Khao Lak and the Similan Islands

This coastal town was my starting point for a dive trip, where I completed nine of the thirteen scheduled dives. I was a concerned when the weather app showed thunderstorms every day for a week, but we only got a bit of rain. I was the oldest and one of the least experienced divers. Though certified as a teenager, until I went to the Great Barrier Reef about­ five years ago, I hadn’t been diving in decades. Since then I’ve taken a refresher course, been certified for nitrox, and gone on a handful of dives. This is by far the most concentrated diving trip I’ve ever taken. Most dives were near the 18-meter/60’ limit of my open water certification, though I dipped below 20 meters a couple times.

I then spent a day enjoying the beaches and sights around Khao Lak, a nice low-key location.

 

26 November – reaching Khao Lak

I took a two-hour ferry from Phi Phi to Krabi then a “bus” (series of three vans) to Khao Lak. This gave me more than enough time to finish Sightseeingby Rattaweu Lapcharoensap, a Thai American. This book of short stories gives a perspective on Thailand not seen by tourists. After I checked into my hotel, the manager gave me a ride to the dive shop to check-in and get fitted with gear.

After showering, I had an early dinner, then took a stroll on gorgeous Nang Thong Beach across from the hotel. I was enjoying the sunset when I got a message from Judith, she’d broken her wrist, apparently falling off a log while taking a picture! They transported her to Trang, a couple hours south of Krabi. For once our local phones worked and I was able to talk to her. I went to bed feeling bad that she was alone in a strange place with few English speakers.

27 November – three dives in the Andaman Sea

When I awoke I learned that Judith had her wrist set in the middle of the night. It appears to be a clean break, in two places, so she won’t need surgery. She is leaning towards continuing the trip, with a follow-up x-ray in Bangkok, where we meet in a week.

I ate a boring breakfast at my hotel, not realizing that I would be fed again onboard. There are sixteen passengers on a boat large enough to hold twenty-four. I’m sharing a cabin with a Thai woman named Ann on the main deck. We have our own bathroom.

It took us about three hours to reach our first dive site, Koh Bon, one of the Similan Islands. There were five of us in my first group, including two dive masters. We did three dives and while the coral wasn’t impressive, I saw many fish I haven’t seen before. The last dive was in the dark, my first, and possibly last, night dive. Even using a torch, I can see more during the day. I also feel bad about disturbing the fish, though I saw a couple we hadn’t seen earlier and several moray eels on the move.

28 November – two dives on Thanksgiving Day

The other two Americans, originally from Russia, reminded me that today is Thanksgiving; I had completely lost track of the days. For perhaps the first time in my life, I’m not eating turkey today. Thai food is delicious so I can’t complain, especially since I’ve already arranged a turkey dinner for Christmas when I get home. It’s quite an international mix onboard. Many of the crew members are German, which makes sense given the name of the boat, MV Bavaria. I also counted Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, the UK, and Thailand among the countries from which passengers and crew hail. Lucky for me, English is the common language.

I skipped the early morning dive since I woke up congested, darn that troublesome right sinus! I was assigned to a different group today, only four of us, including our master, Heinz, and a dive master in training. Fortunately, my sinus cleared up in time for the second dive, a nice one at Tachai Pinnacle where the curious batfish came to greet us. We saw many different types of fish and a few corals. The next dive wasn’t as nice, the current, or currency as Heinz called it, kept us from swimming far and it stirred up the seafloor making the water murky. I skipped the night dive.

After dinner, delicious snapper, we had surprise entertainment. One of the crew members dressed in drag and did several musical performances in various outfits getting most of us up dancing.

29 November – three dives at Richelieu Rock

Dive, eat, nap, repeat. I did that three times today, skipping the third dive to rest up for the fourth. To that I could add shower and download pictures. I’m using underwater housing for my little Sony RX100 VI; it goes deeper and takes better pictures than the Olympus Tough, though cloudy conditions, in both water and sky have not been optimal for photography. I now learn that late February to mid-March has the clearest and calmest waters, during the hot season.

Of the first two dives, early morning was best, before other boats arrived with hordes of divers. This is apparently the most famous dive spot in Thailand. I saw a great variety of fish, from tiny to large, and more coral than at our earlier locations. The water was quite murky and the “currency” was stronger.

I also went on the sunset dive, enjoying the first half more than the second, confirming that I prefer diving with sunlight rather than darkness. Towards the end we spotted an octopus and while juggling my torch and camera, the later slipped off my arm. As I ascended I anticipated going without it for the rest of the trip and filing an insurance claim. To my surprise, it was in the bin of water reserved for cameras, torches, and dive computers. The ship engineer had spotted it pop to the surface, in the dim light, and swam for it. J

30 November – a wreck dive, return to Khao Lak

Both of the last two dives were to Boonsung, the wreck of tin mining platform that fell down right after installation and broke apart in the 2004 typhoon, the same one that wiped out the infrastructure on Phi Phi and caused me to cancel a planned return trip to India. It was our murkiest dive yet, so hard to see anything that I decided to skip the second dive. I avoided the lionfish and enjoyed seeing a variety of puffer fish, one of which swam around checking us out.

The boat returned to the dock after lunch and we were transported back to the dive shop. My hotel was only a couple minutes from there so I walked. It’s older and smaller than my last one, though closer to shops and restaurants. Someone carried my suitcase up to the fourth floor for me. I got settled, published my Phi Phi post, and went for a walk. The beach is further and not quite as nice the first one. I treated myself to a massage before going to dinner at the Loma Restaurant next to the dive shop, where we were offered a free post-dive meal.

