Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

 When I saw the post on my Facebook wall from the WTA about this place being a good one for a winter outing, I put it on the agenda for this weekend since it was forecast to be cold and sunny. Cold we got, sunny seemed to be everywhere but at the refuge. No matter! We made a trip to Cabela's first to spend The Big Guy's birthday money and pick up two warm cones of roasted almonds and cashews, then off to the boardwalks we went.

Near the start of the old boardwalk at one of the many viewing stations. The sign said that there are river otters in these parts, and I desperately wanted to see one, but no such luck.
Along the old boardwalk trail, still looking for those otters.

The Twin Barns. The sign said that there are weasels that live around the barns and hunt mice. I desperately wanted to see one, but no such luck.

Green Heron

First viewing station at the start of the new 1.5 mile boardwalk. You can see it stretching out into the distance.

Looking back from the start of the new boardwalk. It's connected to the old boardwalk trail by nice gravel paths. All the signs say "No Running" and I desperately wanted to run, but I didn't.

Great Blue Heron amid the ducks. You quickly lose count of all the herons.

About 3/4's of the way out onto the boardwalk. If you're planning on a visit, I would suggest making use of the lovely facilities at the Visitor Center prior to going out because once you're out there, you're pretty much stuck, and since there is NO RUNNING, you're not getting back any time soon.

The sun was out at the extreme north end of the refuge making the sky and water look like cotton candy.

I will have to agree with the WTA about this being a great cold-weather place. While we didn't see as many birds as we might during a spring visit, we saw plenty. Though the parking lot was more than half full, the people were spread out enough that it's a very peaceful trek, beautiful even in the low fog.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dirty Snorkeling

November is sort of an in-between month for we Pacific Northwest outdoorspeople with the cold rains and diminished daylight make hiking mostly unpleasant and cross-country skiing impossible. But this November, we had the opportunity to spend a week on Kauai, and while we did hike there, most of the hiking is...well...sucky. I hope that word doesn't offend anyone. Compared to what we really thought of most of the hikes we did there, it's a very mild descriptor. There was one hike that was the exception, and once winter really gets here and we're all in need of warmer images, I'll share that one here. But today, let's do a little dirty snorkeling, what say?

Can you tell from this picture that I'd never snorkeled before? This was at a protected lagoon area near where we stayed, and we went here just so I could get the hang of it. I eventually did, but not before getting tipped over a lot. It gave me the giggles.

Eventually I managed to get turned over the right way, and we were ready!

Our first real snorkeling adventure was at Tunnels Beach on the north shore. This is where Soul Surfer, Bethany Hamilton, lost her arm to a tiger shark. We didn't see any sharks. Or Bethany. Or her arm. But look at what we did see!

A monk seal! These are protected, and this one, like subsequent ones we saw, had orange cones set up around it to keep pesky gawkers at bay. Look at that face, would ya? That adorable face made it really, really hard to obey those cones. We didn't see any while snorkeling, which is probably a good thing because they're big and would've scared me silly given that I have a fear of the underwater to begin with. Also, tiger sharks prey on monk seals, and I'd rather not be close to one in the water lest I be confused for a shark meal.

The Humuhumunukunukuapua’a is the Hawaii state fish and the name means “triggerfish with a snout like a pig.” That is info I looked up on the interwebs. I had no idea what this fish was when we saw it. Left to me, I would've called it, "HeyWowLookAtThatReallyCoolFish!"

A Saddle Wrasse, I believe.

Unicorn Fish!

I think this is a parrot fish. Whatever it was astoundingly bright.

I liked snorkeling way more than I thought I would, and I didn't want to get out of the water. But it doesn't take long before even the temperate waters of Hawaii zap the warmth from your body, and you have to get out to take the chill off.

Our second search for the fishies was at 'Anini Beach, also on the north shore. We arrived early in the morning, and as you can see, we had this stretch of beach to ourselves.

The sun wasn't quite over the tree line yet, and it was a little dark and chilly still.

The coral at this spot is very shallow, sometimes only inches below you, and you have to be very careful not to hit it. Just float and observe, float and observe. There were plenty of fish here, but not too many that we hadn't seen. At one point, though, The Big Guy waved me over to see something.

At first, I thought it was one of these, a white spotted toby (puffer fish.) But it was one of these


My heart starts racing again just looking at that picture. Did I mention already that I have a fear of the underwater world to begin with? Having a snorkel tube in your mouth does not interfere with screaming, by the way.

Our last snorkeling outing came at the end of one of those miserable hikes I mentioned. This is the view of Ke'e Beach from the hiking trail 1/2 mile up the hillside. Once it came back into view, we couldn't wait to get off the trail and into the water. You can see the reef edge, and this was by far the best snorkel we had. We didn't take the camera in because we just wanted to float and relax at this point. This beach isn't that big, but it is popular, and it was amazing that as soon as you put your face in the water, you see fishes everywhere all around the people. You're not supposed to feed them here, but it was obvious that people had been by the way the fishes would swim right up to us. We saw so many kinds of fish in this small area. You could look up a chart of Hawaiian reef fish, and that's pretty much what we saw, minus the scary, toothy eels.

