Bangkok – First Stop On Our SE Asia Odyssey

9 12 2016


In November 2016, two friends from Portland and I began a junket to Southeast Asia that would take us to Thailand and Vietnam. Cindy, Kristi and I were to spend a couple of days in Bangkok to visit my friends Sakun and Yim, friends from the outdoor industry, then spend two weeks traveling in Vietnam.

This was my 8th visit to Thailand. I love Thailand – the people, the culture, the cuisine, the varied environments. From tropical paradises in the south, to the go-go capital Bangkok, the spirituality of Sukhothai, to the mountains north of Chiang Mai. It’s always had a special place in my heart.

For me, the primary reason for this trip was to see Vietnam. I’ve also been to Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bhutan – and it was high time I experience Vietnam. But I couldn’t just go to Vietnam without visiting my Thai friends! I’d been in a business arrangement with them distributing kayaks and gear in the USA under the brand Feelfree. Sakun and his wife Yim are fine examples of the generosity, tolerance and hospitality Thais are famous for. I also have hosted them on their visits to my home town Portland, Oregon. And I was anxious to give Cindy and Kristi the experience of meeting them.

We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport just before noon, seriously jet lagged but determined to stay awake the the entire rest of the day. We were very fortunate to be in good hands! Sakun and Yim had sent a van to pick us up! Once loaded we got to experience a Bangkok traffic nightmare first hand. The traffic crawled to a snails pace, but we eventually, through some crazy maneuvering, got to our hotel.

Checked in, it was time to get out and experience! First up, grab a long-tail boat to see, smell and just be amazed by a first-hand on-the water drama of life on a bustling SE Asian river and then check out Bangkok’s klongs (canals). Hopefully check out Wat Pho and get a massage after. To do that, we had to cross Sanam Luang. It is a park adjacent to the Royal Palace grounds, in between our hotel and the river. But three weeks before our arrival, the reigning King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, on the throne 70 years and revered by every single citizen, died. The country was in a national state of mourning, with 10,000 people a day using Sanam Luang as a staging point to go pay respects to the King at the Royal Palace. Respectful attire was mandatory – black top and bottom, no flip flops, no baseball caps, no t-shirts. We all had learned about this before the visit so we came as prepared as possible.


Mourners arriving at Sanam Luang

The streets surrounding Sanam Luang were closed to traffic and the area fenced off, with security checkpoints at entries. The guards were perfectly friendly to us. Inside, there was an unusual to us, but 100% Thai, phenomenon going on. While people were mourning the king, others were gladly volunteering themselves – time, goods and services – to comfort those mourning – some who’d traveled hundreds of miles. All wearing black mourning ribbons on sleeves.


This adorable volunteer completely epitomizes the Thai friendly nature!

Food service companies donated food. Massage therapists tended to the weary. And cooks prepared food – all day – as volunteers – for those who’d made the trek. What an awe inspiring sight! We were offered food as well, but we felt very awkward about accepting it, considering the circumstances.


Even the military and police from around the nation came and paid respects.


Having crossed Sanam Luang, it was only a couple of blocks further to the river and a pier, where a long tail boat could be arranged. There was so much going on at once Cindy and Kristi were snapping tons of photos. The crazy motorbike traffic. The Buddhist monks.


Motorbikes are one of the primary land transportation modes!



Customizing your motorbike is serious business!

Upon reaching the pier, I was able to grab a long-tail boat for what would about to about a 90-minute trip across the river and through the canals. The Chao Phraya River, which runs through Bangkok, is practically as busy and seemingly chaotic as the streets. We loved it.

Back in the canals, known as klongs, it’s a mish mash of rich and poor, expensive homes with gazebos over the water, temples, riverside parks, and families who make their living right there, eeking out a living day by day. It’s not Amsterdam by any means. Standards of cleanliness and pollution are, well, perhaps ignored altogether. Still, it is an interesting place to visit. Many homes have spirit houses perched outside.