1 December – sea turtles, rafting, and beaches

 I was served more than I could eat for breakfast: eggs, bacon, shrimp, and a half dozen types of fruit. I was then picked up for a half day tour. There were only two other tourists, a couple from Germany.

Our first stop was the Sea Turtle Conservation Center where four species of sea turtles are raised. When eggs are laid on the beach, volunteers guard them from predators, and when the baby turtles hatch they are brought to the center and cared for until ready for release back to sea. The center also treats sick and injured sea turtles.

Next was a bamboo raft ride through the jungle. My insect repellent worked; I heard no mosquitos. The snakes in the trees made me a bit nervous, but overall it was a pleasant, relaxing ride. Our final stop was a small waterfall. I had to wait for a few people to finish posing for dozens of pictures before I could take one. I waded in the coolest water I’ve felt in this country. Along the way I saw trees bearing guava fruit wrapped in individual bags and sap being collected from rubber trees; now I see where my latex mattress comes from.

I had a late lunch, Indian food, then Kai, the manager of the hotel, dropped me off at Coconut Beach. After a nice walk, I bought a mojito so I could use a lounge chair, and enjoyed a few relaxing hours reading and napping, with a break to swing on a swing hanging from a palm tree. Kai picked me and a couple other guests up and took us to Memories Beach where I wandered until sunset. Shh, don’t tell the world, if you are looking for long, uncrowded beaches with fine sand, and warm, turquoise waters, Khao Lak is the spot.

2 December – off to Bangkok

Kai insisted on sending me off with fresh lemongrass and other herbs used in Thai cooking. The taxi ride to Phuket took about an hour and a half, on the best roads I’ve seen yet. Unlike in Cambodia, the cars drive on the left side of the road here. When I went through security I found the hotel key in my pocket. Oops. Maybe I can mail it back from Bangkok.

 

Phi Phi Islands

I liked, but did not love Koh Phi Phi, where Judith and I spent three days relaxing and exploring neighboring islands. Paradise has been tarnished by thousands of tourists and the endless sound of motor boats.

23 November, 2019 – Arrive on Phi Phi

Another early start. We ate breakfast at our hotel and caught a 7:00 taxi to Rassada Pier in Phuket where we caught a speedboat to Koh Phi Phi. In hindsight we should have sat further back in the boat or taken the ferry; it was a rough ride. A longboat shuttled us to our hotel, Phi Phi Bayview, nicely placed a ten-minute walk from the crowded pier area and far enough to not be bothered by the party crowd. There are no cars on the island, though we saw a handful of pickup trucks and motorcycles.

After getting settled we walked to aptly named Long Beach. The rolling path is clearly marked, much of it on nice concrete blocks decorated with leaves, the rest a mixture of pavement, beach, and sandbags. We swam a bit, and read books on the beach. I got my first Thai massage, fully clothed without oil. It involves more pressure and twisting than in Cambodia, but equally satisfying. We have a lovely early dinner, broccoli with chicken and a berry slush.

24 November – longboat tour

 After a hearty Thai breakfast, included with our room, we took a longboat tour of neighboring islands. We paid extra to get a private boat with an English-speaking skipper who would tailor our tour for us. We got neither, but we did get an earlier start then the group tours and had a good time anyway. Our first and furthest stop was Bamboo Island (Ko Mai Phai). A fee is charged to go ashore, which is probably a good thing otherwise this idyllic spot would be covered with people. We spent an hour or so strolling the white sand beach and snorkeling a bit, then continued on to other spots, including Maya Bay. The shore of this tiny cove is now closed to allow it to recover from the hordes of people who descended on it after the movie, The Beach. At Monkey Beach, the monkeys clearly recognized water bottles; they grabbed them off shored kayaks, pulled of the tops, and guzzled down the contents. We were also entertained by a very active baby monkey, the first I’ve ever seen. We stopped at several places to snorkel, our favorite being near Viking Cave, where swifts’ nests are harvested for Chinese bird’s nest soup. I missed a section while applying sunblock and came back with two bright red crescents just below my bathing suit on the back of my legs.

It was early afternoon when we go back and I don’t recall doing much of anything for several hours. Later we walked into town, had an early dinner at a combo Indian/Thai restaurant, got a very nice Thai massage, and stopped for a cup of rolled ice cream, created in front of us on an icy slab.

25 November – Phi Phi Viewpoint

We started the day with a hike, taking a long circuitous route up the mountain, through the jungle, past an oversized mega resort under construction, complete with a manmade lake, to two of the three viewpoints. From there the shape of the island is clearly visible. Our route back  was shorter, down a few hundred steps and through the town. There are lots of happy looking cats on this island, with regular tails. They wander in and out of restaurants and shops, getting plenty of food.

After breakfast, Judith headed over to lounge at Long Beach, while I lounged in our nice hotel room overlooking the bay and finished my Angkor Wat blog post, a strikingly different location. When I joined her at Long Beach, we had another massage and early dinner.

26 November – goodbye Phi Phi

I didn’t get back to sleep after the 5:00 a.m. call to prayers; the singing sounded nice. Thailand may be primarily Buddhist, but this island has many Muslins. I took a short stroll on the beach, had one last yummy breakfast, then waded into the water to take the longboat shuttle to the pier where Judith and I parted. She’s heading to Koh Lanta, where she is meeting up with Jolene for a week of island hopping, while I’m headed to the mainland for a dive trip.

