Crooked River, Oregon: Skunk Near Miss!

31 12 2020
A bend in the very crooked Crooked River

In late September 2020, with Oregon still engulfed in wildfires, I was able to find a spectacular smoke-free area for camping. Oregon’s Crooked River is a National Wild and Scenic river system. It has a scenic drive and scenic bikeway running along its length. It wends its way along a forested canyon, into Prineville Reservoir, and then continues out of the reservoir until it empties into Lake Billy Chinook. The section I visited is below the reservoir. It has some 10 campgrounds sprinkled along its length.

I looked at all of them, and picked out the biggest site I found, Chimney Rock Campground #1. Wow. Set at the end of the campground, it offered complete privacy as it had no neighboring sites. It was capable of handling six tents. And it had 100 feet of riverside real estate. Still, privacy was no concern, as being late September, there was only one other site used.

It was super peaceful. I settled down to read a novel. It wasn’t long before the wildlife came back to its routine. I saw kingfishers, dragonflies, red-tailed hawks, ducks, a family of otters, robins, blue herons, and more. It’s also known to be home to mule deer, bald eagles, ospreys and golden eagles. Redband Trout, re-introduced steelhead, and rainbow trout are sought by anglers.

Here’s a photo of my tent…which will help my explanation of my encounter with a skunk in the night!

I have several tents. They all have “bathtub” style floors, with some solid material running up from the bottom to form the ‘bathtub.’ This one has a pretty low tub wall. When the weather is fine, I skip the tent fly so I can star gaze. On this night, I fell asleep by about 10. A few hours later, I awoke to sounds of scuffling outside. Something scratching about. Usually, these sounds are from deer walking to the water for a drink. I switched on my headlamp. But, similar to using high beams in a snowstorm, I only saw the screen on the inside of the tent. My head was just at the bathtub wall. So, I put the light up against the screen. And immediately I was horrified! What did I see? Not more than six inches from my head, black fur with white stripes! Skunk! Now, it cannot kill me, but it sure can ruin my trip! There must have been four of them. I kept perfectly still. Best not move! Incredibly, they were not bothered in the least. They just kept on sniffing around, seemingly in search of a meal. Unimpressed by me, they ambled along on their way.

The next morning I took it very lazy, and made a mid morning breakfast, and read some more. I packed up, and then spent some time fishing. I caught lots of weeds, had three fish get away, and caught one very juvenile landlocked steelhead. This river was once home to steelhead which made their way all the way up from the Columbia, but dams caused extinction. They have been reintroduced and a small population is expanding in the area, but they cannot reach the Pacific.

I highly recommend!





Wildfire Pivot: Waldo Lake to Lake Quinault

30 12 2020

Myself, Chiyo and Chester had reservations at Waldo Lake, Oregon for early September. We were so looking forward to paddling its famous clear waters, the week after Labor Day. But then the 2020 Oregon Wildfire Season struck! Wildfires and smoke lay all over Oregon. The night before our Waldo reservation, the US Forest Service ordered an evacuation. And I mean immediate evacuation. Campers were to ordered to leave without even collecting their gear. We had several days off from work. With our trip suddenly smoked out, we wondered what to do. In the Covid lockdown of 2020, we were desperate to use our days off out of town.

But where? We used the online weather map, pointing the cursor at different places in Oregon. Every one had wildfires or wildfire smoke. So I said, “Let’s look up in Washington. How about the Olympic Peninsula?” Zooming in, I saw Lake Chenault. I’d heard it was nice. We clicked on the lake. The forecast? Sunny, no wind, and most importantly, no smoke! So, without reservations, we just picked up and drove up there. It has several campgrounds. We checked out one of them, and found a guy leaving his site. Turned out he had a 3-day reservation and was leaving after day 1. The Park Ranger came by. He said, “Why don’t you just take it.” With that, we had a FREE campsite! Talk about a “pivot to luck.” We had three kayaks, and wasted no time exploring the lake, and the famous Lake Quinault Lodge.

Just a 15 minute walk from the campground lies the rustic lodge. It was built in 1926, designed by Robert Reimer, reminiscent of the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park. It has a central area flanked by majestic wings enclosing a beautiful lawn, which leads to the lake shore. There, guests can swim, and rent canoes or kayaks. I grew up visiting mountains and lakes in New Hampshire and New York State’s Adirondacks, and this property is very similar. Inside the front hall, it’s all beautiful wood and wood carved.