Once back on shore, we meandered toward Wat Pho. Wat Pho is famous because it contains the largest sleeping Buddha in the world. It lies east of the south wall of the Grand Palace. All along the way we pass hordes of mourners dressed in black. When we finally arrive at the gate, Wat Pho is closed for the day. And right at that moment, our luck turned bright. An entrepreneurial Tuk Tuk driver struck up a conversation with us, and we told him we were hoping to find a seafood restaurant for dinner. He says, “Jump In – I’ll take you to one.” Not knowing much of anything about Bangkok’s neighborhoods, we went along – it turned out to be a riverside restaurant on the edge of Chinatown. Of course, the tuk-tuk ride is always fun, especially for the uninitiated! A tuk tuk ride is a must for anyone visiting Bangkok.

After a hot, humid afternoon, a riverside restaurant, with its cooling breezes, was welcome. As was the views of boats going back and forth!


Cindy Kristi and Rod end a successful day 1!


Dig in!

Hunger satisfied and tired after a very full day we head back to our hotel. Tomorrow we’d view some more Buddhist temples and then grab a massage – followed by dinner with Sakun and Yim!


Trinidad, CA – A Slice of Coastal Heaven

13 10 2016

My visit with Jason Self and Shay Bickley in Trinidad, California, was more than hikes among Redwood giants and herds of Rossevelt Elk. The region sports some of North America’s most spectacular coastlines!


Near Crescent City

Foggy and rugged, thickly forested, and impacted by frequent Pacific storms, this coast shows off when the sun pops out. Highway 101 passes through this region, tracing its line along surf beaches, through dark redwood forest, climbing to 800-ft above the sea before opening up to spectacular unlimited vistas dotted with sea stacks.

We spent a sunset hiking along the beach, and another afternoon walking to a point high above the waves. No matter what route you pick, rewards are rich.


Man’s Best Friend waits for his family to come in.

One evening we took a pre-dinner stroll along the shore near the Moonstone Grill, a terrific restaurant with an unmatched Pacific View. It was surreal. No wind and calm seas. So beautiful!



The incoming tide was mesmerizing. I could look down on the wavy sand, and see, with each passing wave, how the water was navigating its way further and further ashore. We found a few stranded sea creatures and set them back into the ocean, much to Shay’s delight.

The following day was to be our paddle on the bay. Days here often dawn in a pea soup fog, but most of the time, that fog loses out the the sun by mid day.

On paddle day, there was barely any fog at sun up.

We breakfasted, loaded the boats on the cars, and partially donned out dry suits. Then it was time to head to the bay.

The town of Trinidad leads to a peninsula – with beaches on the NW and SW sides. On this day the swell was coming in from the NW.


The sea laid down for us!


Shay readies the P&H Delphin.


We launched on the protected SW side – which, I’ve got to say, had become an undulating lake! We got maybe a mile or one and a half miles down the shore, paddling amongst sea stacks and harbor seals, before the swells were bigger, and I could see waves crashing against rocks. Even with the small seas, they were quartering from behind, and I got a weird feeling like the sea was a magnet, and I wanted to fall in. Jason said it was a touch of vertigo. I have had vertigo sensations before, but never at sea, and I’ve never been sea sick. Turning around, facing the swell, completely reversed that feeling.


A bay of kelp and harbor seals. And, as Jason says, sharks.


We checked out the sea stacks, rocks, and took a “stroll” along a cliff face. There, we found murrelets, more seals, and a couple of otters! One otter came out of a little cave. Another had caught a fish, and was hurriedly eating, as if it were concerned a rival might try to steal its catch.


And Jason LOVES his recently acquired P&H Hammer, but not having his photo taken! It was a memorable day on the big P. I hope to visit again!