 

Angkor Wat

We spent four days in Siem Reap, primarily touring temples, and could have easily stayed longer. There are a couple hundred temples in the complex, but most tourists focus on three. We saw each of these twice and several others. Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, was built in the early 12th century and originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Later kings converted it to Buddhism and vice versa. Carvings depict battles, mainly hand-to-hand combat, between the Khmers and their enemies. The Bayon Temple, within Angkor Thom, is covered with smiling faces.  It was built in the late 12th or early 13th century by a Mahayana Buddhist king. He tried to make peace between the Hindus and Buddhists by incorporating symbols from both religions, however after his death Hindus removed most of the Buddha images. There is no official state religion today, guaranteeing religions freedom, but the king is required to be a Theravada Buddhist and most Thai follow this religion. When rediscovered in the late 1800’s all of the temples were covered with vegetation and organic debris. Much has been cleared away, and temples partially restored, except at Ta Prohm, a.k.a. the Tomb Raider temple, which is overgrown with trees.

19, November, 2019 – a floating village

We used the Grab App to get a taxi to the airport in Phnom Penh for half what it cost when arrived. Our 45-minute flight to Siem Reap was uneventful until Judith realized she was missing her new cell phone. After much angst, Find-My-Phone pinpointed it to the restaurant at which we had breakfast. Kind staff at the airport retrieved it and arranged to have it flown to Siem Reap where we picked it up then next day.

A tuk tuk driver took us to our hotel, oddly named and perfectly located Uncle Sam Villa. It’s a short walk to the shops and restaurants on Pub Street, but just out of range of the noisy bar scene. I immediately liked the feel of being in a smaller town. We met Jodie, a tour guide we’ve travelled with before and were introduced to Vanna, a tuk tuk driver she uses regularly. We spent much of several days being shuttled around by this very pleasant young man whose English is quite good.

We checked in and headed out for our first adventure through the countryside, stopping to buy our Angkor Wat passes, and visited a couple small temples and Vanna’s village before taking a long dusty drive to Kombong Phluk. This floating village is built on tall pillars to accommodate the rise and fall of the river. Some people live on houseboats tethered to trees. Traveling by riverboat we could see people repairing nets and catching fish. When we got close to the Tonlé Sap Lake, we transferred to a small pole boat for a magical ride through the Mangrove trees as the sun was setting.

We got back after dark and walked over to Pub Street for a light meal. Once again, our lights were out by 9:00.

20, November – Angkor Wat

Vanna met us out front at 5:00 a.m. and took us to Angkor Wat. There we joined hundreds of people waiting to watch the sunrise. I watched from outside overlooking the moat while Judith went inside the temple walls. While I’ve seen pictures of more spectacular sunrises, this one was lovely. I then spent a couple hours wandering around the many buildings, up and down stairs, exploring what must have been stunningly beautiful before the carving and colors were removed or weathered away. I ran into Judith just as I ready to leave, which is fortunate since our local sim cards have failed us. While we get bars indicating service coverage and can access the internet, phone calls and texts rarely work.

Our next stop was Bayon Temple where Vanna took dozens of pictures of us amongst the smiling faces. There were nice reliefs here too, depicting historical events and scenes from the everyday life of the Angkorian Khmer. Ta Prohm was the smallest of the three, but interesting to see tree roots everywhere. We treated Vanna to a late lunch, including two popular Cambodian dishes, fish amok and beef lok lak, I like the former more than the later and it was much tastier than the one we tried in Phnom Penh.

Vanna was ready to keep on going, but we were wiped out so we had him return us to our hotel in the mid-afternoon. We rested a bit, then headed out for our almost daily massage. It was nice until the construction sounds that started up half way through. Judith’s friend Jolene joined us for dinner at a restaurant across the river that Judith found online. They tried adventuresome dishes such as chicken with red ants and roast honeycomb. I didn’t care for any of the food. On the way back, Jolene and I took a short detour to photograph the colorful lights along the river. By the time I got back to the hotel, Judith’s eyes were closed and the lights off.

21, November – cycling through temples

Yikes, my earliest wake up yet, just as I’m finally ready to sleep in a bit. We got picked 4:40 for a bicycle tour to the same temples we saw yesterday. There were only two other people in our group, men from America each traveling alone. We started with sunrise at Angkor Wat. This time I went into the temple hoping to get a picture from the lily pond inside, but with a smattering of clouds it wasn’t colorful. We were grateful for the cloud cover later as it kept the temperature down a bit. We were taken by van to a tent structure in the jungle where we had a hot breakfast before mounting our bicycles and heading out along a dirt path. It was narrow at times, forcing me to focus on the ground and confirming that I’m not cut out for mountain biking. We followed a path along one of the Angkor Wat moats, no longer filled with alligators, through rice fields and a village, before reaching Wat Thom with its arched entryways. We road on top of the wall from the south to the west entrance, then headed into the center of what was once a city to the Bayon temple. I gratefully wiped the sweat off my face with the small wet towels provided and took a quick walk through and around the temple. From there it was a short bicycle ride along roads to a restaurant where we were served tasty Cambodian food.

If Vanna had been available the next morning, I would have loved to do nothing in the afternoon. Instead we showered and got picked up at 3:00 to visit a few smaller temples in the northern part of the complex. Presh Khan was very long and interesting except for the loud high-pitched insects; at first, I thought I was hearing a siren in the jungle. Neak Poan was small, but the view from the boardwalk made the stop worthwhile. We watched the sunset from on top of another temple then headed back to town, stopping briefly at silver and silk stores on the way. I bought a scarf.

We had our worst massage yet, followed by a short foot massage at a different place. My masseuse there was cute, friendly and chatty. She bicycles an hour each way and works six days a week. (Legal working hours here are 8 hours per day, 48 hours a week. Employees can work up to 6 days per week). We ate dinner at the Red Tomato and surprise, surprise, were asleep by 9:00.

