Saturday, November 24, 2018

Mantaees! Thanksgiving Day Treat

The same Thanksgiving day I about sh-- in my pants (and thanks to startling a 'gator, it looked like the whole river did just that on me and my kayak) was also the same day I got to enjoy watching some of the gentlest of large estuary critters -- manatees.  

Famed fictional captain Moby Dick was not enamored with them, sardonically quipping "...these pig-fish are a noisy, contemptible set, mostly lurking in the mouths of rivers, and feeding on wet hay, and especially as they do not spout, I deny their credentials as whales; and have presented them with their passports to quit the Kingdom of Cetology." 

Indeed, the captain is correct on manatees origin. He may have been a bit loopy, but not as loopy as sailors who mistook them for mermaids! Maybe it had just been way too long without female companionship.

Manatee's closest living land relative is the elephant.  Like elephants, manatees are mostly vegetarian.  Watching them eat, it's easy to understand why they're nicknamed "sea cows."  Per wikepedia, "Manatees are three of the four living species in the order Sirenia. The fourth is the Eastern Hemisphere's dugong [which I had the pleasure of seeing in Vanuatu]. The Sirenia are thought to have evolved from four-legged land mammals more than 60 million years ago."

manatees palm bay florida goode park
This manatee couple looked like they were cuddling. Goode Park, Palm Bay, Thanksgiving 2018.
Today, while we're lucky enough to see manatees with ease in Florida, they are endangered species.  Florida enacted protections for them from hunters as early as the mid 1800s. Today, propellers and red tides threaten their survival.  Those that do survive may live as long as 60 years. Fully grown, they reach 800-1200 pounds.  

If you're looking for them, you might first hear them grabbing a deep breath of air when they surface -- which you can hear in this audio, along with a variety of other sounds they make -- including farting (also on the audio)! When awake, they come up about every 3 minutes, though when they sleep, they wake up every 20 minutes to come up for air.

They're gentle, curious and usually slow moving, though they can swim in short bursts at speeds of over 20 miles per hour. They seem so friendly, it's hard to resist wanting to give them an affectionate pat.  I'd love to swim with manatees, but not when they're hanging out in alligator country.

Danny of Paradise Paddling approaching Turkey Creek Sanctuary Palm Bay
Danny of Paradise Paddling leading the way on Turkey Creek for the sunset paddle where I first encountered manatees.
The nice folks at Paddling Paradise at Turkey Creek, Palm Bay treated a group of us to my first time seeing manatees from my kayak.  We watched several of them grazing contentedly right next to us. We left before the manatees did because we needed return while there was still enough light.

If you'd like to learn more about manatees here's a few longer videos, shot in much clearer water.
Where You Can Swim with Manatees (3 minutes)
The Truth About Manatees (7 1/2 minutes)

If you're really intrigued, you can even adopt a manatee (virtually), and increase the likelihood future generations can enjoy them as much as we do.

Meanwhile -- this Thanksgiving it was an alligator and manatees. Two years ago ago I saw pink dolphins for Thanksgiving.  What's next? 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Gator Sploosh! Thanksgiving.

scary looking american alligator
Clément Bardot [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons
What would you do on a 76-degree Thanksgiving day with on one to hang out with?

Wayne and I enjoyed putting together turkey and the trimmings the day before, as he was working Thanksgiving Day.

So I packed up my trusty little inflatable kayak into my Prius and popped off to nearby Turkey Creek (see description for more about paddling there). After all -- I was still celebrating,  where better to paddle on Thanksgiving that a place called Turkey Creek?  Just a few miles from where I live with lots of public access boat ramps and docks,  the paddling at Turkey Creek is easy, calm waters meandering through cattails and mangroves and alongside waterfront homes.  The area is lushly beautiful, with abundant wildlife ... ospreys, herons, egrets, kingfishers, turtles, and manatees.

Paddling Turkey Creek a few days earlier with Paddling Paradise.
Kayaking the area with the Paddling Paradise group a few days before, my camera battery died just as three grazing manatees decided they were perfectly happy to hang out with us until we needed to push off before the sun set. This time I came prepared with a fully charged camera, seeking more friendly manatees.