Kayaking in the Footsteps of Lewis & Clark

6 09 2016

I have lived in Portland, OR for years, but I’d never visited Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-1806 following their Voyage of Discovery across the American continent. This summer I made plans to see the place. A little research revealed that besides the fort, there is also a free historical kayak tour. So my friend Jessie Bader and I made plans to make a trip out there.

Fort Clatsop lies on the Oregon Coast, near the mouth of the Columbia River and Astoria, Oregon. We decided to overnight at Fort Stevens State Park Campground. Our first day, we arrived in mid afternoon. So we set up camp and, with plenty of time, headed to Astoria to check out the waterfront. Our kayak tour was the following day at 1:00.

First up was ice cream. Cones in hand, we headed down to the riverwalk along the Columbia River. The Columbia River Maritime Museum, with exhibits like a full sized Columbia River Pilot Boat beckoned. We debated and didn’t enter. But behind lay the Columbia Bar Lightship and the Coast Guard Cutter Alert.


Just a few dozen yards inland we discovered the Astoria Riverfront Trolley. It is super cheap $1 a ride. It glides along the waterfront running to the end of the line east. Then it reverses and goes to the western end of the line, in town. The seats are benches, with a twist – literally. When the train needs to head the other way, passengers get up, move the seat back the opposite way, and sit down facing the new direction.


The streetcar showed me some new things about the waterfront. It gets much closer to the docks than the road. There are a number of piers with restaurants and recently opened breweries on the piers.



We got off and took a stroll down the waterfront.

It was a really beautiful August afternoon. A sea breeze blowing. On such a pretty day, it was easy to forget that Astoria spends most of the year in gray stormy conditions.

But on that day, all is forgiven.

Not so for the Lewis and Clark crew in 1805. For they arrived in the winter season. The expedition spent 106 days at Fort Clatsop, it rained every day but 12 and they saw the sun a total of six times. It’s no wonder they gave names like “Dismal Nitch” to landmarks in the area.

Today, Fort Clatsop is administered by the National Park Service. It’s got a museum, gift shop, and dedicated guides to share information on the place.

One of the most popular attractions is the daily loading and shooting of a musket. At 10:00 a.m. a guide gives a talk on the uses of fire arms back in those days, and the way people loaded and fire them.


After the musket presentation was finished we took advantage of a half mile guided nature walk. And then, it was time for lunch. We found a thoughtfully constructed picnic spot nor far away. On this day it was Euro style, cheese, hard sausage, crackers, fruit, nuts, etc.


Then we met the tour down at the put in on the Lewis and Clark River. The group would be a family, a couple of individuals, plus Jessie and I. We had two guides, Pat and Cadence.


A bit of paddling 101 instruction by Cadence got the group started.

The river here is completely tidal. At low tide, much of the area is mud flats. So, the time the tours take place vary all summer, to coincide with high tide. Reservations are required. Our tour was full. We had some lively children, and Pat wasted no time in gaining the upper hand. If they even so much as yawned or stared away, she snapped “A-tten-sion!!!”

On the water, Pat immediately dropped her VHF radio and it was gone, stuck on the bottom. “Well, that’s my second dropped. They’ll fire me!”

With everybody launched we made a three-mile paddle.


At various points we gathered for a little talk about conservation, or the challenges Lewis and Clark faced.


The Park Service has purchased additional land adjoining the original site, and has done a good job restoring its property to the way it looked back in 1805. Wildlife has taken note. Many species of birds have returned. Elk and deer are more common.

If you are in Astoria, or camping at Fort Lewis, a stop at Fort Clatsop is definitely worth your time!

Granite, OR – An “Almost” Ghost Town

31 08 2016

Granite town sign

On our North Fork John Day River trip, we’d made up our mind to head east to Anthony Lakes, OR. The route passes straight through Oregon’s forgotten past – its 19th Century Gold Rush region. The spotlight was thrown on this region on Independence Day July 4th, 1862, when A.G. Tabor struck gold on Granite Creek. Today, there are still active mines and claims being worked!