22, November – Farewell Cambodia

 Ahh, I slept past 6:00. I then spent hours puttering in our room. I finally had a chance to post my Phnom Penh blog entry, a challenge given the slow internet and technical glitches with Word Press. Judith headed back to the Bayon temple with Jolene. I had a late breakfast, took a short walk, discovering cages of birds along the river, and met her at the Lemongrass spa for our best Khmer massage yet, this time with lemongrass oil. Vanna met us at our hotel and took us to the airport, where we hugged him goodbye. We flew to Bangkok, then to Phuket, reaching our hotel at 23:00, late for us.

Phnom Penh

I’ve started my Southeast Asia adventure in Cambodia. Judith, who I met four years ago on a trip to Cuba, will be traveling with me about half the time. We spent our first three days in the capital city, exploring a few sites and adjusting to the time change. It’s warm, humid, and smoggy here.

15, November, 2019 – a long travel day

I got a ride to the airport at 9 pm on the 14th, arriving early for our just-after-midnight takeoff. Our first flight, to Taipei, took almost 14 hours. I watched two movies and one documentary, and slept for a few hours here and there. The seats don’t tilt much, so when dozing off it’s easy to flop forward or onto a neighbor. We easily found our next departure gate, then sat on the runway for almost an hour. By the time we arrived in Phnom Penh, it was almost noon the next day.

16, November – an afternoon stroll 

It didn’t take long to get our visas and go through customs. We also got local sim cards for our old phones and a few Cambodia Riel from the ATM, which turned out not to be necessary since dollars are readily accepted everywhere (4000 riel = $1). Our taxi driver helped us find our riverside Airbnb sandwiched between a sports shirt store and a massage shop in what might be a red-light district. Door-to-door it took 24 hours to get here. Though spacious, our apartment is long and narrow and we quickly abandoned the bedroom furthest from the window since it smelled musty. Judith slept in the front room which on some nights was quite noisy with what appeared to be drunken revealers.

After settling in, we visited Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple built in 1372. At 27 meters (88.5 ft), it is the tallest religious structure in the city. Surrounded by a small park it felt like a mini-oasis after our walk over, darting in between cars, tuk tuks, and motorcycles to cross streets. Though not as intense as in India or Nepal, drivers have the same disregard for traffic lanes and the very few signals that exist. 

We spent a couple hours in comfy chairs at the Elephant Bar, a throwback to colonial times. While getting refreshed by expensive beverages and a yummy pad thai, we tried one last time to reach AirAsia and change an upcoming flights. Without notice they cancelled the one we had booked and moved us to the next day. We finally gave up, bought another ticket, rebooked two hotel rooms, and sent emails requesting a refund for the flight we won’t be taking.

The sun was setting as we walked back to our lodging. We visited the nearby night market where I purchased my first souvenir, a pair of cotton pants festooned with elephants, a popular decorative theme here. To help us recover from our sardine-packed plane ride, we treated ourselves to a full-body massage, only $11. We felt so good afterwards that we walked around the corner and had an hour of reflexology.

17, November – Royal Palace

After all that relaxation, I slept until 4:00 am, waking only two hours earlier than usual, not bad for the first day in a new time zone. When Judith arose, we headed to the Royal Palace, discovering Wat Ounalom on our way. This Buddhist temple compound was deserted except for monks heading to prayer. It felt peaceful and spiritual in the early morning quiet. The Royal Palace wasn’t open when we arrived, so we ate breakfast before entering the compound. From our guide we learned that the yellow color of the buildings represents Buddhism, the official religion of Cambodia, and the white Hindu, one of the earlier religions; most Cambodians now practice a melding of both. A flying blue flag let us know that King Norodom Sihamoni was in residence. This symbolic figurehead is elected for life from members of royal bloodlines. We visited the National Museum, a collection of decaying artifacts from antiquity housed in a red building inspired by Khmer temple architecture. Throughout the day we saw several small cats, many with short stubby tails, apparently a common genetic occurrence in Cambodia.

We wandered through upscale shops on 240 Street (Oknha Chhun), most of the cute cotton clothing was too small for me to be tempted. We continued through a more modern part of town, with bigger streets, and yet more vehicles, to Eleven One Kitchen, where we had a delicious chicken and broccoli salad. We took a tuk tuk back to our lodging, puttered a bit, then got another massage. Afterwards, we wandered around looking for, and not finding, groceries, though we came across a street market filled with good looking produce and dead animals covered with flies. We stopped at one of the dozens of bars in our neighborhood and I enjoyed a glass of wine while watching the flow of humanity. It already feels as if I’ve been gone for a week as my everyday world recedes and I’m immersed in new experiences. We had time to shower, with a little hot water, then walked over to Romdeng, a recommended restaurant, not as yummy as our lunch. Most of the tuk tuks here are carts pulled by a motorcycle. We took one back, letting our driver figure out to navigate the crazy traffic in the dark. 

18, November – a painful history­

We found a tuk tuk driver who took us to several places throughout the morning. First stop, after a refreshing cup of chai tea, was the Russian market – lots of stalls selling clothing, food, and household goods. We picked up a couple souvenirs then stopped at the Thai embassy to clarify what I’ll need to do since our flight change to that country will cause me to overstay my 30-day visa in that country. Ahh, the joys of international travel. I’ll only have to pay a one-day penalty upon exit.

After much hesitation, we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former high school which became Security Prison 21 (S-21) in 1976 under the Khmer Rouge. During their five-year regime, millions of people were tortured, executed, and starved, about 25% of the population. I couldn’t stay inside the buildings for long, but sat on benches outside listening to audio stories told by survivors, my eyes filling with tears. It’s hard to contemplate how much post-conflict PTSD this country has suffered.