I've been told there were also alligators. I hadn't seen the 'gators, though believed they were there.

Up until this point, the only 'gator I saw kayaking was on with a Meetup group of kayakers about a month ago, on a river about a 40 minute drive South.  He (or she) was just a little guy, maybe 4-5 feet.  The only sign of his presence were eyes just cresting the inlet's surface. A fellow kayaker paddled straight towards him and the gator quickly dived. I was disappointed -- wishing for a better chance to observe it, quietly and from a respectful distance.

Saw this alligator  a few weeks ago walking the Viera wetlands and was happy to keep my distance
and let my telephoto "get close."
Much as I enjoy solitude in nature, whether hiking or kayaking, when I'm alone, I deliberately try to pick places and times where I believe others are around, in case of emergency.  Given that, I was a little concerned that I was unlikely to find other kayakers out and about around prime Thanksgiving feasting time.  There was one truck with a boat trailer, no one fishing or kayaking.  I paddled across the lagoon to another set docks, Goode Park, where a family gazed out over the water.  They told me that it was a great place to spot manatees.

I paddled back toward my starting point to find my way between some low-lying islands that I thought led to the same route I'd paddled earlier in the week.  I came into a dead-end and realized it wasn't the same spot. I turned around, retracing my steps....

Then, suddenly there was a massive SPLASH! So much so that a wave of murky water nailed me from the head down, coating the top deck of my kayak splooshing a quart or so of water into my kayak.  Sharp concentric rings rose a few inches up on the water's surface, fanning out in front of me -- a sure sign something BIG passed me.

Even though I didn't see it, from the sound, the location and the force of the water, I'm pretty darned sure that something big was an alligator, and suspect it was as startled as I was. While alligators have been known to attack and even kill humans, reports of alligator attacks of kayakers are pretty rare (though here is a recent one in Florida). Usually it's waders, swimmers, snorkelers and shore side walkers (fatalities seem a bit more likely if dog-walking, as in this recent incident) who are attacked.

I'm almost positive what I encountered was not a manatee, the only other aquatic local in that size range.  But manatee movement is slow and languorous. What I experienced was a hard, fast smack on the water and a sense of a critter that felt at least as large or larger than a manatee.

I'd been told it was best to avoid the banks as that's where the gators hung out. The spot where I was startled was fairly close to a cattail-fringed bank. I felt foolish that I'd not paid more attention.  Here's a good post that spells out a little better how to avoid gator encounters.

I also felt very lucky and thankful that the gator wasn't interested in punishing me for my momentary lapse.

Feeling the urgent need to be near people, I paddled back to the manatee watchers, who'd gotten their wish.

"What happened to you?" one of them asked, noticing that I was speckled with muck.  I explained.

Then I tied off my kayak, pulled out my camera and took in the show.  Eventually, the manatees moved on.

I pulled my kayak up on the dock, rolled it over to get most of the water out of it. Still the lone kayaker, I decided a short paddle back to the dock where I started from was good enough for the day.  I was happy not to spend my Thanksgiving offering myself as a Turkey Creek feast to one of the locals.

File:American Alligator eating crab.JPG
Gareth Rasberry [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons
"You should tell others about what happened," my friend Nancy urged. when I told her about my close encounter.  And so I am.

"Does this mean you're done kayaking there?" Wayne asked, when I told him about my adventure.

West Marine Scamper I inflatable kayak.
My kayak, set out to finish drying after its close encounter a 'gator in Turkey Creek.
It's so easy to transport in my little car, I kinda hate to replace it with a hard plastic kayak. 
"No," I replied, but added "I will exercise more caution and may not go out paddling if I'm the only one around."  A non-inflatable kayak is also a consideration (though toting it via my Prius would be challenging)....

While the odds of being attacked by 'gators are low, I believe avoiding alligators is the best plan. I'm not ready to give up kayaking, though I plan to be much more cautious about exactly when and where I go.  While hope you or I never need them, here's a few tips on what to do if encountering a less laissez-faire 'gator than the one the skirted me this Thanksgiving.