Mining Posted

Just like a Clint Eastwood film!

Word of Tabor’s strike spread like lightning, and within 10 years as many as 5,000 hardy fortune seekers and their families had descended on Granite. More towns emerged, with names like Sumpter, Greenhorn, and Susanville. Folks from back east, European immigrants and Chinese all came. The area was a cultural hot spot until the early 1900’s. Dance halls, bars, pharmacies, general stores, churches and more served the families, with more than 80% involved in mining.

Fortune seekers worked the land in any number of ways. Some worked in “placer mines,” which is essentially mining a river bed. It might involve hydraulics blasting jets of water to excavate. Or, simple panning for gold. By 1914, placer mining had found over $2,000,000 of gold in the North Fork John Day River and Granite Creek. In other places mines were dug into hillsides in search of veins of gold. Some of these can be seen today.

Granite Mine

I don’t suggest exploring this old mine!

It was a tough life. Work was dog tired hard. And dangerous. Winters brutal. It was remote. Granite’s telephone and electrical service were cut off after WWII. Well, the telephone returned in 2000. These days, there is a single wireless router that operates intermittently from the telephone switch box.

Granite Bell Tower

Granite Town Hall.

By 1960, Granite almost joined sister towns of Greenhorn and Susanville as ghost towns – its population had dwindled to 2. But by the 2010 Census, Granite’s population swelled to 38!

Today, there are two businesses in Granite. The Outback, and The Lodge. The Outback Gas and Supply Store was our only resource out here. It has a closed down cafe in the rear. Out front it’s got limited supplies of fishing and camping gear, plus non perishible foods, toiletries and some ice cream. As we were car camping in Anthony Lakes, I was seeking something for the barbeque. When asked, the response from the owner was, “Well, you know, we haven’t got much. This IS Granite after all.” She dug out a package of hot dogs, but they were past the expiration date. However, she was resourceful, and managed to dig out some hockey puck hamburgers from the freezer. Well, with that my only option, I went ahead and bought them along with some gas, and a few supplies. Total bill was $36.

Outside, Laura found something familiar in Portland! A Little Free Library!

Little Free Library Granite

Granite General Store

This was the old Mercantile Store.

Despite the remote living and challenges of survival, people kept going. Families had kids – but the mortality rate was very high. The palpable evidence of hardship was illustrated by our walk of the Granite Cemetery. Way back when, folks often listed cause of death on tombstones.

“Suicide.” “Mining accident.” “Bear attack.” Plus diseases. Not all the headstones had a name. For us, the most heart rending was a section for infants and still births. There were so many who died at birth. Or in the first week. Clearly, life was tough.


Laura and I walked what is left of Granite. Many homes in a state of near collapse. But others showed signs of care – many in a state of “project” status. So, Granite still is home to about three dozen souls! It escaped true Ghost Town status!

Journey thru Time at El Morro, New Mexico!

18 10 2015

DSCF1824Experiencing New Mexico’s historical heritage would not be complete without checking out El Morro! Simply put, El Morro is a gem. It’s not big, yet it’s packed with mind bending history, sweet hiking, views, and to top it off, it’s even got an 800-room Ancient Pueblo great house!


What is El Morro? Well, it’s a bluff with a watering hole. In fact, for over a thousand years, this watering hole was the only known fresh water source for dozens of miles. That made El Morro a camping spot for travelers ranging from Ancient Pueblos to 17th Century Spanish Conquistadors to 19th Century settlers seeking a new life in America’s West.

el morro

Each of these peoples left their mark. The El Morro trail leaves the visitor center, leading to a watering hole at the base of the mesa. From there, the trail winds closely along the base of the mesa. This is where my mind began to get a bit blown away.

el morro

Starting with the Inscription Trail, all along the base of the 250-ft tall mesa I witnessed people’s autographs spanning a thousand years. The oldest scribblings are petroglyphs. There are over 2,000 of them! Some were by now familiar such as the snake. But there were new images – bighorn sheep, along with mythological creatures.

el morro


Then I saw dozens of 19th Century inscriptions by settlers and army officers. But more amazing were Spanish inscriptions – the earliest I saw was 1609. Wow! That beats the founding of Plymouth Massachusetts by 11 years! Most of the names were men. But there was one woman who was in a battle with the Indians, was shot with an arrow, survived, and kept going.

