fun to hike through. 

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img_1701img_1700After exiting the canyon, identifying the trail becomes much more of a challenge. There are no trail markers along the way and the space opens up revealing 4wd roads in every direction. We ended up hiking to the top of the 4wd road and had an awesome view of the open desert. We hiked in the morning when temperatures were cooler but it was still hot. Beyond the canyon there aren’t many areas where escaping the sun is a possibility, so having enough water is critical.

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We also hiked the Palm Canyon Trail, which has one of the easiest trailheads to reach and is the most popular trail in the park. The trailhead is located in the Palm Canyon Campground and has restrooms and a water fountain. This 3-mile trek into the desert  travels between rocky hills and ends at a beautiful lush palm oasis. 

The Palm Canyon Trail is well-marked, making it much easier to stay on the correct path.  The trail is also lined with large boulders, some of which provide protection from the sun. Some boulder scrambling is required and there are a few sets of stairs, but otherwise the trail is mostly flat and an easy hike. The cool and shady palm oasis is a nice reward after being out in the heat. Though rarely spotted by humans, endangered bighorn sheep also take refuge from the sun and find water in the grove of palms. Because water sources in the desert are so scarce, visitors are reminded to stay on the trail to help protect wildlife.

 

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Most of the trails within the park are pretty remote and unfortunately not accessible. There are two accessible trails in the park, including the Visitor Center Interpretive Trail and the Culp Valley Trail (0.5 mile, located in the Culp Valley Campground).  The Visitor Center Interpretive Trail, also known as the All-Access Trail, is paved and provides great view of the valley and seasonally, beautiful cactus blooms. The trail travels through the desert between the Palm Canyon Campground and the Visitor Center 0.7 miles away. 

 So how about that metal dragon sculpture? It was awesome and so were all the other interesting pieces of art to be found scattered about Borrego Springs. I learned that the artist behind the work is Ricardo Breceda, who was commissioned by the late philanthropist Dennis Avery to create the 130 metal sculptures that are found around Borrego Springs. The dragon is one of the largest of the bunch at 350-feet-long. 

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Avery’s vision was to create an open-space museum, free and available for the public to enjoy. Breceda’s magnificent artwork is displayed on Avery’s estate, know as Galleta Meadows and visitors are welcome to drive through for an experience like no other. Most of the artwork can be enjoyed from the comfort of a vehicle, though hiking, biking, and horseback riding on the property is also permitted. 

img_1841img_1833img_1834img_1815-492095065-1542220182345.jpgContinuing on with our desert journey we headed northeast to Joshua Tree National Park and camped in the Indian Cover campground near Twenty-nine Palms. The campground does not have any hook ups but the weather was cool and there was no need to a/c. When we arrived I was stunned by the beauty of the giant, towering boulders that surrounded our campsite, then appalled by the amount of litter I found near our picnic table and fire pit.

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I was glad Gaius was not with us because all around our site I found shards of glass from broken beer bottles in every color. I picked up plastic bottle tops, food wrappers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, and bread ties, among other pieces of trash, some of which looked like it had been sitting there on the dirt for months. If you couldn’t tell, litter bugs me! 

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I felt much better after cleaning up all the trash and putting it in its proper place. Then after the sun had set, the stars really came out to shine. I don’t think I’ve ever seen stars so bright. The dark sky was literally filled with a twinkling sea of stars. We fell asleep gazing up at the sky from the window over our bed. The Indian Cove Campground is very popular with climbers, due to the huge boulders that line the campsites.  The posted climbing rules instruct climbers to ask permission before entering an occupied campsite to climb. I was a bit annoyed when a group of climbers walked right into our site, plopped their gear down, and started scaling the surrounding walls without checking with us first. After I watched for a moment and said “good morning,” someone from the group said, “Oh is it okay if we climb here? We’re already set up” while pointing up to the ropes. I imagined by eyes rolling out of my head while I smiled and said “Yeah, sure!” If we hadn’t been heading out I think I would have reminded these folks of the rules. Call me an enigma, but I believe you can be free-spirited, lead an unconventional lifestyle, and STILL show other people courtesy, and STILL respect the rules of places you visit. Okay, end rant. There’s also a really lovely nature trail located within the campground that we enjoyed hiking at sunset. Though there are some mild grades and unevenness in areas, this trail may be accessible for some. An accessible restroom is located within the campground. 

img_1980img_1953The Indian Cove Campground sits just a short drive from the park’s North Entrance Station, so we headed in for some hiking. The drive along Park Boulevard is beautiful with many pull-outs that allow visitors to stop and take in the otherworldly scenery, including the gnarly Joshua trees. 

img_1976We hiked the Hidden Valley Trail and drove down the unpaved Queen Valley Road which travels through the Joshua Trees. 

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The Hidden Valley picnic area is a great spot for lunch. There are several accessible picnic tables, accessible restrooms (pit toilets), and a few accessible parking spots. 

img_1894Unfortunately there are only a few accessible trails, including the Bajada Nature Trail near the South Entrance, Cap Rock Nature Trail at the junction of Park Blvd. and Keys View Road, Oasis of Mara Trail in Twentynine Palms at the Oasis Visitor Center, and the Keys View Overlook. I chatted with a ranger who told me the Barker Dam trail is currently under construction and will be accessible once renovations are completed.

Joshua Tree was beautiful and camping in the desert was fun but it was time to drop off our trailer for warranty work. Next stop- Lancaster, CA.

Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: California Coasting

Hitched Up: California Coasting

The next leg of our journey involved a scramble down the California coast. We purchased our Lance travel trailer from a local dealership in Austin, TX back in November of 2017. We made the purchase several months ahead of our May departure date because we wanted to have time to become familiar with the trailer and its amenities before heading out on the road. Our fast-approaching purchase anniversary also marks the expiration of the manufacturer’s one-year warranty. Since we’ve discovered a few minor issues that need repair (cabinet locks malfunctioning, entry door not sealing properly, television image distorted, etc.), we made an appointment at the Lance factory in southern California to have the work completed while still under warranty.

Our first wedding anniversary also provided another reason to make a dash for southern California, and what better place to celebrate in than Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. We were married last year in Las Vegas on Halloween weekend so Halloween will probably always be special to us. I’ve actually always wanted to see Disneyland during the spooky season while the park is decorated with characters from the Nightmare Before Christmas. So, whereas we would normally spend several weeks traveling across the state taking our time to explore as many places as possible, we found ourselves making a dash for southern California to celebrate our anniversary in time for Halloween and to have our trailer to the manufacturer before our warranty expired.

The first quick stop on our journey down the coast was San Francisco where we stayed two nights at an RV park in the neighboring city of Marin. The RV park was walking distance from the Larkspur ferry, so we headed to the port via the accessible, paved trail and sailed into the city for some sightseeing.

Many popular attractions and landmarks can be seen from the ferry, including San Quentin State Prison, Angel Island, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Treasure Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and of course, the city’s beautiful skyline.

We grabbed some coffee at the Ferry Building Marketplace then strolled the iconic Embarcadero, which is home to several piers loaded with restaurants, shops, street performers, museums, and more.

We weren’t planning on a trip to the Exploratorium, a popular hands-on science museum, but we saw that it was Community Day and admission was pay-what-you-wish. We were happy to leave a donation and head in to check out the exhibits.

A trip to San Francisco would not be complete without sampling some of its famous seafood. My favorite is clam chowder served up in a fresh, sourdough bread bowl.

After a quick bite we continued along the city’s eastern shoreline until we reached the National Park Service’s Aquatic Park Pier. On the way back to the ferry we popped in at Ghirardelli Square for an ice cream sundae.

Later we met up with my friend, her husband, and their baby girl for dinner. The last time I saw my friend was years ago when we traveled together to London and Paris. It was so much fun catching up over a great meal.