On a brighter note -- my next post will show photos and video of the manatees.

And I hope your Thanksgiving was every bit as memorable... though for other reasons!  Be careful out there!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

We interrupt this series....

Still some more posts to come on the cross-country road trip, for those still curious about our Northwest to Southeast blitz across this vast country.

Meanwhile, a quick here-and-now on the best of our new home -- a balmy sunrise beach walk in October, Melbourne Florida.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Cross-Country Road Trip: PNW > Melbourne FL -- Day 3

Base of Wasatch Mountains in shadow, peaks bright in morning light with blue sky
Exiting South Jordan Utah toward NW Colorado, the Wasatch Mountains were emerging from the morning shadow.
Wasatch Mountains, Utah to Larkspur Colorado
Just as Wayne was a great captain in picking cool and less-traveled places to go cruising, he's every bit as talented when it comes to road trip planning.  Be forewarned -- navigating some of these routes are not for the faint of heart.  Fortunately, Wayne is as a superb driver as he is a captain when it comes to tackling the tricky stuff.

Sadly, we allowed only 8 days between my last day of work in Oregon, and Wayne's first day of work in Florida, and one of those 8 days was reserved for family time. 

Family as much or more than anything else is what drew us back to the USA after cruising.
Jack Greyson October 2018 Inspired Living Sarasota
A recent visit to Dad since our Florida move.  He's cracking up over a loosely-played game of casino.
Dad's one of the few remaining WWII bombadeers.
Being closer to my now 94-year-old Dad in large part prompted our move from the Pacific Northwest to Florida.  Dad lives in Sarasota, Florida, about a 3 1/2 hour drive from where Wayne landed viable work.  We would've been closer to Mom, who lived in Delray Beach, but Mom surprised us all by checking out earlier this year at 87 years young.
Family photo of my mother and her boyfriend smiling and wearing dark sunglasses in the Florida sunshine.
Visiting Mom and her boyfriend Richard, in happier times. Wakodahatchee Wetlands 2017, Delray Beach Florida.
We were also looking forward to seeing my brother Mark and his wife, my favorite sister-in-law in the whole world, Patty, in Larkspur, Colorado.  We planned to arrive on the eve of our third day of travel.

That day was a series of a scenic routes, beginning by exiting a Salt Lake City burb then weaving into the Wasatch Mountains, past Heber City.  
Bridal Veil Falls comes down through a rocky face in three tiers
Wasatch Mountains Bridal Veil Falls in morning shadow.
Our first stop of the day was Bridal Veil Falls -- well worth a hike if we'd had the time for it.  We oohed and ahhed over the falls and the massive stone thrusts we wove our way through.

All too soon we zipped past some sizable reservoirs, and skirted the tourist town of Heber City.  Heber City boasts the closest airport to the internationally famed Sundance indie film festival and is a winter wonderland in its own right.  There was no hint of the area's oft bitterly cold, snowy winters. on that Indian summer day at the tail end of a record-breaking hot season.

The Wasatch mountains gave way to arid Colorado country, with low buttes and dry, rolling hills.  We chuckled over the kitchy statues in Dinosaur, Colorado.
Cartoon-like dinosaur statue against an arid hillside
This fellow had some equally silly looking brethren scattered around
the tiny tourist town of Dinosaur Colorado.
Unfortunately, we also didn't allot any time to explore Dinosaur National Monument, a National Park.  Thousands of dinosaur fossils await exploration there.

e did stop briefly to admire the painted hills in the area, a notably rare worthwhile lookout point on that stretch of relatively desolate highway.

To get a better sense of the possibilities this area offers if you are able to take the time, check out Road Trip Explore's coverage.  They do a great job capturing the general scenery, fossils, petroglyphs, flora and fauna.

Or for a more surreal perspective, William Horton's photography conjures up gobsmackingly gorgeous photos of the Dinosaur area.  