Despite the sunshine, it wasn't as warm as it looks, and it was already late afternoon, so we only had about an hour here. One of the most beautiful hours I'm likely to spend in my life. After the day we had leading up to this, it was a gift beyond compare.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Granite Mountain (8.6 miles)

The weather was forecast to be pretty decent, so I told The Big Guy we should go for a fall color hike while the hikin' was still good. I browsed the nice selection online for the local choices and settled on Granite Mountain. It's not my usual M.O. to willingly volunteer for a hike like this one that has 3800' of elevation gain -- about 1000' feet per mile. If you're a hiker, you know that's rough stuff. If you're not a hiker, why not??? Get up! Get out there! After you see the pictures I'm about to show you, you're going to listen to me.

Not this one. This looks like almost any old trail around here. But they all have to start somewhere, and this one started here.

There was low fog today which kept the first 1.5 miles looking pretty dark and dank. Have faith all ye who hike here.

To the right. Gird your loins, the serious climb begins here.
Cresting the fog line.

Here comes that fall color.

The ever-present Forest Pig.

OK, then, things are starting to get good. It has also already been a very hard grind to this point. Layers have come off, pant legs have been unzipped. Those are some tasty huckleberries that Forest Pig is eying.

Autumn Blanket.

Climbing out of the huckleberry hillside.

The granite of Granite Mountain. See the fire lookout up there on that big pile of granite in the middle? That's the goal.

Everywhere you look is a great photo.

This was such a pretty area at the base of the last climb. Obviously, trail workers (most of them volunteers) have worked hard to make the passage nice for all of us.

At the base of the lookout 5600'. The station itself is closed for the season, but I don't think I would've been able to climb around to the stairs even if it had been open. Nothing was too scary on the way up, but this part had me crawling and hunkering. There were a good number of people on this trail today, many of whom caught up here for their (noisy) lunches. I had a hard time watching some of them scramble around on these granite slabs -- the perspective makes it looks like they're walking on air and that makes me feel woozy to see.

I found a "comfortable" hole in which to sit for my snack.

My companions visiting me in my lunch burrow.

Time to descend.

But let's look at that view one more time.

And again.

This pic I took because we are not that far from one another, but the incline makes it seem so.

Pretty little ponds all tucked in there.

Feet starting to hurt. Legs beginning to protest. And only halfway down. Still sunny, so still smiling.

And back into the foggy forest. Even though I know my feet and legs are going to be very cranky with me tomorrow, I'm glad I picked this hike. For The Big Guy to have grown up hiking these peaks but to still find them challenging and beautiful and to be able to share the adventure is priceless.

Now where is the Epsom salt?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Union Creek 6 miles

This week's hike took us back east of the mountains to Union Creek. There was no real destination such as an alpine lake or anything, but it was gray and a bit drizzly at home which is always a good reason to head east into the sunshine. Not far into the trail, we encountered this:

Not again!! While we were scouting a fording point, we lost Zuli.

The Big Guy had found this place to cross downstream from where Zuli and I were. I was taking a picture, and unbeknownst to either of us, she had followed him. Except she hadn't crossed the log. Or had she and fallen off??? I was absolutely panicked. Hysterically so. She can't swim. We couldn't see her, and she wasn't coming to our calls. The Big Guy was yelling at me to calm down, I was screaming for the dog, and then she came running back up the trail, having not fallen in the river at all and oblivious to the commotion. Stupid, stupid, stupid dog!

There was still the matter of crossing the log above the river with shaky knees, though. The Big Guy carried the pup, and I made it just fine despite the wobbles and a fear of heights.

OK, whew, this is much better. It did start to climb pretty good not long after this, though, and the huffin' and puffin' got rid of the last bits of my hysteria.

The trail afforded glimpses of the creek and at one point this pretty waterfall below us.

Then the trail dropped down to cross the creek with a pretty little bridge, much better than a scary log.

With no destination, we stopped trailside to have our lunch. Little did we know we'd passed a hidden surprise. After we'd headed back and come to the little bridge again, The Big Guy noticed a trail that branched off and followed the creek upstream. "I wonder," he mused aloud, "if there is a pond up that way?" No, not a pond.


It's a good thing I married such an experienced hiker because there were no signs to indicate this was mere steps away from the main trail. It was amazing that it was right there. It was so inviting, we had to take turns having a dip in the water. The Big Guy was braver than me, and made it to the base of the falls where the force of the water surprised him with a good conk on the head. I nearly froze my feet off crossing to the warm rocks on the other side. I'd show you the pics, but you don't get into the water with all your hiking clothes on, and this isn't that kind of blog.

Zuli kept her collar on, stayed out of the water, and was rewarded with her snausages.