We headed further south and stayed with my mom in my hometown for a few days. We went out for dinner in historic San Juan Bautista and spent some time in one of my favorite places, Monterey. I remember visiting the beaches with my mom as a kid and taking trips to the famous aquarium. Later I would graduate from California State University Monterey Bay and work in the area for years before relocating to the sunny southern U.S.. We saw a movie, walked along the wharf, visited the farmers market, and had a lovely dinner. Since we’ll be spending the holidays with my mom, there will be many more adventures in Monterey and central California coming up soon.

It was nice to be home for a few days but we had to keep moving of we wanted to make it to Disneyland and the manufacturer on time, so we headed out on the road again. We stopped off in beautiful Morro Bay where we camped right on the beach.

The sunsets here were phenomenal, painted with purple and pink tones. When the fog rolled in, the beach looked like something out of a dream.

We visited Morro Bay State Park and walked the accessible Marina Peninsula Loop Trail, which provided stunning views of the bay and estuary.

The paved trail near Morro Rock was also accessible and was a great place to enjoy excellent views of the ocean.

We took a quick trip to nearby Sam Simeon to check out the elephant seals lazing on the beach. The Elephant Seal Vista Point is located right off of Cabrillo Highway (Hwy 1) and has plenty of parking, including accessible spaces and large spaces for RVs. A long, accessible deck and short trail runs along the beach providing visitors with an up-close view of the seals.

We were so close, we could actually smell the blubbery mammals as they soaked up the afternoon sun. The view was fantastic though the smell is something I’d rather forget.

Later we toured the magnificent Hearst Castle, built by the late newspaper and magazine mogul William Randolph Hearst. After his death, the property was donated to the state of California and it became a state park in 1958. The exquisite castle was designed by Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed female architect, and is filled with antiques and an impressive collection of art.

I’ve visited the castle a few times during the day but this was my first time visiting the property at night. We reserved tickets for the evening tour and arrived just in time to watch the sun setting. Though high up on a hill, the castle has an amazing view of the ocean.

The evening tour takes visitors up and down a few flights of stairs, but an accessible tour is also available.

We really enjoyed the beach but were excited to move on to Anaheim for our anniversary celebration in Disneyland. We stayed at an RV resort about a mile away from the park gates. Though we were technically within walking distance, we decided to purchase shuttle passes figuring we’d spend enough time on our feet while in the park. It turned out to be the best idea ever, as we averaged 12 hours standing and 8 miles walking every day. Even with sore and swollen feet, Disneyland was nothing short of magical.

We felt like kids running around the park, hopping on the rides and catching the shows.

We ended up spending 2 full days at Disneyland and 1 day at California Adventure. Both parks were awesome in their own way. California Adventure was modern, had more thrill rides, and offered a Broadway-quality production of the Disney hit Frozen.

We also caught an awesome sunset over the pond at California Adventure.

Still, Disneyland felt more whimsical, magical, and classic while offering a variety of attractions for all ages. The canoe boats were great for an upper-body workout.

The food in both parks was really, really good. Who knew Disney could pull off an authentic and deliciously southern shrimp and grits?

We loved the time we spent in both parks and did not want to leave. Both parks were also super accessible. We saw tons of visitors using wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Each attraction has an accessible entrance. Some rides require a transfer from wheelchair to the seat, but several rides have accessible buggies or cars that can accommodate wheelchairs. I wanted to snap a picture but every time I saw a ride with an accessible buggy there was a person in their wheelchair enjoying it. Awesome!

We also visited Downtown Disney one evening for an open-space, interactive virtual reality experience. Being the Star Wars fans that we are, we could not pass up the opportunity to visit The Void for their Secrets of the Empire attraction.

Paired with another couple, we suited up in vests and helmets then were given a mission where we would impersonate storm troopers to infiltrate the Empire. The screens in our helmets displayed a virtual world before us and we walked through mazes working together to meet our objectives. The attraction is also accessible allowing people with varying mobility abilities to get in on the fun. Though I’m not much of a gamer, I have to say it was pretty awesome and I’d definitely try it again. I liked it so much I even bought the souvenir photo instead of taking a blurry picture of it with my phone like I normally do.

While we were in the area we took a day trip to L.A. on Halloween to see Universal Studios and their Halloween Horror Nights. I was most excited about the Harry Potter attractions, especially the famed butter beer. It did not disappoint.

We purchased an afternoon pass which allowed us access to Universal starting at 2:00 p.m. and access to the halloween mazes starting at 5:00 p.m. As we roamed around the park we received many compliments on our matching Star Wars shirts we could not leave Disneyland without.

We also splurged on the Universal express passes that way we could avoid the long lines. We were able to get to everything in the park, including the hour-long studio tour, except for the Waterworld show.

We also were able to jump ahead of the long lines for the halloween mazes, where others without express passes waited 90 minutes or longer. Universal Studios was a lot of fun but we definitely preferred the magic of Disney. I didn’t get a ton of pictures at Universal after dark but I did catch a pretty cool shot in the Stranger Things maze.

Before we left the greater Los Angeles area we spent some time visiting with an old friend from Monterey. I hadn’t seen her in 10 years but it was like nothing changed (in a good way). It was so nice to catch up and to meet her husband and sweet little ones. Reconnecting with old pals as we travel has been one of my favorite things to do on this journey.

With our service appointment about a week away we still had some time to explore southern California. Next stop, the desert! Thanks for reading.

Hitched Up: Rogue Valley to the Redwood Coast

Hitched Up: Rogue Valley to the Redwood Coast

We headed off from the high desert towards Oregon’s southern coast in search of its beautiful beaches and redwood forests that lead into California. Before we would get there we stopped off in the colorful Rogue Valley. We had a great campsite in Valley of the Rogue State Park that backed right up to the Rogue River, was very spacious, and had full-hookups. 

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The park has plenty of amenities, including accessible campsites, picnic areas, and a large fenced dog park. My favorite feature is the new, accessible hiking and biking trail that runs directly through the park. The trail is currently being developed and only a few segments had been finished during the time of our visit. We rode about 3.5 miles on the completed section that runs from the park to the neighboring town of Rogue River. This time of year the scenic trail was bursting with bright autumn colors.

Once completed, the Rogue River Greenway Trail will span 50 beautiful miles. Accessible parking and restrooms are available near the trailheads in Valley of the Rogue State Park. The section of the trail we traveled had rewarding views of the Rogue River and only a few mild inclines. There is an accessible drinking fountain and water fountain for dogs along the trail located just before Rogue River. 

We also ventured out to hike the moderately steep Lower Table Rock Trail just east of the park. A 1.5-mile climb through the trees brings you to the top of the flat rock’s surface. Much of the trail is shaded although once you reach the top it’s full sun and wide open space.

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Operated by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the trail was very well-maintained. The Lower Table Rock Trail is partially accessible for the first 1/8 mile or so, but beyond this point the trail becomes steep with uneven surfaces. The shorter Oak Savannah Loop Trail is flat and wide with packed gravel. Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead.

Next we were headed back to the coast and our first stop was Harris Beach State Park. We had a large campsite tucked away into the trees and were only a short walk from the beach. Like other beaches we’d seen in Oregon, Harris Beach was gorgeous and Gaius had a blast running around on the sand. 

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One day we spent an hour picking up litter on the beach. Luckily there wasn’t a ton but we still managed to fill half of a plastic grocery bag with garbage in about a mile. I learned that the community regularly hosts beach clean-up activities where volunteers take to the sand and pick up trash that can be harmful to wildlife. The park’s day-use area is awesome and accessible. There is a long, paved, switchback ramp with rails that leads gently down to the beach. There are accessible restrooms, picnic tables (with a great view), and ample accessible parking. 

We loved being close to amazing beaches while also being just a short drive to majestic redwood forests. After a few days of beaching, we decided to change things up and enjoyed a lovely hike on the Redwood Nature Trail in the Rogue Riber-Siskiyou National Forest and the connecting Riverview Trail located within Alfred A. Loeb Oregon State Park.