I confess -- other than the painted hills -- we did not see much in the way of engaging scenery on our drive-by.  That would've likely added at least a day in detours to see.  And of course perfect timing of year and day to get the Horton's magical light and color.
Painted hills of white, orange and red orange; sagebrush-studded flatland foreground blue skies with wispy cloulds above
Hooray!  There was actually a highway pullout that gave us an opportunity to step out and take a picture
of the stunning painted hills in the Dinosaur area.
Eventually we cruised into more verdant Colorado cattle country... green rolling hills, bright red barns, herds of cattle.  Before our planned high point of the day,  Berthoud Pass, we encountered a some roadwork delays.  On the whole, we were lucky; there were few roadwork delays our entire trip.
Trucks and cars lined up on the road, road construction sign on the right, forested land on the left
This stretch in Colorado was one of the few delays for construction in our entire cross country trip.
This one was about 20 minutes.
Ironically, Berthoud Pass was named for a wagon-train era railroad engineer who decided the area was not good for a railroad.  Edward Berthoud discovered this steep, mountain pass shortcut with a colleague and observed while it wasn't ok for railroads, it would work for wagon trains.  As a result today's cars switchback their way through this scenic area as part of highway 40 that crosses the continental divide, peaking out at a lofty 11,300 ft. 
Berthoud Pass, aspen in the foreground a ribbon of golden aspen festoons the evergreens along the slope.
Beautiful as it is,  Berthoud Pass did not beat out my two other top favorite US alpine roads.  

Montana and Wyoming's Beartooth Pass (US Route 212) reaches a slightly less lofty 10,947 ft. but offers more open views.  Or maybe it's simply that we weren't as rushed when we took it, and we traversed it earlier in the year, when wildflowers were in their full glory.

While a definite nail-biter, Glacier Park's Logan Pass -- aka the Going to the Sun Road, is a true stunner, and Glacier is my favorite US National Park. Built in 1933, "the Sun" is another continental divide crosser.  It offers incredible unobstructed views on the precipice of massive drop-offs with the added excitement of hairpin turns.  You'd never guess it's "only" 6,646 feet high.   Next time I go to  Glacier, I'd rather plan it so everyone can sightsee without navigating, thanks to the park's ample supply of antique red busses
Fall on its way on Berthoud Pass in September 2018
Green and golden aspen leaves mixed, as we traveled Berthoud Pass on the cusp between summer and fall. 
We passed that way September 11, 2018.
Comparisons aside. it's easy to understand why Berthoud Pass is a summer recreation mecca for hiking, fishing, backpacking and camping, as well as the way to get to perfect powder skiing in the winter.

Colorado's known for its glorious golden aspens in the fall. When Wayne didn't want to stop in the Steens for me to take pictures of the aspen as the sun descended, he promised to make up for it in Colorado.  True to Wayne's promise, the aspen of Berthoud pass delivered.

Sunlight streaming through gold and orange aspen leaves above Big Bend Arapaho Forest picnic area
A dab of organe in these aspen were a hit of even greater fall glory yet to come.
Duly sated. from there it was off to Larkspur, arriving not long before sunset, to just "hang out," rest our road-weary bodies, and  spend the night and next day with family.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Cross-Country Road Trip -- PNW > Melbourne FL: Day 2 Southeastern Oregon to Utah's Wasatch Mountains

yellow rabbitbush blossoms, dry grass fields brown foothills smoky orange sunrise
Smoke made for a fiery dawn if not a view of Steens Mountain.  Frenchglen, Eastern Oregon.
Even early  morning, the Steens Mountain view still eluded us, secreted away in the eye-tingling, throat scratching, smoke-tinged air.  It was time to move on.  In a week, Wayne would be starting work in Florida.

Our destination for the day was the base of the Wasatch Mountains, in the Salt Lake City, Utah area -- a reasonable halfway point between Frenchglen and Larkspur Colorado, where my brother and his wife live.
Black Toyota Prius so dust covered it looks biege-gray
My car was a bit worse for the wear traveling the unpaved roads into the Steens the night before.
We stopped at the first car wash we could find... which was a good ways into the day, in Winnemucca, Nevada.

2-lane highway view from car, hill in the background, power poles in between
We bid this desolate stretch of Oregon goodbye... Highway 140 is populated more by power poles than people or trees.