The road along the lake to the lodge, village and campgrounds runs behind the lodge, which is equally similar to being in the Adirondacks.

We had terrific weather. The lake is surrounded by the Olympic Mountains. To the east, we could see some snow still clinging to the peaks. The lake is quiet. That is because it is managed by the Quinault Nation. Power boats are allowed only for tribal members and homeowners. The lake is 30+ miles in circumference and over 250 feet deep. We jumped in and learned that, after the initial shock, the water temperature was really nice! We practiced kayak rescues.

Later, we had a warm crackling campfire, and I brought accessories like a propane grill, tiki torches, and some battery operated holiday lights. My salmon fillet impressed.

In sum, our cancelled Waldo Lake trip turned into a success! We discovered a new place, and we plan to return!




Morocco: Reaching The Coast! Essaouira: Beach, Seafood, a Shave and a Massage.

21 09 2020

This trip to Morocco was full of one completely epic highlight after another. But nothing diminished our expectations for the Atlantic coastal city of Essaouira! It was 180-degrees different after the desert. Seemingly in a flash, we switched from dry, hot, desert to a cool, breezy beach, seafood and surf rich climate infused with nothing other than Moroccan twist!

We arrived late in the day and wasted no time enjoying a sunset dinner right on the shore, above the city’s battlements. Mohammad got our group a perfect restaurant reservation, a table with an ocean view. For the entire trip, I was looking forward to lobster here, and ordered despite the $80 price. I did not care for its preparation however. It was grilled, which lent a different slightly smokey flavor, and which dried it out somewhat. I definitely prefer steamed, which is more moist, and leaves lobster’s magical, ethereal flavor to stand on its own. I was glad to try a different cooking method, either way.

Essaouira is known as a very windy city, for much of the year the wind blows so hard, strolling the beach is challenging. This characteristic leads windsurfers and kiteboarders here late spring to fall, when other beach lovers go elsewhere. We were there in early March, and it was perfect.

Leaving the hotel, it was about a 10 minute walk to reach the beach. There, one can stroll over a mile of sidewalk people watching. You can sample a citrus beverage or a popsicle offered by cart vendors. Shirtless young adults exercised at an open air gym. Women in full-length niqabs share the sidewalk with women in wetsuits and men in swim trunks. There is a surfing center with rentals and lessons. Or choose to walk the sandy beach by the waves. The surf was pretty gentle, with a dozen or so surfers enjoying the break. Kite boarders were also out. On my last afternoon, Sandy and I strolled the sidewalk. We were approached by art students from Senegal selling mini-paintings. Rather than bargain for a painting, which would have perished in my luggage, I turned the tables and inquired about his story. Unexpectedly, he unleashed a confession of escape from poverty, oppression, and a hope for a new life in Morocco. My question turned things around from defending myself from a hawker to immediate friendship. He was so open to talking about his hard, hopeless life in Senegal, his journey to Essaouria, his art education, and his hope to bring his family north. Sandy and I were so moved. I didn’t want to insult him by not buying a painting – I admired them but explained I couldn’t transport. Instead, I offered him twice the value just as a gift of support. After all, I was only to be in Morocco three more days. He was so grateful! I was sure there are many such stories so close to sub Saharan Africa.

Essaouira’s other name is Mogador, founded in 1764, and was literally erected with battlements so that the Sultan could launch corsairs against attackers. Today, these battlements are locations for movie sets, and The Citadel has been featured in Game of Thrones. When you see the video, it really is a perfect location!

Essaouira is famous for its fishermen and its seafood. Countless indigo fishing boats lie in the harbor, each morning voyaging out to catch the day’s bounty. So, for lunch, our guide Mohammed went to the wharf to purchase a variety of seafood for lunch. In this city, grilling seafood is the most popular preparation, and there are dozens of “You bring it we grill it” restaurants. We met at one of these places, sat at an extended open air table on the 2nd floor. WOW the variety of delicacies from the ocean he got for us! There were cuttlefish, squid, mackerel, sardines, bass, sole, shrimp, snapper, and more!