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Neither trail is accessible although both have accessible restrooms and picnic areas near the trailhead. Loeb Park has accessible parking and an accessible trail that leads down to the river. Vehicles can also drive down the trail and park right on the bank.

We also spent some time traveling the segment on Hwy 101 known as the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor. Along the picturesque route there are multiple scenic overlooks with trails and beach access. Accessible parking is available at most of the stops and a few includes accessible restrooms.

We crossed the CA border to continue our redwood journey and camped near the Redwood National and State Parks, a collection of four parks co-managed by the National Park Service and California State Parks. The parks include, Redwood National Park, Del Notre Coast State Park, Prairie Creek State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. I would love to explore all four parks someday but for this trip we stuck with Prairie Creek, home to some of the tallest trees in the state.

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Hiking through the stunning redwood forest was spectacular. We hiked the handful of the park’s accessible trails, including the Redwood Access Trail, Revelation Trail, Cathedral Trees Trail, and the Elk Prairie Trail. The trails appeared to be well-maintained with packed dirt or gravel surfaces and the occasional wooden bridge.

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Prairie Creek State Park was also a filming location for the sequel to the Jurassic Park movie. Scenes for the action-packed dinosaur adventure flick were shot in the park’s lush Fern Canyon. I had to see it for myself. To reach the trailhead, visitors have to either take a long hike (10 miles round trip) or take a long drive down a narrow, windy, gravel road shaded by dense forest. Access is limited to vehicles 8 feet wide and 24 feet long- and with good reason. Once the wild ride reaches the coast, it travels along the beautiful Gold’s Bluff Beach and through a few water crossings before ending at the Fern Canyon trailhead.

img_0189 The canyon features 50-foot walls covered in a variety of green ferns. A quiet creek runs the length of the canyon requiring visitors to travel through the water or carefully cross fallen logs. The trailhead is a gravel lot with an accessible restroom. The short trail to the canyon is wide and mostly flat with packed gravel. Once the trail meets the canyon is becomes submerged under water and is not accessible.

The park is home to a thriving herd of Roosevelt Elk which roam freely and can be very aggressive. We saw one of these magnificent creatures on the Fern Canyon Trail just before reaching the canyon. The elk was grazing a safe distance away so we passed on the trail behind him without incident. On our way back out we turned a corner on the trail and I had an eerie feeling. I could feel eyes on me and when I scanned the environment I saw a huge elk staring right at me through the trees just ahead. The elk stared. We stared. We slowly backed away and he went back to grazing allowing us to sneak by. Phew! Once we were at a safe distance I snapped a few quick photos of our friend from the creepy encounter.

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With that we ended our redwood journey (for now) and were off to explore more of California, starting with a brief trip to San Francisco.

Thanks for reading!

 

Hitched Up: Oregon’s High Desert

Hitched Up: Oregon’s High Desert

Searching for sunshine we left Oregon’s gorgeous, but cloudy coast for the High Desert. Our first stop was Prineville Reservoir State Park. I’m typically not a big fan of reservoirs because oftentimes they’re artificial and really look the part. Another thing— speedboats. Don’t get me wrong, boats are loads of fun, but their loud engines aren’t as thrilling when you’re watching, speedboat-less from the shore. The last reservoir we visited was terribly littered and appeared to be more of a place to party than a place to connect with Mother Earth. I can almost still smell the stale beer in the air. Prineville, however, was quite different. Perhaps during busy season we would have had a different experience, but our late-September visit was quiet and peaceful. The park was clean, the campground was full of trees, and the water was smooth. 

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Our campsite overlooked the water, like several others, including an ADA accessible site with a view of the reservoir through the trees. As I explored the grounds I was really impressed with the park’s accessibility overall. Near the boat ramp there are standard accessible parking spaces and extra-long accessible parking spaces for vehicles with boat trailers. There is also a large accessible fishing pier with benches.

An accessible, paved trail runs throughout the campground and there are multiple accessible restrooms and showers. The day-use area is also accessible with horseshoe pits, picnic tables, and a trail that leads to the beach. The accessible picnic area provides a great view of the water and beach (in fact, the best view out of all the picnic spots). There was also an observatory for star-gazers, though it’s only open seasonally from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

We hadn’t been out in the kayak lately so we suited up Gaius in his little puppy life vest and headed down to the boat launch. The smooth water made for a very pleasant paddle and with the exception of a few fishermen, we pretty much had the entire reservoir to ourselves. 

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We enjoyed our stay but were pretty excited to head over to our next destination. We camped near the city of Bend, OR in La Pine State Park and it turned out to be a great home base while exploring the area. We were only a quick drive from Newberry National Volcanic Monument and stopped by to check out a really cool cave I was eager to visit.

img_8482The cave is a massive lava tube that was formed by a volcanic eruption over 80,000 years ago. The exact size of the cave is unknown but visitors can travel a mile into the pitch-black darkness before reaching a stop sign with instructions to turn around.

Unfortunately, the cave is not accessible. Though the floor inside the cave is mostly flat, there are lots and lots of stairs to navigate upon entering and exiting the cave. Throughout the cave there are several areas with large rocks and holes and a few passages with low-clearance where most adults will need to duck down. The park has high-power flashlights available to rent for $5 but we opted to bring our own light. And of course, it died. In the middle of the cave. Leaving us in absolute darkness. Luckily we had our cell phones handy and used their flashlights until we reached the exit. Did I mention the cave was freezing? If you look closely at the picture of Mitch below, you can see his breath (and also that he gave me his jacket to wear because I forgot mine). 

We also did a bit of exploring at our campground in La Pine. The park sits along the beautiful Deschutes River in a forest of ponderosa pines. In fact, Oregon’s largest ponderosa pine is located in the park and can be visited via the short and accessible Big Tree Trail.

Another accessible option is the McGregor Memorial Viewpoint which offers breathtaking views of the winding Deschutes River.

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We headed a bit further south to camp near Crater Lake National Park. Our campground was right on the outskirts of a state and national forest so there were plenty of beautiful trees and a beautiful little creek ran right behind our site. Mitch even took to the outdoors with his guitar and played by the water. We had a little fun and didn’t kill each other trying to maneuver a canoe through the log-ladden creek, although we learned quickly that we much prefer our kayak.

We had some down time in the RV due to a few days of rain but once the skies cleared we made a trip to Crater Lake National Park. Contrary to popular belief and its namesake, Crater Lake was not formed by a meteor. The lake was formed when the volcano Mount Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago then collapsed forming a caldera that eventually filled with melted snow and rainwater. At 1,943 feet, the lake is the deepest in the country and as far as I can tell, one of the most beautiful too. When we caught our first glimpse of the water, we were completely astonished by how blue it was.

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The cinder cone that sits above the water’s surface is known as Wizard Island and can be reached by boat. I’d love to trek out there someday but for this trip we decided to stick to the roads (and our heated seat-warmers). One can drive around the rim of the lake on the scenic 33-mile loop that has several viewpoints and trailheads. There are four trails specified as “accessible to wheelchair users with assistance” within the park-  Sun Notch, The Pinnacles, Godfrey Glen, and Plaikni Falls. We hiked the Sun Notch trail and after a bit of an incline reached the rim’s edge overlooking the water. This short, but somewhat steep loop trail is approximately .08 miles and its terrain is mostly pavement or packed dirt.

The sun was shining bright but the wind was in full-force and we were shivering in the 39 degree temperatures. Too cold to attempt any more hiking, we stuck to the pullouts along the rim trail. They did not disappoint and we had amazing views all around. Most of the overlooks are accessible though many do not have developed parking areas or designated, lined spaces. Those with developed parking areas have accessible parking spaces and paved paths.

On another sunny day we grabbed Gaius and hopped in the truck to check out the Wood River and determine if it was paddle-worthy. We found that not only was it paddle-worthy, it was downright dreamworthy! Gorgeous shades of green and blue glimmered through the crystal clear water while yellow and orange grasses and tall green trees lined the shore.