To help clear our bodies from that experience, we treated ourselves to a three-hour spa treatment. Every cell in my body was content and I had no desire to move when it was over. Judith headed to a dance class while I took a sweaty walk back to our lodging to download and sort pictures. We reconvened for dinner followed by a dance show. Ninety percent of artists died during the Khmer Rouge régime and surviving dancers have worked to train youth in Cambodian arts. I appreciated the traditional dances more after Judith’s brief explanation of the movements, especially the hand gestures with curved fingers. Though not far from our lodging, we took a tuk tuk back and were both sound asleep before 9:00.

Wyoming

After leaving Colorado, I drove to Jackson to pick up Anne, who flew there to join me for the remainder of my almost-three-week road trip. We spent several days in Grand Tetons National Park, which exceeded my expectations, in terms of both hiking and sheer beauty, then drove through Yellowstone and headed home.

August 16 – Drive to Jackson

Sage and I were on the road by 7:00 a.m., her first car ride since we arrived in Fort Collins. During the first couple hours, I finished listening to “Slavery by Another Name”, the book I’m “reading” for my political book club. While sometimes painfully repetitive, this book opened my eyes to the fact that slavery in America didn’t fully end until WW II. This is the history that should be taught in school.

Taking Nancy’s advice, I drove the slightly longer, scenic route up Highway 287 through Wyoming. An excellent choice, especially along the Wind River. Making my typical stops – gas, bathroom, fetch with Sage, snacks, and a few quick photos – I would have reached Jackson around 4:00. Instead I drove through that tourist-filled town an hour later, after stopping at multiple viewpoints overlooking the craggy peaks of the Tetons. I had to drag myself away so I could get to Victor, Idaho by 5:00 to drop off Sage at the Hairball Hotel, where she is being boarded for the first time with a stranger. I nervously left her there for two nights so we can hike inside the national park. I had enough time for a quick stop at the Visitor Center in Jackson before picking Anne up from the airport shortly after 6:00.

We ate a mediocre dinner, including a shared buffalo burger, at the Mangy Moose next door to our mediocre lodging, the hostel in Teton Village. The salad with grilled watermelon was flooded with so much dressing that it was inedible. Fortunately, our waitress replaced it with one with dressing on the side, a big improvement, though still odd.

August 17 – Jenny Lake

After an uncomfortable night on a worn-out mattress, we drive north to Jenny Lake and took a boat shuttle to the opposite shore. There we took a beautiful hike up past a spot called Inspiration Point (I think every park has one of them) into appropriately named Cascade Canyon. Given the altitude, above 7000‘, we didn’t go too far, keeping our hike to 6-7 miles round trip. 

Back in Teton Village, we took the Bridger Gondola (free after 5:00 pm) up to the top. The Deck was closing when we arrived, so we ate indoors at the pricier Piste Mountain Bistro. We enjoyed a small meal, especially the wine and the view. 

August 18 – Sunrise and Hiking

We left our room at 5:30 am so we could reach the historic Moulton Barn before sunrise. This structure, all that remains of a homestead built in the early 1900’, provides a nice foreground for the mountain range behind. On our way, in the dim pre-dawn light, we saw an elk with the largest rack of antlers I’ve ever seen. And while we waited for the sun to reach the peaks we were entertained by buffalo blocking cars on the road. 

Afterwards, we ate a chilly outdoor breakfast at Dornans, then took another perfect hike selected by Anne: the Bradly and Taggart Lakes loop. With an early start we initially had the trail to ourselves, keeping one hand on our bear spray just in case we surprised one. The nice dirt trail, with gentle inclines and declines, provided great views of the jagged peaks and took us to the shore of two lakes. 

We were done before noon and drove up to Coulter Bay for a bit of souvenir shopping and lunch at Jackson Lodge. My trout was good. Afterwards we drove over the Teton Pass to pick up Sage. She was playing fetch when we arrived and seemed happy. We ate dinner in Teton Village at the Alpenhof Bistro; the apple strudel we split for dessert was one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

Aug 19 – Red Hills

We got a leisurely start this morning, sleeping in and going out to breakfast; we split a yummy crepe at Alpenhof. We ate on the deck so Sage could join us, almost staying warm at the only sunny table. We needed to hike outside the park since dogs aren’t allowed on trails in National Parks, so we searched online and found a short hike in the Red Hills, east of the park. After a dozen miles on a dirt road, we came up empty handed.  There were red hills, but no trailheads. Another couple came along looking for the same trail and they couldn’t find it either. We ended up taking a short walk along the base of the hills and heading back to the park. 

We got disappointing takeout food from Signal Lodge, intending to eat overlooking Jackson Lake. However, the only picnic tables were in the direct sun so we ate on a bench in the shade with trash cans blocking our view. Anne had a headache, so we headed back to the hostel. She rested in our dark room while I hung out at a picnic table near the hostel sorting photos with Sage loungeing beside me on the lawn. Several people stopped by to pet her and compliment her good behavior.

Aug 20 – Yellowstone

Another early rising, this time to catch sunrise at Oxbow Bend on our way to Yellowstone. It was not as colorful as we’d hoped, but peaceful with a bit of mist rising and the sound of unseen cranes whooping. In the distance I could see dots of buffalo, or perhaps elk.

We essentially spent the rest of the day driving through Yellowstone, a park too big to fully see in a day. We had originally planned to spend more time here, but the dog sitter I had booked through Rover cancelled and I was unable to find another with short notice. 