Later that day, I carried out a tradition for all my overseas adventures. Finish it up with a shave, and what the heck, a massage, too! Like elsewhere in Morocco, my French came in handy. I was able to ask and get directions to a laundromat, find out when it would be ready for pick up. Then, where is a barber? It was not long before I was in the seat!

I signed up for a two-hour traditional Berber Hamman massage, complete with Argon oil, at Les Massages Berbers. I had no idea what I was in for! I have had massages in various far flung places. Amsterdam, Bali, the National Thai Massage School, and Hue Vietnam. They’re all different. Some stories involved for sure. But this one, I was totally out of my element, for the first half at least!

I went with Anna, innocently enough, wending our way down the medina. Like everywhere in Morocco, a door led to a completely different world inside. After greetings, I was told to strip down to my underwear and was ushered into a piping HOT steam room. I was instantly uncomfortable, what was I to change into later? Then this woman enters and starts spooning hot water over me. Then, I’m to lay down on a flat, hot bench. She departs. I have to tell you that I don’t like humidity. I don’t like hot springs. I don’t like hot tubs. Or steam rooms. This was like all of those times 10! I sweated, I thought I might burn on the hot bench. I finally felt like my blood pressure was about to boil over, so I got up and asked to be excused. The attendant brought some normal temperature water and spooned it over me. I felt somewhat relieved. But then, she began what was to be the exfoliation process. The whole point of the steam was to prepare the skin for exfoliation! OMG. It was not a delicate process at all. More like a sandpaper with a handle scooping up dead skin. Yikes! With that indignity complete, only then was I to hobble across the hall, where I was to get a ‘normal’ massage! Now I was told to take off the underwear and wear a towel.

The massage itself was most relaxing and reinvigorating. My wet underwear was returned to me, and I went back to the hotel commando style! Not sure I’d do that again.





Morocco’s Todra Gorge

1 06 2020

On this day, we awoke in our castle inspired hotel nestled in a fertile valley with cliffs towering hundreds of feet above.

Morning hikes were on the agenda, followed by walking in the Todra Gorge. Either a sun baked climb to further up the cliffs, or a more gentle walk along the palm-lined valley through which the Todra river flows. I chose the latter, which seemed to offer shade.

This valley and its village, like many in this part of Morocco, has hot, dry walls above, and anything by the river is verdant, green, and lush, frequently with palm groves. This is where people make their homes.

We met our local guide and began the hike. It was very comfortable, the temperature starting about 60 and rising to 75 degrees while on the walk.

It was early spring. Things were greening up, and flowers emerging.

Cherry blossoms.

Before long, we came across fields of crops tended by members of the village.

It seemed the pace of daily life here was somewhat dictated by the needs of the plants in the fields and gardens. And right now, crops needed some tender care to get them established. It was such a beautiful sight and sweet smelling as well. The air was dry, the temperature comfortable, and the view was a contrast of blue sky, reddish orange canyon walls, flowers, and green fields and palms.

 

Further upstream, the village came into view. These homes were made of rocks and sun dried clay bricks. Thus, their colors often resembled the walls of the gorge. Sometimes they were built into hillsides. They have levels and the levels are for different activities. It was beautiful to glimpse the contrasts of field, sky, gorge and structure.

The trail ended on the road, not far from the entrance to the Todra Gorge. After a break for tea and Citron at a cafe, we headed into the Gorge. It is 2,000 feet high at the entrance. Further up, the narrowest passage is about 30 feet wide. It is a popular destination for locals seeking recreation, athletes like rock climbers. Hikers, tourists, and even a crowd of students making merry were in attendance.

If you can zoom in, you can peek in on a woman rock climber!

I also found a lady who had brought everything necessary for a family picnic. Chairs, blankets and a charcoal grill all ready to go.

We made it back to the village for a late lunch. Walking through the winding lanes, it was a mix of buildings in every sort of condition imaginable.

Some were abandoned, some looked very old, and yet, like elsewhere in Morocco, a door could lead to something wonderful inside.

 

I videoed my walk to our lunch riad to show that you just cannot predict where you are going to wind up. Just when an area might seem to be in disrepair, you pass through a door into an oasis!

We had a leisurely lunch. We also saw a demonstration about carpets. I have so many carpets I don’t have room for another!

On our way back to our micro bus, Mohamed took us to his sister’s house. She had a newborn baby to show off!