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The water was so pristine and clear that its surface was barely even visible. As we floated along the smooth water it almost felt like we were hovering or flying above the riverbed. Before too long we reached some fun obstacles to conquer, like forks in the river, downed trees, and shallow beds of sand (where we accidentally beached our boat a few times). We had a blast and even Gaius seemed to enjoy riding along.

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We had the whole river to ourselves on a lovely day. It was beautiful, peaceful, and quiet as we gently floated along watching hawks and other birds near the banks. Rowing our boat gently down the stream, merrily, life really was was but a dream…

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And then it wasn’t. Suddenly the wind picked up and the sun hid behind the clouds. The current grew stronger, carrying us faster, and we decided to turn back before things got worse. Our 35 minute joyride downstream yielded an hour-long paddle against the current. We rowed and rowed and rowed with all of our might. Sometimes it felt like we weren’t moving forward at all and if either of us stopped paddling for even a moment we would quickly lose ground and drift backwards. Now cold and wet we paddled nonstop until we finally made it back to where we started. It was an adventure and totally worth it.

Tomorrow we head off on our next adventure- Western Oregon and the southwestern coast.  Thanks for reading!

 

Hitched Up: Cannon Beach and the Historic Columbia River Highway

Hitched Up: Cannon Beach and the Historic Columbia River Highway

After seeing how much Gaius loved playing on the sand back in Washington, I was really glad that our first stop in Oregon was Cannon Beach.

Home of the iconic Haystack Rock, this picturesque beach town is dog-friendly and lined with art galleries, cafes, and charming boutiques. The beach is nothing short of stunning with teal blue waves crashing along the shore and miles upon miles of soft sand as far as the eye can see. If you’re into long walks on the beach, this is definitely the place to be.

The beach also has an accessible entrance, allowing visitors of all abilities to get right down to the water. An accessible trail to the beach, parking, and restrooms are available at the Gower Street entrance. Beachgoers who use wheelchairs can also rent specialized beach wheelchairs for free, available for pick-up from the Cannon Beach City Hall building. Bravo, Cannon Beach! Click here for more information about renting a beach wheelchair at Cannon Beach.

I had seen pictures of Haystack Rock but was not expecting it to be so large. I learned that this massive hunk of stone is a popular nesting spot for puffins. We didn’t spot any puffins during our visit but there were plenty of pups on the beach having fun.

Gaius had a blast running around like he owned the place and making friends with other visitors. One even gave him some fancy duck jerky just for being cute.

Gaius was due for one of his annual vaccines so I made an appointment with the veterinarian in the neighboring town of Seaside. After his appointment we stopped off at the Seaside Farmers Market to peruse- who doesn’t love a good farmers market? We ended up taking home fresh bowls of ramen, chèvre from a local creamery, goat’s milk caramel spread, and all-natural hazelnut butter.

We also visited Hug Point State Recreation Area, just south of Cannon Beach. The beach at Hug Point is beautiful and during low tide visitors can explore its exposed caves and tide pools.

I was thrilled to see accessible parking, restrooms, and a paved trail seemingly leading to the beach.

Unfortunately, although this trail offers a great view of the beach and ocean, it ends with stairs and does not provide an accessible path down to the sand.

Next we traveled inland towards U.S. 30, also known as the Historic Columbia River Highway to check out some of the many waterfalls along the way. Our home base was Viento State Park, which sits right on the Columbia River that separates Oregon from Washington, and is only about an hour east of Portland. Interstate 84 runs directly through the park, splitting it into a north and south area. The northern end houses the RV campground, day use picnic area, a nature trail that travels through the trees ending at a picturesque pond, and an accessible trail to the shore of the Columbia River.

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The southern end houses tent camping sites, a few short nature trails, and a trail that leads to the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. The State Trail is a real treat for waterfall enthusiasts. The entire trail spans between Troutdale and The Dalles with several hiking/biking segments that are accessible.

We traveled an approximately 2-mile portion of the trail between Starvation Creek and Lancaster Falls. The Starvation Creek trailhead has a paved parking lot with accessible parking, restrooms, and picnic area with a beautiful view of Starvation Creek Falls.

Heading west, the wide, paved, and mostly flat trail parallels the interstate a short distance before entering the forest and leading visitors to several waterfalls. Though there’s a bit of road noise to begin with, visitors can expect a great view of the Columbia River from the trail.

The first waterfall along the way is Cabin Creek Falls, where the best view lies directly on the paved trail.

Next up is Hole in the Wall Falls, my personal favorite from the bunch. Just off of the main trail sits an accessible picnic table in a paved viewing area that provides a grand view of the falls.

From Hole in the Wall Falls, a non-accessible dirt trail ascends steeply into the hillside passing Lancaster Falls.

The falls can be spotted approximately .02 miles past Hole in the Wall Falls from the accessible main trail, though the view is obstructed by trees.

Located about 20 minutes east of Portland. Multnomah Falls is another great accessible attraction along the Historic Columbia River Highway. The trailhead and parking area is positioned between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 84, with left-side on and off ramps. Accessible parking, restrooms, and picnic areas are onsite with a paved accessible trail to the base of the falls.

A paved, but non-accessible trail that includes a few stairs, leads from the base of the falls up to the bridge. We hiked up to the bridge but to be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with the 1/2 view of the falls and felt the base of the falls was the best spot for a picture. The area was damaged by a fire last year and the trail beyond the bridge was closed during our visit. Still, the falls were lovely and next time I’d probably spend by time admiring them from the base.

During my initial trip planning I thought we would stay in Portland to explore the city for at least a week. After all, Portland is the sister-city to our Austin, TX home base and perhaps the only other city in the country to embrace weirdness.

But after experiencing nearly a month of smoke-clouded skies in Canada followed by a few weeks of gloomy rainclouds along the Washington coast, these Texans really wanted to find some sunshine before autumn set in. We did however make one trip into the city to meet up with an old friend from high school and his girlfriend. Though we opted for the less-busy east side of downtown, Portland definitely gave off an Austin vibe with it’s trendy eateries, bars, and music scene. Oh and the beards, so many beards.

We had a great time catching up, laughing, and indulging in some of the best bar food we’d ever eaten. It was a nice way to end our stay in the area as we prepared to continue south on our journey in the morning. Next stop- Oregon’s warmer and sunnier High Desert.

Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: Olympic National Park and Mount Saint Helens

Hitched Up: Olympic National Park and Mount Saint Helens

We got lucky in Seattle with a week of clear skies but the gloomy clouds and rain were waiting for us at our next stop in Port Angeles. We had really been looking forward to reaching this point in our trip because our friends from Texas and Louisiana (who introduced us and attended to us in our wedding last year) moved to the area earlier this summer.

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We were super excited to spend time together and to explore their beautiful new home in the Pacific Northwest. The week of our arrival marked the first significant rainfall the area had seen all summer. But, we weren’t going to let a little rain spoil our fun, so we put on our jackets and headed into Olympic National Park to check out some of its waterfalls. There are dozens of waterfalls of varying types and sizes around the Olympic Peninsula, fueled by abundant rainfall and over 60 glaciers. Some of the waterfalls can only be enjoyed by kayak or boat and some are located deep in the backcountry, but many can be viewed after a short hike. 

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Our first trip was to Sol Duc Falls at the northwestern end of Olympic National Park. Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead, however the trail itself is not accessible with obstacles including stairs, rocks, and tree roots. The rainforest canopy provided some shelter from the rain as we made a short trek through the rainforest to the falls and the Sol Duc River. 

On another rainy day we hiked out to the beautiful Marymere Falls and Lake Crescent. Even in the rain, the lake was gorgeous and the misty, looming clouds gave the mountains a magical feel. 

img_7024Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead for Marymere Falls but the trail is only accessible for the first 1/2 mile. The accessible portion of the trail is packed gravel, however further down the trail and closer to the falls there are several sets of uneven stairs with handrails.