The trail winds around the back of the mesa, connecting to the Headlands Trail, then climbs up to the top – gaining some 250 feet. From there, the view of the valley is unparalleled. Up on top one can see the effects of rain on the geology. There were a few pools of water from recent rain, each one filled with mosquito larvae.

el morro, astinna

Eventually the summit trail leads to Astinna, an Ancient Pueblo great house with hundreds of rooms. Incredible! Even up here, hundreds lived out there lives. Astinna had 875 rooms and was home to 1,500 people! The town peaked about AD 1300.

In total, the hike is probably no more than three and a half miles, and totally worth it!

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico: Exploring the Magic and Spiritual

6 10 2015
A view from the trail on the canyon rim!

A view from the trail on the canyon rim!

Chaco Canyon is definitely the most significant example of ancient civilization in New Mexico, and probably the entire Southwest. I was uber excited to witness it! A United Nations World Heritage site, it is 11 miles long and 5 miles wide, and contains dozens of citadels each containing up to 800 rooms with up to 20 Kivas, or religious ceremonial centers. It’s also a nationally registered Dark Skies site. In Chaco, the stars seem an arms length away.

Ancient Puebo peoples from numerous tribes congregated at Chaco for seasonal and spiritual celebrations. None of these cultures had written language, so what we know is from oral traditions, stories, passed down to their ancestors – today’s Hopi, Navajo, etc. Anthropologists tell that Chaco was not a residential city. Although some people did live there temporarily to work on the buildings, they would eventually return to their villages many miles distant. Today’s SW Indian people see Chaco as an important waypoint on their tribal spiritual migration treks.

chaco canyon,pueblo bonito,new mexico,hiking

At Pueblo Bonito there are hundreds of rooms

Getting to Chaco is not for the faint of heart. While the site is a Federally managed area, with paved roads, the way there is fraught with challenges. The route passes through county, Federal, and tribal lands. It is 33 miles of paved, “maintained dirt,” and “unmaintained” road. It passes over dry river beds. While Chaco has campgrounds, there isn’t water within the park, except at the visitor center. Be prepared.

Chaco is a network of citadels, known as Great Houses, aligned along auspicious astronomical and directional lines. Buildings may constructed to align with the solstice, and Kivas may be aligned north-south, for example. These were built on the valley floor but also up high on ridges. Signal fires were lit to communicate important information up and down the valley. Incredibly, geological features enabled voice communication across the valley!

Building in Chaco is thought to have begun around A.D. 800, with the peak of construction about 1150. By 1050 Chaco was the center of influence in spiritual, economic and administrative matters for an area comprising SE Utah, SW Colorado, eastern Arizona and New Mexico. Advances in building technology is evident in the ruins.

chaco canyon,new mexico,hiking

The trail above, with stunning view, winds along, then climbs to Pueblo Alto Complex, another ancient town

One of my favorite things to do in Chaco is taking a hike. Some of the hikes climb the canyon walls, leading to more trails and citadels up above! The view is incredible. But then you come across a ruin!

We heard about the hike to Pueblo Alto, which is a complex on the canyon summit above. But how could we see it? The Ranger told us there is a trail leading up there.

We drove out to Pueblo del Arroyo, where there is parking and a trailhead. A self-issue back country permit must be completed.

We started the hike. Along the way, there are stakes indicating “trail.” Some of them are in unexpected places, like in rocks 10 or 15 feet above where I stood. So we just scrambled up to get to them.