Before long we found ourselves crossing the border into blink-and-you'll-miss-it mining town of Denio Nevada, which reaped the rewards of liberal liquor and gambling laws "just across the border" as well as offering the delights of fishing and hot springs.  Denio's current population is less than 50.
Nevada welcome sign foreground, general store and shacks background, sagebrush in between
Denio, Nevada.  A bustling border town. Not.
We passed rapidly through long stretches of sparsely populated country... predominantly dessert-like grasslands, punctuated with buttes and mesas, the ocaissona cattle ranch and farm.  We wondered what stories the dilapidated farms and shacks could tell us.  
dilapidated shacks, sagebrush foreground, golden hills background
Shacks in Denio, Nevada. They looked like they'd been there a long time.  The town was settled in 1885.
The towns were tiny and far flung.  If American flags were an indication, pride in our country beat as strongly in the hearts of those who lived there as the harsh sun beat down on the prairies and Badlands.

Still, driving through Australia struck us as more desolate and isolated.  In the US, there was more homesteads and ranches (even if some looked abandoned for decades), and more trucks on the road. The spaces between places were far more vast in Oz.

We stopped briefly in the historic town of "one moccasin" Winnemucca, where we finally found a car wash, grabbed gas and groceries.  Casinos, built long before Indian reservations began building them as tribal money-makers, served a reminder that Nevada is the only place in the country where the oldest profession in the the world is still legal.

Red casino building as seen driving by
Not much sign of life on Monday morning when we cruised past this kitchy little casino in Winnemucca, Nevada. 
It's the big town and county seat of Humbolt county, town population 7,000-something.
At Winnemucca, we regretfully left those more personable two-lane highways and quirky tiny towns behind for burning miles on I-80, still seeking curiosities where we could find them to alleviate the boredom of too many miles in too short a time.

In Nevada, for example, we couldn't figure out why there were three beautifully built overpasses to nowhere.  It was obvious they were built in recent years, and at substantial expense.  Were they pork barrel political projects?  With some Googling, we eventually discovered the overpasses's purpose -- to provide a safe crossing for wildlife, reducing traffic fatalities for both humans and 4-legged creatures.  

The overpasses were spurred by Nevada Department of Transportation research and based on the success of similar crossing put into place in the 90s in Banff, Canada.... 
Each year in Nevada, vehicle collisions with wild and domestic/feral animals result in more than 500 reported crashes, cost the Nevada public over $19 million in crash costs, and kill an estimated 5,032 wild animals.... In a continual effort to provide the safest roadways, the Nevada Department of Transportation and partners such as the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nevada Department of Wildlife are installing safety crossings.

Research on Nevada's Elko county highway 93 overpass claims traffic fatalities were reduced by 80%.

Crossing into Utah,  the brown and tawny colored earth shifted mineral composition. If the temperatures hadn't been in the 90s, we might have thought we were traveling through snow.  Eventually as we approached the vast Great Salt Lake, salt crusted the water's edge like rock salt gone amuck on a margarita glass rim.  
salt crystal plain and highway seen from aerial view
Salt crystals and gypsum cast a snow-like landscape across Utah's arid Salt Lake area.
This image was pilfered from Pixnio. 
We drank in the scenery at high speed; even if we'd wanted to pull over to snap a scenic shot, there were no scenic overlooks we could access easily just off the highway. 
Image result for great salt lake
Our Highway 80 view of the Great Salt Lake, Utah looked similar to this.   Image from borrowed from Flickr
The Great Salt Lake. This 1,700 square mile, prehistoric lake once covered most of Western Utah.

The same lack of scenic overlook dilemma continued as we sped through the Bear River Mountains, the Northern tip of the Wasatch Mountain Range, and the Western portion of the Rocky Mountains.
Wasatch Mountain free of snow in the background pine foreground
Wasatch Mountains.... Image liberated from Wikipedia.
It was dusk as we rolled our stiff, road-weary bodies out of the car into SleepInn, in the crowded South Jordan burbs of Utah, relieved with a gorgeous view of the Wasatch range.  We supped at the R&R BBQ next door, chock-a-block full of kids, not surprising in the heart of Mormon country. Despite overstuffing ourselves, we waddled out with plenty of leftovers for the next day's travel.