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img_7022I was eager to visit the accessible trail to Madison Creek Falls. The trail is also one of the few where pets are allowed. Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead and the trail is paved and mostly flat.

This was my favorite waterfall so far— tall and cascading, surrounded by deep green foliage. The short hike to the falls was also gorgeous as it meandered through huge moss-covered trees.

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Another accessible option from the Madison Creek Falls trailhead is taking the paved Olympic Hot Springs Road along the Elwha River. The road is closed to vehicles just beyond the trailhead parking due to a bridge washout further ahead, however the paved road is pet-friendly and can still be enjoyed by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. We walked along the road traveling through the forest, alongside the Elwha River, and over a few bridges. We stopped near one bridge and walked to the river to check out the salmon swimming upstream on their run. 

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img_7435img_7439After a few days of steady rain we had a pocket of sunshine midday so we took advantage of the opportunity and made a quick trip up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. The drive up to Hurricane Ridge was super scenic and we even spotted a black tail deer grazing on the side of the road. 

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img_7207.jpgThere are a few accessible scenic overlooks along the way, though some have walkways which are only partly accessible, starting off as paved but leading to stairs. 

The Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center has a few paved trails deemed “accessible with assistance,” defined as trails which “do not meet ADA/ABA standards, but may be passable by those with sufficient upper body strength or a friend to help.” An accessible gift shop, cafe, restroom, parking lot, and a large patio overlooking the Bailey Range is also onsite. The Cirque Rim and Big Meadows trails are paved and “accessible with assistance,” offering stunning views of the Olympic Peninsula on a clear day. The Hurricane Hill Trail is also partially “accessible with assistance,” though it was closed for construction during our visit. According to the park’s website, the project includes “improving the first 4/10 of a mile of the trail to federal accessibility standards.” Whoo-hoo! More details about accessibility in Olympic National Park can be found here.

We hiked up the High Ridge Trail (the first section is steep and marked as “accessible with assistance” from the Big Meadows Trail) to Sunrise Point. Those who are not faint of heart will enjoy the steep and steady climb up the narrow trail to the top.

img_7213With another short window of sunshine predicted in the weather forecast, we decided to head out on our bikes. We traveled a short segment of the 130-mile Olympic Discovery Trail which runs along the coast through towns and forests between Port Townsend, WA and La Push, WA. This fully accessible and mostly-paved trail has something for everyone— beaches, forest, city streets, streams, bridges, picnic spots, marinas, barren industrial facilities, you name it.

Heading east from Port Angeles we had stunning views of the coast. I loved the trail so much, cycling it from end-to-end is now on my bucket list. Gaius also enjoyed cruising along the trail and when the raindrops started to fall, we got to try out his rain cover. He didn’t seem to mind it or the rain at all. Rain or shine, riding around on the bike with Gaius in a basket is a guaranteed way to put a smile on the face of every person we meet. He never fails to gather a lot of attention.

We said goodbye to our friends and left Port Angeles to head further down the coast where this lucky little dog got to experience his first trip to the beach. As soon as his little paws hit the soft, warm sand he instantly began running circles around me as fast as he could. He was a very happy boy.

We also took a trip to Forks, home of all things Twilight, and hiked to a few gorgeous beaches. My favorite beaches have always been those that are rocky with lots of trees and these did not disappoint.

Several of the beaches have accessible overlooks, including Ruby Beach pictured above left. However, according to Olympic National Park’s website, none of their beaches have ADA-accessible trails to the shore. I usually try to write my posts in a positive tone, but I’ll admit it’s difficult to maintain after realizing my dog can easily experience the sand on a beautiful beach but a person who uses a wheelchair cannot. Also disheartening is traveling an “accessible” trail only to reach an inaccessible scenic overlook or attraction. It’s like a big tease or a really cruel joke– “Oh I see you came all this way, did you want to see the epic view that lies ahead? Just kidding, here’s a 6-inch stair that will keep you from it!” I can only begin to imagine how incredibly frustrating this must be for people who use wheelchairs or scooters.

With that said, some places are awesomely accessible, including the Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center operated by Washington State Parks. For a small admission fee, visitors can enjoy museum exhibits where they will learn about the volcanic mountain’s geology and landscape before and after the historic 1980 eruption. There’s also a theater and a fantastic walking trail through second-growth forest and wetlands. The 1-mile loop trail is accessible and travels over wooden boardwalks and packed gravel or dirt surfaces. A manual wheelchair is also available for loan.

After a brief stop at the visitor center, we drove to the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The observatory is located at the end of State Highway 504, which passes through a few small towns and provides access to several marked scenic overlooks. We stopped at each overlook along the way, all of which are accessible, and had grand views of the volcano’s blast zone. The observatory is also super accessible with restrooms, exhibits, indoor and outdoor theaters, overlooks, trails, powered-assisted doors, and ample parking.

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Visibility wasn’t great on the day we visited but even though the clouds hid the top of the snow-capped volcano, we couldn’t complain about the view.

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We also couldn’t complain about camping in the forest and staying warm by the campfire. Since May, just about every place we’ve camped has been under a fire ban so sitting around the campfire was a real treat.

There’s still a lot more of Washington we’d love to explore someday but for now we’re on to our next stop– Oregon.

Thanks for reading.

Hitched Up: Seattle, WA

Hitched Up: Seattle, WA

We spent a few hours in Seattle last year when we were in the area for the weekend of Mitch’s cousin’s wedding. I really wanted to see Mount Rainier but I also wanted to spend a few hours in the city. We had enough time to take a glassblowing class downtown, stroll Pikes Place Market for a bit, check out exhibits at the Pacific Science Center, and have an early dinner up in the Space Needle. The skies were clear and we were treated to some pretty epic views of Mount Rainier. We did a lot in just a few short hours but there was still so much more to do and see in Seattle and the surrounding area.

Since we had more time during this visit we decided to purchase the CityPass to experience some of Seattle’s most popular attractions. The adult pass is $89 and includes vouchers for admission to:

  • Space Needle ($32.50 in the morning and $37.50 for afternoons and evenings)
  • Seattle Aquarium ($29.95)
  • Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour ($30.50)
  • Museum of Pop Culture ($28)   OR  Woodland Park Zoo ($20.95)
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass ($26)   OR   Pacific Science Center ($23.95)

Without the CityPass we would have spent $151.95 each to visit these attractions. Pass-holders have 9 days to use their vouchers, though we used all of ours in only 2 days. The CityPass vouchers cover regular admission only, so any special exhibitions that normally cost an extra fee are not included. We only paid extra once to see the Marvel exhibit at the Museum of Pop Culture ($8 and totally worth it). All of the attractions are accessible and we saw plenty of accessible parking in the downtown lots and garages.

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The CityPass also includes two trips up to the Space Needle- once during the morning and once in the afternoon or evening. The catch is that the trips must be within 12 hours of each other but this is still a great way to experience the view during the day and when the city is lit up at night.

We started off our city adventure with a trip to the Museum of Pop Culture. If you were only able to see one of the museums included in the CityPass, the Museum of Pop Culture would be my choice. This place was beyond cool and to my surprise seemed more appropriate for adults than children. The Marvel exhibit was full of cool artwork, costumes, and props from the earliest issues of Captain America up to the blockbuster Black Panther and everything in between.

We had a great time strolling through the exhibit and learning about our favorite superheros. There were also a ton of life-size statues sitting (or hanging) around offering awesome photo-ops.

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The Marvel exhibit was definitely a favorite of ours but the rest of the museum was really cool too. The Sound Lab was a musician’s dreamland with instruments scattered about just waiting to be played.

There were several private sound booths with guitars, keyboards, microphones, and drums. There were also jam rooms and recording rooms set up allowing visitors to play on their own or collaborate and play together. Mitch played around with several guitars and we both had fun blending and adjusting tracks in the mixing room.