Old Faithful was erupting high in the sky as we drove up, so I missed photographing a geyser. The bright blue Grand Prismatic Spring was amazing. I first saw it from above, after walking a fairly long distance to a viewpoint south of it. We then waited for a turn in the parking lot near the spring and examined it up close from a boardwalk. It was other worldly. A slight overcast was keeping the temperature reasonable, so we could leave Sage in the car for short periods of time. 

We ate a picnic lunch at Canyon Village then visited Artist Point with a lovely view of the Lower Falls in Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Anne’s headache was increasing so she skipped the next couple stops and we made calls to shorten our trip, cutting out the two days we had planned for Sun Valley, Idaho. 

We made two more stops on our way through the park: Tower Falls, which I found disappointing after the beauty of Lower Falls, and the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, another unearthly spot. By the time we reached our hotel in West Yellowstone, a huge improvement over the hostel in the Tetons, Anne’s headache had abated. We played fetch with Sage, losing a ball to a tree, enjoyed a glass, or two, of red wine, and had a pleasant outdoor meal on a deck next to a singer/guitarist. An enjoyable ending to a long day.

Aug 21 – Drive to Winnemucca

It was a long car day with a stop in Twin Falls, for a nice lunch on a deck overlooking the gorge cut by the same Snake River that runs through the Tetons. We nearly finished a long audio book: The Perfect Storm. The author did an impressive job tying together a compelling story with great information about weather, deep sea fishing, maritime rescue and other topics. Though I dozed briefly through one stretch of technical detail, overall the book was fascinating.  As with every leg of my trip, we encountered road work delays along the way.

Once a supply center for the Central Pacific Railroad, Winnemucca, is now a stopping point on I-80, hours from anywhere. It was in the high 90’s when we arrived so I kept Sage’s fetch time short, after which I had the worst meal of my trip at a place called the Toasted Tavern.

Aug 22 – Drive Home with a Hiking Break

We had breakfast at a casino then drove half-way home, to Truckee. There we drove up through Tahoe Donner to the Glacier Way Trailhead and enjoyed a short, four-mile hike along the Donner Lake Rim Trail overlooking Donner Lake and the neighboring mountains. We picnicked at the car, with the usual for this trip – gluten-free crackers, hummus, cheese, and olives – then continued on our way encountering more traffic than I’ve seen in weeks. Fortunately, we were going opposite the commute. After putting more than 3000 miles on my car, I’m sad to say that California has the worst roads. The temperature reached 101oF (38oC) as we drove through the Sacramento Valley, the hottest spot on my trip 

I dropped Anne in Marin and reached home in late afternoon. My older son, Alex, came by with groceries and fixed me dinner. A nice surprise. 

Return to Colorado

Annie and I arrived in Colorado after five days on the road, mostly in Utah. We spent three days visiting Lynne and exploring the Rocky Mountains, and then she flew home and I continued to Fort Collins to visit my friend Nancy and her family.

August 7 – A Long Day

We left our hotel in Utah at 7:00 a.m. and met Lynne at the Crooked Creek Saloon in Fraser at 6:30 pm. (See Southern Utah entry for what we saw along the way). It was benefit night with a portion of the proceeds going to the library where Lynne volunteers. We ate dinner on the outside deck and listened to a band.

August 8 – Fraser

For our first day at 8500’ (2600 meters) we took a short hike, 3-4 miles, along a ridge south towards Winter Park and back along the river. Spending the last four days above 5000’ made it easier than it would have been for us sea-level dwellers. There are patches of snow on Byers Peak and some of the other nearby mountain tops. 

Afterwards, Lynne took us on a driving tour of Fraser and Winter Park, including a stop at the cemetery where her father was recently buried. We ate lunch on the patio at The Peak, a brew pub which I’ve frequented on each visit. After a couple samples, I settled on Elk Bugle ESB as my favorite beer. Annie and Lynne enjoyed their IPA’s, and we all liked our salads. Sage is becoming a very mellow restaurant dog; she lay down and slept. 

We stopped at the grocery store on our way back and then watched a thunderstorm come through. Annie decided to take an introvert’s break and stayed in, while Lynne and I took a bottle of red wine and container of sushi to the Rendezvous Event Center in Winter Park for a free outdoor concert, by a rock & roll revival band called Wyatt Lowe and the Mayhem Kings.  Canvas chairs kept us off the wet lawn, but it was chilly after the sun dropped. 

August 9 – Columbine Lake

We picked up Lynne’s friend Jill and drove on a bumpy dirt road for about an hour to the Junco Lake trailhead. From there we took the seven mile out-and-back trail, eight according to our phones, to Columbine Lake. The skies were mostly blue and we had a grand time. Sage smiled as she ran free, except when I leashed her along the meadows where we spotted a moose. (Another hiker told us there was a youngster too, but we didn’t see it). I enjoyed conversing with wonderful women, taking pictures of cascades along the trail, and eating lunch overlooking the lake. It’s a good thing I sprayed on herbal insect repellent, both Lynne and Annie came back with mosquito bites. 

Back at the condo, we showered and rested before heading out for cocktails at a new distillery in Fraser, Mexican food, and more outdoor music, a couple singer guitarists at Cooper Creek Square.

August 10 – Rocky Mountain National Park

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve driven along Trail Ridge Road and I never tire of the views. Lynne had to work today, so Annie and I got an early start and headed up into the park. Shortly after we entered, once again enjoying my lifetime pass, we spotted cars at the side of the road. Sure enough, there were moose in the meadow, a male and female. They were the most active moose I’ve ever seen and at one point the male headed in our direction. I was debating whether running behind a tree would help if he got any closer. 

