Blue's Boots

Andrea's adventures on the trail…

Redwoods State and National Parks, CA

There is something magical and timeless about standing among the tallest trees in the world, something that is impossible to put into words. There is an energy here that’s difficult to describe until you feel it for yourself – A connection to something infinitely bigger than we are. Some of these trees are over 3000 years old, imagine the stories they could tell. Walking through these forests is like walking through the giant cathedrals of Europe.

I’m not much one for including myself in my photos, but with the sheer size of these trees, it’s impossible to understand the scale without a human for perspective.

One of my favorite nature-related books is The Wild Trees by Richard Preston, about how these giants were first climbed (safely) and the amazing hidden world that lives up in the canopy. It’s also incredibly sad to know that only about 3% of these living beings are still standing, the rest were logged without consideration that it takes literally thousands of years for them to grow to this size.

These forests demand respect and reverence. We can’t begin to imagine how many generations of humans it will take to rebuild just ONE generation of these trees. We need to protect those that are still standing tall.

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Smith Rock State Park, OR

I’ve had Smith Rock State Park on my radar for a few years, and we finally managed to add it to our Eastern/Central Oregon trip in May – so very glad we did. Smith Rock is heaven for rock climbers, and while I don’t do any climbing, there are also wonderful hiking trails here.

Feeling adventurous, we opted for the Misery Ridge Trail – very aptly named!! If you look closely at the photos, you can see the switchback trail we climbed up from the Crooked River, then another set of switchbacks to get to the top of the rock. From the top we found a small spur trail with a beautiful bench, and spent at least an hour looking down across central Oregon and counting the line of mountains and volcanoes in the distance: Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, the Three Sisters, Black Butte, and Mt. Washington.

But what goes up must come down, and we most definitely took our time on the descent. I would have never made it without hiking poles. The trail was steep and covered in loose pebbles that act like marbles, easily slipping your feet out from underneath. On the way down we paused to watch climbers on Monkey Face, a column of rock that must be wonderful to climb – if you’re into that kind of thing!

The final section of the hike was flat and followed the Crooked River back to the entry point, with huge cliffs on one side and the river on the other. If Misery Ridge is not your cuppa tea, it’s well worth it to still walk the flat trail that follows the river.

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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Quite different the second time around! When I was here 2 years ago temperatures were nearing 100, and hiking was a slow, sweaty ordeal. This time around weather was perfect!! There are 3 units of the John Day Monument in Central/Eastern Oregon, and Sheep Rock is the main one with a fantastic visitor center that we were very pleased to find open. It’s well worth a stop if you ever get the chance.

My favorite hike is to Blue Basin, an other-worldly short hike up a canyon prone to flash floods, thus at least a dozen sturdy bridges to cross to get to the end. Don’t think you’ll make it to the moon in this lifetime? Hike the Blue Basin trail! I didn’t do the larger loops when I was here before because of the heat, but this time we did do the full loop up and behind, where we were able to look down into Blue Basin – with views stretching far and wide along a large part of the area.

If geology and dinosaurs are your thing, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is definitely worth a visit.

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Hells Canyon – Oregon/Idaho

I love rugged, wild areas. Hells Canyon on the border of Oregon and Idaho fits that description quite well. I was here 2 years ago, but didn’t hike because of high temperatures. This year the weather was perfect and we were able to hike up the canyon from Hells Canyon Dam and enjoy more scenery and watch rafters navigating the river.

That night we found an amazing campsite on the Oregon side of the canyon, with our own private beach overlooking the Snake River, where we spent hours sitting, reading, and just staring out across the water — Exactly what a vacation is supposed to be like!

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Dungeness Spit / New Dungeness Lighthouse, WA

The Dungeness Spit near Sequim, WA, is the longest natural sand spit in the United States at just over 5 miles long. The hike out to the New Dungeness Lighthouse (built in 1857) is 11.2 miles round trip, and well worth it on a beautiful day. This area is also within the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.

Dungeness Spit with Mt. Baker and the New Dungeness Lighthouse in the distance to the right.

Mama Nature called me, and I listened 🙂 I spent a glorious 2 days hiking on the Olympic Peninsula, total 17 miles hiked. The highlight was the hike out to New Dungeness lighthouse, 11.2 miles R/T, with 10 of that beach walking. The lighthouse is normally open for public tours, but due to COVID is currently closed. There is a restroom open, though.

I started at first light, it was overcast, and then ended up being a most amazing and incredible sunny day. I saw about a dozen people all day on the Dungeness Spit, more near the parking area ~ but to be able to walk miles and miles alone with nothing but the waves and driftwood for company filled my happy-meter up to FULL. So beautiful. Part of my hike out was during high tide, and though I had to hop away from a couple of waves, the beach is accessible 99% of the time.

Mt. Baker decided to show off in the afternoon, framing the lighthouse. Icing on the cake 🙂 I didn’t realize how much I needed quiet solitude, time outside to think and disconnect from civilization for a day, the sound of the ocean, and wide open sky. I imagine it can get crowded during the summer, but during the week on a sunny January day was pretty much perfect.