For those who appreciate listening to music more than playing it, the museum also had exhibits dedicated to local icons including Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. Other museum exhibits showcased the fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres.

Next we were off to Chihuly Garden and Glass and then had dinner and dessert near the Space Needle before taking a trip up to the top. The Space Needle’s observation deck has been completely renovated since the last time we visited and includes a rotating glass floor and glass benches that recline down towards the city streets.

We’ve been on a bit of a cycling kick lately, so I was super excited when I saw that a trail travels from Issaquah to Redmond along Lake Sammamish. The trip was approximately 26 miles roundtrip, making it our longest ride to date. We were pretty sore but it was a fun experience.

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We ventured back into the city again for the harbor cruise, aquarium, and to spend time with a friend from high school and her fiancé. We lucked out with warm weather and beautiful clear skies. We had great time cruising around and checking out the marine life at the aquarium.

Afterwards we met up for dinner with our friends and they showed us around to some of their favorite spots to take in views of the city skyline. The city looked spectacular and we were able to catch a gorgeous sunset across the bay.

We also spent some time catching up with Mitch’s cousin and her husband in nearby Mukilteo. We headed into the small town to experience their beachside farmers market and lighthouse park before meeting for dinner.

The park had an awesome accessible trail that traveled along the beach and to the lighthouse. There was accessible parking, restrooms, and picnic tables. We saw lots of brown bunnies hopping through the grass near the picnic area and several harbor seals swimming along the shore.

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We really enjoyed our time in Seattle and had so much fun visiting with friends and family. Continuing in that fashion, our next stop is Port Angeles, Washington to visit our friends who recently moved from Texas. Thanks for reading!

Oh, Canada: Vancouver, B.C.

Oh, Canada: Vancouver, B.C.

Our last stop in Canada before heading back into the U.S. was Vancouver. The city scene isn’t usually our style but Vancouver was a lot of fun and had plenty of beautiful nature spots to explore. I had heard about a park with a suspension bridge and sky walk (Capilano Suspension Bridge Park) and really wanted to check it out. That is, until I saw the steep admission fee of $46 per person. Ouch! As a free alternative, we went hiking at Lynn Canyon, famous for its beautiful natural pools and suspension bridge. There were a ton of people when we arrived in the morning but we were lucky to snag parking in the overflow lot, which was completely full by the time we left. The crowds seemed to be centered around the suspension bridge and thinned out on the trails.

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IMG_6179 2I was hoping there would be better accessibility at Lynn Canyon but unfortunately none of the trails are accessible with the exception of the gravel service and emergency access roads (neither of which are particularly scenic). Despite lacking accessibility, the park itself was beautiful with lots of moss-covered trees and ferns in every shade of green. We had a peaceful hike on the Baden Powell Trail’s wooden boardwalk and saw only a few others along the way.

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We had a few days of stormy weather, which meant we stayed inside the RV listening to the rain, reading, and watching Netflix. The storms also cleared out a lot of the smoke from nearby wildfires. When the sunshine returned we went out on the bikes with Gaius one day. Our RV park was located right near a nice hike and bike trail system and we rode to a dog park where Gaius got to run around and play for awhile. Usually Gaius doesn’t get to enjoy dog parks because he’s mean to the other dogs (especially large dogs) but luckily we had this place all to ourselves.

We also spent a day hiking at Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver. The park is located in a beautiful rainforest that flourishes along the rocky coast. Hiking trails travel through lush forest canopy and lead to beaches and scenic overlooks. The Beacon Lane trail doubles as a wide gravel access road that provides a direct and accessible route through the forest and to the lighthouse lookout. There are accessible restrooms and a drinking fountain near the end of the trail.

Other trails in the park were only partially accessible, including the Juniper Loop Trail which starts off as accessible packed gravel trail at the parking lot but leads to areas where large rocks obstruct the path. Segments of other trails had steep inclines, deep stairs (some without railings), and traveled over large boulders. A few large accessible parking spaces are available in the parking lot.

Visitors aren’t allowed inside the lighthouse but a paved driveway leads down to a nice lookout. The park also has a few small beaches and offers a great view of the city from across the bay.

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I think my favorite experience in Vancouver was riding the trail around the town of Port Coquitlam. Many visitors complete the trail in segments but we decided to do the entire 18-mile loop at once. The trail truly has a little something for everyone and is also super accessible. We started off on a packed-gravel trail that passed through a city park, then traveled a short distance down a paved trail along the highway before riding alongside the Coquitlam River.

The ride along the shore was beautiful and easy with very few inclines. The gravel and dirt sections of the trail were flat and free of obstacles. The paved sections of the trail were nice and smooth and there were accessible restrooms along the way. The route is marked with signage, making it very easy to follow. The trail passes through most of the city’s parks so there are plenty of spots to stop for a picnic or other activities.

We saw several signs along the way warning of bears in the area and had our bear spray packed just in case. Seeing how populated and active the area was, I honestly thought our chances of seeing a bear were pretty slim.

I was wrong. At about 9 miles into the trail we traveled through a beautiful wooded area along a stream. We turned a corner and no more than 15-20 feet in front of us was a gigantic black bear sitting in the middle of the trail. We slammed on our brakes and our bikes skid a bit sending a poof of dust and dirt into the air. I screamed, not because it was a bear, but because I did not expect to see anything around the corner. Luckily, the bear was startled and sort of jumped up like it was spooked, quickly flipping his head and running off into the trees (kind of like those videos where cats are startled by cucumbers). Mitch quickly grabbed his bear spray but thankfully the bear continued into the woods. We hopped back onto our bikes and cautiously continued down the trail being sure to make a lot of noise. We didn’t see the bear or any others again but still can’t stop talking about the experience.

A section of the trail was closed so we had to take a short detour down a city street before meeting back up with the trail. Near the end of our loop the trail passed a bar and pub (no minors allowed) where we decided to stop for lunch. There was a bike rack on the side of the pub near the pier where we locked up our bikes before we headed to the patio for some grub. It was a great place to stop for a bite to eat and to rest from the long and exciting ride.

We also utilized Vancouver’s awesome (and accessible) public transportation system and spent a day exploring downtown. Using public transportation is great because it’s usually affordable, it’s better for the environment, and it takes away the stress of driving and parking downtown. We purchased $10 day passes from the RV park, which gave us access to Vancouver’s buses, trains, and ferries.

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We visited Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood and home to the antique, whistling steam clock and some of the cities most notable restaurants.

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We also visited Stanley Park and walked along the Seawall. The Seawall follows along the perimeter of Stanley park and was built to slow coastal erosion. The entire trail is roughly a 15-mile long loop offering stunning views of the coast. The trail is paved and very accessible. Accessible parking is available in the various lots that provide access to the Seawall. Cyclists are permitted to ride the loop via a one-way bike trail that travels counterclockwise. Visitors using the pedestrian trail are permitted to travel in either direction.

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Along the Seawall there’s a small accessible water park for kids with accessible restrooms and a cool “kid-dryer” or walk/roll through human dryer.  There’s also a small park with beautiful totem poles. These brightly colored cedar poles tell the story of the First Nations people and their culture.

We finished off our day with dinner and drinks in Gastown at the Steamworks microbrewery. We sat out on the patio and shared a bowl of seafood chowder as busy city life bustled by. We followed dinner with gelato from Bella Gelateria. I had read their salted pecan flavor had won awards in Italy. After trying a sample topped with maple syrup, I could see why it was such a hit. Mitch chose salted caramel and I went with a double scoop of salted pecan with maple syrup and matcha green tea. Still dreaming about it today…

It was hard to believe we’d been in Canada for a whole month and that our Canadian adventure was over. Still, we were ready to trade in liters for gallons and kilometers for miles and make our way back home. Next stop- Seattle!

Thanks for reading.