Location Location
We are currently settling into Palm Bay, Florida.  This post is a retrospective of our recent cross-country drive here.  This post particular post covered our travels on September 10, 2018.  More to come.
rainbow over saw palmettoes
Rainbow over saw palmettos across from Coconut Point Beach Melbourne, Florida.
Site of the  monthly 1st Saturday beach cleanup.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Minimalist Move-In, Palm Bay Florida

All we needed to move in, with room to spare in my hatchback.
For minimalists like us, it doesn't take much to move in.  Our furniture consisted of only three items (two if you count doubles as one):
  • 1 airbed, queen-sized
  • 2 stadium fold-up chairs
Florida dream... backyard pool in the lanai (screen porch) complete with
the requisite rubber ducky wearing sunglasses and a lakeside view.  Not a bad spot to crash while apartment-hunting.
In the interim, we are incredibly grateful to Wayne's friend, Kevin Fogg, who consistently kept his eye out for a job for Wayne, and eventually placed his resume in the hands of a hiring manager ready to hire him.  Kevin and his wife Barbara graciously let us crash at their place for the week it took for us to find a place of our own.  Kevin also gave us a spin around town and ferried Wayne into work several times while I apartment hunted*.

*Apartment-hunting in the bustling Space Coast is not a task for the faint of heart.  Watch for a separate post on that topic soon!  As well as the continuation of our budget road trip lessons,highlights and Space Coast oddities.

Our airbed. It ain't much, but it does the job, for now.
Meanwhile, after combing all (and I do mean all!) the thrift shops in Melbourne and Palm Bay, we have acquired a few more items (still all from Habitat ReStore). Thus far, all transported via my miniscule hatchback!
This $15 recliner is in much nicer shape than the $10 couch we bought from ReStore
in Jacksonville in 2014 on the condition it would never come back to them.

  • 1 fan / light combo
  • $75 2 dresser / 1 night stand trio
  • 1 dining table set with 4 leather sling chairs**
  • 1 $15 butt-ugly but incredibly comfortable green recliner -- desperately in need of a shampoo
  • 3 $5 @ rusty wrought iron bar stools in dire need re-upholstery and refinishing**

Hardly the optimal transport vehicle for a recliner, but my trusty Prius did the deed!
Home doesn't feel like home until we have a mattress pad and a couch, though Wayne's $15 recliner will get us by in the meantime.
Thanks to the new-to-us recliner, now Goldie doesn't need to give up her spot.
Wifi is scheduled for installation Thursday... kind of running out excuses for not getting these posts done!
Haven't had the chance to test drive this yet.  Soon!  Temperatures have stuck around the 90s....

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cross Country Road Trip: Pacific NW > Melbourne FL -- Day 1

Mt. Hood from the summit of Tom, Dick and Harry on a very clear day in July this year.
This is what we're leaving behind -- for now.
Roughly 3200 miles from the Northwest to the Southeast,* 

  • 2 people
  • through 11 states
  • in 1 stuffed Prius 
  • in 1 week
  • observing maximum quirkiness in minimal time

*Vancouver Washington (USA) to Melbourne, Florida, "the Space Coast"

Our Goal:
Leave the Pacific Northwest well before we got SAD.  We wanted to put off getting to Florida until October.  Alas Wayne's new employer had a more assertive timeline. 
My Prius, ready to hit the road, filled with what we'd need for 3 weeks. 
All our remaining possessions are going freight FedEx in 1 small crate, 1 2' x 2' box and one small file box.
Gone were our visions of cruising the mighty Columbia River, through the locks (which are basically a water elevator), backtracking a chunk of Lewis and Clark's journey to Lewiston Idaho.  Likewise we abandoned our wish a leisurely tour sampling sights across the country.  
Maupin, a popular rafting spot on the Deschutes river was our first stop for a leg stretch and use of the facilities.
We chatted with a New York bound couple from Melbourne Australia, who had the luxury of not needing to arrive there until December.  They were driving a Porche SUV, definitely a more posh ride than my egalitarian little Prius.
Instead we opted for long day drives, a stopover with family, grocery grabs, road food and cheap hotels (~$70/night).  While we didn't leave at the crack of dawn and mostly finished driving before it got dark, our stops rarely exceeded 15 minutes. 
Lookout view of Les Schwab country, Prineville, where we did a grocery grab for the road. 
The area is arid and dry. The lush green on the lower right is thanks to ample watering of the golf course.
We mostly avoided major interstates, preferring smaller towns and more open spaces.... 
Much as we could at 55 mph, we wanted to snatch a taste of America, revelling in our country's vast expanse and savoring the characteristics that defined each place.
In Burns, Oregon, we figured we'd stop for gas as it would be long ways before there was another chance. 
This was one of many places there was clear evidence it was hunting country.  
"Take lots of pictures!" urged my Australian friend, Heather, who wanted to see the country.  Tough to do when you're whizzing through, though here's a few highlights, starting with our first day...