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Mazama Ridge, MRNP

It’s a 2-hour drive from my house to the Paradise area at Mt. Rainier, one I usually avoid in the non-snow months because of crowds. But, every once in a while I make the drive to look for wildlife, and this trip did not disappoint, even though there was haze from wildfires.

I first stopped at Reflection Lakes to take in the beautiful views of Rainier, and then headed to Faraway Rock, which is a fantastic place to look down onto Louise Lake and across to the Tatoosh Range south of the volcano.

I headed up toward Mazama Ridge and the Sluiskin/Van Trump/Stevens Memorial, commemorating the first climb of Mt. Rainier in 1870. Though wildflowers were spent for the season and fall colors were setting in, the views are wide open and beautiful from this area.

Near the memorial I saw the biggest, fattest black bear I’ve ever seen in my years of hiking these trails, foraging for berries and getting ready for his long winter sleep. I saw him again in a different area on my way back to the car some time later, still working his way through fields of berries. I also played peek-a-book with a beautiful deer near Faraway Rock.

Mt. Rainier – every time I hike here, I have a feeling of coming home, of being in the place where I’m the best version of me and where I belong. I never take her for granted.

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Burroughs Mountain, MRNP

A couple of weeks ago I had a wonderful hike up to Second Burroughs in the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier. I specifically was looking for mountain goats and I hit the jackpot! So thankful I had my camera with zoom lens with me. I’m also very thankful that I was able to spend about an hour alone at the stone bench at Second Burroughs before others started showing up (that’s why it’s so worth it to me to get up early). Wildflowers were at their prime, always an added bonus.

I heard reports that there were goats on First Burroughs, so I hiked up as quickly as I could. By the time I got to First (there are 3 Burroughs mountains, FYI), the goats were heading up to Second. I hightailed it and slowed down part way up Second where the herd was across the trail. It was me and a herd of 30, and I spent at least 20 minutes photographing them and thanking Mother Nature for being able to spend time with these beautiful animals.

I decided to take the trail down the back side of Burroughs to get back to Sunrise, with only one sketchy snow crossing along the trail, and beautiful views down to Emmons Glacier and the White River.

Near the bottom, I heard from a ranger that there was a bear at Shadow Lake, so for the third time that day I hiked as quickly as possible, and I was again able to spend about 15 minutes alone with my zoom camera and a beautiful juvenile bear munching his way through the wildflowers meadow. (Note: I was not too close to Mr. Bear, I used my zoom lens to get these photos.)

What a day, what beauty, what good fortune that I can call Mount Rainier my playground.

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Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree National Park rests in the mountains above Palm Springs. Some of the most interesting rock formations I’ve ever seen are here, along with Joshua trees, cholla, ocotillo, and many other desert plants and animals that have adapted to this harsh environment. Since I love scrambling on rocks, Joshua Tree NP is a perfect playground for that.

We played on the rocks around Arch Rock, but unfortunately it was very crowded and many people were intent on climbing the arch, not allowing photos for the rest of us.

We next headed to Split Rock Trail, and had a wonderful time watching rock climbers, exploring the area, and getting off the main trail for a quiet lunch spot in the rocks.

We drove to Keys View, only to find that it was so crowded we had to wait 20 minutes to park, with no way to turn around. The view down into the Palm Springs valley is impressive, but also many times covered in a haze that is a combination of marine air and L.A. smog.

We ended our first day by wandering in the cholla cactus garden and the ocotillo area. Very surreal, and also incredibly easy to impale your shoes with cholla barbs!!

On our second day we decided to try to get away from crowds, so we chose to explore the Wonderland of Rocks area, and it was a great decision! We started on the Boy Scout Trail, veering to the right on the Willow Hole Trail. We saw very few people, and spent the day exploring the area. The trail was very easy, and we spent a long time scrambling on rocks and taking in the views.

Like Death Valley, Joshua Tree can be brutally hot in summertime. February was a perfect time to visit, sunny skies, mild temperatures, and a surreal and beautiful landscape.

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Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, Nevada

Just outside of Las Vegas is a wonderful gem, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The bulk of the area is a one-way drive with many stops along the way, wonderful rock formations like the Calico Hills, sweeping views, and canyons to explore. We spent quite a bit of time scrambling around the rocks at Calico Hills, then hiked into Icebox Canyon, very appropriately named since we found puddles of frozen water in there. It’s a beautiful area, and well worth exploring it if the lights and noise and frenzy of Las Vegas don’t suit you (like me!)

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Valley of Fire State Park, NV

I’m not much of a fan of Las Vegas, but there are some beautiful areas to explore outside of the city. Valley of Fire State Park is a must-see if you ever go to Vegas. One of my dreams has been to hike The Wave, but honestly I’ll probably never get a permit or get there. The Fiery Wave at Valley of Fire S.P. is a pretty good alternative and easy to get to.

We were fortunate to see a herd of bighorn sheep on our return from the Fiery Wave, I’ve seen them before from further away, and was able to get some better photos this time.

There are also many other places to hike, including Mouse’s Tank which is a canyon with hundreds of petroglyphs carved into the walls. We didn’t get to spend much time here, and would definitely like to spend more time exploring on another trip.

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