Oh, Canada: Jasper National Park and Dry Camping Through British Columbia

Oh, Canada: Jasper National Park and Dry Camping Through British Columbia

Next on our journey through southwest Canada, we headed north towards Jasper National park via Canada’s Icefields Parkway. As the name would suggest, Icefields Parkway travels through the Canadian Rockies alongside several magnificent, icy glaciers (Crowfoot, Athabasca, and Dome) which can be viewed from the road or accessed via a short hike. There are several parking lots and scenic overlooks where visitors can get out of their cars, explore the scenery, and take pictures. Since we were pulling the RV, we skipped most of the congested parking areas along the way and I took pictures from the truck.

The drive was gorgeous though the skies were still looking pretty smoky. When we arrived at our campground I was so relived to see spacious campsites nestled in the trees. All of Jasper National Park’s four reservable campgrounds (and three of its seven first-come-first-serve campgrounds) have accessible campsites available, with paved parking pads and accessible restrooms and picnic tables. The accessible picnic tables are longer on one end, which allows someone who uses a wheelchair the ability to sit at the table without the bench seat or table legs getting in the way.

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We loved the view from our campsite so much that we didn’t feel much like leaving to go hiking or sightseeing. We ventured out once to get some shopping done in the town of Jasper and to refuel. Another day we made a quick trip to see Athabasca Falls.

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The trailhead for the falls is located right off of Icefields Parkway and a short paved trail leads directly to the river and falls. There is also access via Highway 93A, however this route was closed for construction during our visit. The trailhead parking area has RV parking and accessible parking and restrooms. There are several overlooks for the falls, river, and canyon, but only a few are accessible. Beyond the first few overlooks for the river and the head of the falls, the trail continues to several short staircases with handrails.

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Back at camp we met up with another young couple who is traveling the U.S. and Canada in an RV. Months ago I met Kim, Mike, and their dogs Pacey and Sierra through social media and we have been following each other’s travel journey ever since. We discovered we would be staying at the same campground in Jasper National Park during the same time and decided to meet for dinner. We had a great time chatting about our experiences and enjoying each other’s company.

img_6150.jpgWe didn’t feel ready to leave Jasper but with the smoke becoming worse each day we hoped we would find clearer skies at our next stop, Mount Robson. For the next seven nights we would be dry camping (meaning no electricity, water, or sewer hookups) in the Mount Robson and North Thompson area as we made our way southwest towards Vancouver. Up until this point in our trip, the longest we’ve dry camped was 2 nights. In dry camping situations, many RVers use generators to supply their rigs with electrical power. Though convenient, generators guzzle gas and are expensive, heavy, and noisy. We deiced against purchasing a generator until we knew whether or not we would really need one. After spending a full week without any hookups, we found our RV is well-equipped and can handle most dry camping situations like a champ. We have solar power that supplies us with enough energy to run our water pump, lights, entertainment center, thermostat, USB power outlets, and fans. Propane fuel powers our stove and oven for cooking, keeps our refrigerator and freezer cool, and supplies us with hot water and heat. The only appliances or features we cannot use without electrical hookups or a generator is the microwave oven, air conditioning, and 12-volt electrical outlets. Unless we dry camp someplace with high enough temperatures to need air conditioning, I can’t see us ever using a generator. 

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In the Mount Robson area we took a trip to watch the chinook salmon jumping up Rearguard Falls. The salmon travel 800 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean back to their home river where they will spawn and then die. They can only be seen at Rearguard Falls during the month of August, so our timing was just perfect. We kept our eyes on the falls and watched as a salmon leapt out of the water every minute or so. Though the salmon are most active during the early mornings or late evenings, we had luck seeing them around 3:00 p.m.

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The upper viewing area is accessible, and though the packed gravel trail down from the parking area is somewhat steep there are no major obstructions. The falls can be viewed from an upper deck however the lower viewing area is not accessible and includes a long wooden boardwalk with a few stairs and handrails. The parking area does not have reserved accessible parking, however several stalls are large enough to accommodate smaller RVs and the parallel stalls can accommodate vehicles with wheelchair ramps and lifts.

The Mount Robson and North Thompson area is home to several other spectacular waterfalls. We visited only a handful— Overlander Falls, Spahats Falls, Helmcken Falls, and Clearwater Falls.

Out of these locations, only Spahats and Helmcken were partly accessible with accessible parking and restrooms and dirt or gravel trails leading to openings where the falls could be viewed from a distance. However, some of the designated overlooks at these locations, which provided closer views of the falls, included stairs with handrails. There was a nifty map posted at the trailhead with a chart that showed parks and attractions in the area, including accessibility details.  

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The campsites we stayed at were all beautiful, quiet, and several were waterfront, overlooking blue rivers or lakes. Most of the campgrounds we stayed in were very remote and we had no cell service, which meant we spent less time on our phones and more time lounging in our hammock and enjoying the views.

We did a little bit of mountain biking and swimming as well. Gaius had a lot of fun playing outside and sniffing his way through the trees, but I’m not sure how much he enjoyed wading through the water.

Next we’re headed back to the city as we explore the last stop on our adventure through Canada— Vancouver. Thanks for reading!

Oh, Canada: Banff National Park

Oh, Canada: Banff National Park

Exploring the city was fun but we were feeling ready to head back into the forest. In hindsight I feel like Banff was a happy medium- more remote than the city but still very commercialized for a forest and natural resource. The campgrounds in Banff National Park fill up very quickly during summer, but I was lucky to score 6 nights in the park’s Trailer Court Campground when I booked our reservation months ago. Our site had full hookups which was great because we got quite a bit of warm weather during our stay and we were able to run our air conditioning. It wasn’t my favorite campground because sites offered little privacy but it was still a nice stay in the park. We felt a bit compelled to stay indoors more often because of poor air quality advisories and looming smoke from a forest fire in nearby Kootenay National Park. Although the smoke hid the mountains and kept us from some of Banff’s amazing scenery, we still tried to make the most of our visit.

On our first day in the park we hiked the Johnston Canyon Trail to the lower and upper falls. In was after 5:00 p.m. so we had no trouble parking in the large lot at the trailhead. About a 1/4 mile into the trail we saw people grouped up taking pictures of something across the stream. Then we saw it, a large black bear. Unfortunately, I was not quick enough to snap a picture of the bear as it climbed up from the water and disappeared into the thick forest vegetation. I was surprised we spotted a bear on such a heavily-trafficked trail but was thankful for the experience and a safe viewing distance.

The falls were gorgeous and well-worth the easy hike. There are many places to stop along the river for photographs and a few benches, logs, or large rocks suitable for sitting and taking a break.

The beginning of the trail is paved but further in becomes gravel and even further includes stairs. Overall this trail is not accessible but I saw a few people who had strollers, one person with a cane, and one person with a rolling walker. I admired the person who was using a walker but felt awful seeing them struggle somewhat to get their wheels over rocks and ruts in the trail. I recently read someone’s rant on social media about how paved trails and handrails ruin the naturey-vibe in nature. It was pretty disheartening to read. This person obviously doesn’t know anyone with a disability and I doubt they have considered what it would feel like to be essentially denied access to nature’s most grand attractions because there were no walkways or handrails. To this day I’ve yet to find a paved trail or handrail that stood in my way of a experiencing a beautiful view or snapping an excellent picture. Accessibility accommodations have never ruined my experience and they have made experiencing nature and the great outdoors possible for so many others.

Banff does have a few accessible trails, but not as many as I would have hoped for. Most of the viewpoints and overlooks along the roadways throughout Banff are accessible and most include accessible parking.

The 13-mile, paved Banff Legacy Trail connects the nearby town of Canmore to Banff and is very accessible. Though mainly used by cyclists the trail is open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. We biked the trail from Banff to Canmore, then had dinner in Canmore and caught a shuttle back to Banff.