Day 1:  Vancouver Washington (USA) to Steens Mountain Wilderness, SE Oregon
For those of you who've never visited the Pacific Northwest, be aware it's almost a crime to zip by so many gorgeous vistas and not stop, so check out this Wiki on the Cascade range.... 
Wayne on a backpacking trip through Indian Heaven.
Mt. Adams in the background.
As we drove through, Wayne and I shared many fond memories of hiking, backpacking, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, windsurfing and driving through this amazing area.  It was particularly hard to not stop at Tom, Dick and Harry, one of my favorite Mt. Hood area hikes. We will return, and there were as Robert Frost penned, "Miles to go before I sleep."

Our goal was a teaser stop at the base of spectacular Steens Mountain, sometimes referred to as the Alps of Oregon, overnighting in the now infamous Malheur Wildlife Refuge.  Smoke from a variety of wildfires obliterated the view.  
This oasis and birder's paradise was just across the street from the Frenchglen hotel.
A brief wander sent us slipping into the Frenchglen Mercantile one minute before closing to grab a much needed can of insect repellant with deet.
The woman behind the register at the mercantile wasn't too pleased to see us so closing, but I was out the door within 2 minutes, paying $9+ in cash for some Deep Woods Off.
Undeterred, despite a daylong drive and many more to come, we took a quick spin up the gravel roads to catch a couple Steens Mountain lookouts before darkness set in.  
On a clear day, this is what the Kiger Gorge view could have looked like.  This image "borrowed" from Travel Oregon.
We didn't expect a lot of clarity, but sunset views of otherworldly smoke-cloaked peaks still made for breathtaking panoramas of ridgelines and vertigo-inspiring valley drops. 
The view from Kiger amazing though there's a limit to just how close we wanted to get to a free-fall view.
Dramatic white twisted-trunk golden-leaved quaking aspen groves reminded us that despite the warm dusk temperature, fall was definitely on its way.  I ached to capture the images of these beautiful groves, but sunset was approaching and Wayne reminded me we'd see plenty more aspen in Colorado, two days hence.  
The aspen were more golden than the orange in this image from the Steens, liberated from Travel Oregon
As we made our way to the East Gorge lookout, this high elevation sign underscored the commensurate drop in temperature.
9500 feet... and it was a little higher still at the East Rim lookout.
Notice the desolation of this wind-whipped, high desert territory.  We viewed the few other vehicles we saw as some comfort that perhaps if something happened to us, we could get help before the night's full chill set in.
My camera and the conditions do not do the Steen Mountain East Rim viewpoint justice.
This is what the Steens viewpoint could have looked like.  Pilfered from Summitpost Steens Mountains.
While we lamented the lack of visibility though were grateful we saw what we did, and that we made it back before darkness set in.  Maybe someday we can return and explore and hike or backpack the Steens Mountain Wilderness.
Frenchglen Hotel was built in 1923 and is managed through Oregon State Parks.
Our room, with shared bath was $79.
We were by far the youngsters at the historic Frenchglen Hotel.  Quiet descended the hotel by 9:30 pm, with no telltale trace of light slipping out from under closed doors.  

More to come.... 

We arrived in Melbourne Florida Sunday, September 17, and are busily finding a place to live.