After that, we stopped at a half dozen vista points, taking pictures under grey skies with occasional rain drops. We saw two herds of elk, one near the Alpine Visitor center, at the top of the stairs and another near the Rock Cut pullover. One marmot was licking the rocks at Forest View. We stopped at a dispensary in Tabernash to look at growing marijuana plants on our way back to Fraser, which we reached shortly after noon. We ate leftovers for lunch, stopped by to visit Lynne, and lingered around the condo all afternoon watching the weather switch from sun to hail and back.

August 11 – Goodbye to Annie and Lynne

We gave Lynne goodbye hugs and drove to the Denver airport where I dropped Annie off to fly home, wrapping up a rich, fun-filled week. I continued north to Fort Collins to visit my longest friend, Nancy, her husband Steve, and son Zach. Sage loves the large lawn in back of their home and quickly tired out Bella, the resident boxer. 

August 12-15 – Fort Collins

I spent a relaxing four days hanging out in Fort Collins. On the first day, I posted my Utah blog entry, paddle boarded with Zach, and enjoyed a steak salad – Steve’s barbeque with Zach’s Caesar salad. Nancy returned from the Bay Area later that evening; she’s been there helping take care of her father’s estate. The next couple days were primarily spent shopping, sewing, eating, and watching a bit of television (rare for me). I heard about a group of teenage boys who climbed all 58 of Colorado’s 14er’s (peaks over 14,000’, 427 meters), and a state record-breaking softball-sized hail that fell that week. On my last day, Nancy and I took a day trip. We went for a scenic drive though Gold Hill to Nederland where we had lunch, then a detour to Boulder, since Boulder Canyon Drive was closed for road improvements following past floods and rock slides. We were one of the first on the road when it reopened at 2:00 so we could visit Boulder Falls. Afterwards, we stopped at the DushanbeTeahouse for a refreshing ice tea and snack – the “Summer Peach Bruschetta” was delicious! Back in Fort Collins, we joined Steve and Zach for a sushi dinner, and I packed up, ready for the third leg of my three-week road 

Southern Utah

I’m on the road again, heading to Colorado with Sage, my almost two-year-old Border Collie, and my friend Annie. After driving though Yosemite and Nevada, we reached Utah, where we spent a few days enjoying red rock country. Annie and I are both early birds who like to hike and take pictures, so we traveled well together.

August 3 – Drive to Tonopah

I picked Annie up from an East Bay BART station around 7:30 am and we essentially spent the whole day driving to Tonopah Nevada, stopping along the way to take pictures, eat a picnic lunch, and play fetch with Sage. The car temp reached 99oF (37oC) so we were grateful for air conditioning.

August 4 – Drive to Escalante, Utah

We drove most of the day, with a few scenic stops along the way. In Rachel, a town of 50, they are anxiously awaiting the arrival of thousands of visitors seeking to get into Area 51, a gathering promoted as a hoax which they hope will not materialize. 

It started to rain a bit after we drove through Red Canyon, and on the way from Bryce to Escalante we saw many lightning bolts. My tire air pressure warning came on shortly before we reached Escalante. I was worried after experiencing a flat tire in Iceland, but it turned out to be low pressure in one tire. 

We checked into our tiny cabin with bunk beds – the only place available by the time Annie and I set dates for our trip. Fortunately, we didn’t see the grumpy women who checked us in after that evening; everyone else we encountered was friendly, especially the young women at the café with more energy than a Border Collie. She gave us great sightseeing tips. We went across the street and ate dinner at an outside patio; the rain and wind stayed away.

August 5 – Devils Garden

We ate breakfast at the tiny café adjacent to our cabins, then headed down Hole-in-the-Rock road within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This dirt road was in good shape considering the recent rains. It was 13 miles to Devils Garden. We had a whole hour to explore this awesome collection of sculpted rocks before anyone else arrived, and Annie earned the nickname “Panorama Queen”. On our way back, we considered a detour to Cedar Wash Arch, but the road wasn’t passable. 

Back on Highway 12, an incredible scenic road, we headed north to the Escalante Trailhead, stopping at numerous overlooks to ooh and ahh. We hiked/scrambled up to see petroglyphs, but skipped hiking to a rock bridge since it would have involved multiple crossings of a very muddy river, still dropping from the flood that came through yesterday.

As we were leaving, a young backpacker, April, emerged from the trail. We gave her a ride back to town. She had spent two nights out, including a whole day watching the river rise and fall.  We ate a late lunch at the café, where I enjoyed a tasty beer: Kiitos Brewing Amber Ale. (I later tried one called Juicy IPA which I enjoyed in spite of the fact that I don’t tike IPAs). We rested a bit at our cabinette, then drove to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park for a very refreshing swim in the reservoir. Sage chased balls and sticks into the lake and stopped when her belly touched the water. I carried her in a couple times just to confirm she could swim. She immediately headed to shore, grabbing her ball along the way.

August 6 – Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. 

It’s a good thing we got an early start on this scenic hike along the Escalante River; it was 90oF (33oC) by the time we returned to the trailhead shortly after noon. The official brochure says this hike is six miles, but according to our phones it was over seven. The trail was red sand and rock with nice views of red cliffs. The falls were beautiful. The chilly water felt great on my feet and Sage found several willing stick throwers. Along the way we saw a variety of lizards, including one chased by a snake – it got away. Between the heat and all her running back and forth, Sage was exhausted by the time we were done; I have never seen her this tired. The iced beverages that awaited us in the car helped revive us.

Next we drove to Torrey, along the way the temperature dropped twenty-five degrees, the skies darkened, and rain started. We checked into our hotel early, using a remote entry system. It was very basic, but clean and spacious compared to the cabin. We ate a late lunch at local burger joint and retired to our room early. I spent most of my leisure time downloading and organizing photos. 