Morocco: Nomads of the Steppe

25 05 2020

Nomad House resized

Leaving the sands of the Sahara behind, we had a long drive to the Todra Gorge. We traveled on a well maintained highway through the flat, arid steppe. It’s a sparsely inhabited land. For centuries, farmers irrigated this land by digging down to the aquifers below. But in the last 20 years, the aquifer has dropped significantly.

Still, there are wells in places. And the Nomads will set up camp near these wells. Their lives are migratory. They will move to a spot, set up camp, and spend months there. We spotted a Nomad house whilst traveling, and stopped to pay them a visit.

On this day, we saw a mother with two sons. They had a multi room home, goats, chickens, and many things we have at home. Just different. Husband wasn’t there, he was probably working in the fields somewhere, or in town. Mother was welcoming, we didn’t bother her at all. And, she loved showing off her children! At one point she was laughing hard at the antics of her children, and their goat.

It was clear there was a lot of love. The Moroccan Nomads are a culture all their own. They don’t do well in school because they are so different from the other kids, and because they move on. Also, it isn’t long before they’re needed at home to take care of things. They are a dwindling culture. We were fortunate to interact with them for only a short while.

Their camp had many things familiar to us Westerners, but they took different forms.

I think it’s important to respect their culture. It’s delicate. And they seemed genuinely happy to be “living on the fringe,” with little of modern society’s pressures. Their lives are in tune with nature.

At long last, we reach our multi story lodge in the Todra Gorge region. It’s got a nice pool outside. And a river running just in front. Palms line the river. It isn’t long before we were resting around the pool! But it didn’t last all that long, because in this north south valley, the sun went behind the western cliff, and it became chilly right quick!

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This lodge had a restaurant with a substantial wood burning fireplace! Quite a nice spot for dinner. Here I ought to mention a beverage I loved as a child, but it has disappeared from American grocery stores. It is the Schweppes Citron! In America, it was called Bitter Lemon. It has bits of lemon floating around, and is simply marvelous. Available everywhere in Morocco!

Schweppes Citron resized

 

 

 

 

 





Camels in the Sahara

7 05 2020

We’d all been looking forward to being in the Sahara Desert – by far the biggest in the world. Riding camels, and seeing stars. We’d be spending the night at a glamping campsite on the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes. It’d been a long day on the road getting out there, across the arid steppe. But in the late afternoon, the dunes rose above the village of Merzouga.

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We were to ride camels into the desert and stick around until sunset. It was a really epic experience being out there. Not long after arriving at an auberge (lodge) we began suiting up for the ride.

Aditi and Mohamed resized

Aditi and Mohamed

We brought along minimal supplies such as water, cameras, and jackets for after sunset.

While we waited, a truck drove up to me and the driver asked me in French, “Where can we get water, is there a natural water source around here?” I was like, “Dude we are in the Sahara!” Anyway, it wasn’t long before we found our camels. They all seemed to know what was coming up.

 

Our guides assisted us getting into the saddle and getting the camel to stand up.

David gets his camel to rise! Well done! When the camel stands up, you’d better hang on! And trust the camel knows what it’s doing.

With everybody on their camels, it was time for a group shot before we set off.

Group on Camels crop

We entered the dunes in a “camel train,” with lines connecting each beast. Since they have done this thousands of times, the camels all know what to do. The sand seems bottomless, but the camels feet are quite wide and don’t sink in very much. Still, it’s a very bouncy ride, and when climbing, descending and turning on a dune, it’s pretty unsettling for a newbie like me! Add to that trying to take a photo!

Before long, the timeless view of the rusty colored desert in the late afternoon brings up awe and emotion. I’ll never forget the endless sea of dunes.

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We reached a spot where we could explore the dunes under our own power. There was something about the setting that made me just take in the wonder. How many millions of years have these sands been here, shifting, moving, changing shape.

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Once the sun set, we rode to our glamorous camping site. I’m used to roughing it, but this was something else! It had rooms with blankets and beds. A bathroom with flush toilet. But still, it had a spot with a campfire for music and conversation. Katie and I were hoping for a sea of stars. Instead, it was a full moon, which blocked out the sky for much of the night. I was able to rise an hour before dawn, just as the moon set. But I only got 20 minutes of Milky Way Galaxy viewing.

Dinner time with a toast!

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CHEERS! No shortage of wine tonight!