Many cyclists ride the trail one-way then return using the shuttle which runs until around 10:00 p.m. daily. The shuttle is accessible, only $6 per person, and they accept Canadian or U.S. dollars on board (cash only), but cycling back is also an option. I thought it would be a fun challenge to cycle there and back but after 13 miles into Canmore my legs were pretty sore and the wind had really picked up so we decided the shuttle was the best option for us. The trail from Banff to Canmore provides a pretty easy ride overall with only a few quick inclines.

The ride from Canmore to Banff is more difficult because it’s against the wind and has a few longer, gradual uphill climbs. There’s a wonderful day-use area with restrooms at the halfway point and a pair of red chairs overlooking the Bow Valley. Unfortunately there is no running water along the trail so its important to pack enough and refill in either Banff or Canmore.

I was really proud that I only took a few short breaks to catch my breath and did not hop off to push my bike uphill at any point (although I really wanted to a few times). The trail runs between the Trans-Canada Highway and a railroad, so it’s fairly loud most of the way. The scenery is still beautiful and closer to Canmore the trail veers off into the forest.

I saw that the Hoodoo Trail was located close to our campsite and wanted to check it out. Parts of the trail that stem from the parking lot are paved and accessible and lead to scenic vistas.

I learned that Hoodoos are thin, usually delicate, rock spires formed over thousands and thousands of years. Hoodoos are common in parts of Utah and in the Canadian Badlands, but we hadn’t seen any on our trip yet. So, we packed Gaius is his backpack and went out to explore these interesting geological formations.

Although leashed dogs are allowed on most trails in Banff, which is wonderful for pet owners like us, dogs aren’t exactly always great for the environment. Urine and feces left by dogs can damage delicate ecosystems and their scent can deter wildlife from inhabiting the area. This is why many parks don’t allow dogs on trails. Dogs are also known to attract coyotes, wolves, bears…oh my. I love bringing Gaius out to explore when he is allowed, but since all six pounds of him would probably try to charge at a bear if we encountered one, we decided to carry him in his backpack and limit his on-leash adventures in Banff to campground areas.

Since we left Texas we’ve been traveling north hoping to escape the heat but it appears to be following us. With temperatures in the low 90s we decided to find a place to cool off. A scenic drive to Johnson Lake and a dip in its chilly waters sounded perfect. We arrived just in time and snagged one of the last parking spaces available in the lot. There are a few accessible parking spaces and a concrete path leads down the lake’s beach. The trail that travels around the lake has stairs and is not accessible. There are several porta-potties available in the parking area though none are accessible.

There were a lot of families enjoying the beach near the parking lot and to was a bit overcrowded so we hiked along the water hoping to find a more secluded spot to relax. The trail around Johnson Lake heads off through a small picnic area then into the trees before reaching another beach. This beach, though steep and more grassy, was not as crowded and seemed to be where all the young adults were hanging out. We spread out a blanket in the shade, went for a swim, and relaxed in the warm breeze. Our view of the surrounding mountains was obstructed by smoke but I imagine would be stunning on a clear day.

We splurged on tickets to ride the gondola up to Sulphur Mountain and stay for dinner at the Sky Bistro. I learned that the gondolas are accessible and can accommodate most power and manual wheelchairs, though depending on the size of the chair, there may not be room for additional passengers. The gondolas can be taken off of the track, allowing guests as much time as the need to load or unload.

I had purchased nonrefundable tickets in advance but probably would have saved the excursion for another visit when wildfires weren’t a factor. Still, the smoke might have actually played to our advantage a bit since Mitch is not fond of heights and he felt more relaxed not being able to see the depths below us.

The summit was beautiful even hidden in the smoke. A long boardwalk leads from the visitor center and restaurant to several overlooks. Unfortunately the boardwalk includes stairs and is not accessible.

I became so angry when I was walking the boardwalk and saw a grown woman tagging graffiti onto the wooden handrail. Even more so because she was with two kids who watched on. I should have said something but you never know how people are going to react these days so I kept my mouth shut. What she was doing was wrong and pissed me off but she wasn’t harming nature at least, so I decided to just let it go. When I passed by again I saw that this was no ordinary tag job with a marker— she had actually used a lighter to burn the graffiti into the wood. This woman was up here playing with fire on top of a mountain that was covered in smoke from nearby wildfires and all while Banff is under a fire ban. I was fuming mad at this point and kicking myself for not putting a stop to her deplorable behavior when I had the chance. She tagged the name of a Canadian vape/smoke shop. Apparently it’s a trend for some businesses to tag their name or logo along the boardwalk at Sulphur Mountain. I assume the woman who did this is affiliated with the business because who else would go to these lengths for a sleazy shot at free promotion? I redacted most of the graffiti in the image below because I’m told staff will cover it up soon and I refuse to let it live forever here on the internet.

After taking in some of the views we went to the restaurant for our dinner reservation. Mitch said it was like dining in the clouds. The food was pretty expensive but really good. We purchased a package that included gondola tickets and dinner where were each allowed to choose an appetizer and entree. For appetizers we had scallops and bison tartar, then for entrees we both chose the bison steak with potatoes. We’ve been eating a mostly vegetarian diet lately and it was nice to get in some extra protein.

I think my favorite experience in Banff was visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. I had heard these were a “must-see” but very popular and that parking lots fill up as early as 7:00 a.m. Given that we aren’t exactly early birds, we decided to head out in the evening hoping to avoid the crowds. When we passed by the road to Moraine Lake at around 6:00 p.m. it was closed with a sign that indicated the parking lot was full. Parks Canada staff were onsite flagging cars away and ensuring that no one entered. We continued on the main road to Lake Louise and were able to park without any issues. There were still a ton of people around the lake at this hour but crowds thinned out as we started hiking the trail.

We hiked just under 4 miles along the shore and started on the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail, which leads to a tea house up above the lake. Since we were losing daylight and still wanted to see Moraine Lake we turned back but I would love to hike the full trail someday. From the trail we could actually hear the loud booming sound of the massive glaciers moving. The water from the creek that feeds the lake was quite literally ice cold and chilled my hand to the bone with one quick plunge.

The trail around Lake Louise’s shore is accessible and mostly paved, although about halfway through it becomes packed gravel and there are a few gradual inclines. The Lake Louise trail ends and becomes Plain of the Six Glaciers trail, which is not accessible. There was accessible parking and a unisex accessible restroom stall near the parking lot.

It was just past 8:00 p.m. so we headed back to the Moraine Lake road but it was still closed. We went into the small Lake Louise Village for some gas then ended up parking in a lot across the street from Moraine Lake Road, where we saw people watching and waiting for the Parks Canada staff to remove the barricades. We watched as car after car drove up to the road only to be turned away. A line of cars began to form along the shoulder of the road. At around 8:40 p.m. staff removed the barricades and we were all free to visit the lake. I expected to see a tiny parking lot packed full of cars but it was actually a large lot and only about 1/4 full, which made me really wonder why Parks Canada did not open the road a bit sooner.

The lake was definitely worth the wait and I was so glad we stuck around for the road to open. The areas near the parking lot were paved or packed gravel and accessible, however the trail along the lake quickly turns to rougher gravel and then dirt with many protruding tree roots and rocks.

Moraine Lake was a deeper shade of blue but the water still had the same gorgeous glowing quality as Lake Louise. The water was so smooth the icy mountains in the background were reflected. We only made it about a mile down the trail before we decided to turn back. The trail travels along the shore through a thick forest of trees and it had started to get pretty dark. Still, even after the sun had set the lake was absolutely stunning.

There’s a ton more to do and see in Banff but it’s extremely crowded during summer and with the smoke-filled making it more difficult to breath we found ourselves spending more time relaxing in the camper catching up on Netflix. We agreed we’d love to visit again during the off-season and hopefully with clearer skies. Next we’ll travel north via Canada’s Icefield Parkway to Jasper National Park. Thanks for reading!