August 7 – Capitol Reef

We got an early start so we could take a short tour of Capitol Reef National Park on our way to Colorado. Even under overcast skies it was beautiful. I could easily spend days exploring this colorful landscape, filled with red-hued striated mountains. On our way out we stopped at the Gifford Farmhouse for fresh pies, filled with fruit from nearby orchards; they were still warm.

After a few more scenic stops, we spent the rest of the day driving, mostly on I-70. Our conversations covered many topics. The skies remained cloudy with periods of rain. The speed limit dropped from 80 to 75 when we crossed the state line. Goodbye Utah, Hello Colorado.

Colorado Road Trip

I’m about to head off on another road trip to Colorado, so I figure I should post a few pictures from last year’s trip first. 

July 2018

I usually fly when I go to Colorado to visit friends, but drove this time so I could bring Sage, my then nine-month old Border Collie. Susan joined me for the first half of my two-week trip, to Fraser where we visited Lynne and enjoyed short hikes and beautiful views. I continued on to Fort Collins where Nancy taught me how to make quilt.

July 12 – Dive to Tonopah, Nevada

It was an overcast day as we drove through Yosemite and by the time we got through the mountains it was raining, so we skipped stopping at Mono Lake and drove through heavy rain with thunder in the distance.

July 13 – Drive to Escalante, Utah

A long drive with various scenic stops. At one point we were so low on gas in the middle of nowhere that we turned off the air conditioner. We made with a fraction of a gallon to spare.

July 14 – Scenic Drive into Colorado

We took a short hike in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, followed by a gorgeous drive on Hwy 12 up past Boulder and through Capital Reef National Park. The rain followed us, but we stayed dry. We spent the night in New Castle.

July 15–18  

We drove to Fraser, CO where we visited Lynne and her family, and took several hikes in the beautiful Rockies.

July 19 – Drive to Fort Collins  

Susan and I took a final hike, a short round trip to a waterfall. Then, after leaving a few things behind for Lynne to bring home for us, we crammed four people and luggage into my small car, a Subaru Cross Trek. I took Lynne and her dad, Jim, to a hotel near the Denver airport, they were heading out on a trip the next day, and then dropped off Susan for her flight home.

July 20-23 – Sewing, Sewing, Sewing

My friend, Nancy, an awesome quilter, taught me how to make one. I bought everything I needed, including a sewing machine, and nearly finished making one for a queen-size bed, not a small project for a new quilter.  

July 24-26 – Drive from Fort Collins to Home

After a final walk along the canal, now a bit muddy from last night’s rain, I packed up the car and headed home. Google estimated six hours to Vernal; it took me about seven and a half with a handful of brief stops, including a grassy park in Rock Springs, Wyoming for a bit of fetch with Sage. The final segment of our first day, south on 191, was the most scenic. After checking into the Sage Motel, we took a hot walk around Vernal, it was about 98oF (37oC) and I ate dinner at the outdoor patio of a brew pub. 

The next day, I drove to Elko. Listening to books on tape kept me entertained, including Call the Midwife. I headed out early the next morning and reached home in the afternoon of the third day.

Art Camp

June 9-16, 2019

I recently returned from my third year at Feather River Art Camp, rooming with Chris again. It’s great fun to spend a week in the mountains creating art with fellow campers. I started each day with Thai Chi exercises, spent the mornings in my core class (encaustics this year, mosaics last), then explored various workshops and hikes in the afternoons and evenings. The dining hall food was much improved, and I learned to play Mexican Train and Rummikub so I’m ready for game nights.

La Jolla

Though I still need to catch up on trips from last year, I’m posting this one now since it’s quick and easy.

September 25-28, 2018

I took a short trip to visit my friend Dede. We realized that it’s been four years since my last visit, too long. As usual it was very relaxing. I took daily walks on the beach and enjoyed wearing sandals.

Tuesday

Dede picked me up from the airport in the early afternoon. As soon as we got to her home, I headed to the beach. It’s about a 15-minute walk down and a 20-minute walk back up. I’m glad I went since this was the only sunny day I had at the beach during my visit. There is almost as much fog here as at home, but it’s warmer.

When I got back we enjoyed dinner on her patio. Her friend Victor barbequed ribs, and we enjoyed a bottle of red wine. For me, it’s a luxury to be able to eat outdoors in the evening.

Wednesday

 I took one of Dede’s three dogs, 90-pound Buddy, for a walk on the beach in the morning.  Dogs are only allowed before 9:00 a.m. and after 6:00 pm. Though he’s huge, he’s well trained and easy to walk. I’m not used to male dogs and counted 16 leg lifts at bushes and trees on our way up and down the hill.

In the afternoon, Dede and I took Buddy and a Ellie May, a small fluffy white dog, for a visit to a memory care center. Though some of the residents were not responsive, most perked up and were happy to pet them. When she’s a bit older, I’m hoping to train Sage, my almost year-old Border Collie, to be a therapeutic visitation dog.

Dede’s friend John later joined us for a barbeque at the beach. We had hoped for a nice sunset, but no luck. Given that it was mid-week and overcast we virtually had the beach to ourselves.  Salmon, corn on the cob, salad, and boysenberry pie, yum!

Thursday

We spent the whole morning glued to the tube watching the Kavanaugh hearing. Sadly things have not has changed much in the 36 years since Anita Hill bravely came forward. I broke away to take a long, leisurely barefoot stroll along the beach before attending a Veterans for Peace protest. They would like to see the Miramar airshow discontinued since it glorifies war.

Friday

I took Buddy for one last beach walk, then packed up and headed to the airport. My flight was delayed slightly due to fog in San Francisco, but was otherwise uneventful.