Along the scramble, we glimpsed a number of petroglyphs etched into the canyon walls. One can see many things illustrated. Like familiar creatures such as snakes, spiders, or elk. But other creatures gone from the canyon are depicted, like bighorn sheep. And spiritual entities are pictured.

chaco canyon,petroglyphschaco canyon,petroglyphsBy far my highlight of the day was taking this hike above the valley floor.

The trail wound its way amongst boulders.

Then, the next “trail” stake was at the wall. I climbed up to it, and then, looking to my right, this “trail” seemed to climb up a crack in the valley wall to somewhere above.

chaco canyon

Scrambling up this slot leads to the top of the canyon, with a freaky beautiful trail up there!

I was in the lead, with Tully behind. I thought, “Well, what the heck!” What I didn’t know was what awaited above.

A careful stepping up the rocks led to the top of the canyon, where a relatively flat hike awaited – with an unlimited view!

One up there my emotions went from nervous to ecstatic. There is a whole world up there, which ancients walked for a thousand years. It is no wonder they held Chaco Canyon in spiritual reverence.

Chaco has Rangers that give informational talks, and we took advantage.

DSCF1820The ranger explained what is known about the Chaco culture, the geology, architecture. He took us amongst the ruins. We looked at Kivas and even wound our way through the multi storied “apartments!”

We spent one and a half days in Chaco. We stayed near Cuba, a town outside the entrance to the area.

My recommendation is to camp in Chaco, if you are up for that. Spend two nights there. That way, you can walk the trails up to the high citadels. The base is 6,200ft. Take full advantage of the night skies opportunities. The Visitor Center has Dark Skies presentations – it has an observatory!




Learning the Ancient Ways: Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

24 09 2015

bandelier national monument,new mexico,hiking,ancestral puebloI’d never been to New Mexico. So, when my friend Tully moved his family to Albuquerque and he offered to spend a week exploring, I jumped at the chance. We traveled north to Taos, and then west to Cuba, and then on to Grants.

On day one, on the way to Taos, we spent the afternoon in Bandelier National Monument – where you can hike trails to Ancient Pueblo ruins on the Frijoles Canyon floor, and climb inside cliff dwellings!

People have been living in the area for 10,000 years. The earliest peoples followed prey animals in and out of the canyon on a seasonal basis. Later, agriculture was developed, and a more stationary lifestyle ensued. By 1200 AD, construction of 40-room “great houses,” and cliff dwellings was at its peak.

All along the north valley wall there is evidence of many homes. The valley is north-south aligned, and the north wall gets precious warming sun – especially in winter. So all the homes are on the north side. Some are still standing today, and I walked amongst them, and climbed ladders to peek inside. There remains black soot on some of the ceilings from fires.

The Ancestral Pueblo people did not use written language, so there is no written evidence of their culture, other than petroglyphs carved into the canyon walls. petroglyph

The petroglyphs depict Thunderbirds, parrots, bighorn sheep, snakes, and more. The Pueblo people carried on their stories, religion and traditions through singing and story-telling. Much of what we know comes from the oral tradition practiced by today’s Pueblo people. These people lived in villages spread out amongst New Mexico, SW Colorado, and Arizona.

Tyuonyi Plaza,bandelier national monument

Tyuonyi Plaza

Archeologists have discovered 3,000 sites here, but these were not occupied at the same time. As time went on, people tended to gather in villages and plazas. The largest is Tyuonyi, which may have had 600 rooms. Special rooms for religious ceremonies are called Kivas. Kivas are built into the ground and are round.


Bandelier National Monument is about two hours from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The entire monument is much larger than the valley, however, and has 70 miles of trails for backpacking and hiking.

DSCF1764So whether you are interested in the ancient culture, or want to get out into nature via backpacking, Bandelier offers both.

In the next blog post I’ll cover Chaco Canyon!