A Wild Place: Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon

While recently attending a Women Writing the West conference at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort near Tucson, AZ, a friend and I took a little side trip to Sabino Canyon for a narrated 3.7-mile tram ride. As we rode in the open-air tram, our driver pointed out the various sites of interest including views of rocky outcroppings, craggy trees, and tough, hardy plants including a variety of cacti: cholla, prickly pear, ocotillo and the great saguaro. We learned that the saguaro can grow to be more than 40 feet tall and that many of the specimens we saw could possibly be 200 years old.

Nine stops along the way allow riders to get out and hike a variety of trails, or have a picnic, then catch a later tram, or riders may stay aboard for the entire trip. We happen to take the last tram of the day, so we stayed aboard for the entire journey. The tram turns around at Stop 9 and heads back down to the Visitors Center.

On our tour, I was surprised to see pools of water as late in the year as October. In spring and summer visitors can even see waterfalls. The Sabino Canyon is a natural desert oasis located in the Coronado National Forest. Sabino Creek gives life to the riparian and desert flora within the canyon. We saw a variety of trees including the Arizona state tree, the palo verde, plus willow, sycamore and ash.

Although I scoured the landscape as we slowly drove by, I didn’t see any wildlife, but the area supports abundant birds, mammals and reptiles. Our driver said that he has seen mountain lion on numerous occasions. Bobcat and coyote have been spotted, along with quails, roadrunners, lizards, and rattlesnakes.

In 1905, the Forest Service began overseeing Sabino Canyon. During the Great Depression, the bridges over Sabino Creek and the Sabino Dam were constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corporation (CCC).

The Sabino Canyon Tour was a highlight of my stay in Tucson. Tours are available seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information call (520) 749-2327, or visit sabinocanyon.org

Saguaro Cactus

Zihuatanejo: A Mexican Delight

View from our condo deck

We recently spent a memorable vacation in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Zihuatanejo (pronounced see-whah-tah-NEH-ho), the fourth-largest city in the Mexican state of Guerrero, is located on the Pacific Coast, about 150 miles northwest of Acapulco.

Perched on a lush hillside above La Ropa Beach, Ensueño 10, the six-unit condo where we stayed, is beautifully furnished with a great view of the bay. Playa la Ropa (“clothes beach”) was named for a Spanish galleon’s cargo of silks and fabrics brought from the Orient and scattered here from a shipwreck. The condo’s private deck, with an assortment of comfortable outdoor furniture and loungers, served as our headquarters as we planned our activities, read, and ate meals we prepared for ourselves. From our condo we relished in magnificent views of surrounding green hills, and watched the many water sports on the bay: skiing, parachute gliding, boogie boards, and jet skiing. Water taxis sailed between the town pier and idyllic Playa las Gatas.

Although the hills are steep, from our condo we could walk to the beach and stroll along sparkling white sand, passing luxurious hotels, restaurants, and gift shops. Sometimes we choose to hike back up the hill to our condo; sometimes we took a taxi, which proved to be an inexpensive mode of transportation.

On such a vacation, we usually prefer to have some of our meals “in” and we found groceries in Zihautanejo readily available and inexpensive. The kitchen in our condo had all the necessary equipment needed to manage meals with a minimum of hassle.

Fishermen display their day’s catch

Taking a taxi, we rode into town to check out the fishing village. We watched as fishermen brought in and displayed their day’s catch. From there we strolled along a walkway with condos and hotels on one side and the sea on the other. In the sea, a young fisherman, waist-deep in water, threw his circular fishing net. Along the way, we stopped for a delightful lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants.

Another day we strolled among Zihautanejo’s cobblestone streets and visited shops nestled in nooks and crannies. We admired the vibrant colors of Mexican art, and enjoyed observing the culture, listening to conversations in rapid Spanish with traditional Mexican music in the background. Another day we took a water taxi from the town pier and sailed to Playa las Gatas beach. On the small strip of land between the densely forested hill and white-sand beach, restaurants and bars serve meals and drinks; little gift stands feature swimwear and water toys.

Late September and October aren’t usually considered ideal tourist season in this part of Mexico, and we did find it hot and humid, but the upside was that the place wasn’t crowded with tourists and, in fact, we had the condo pool to ourselves. We spent many a happy hour luxuriating in the salt-water infinity pool and reading at the pool-area’s shaded cabana. Although at times it did rain during the night, weather wasn’t a deterrent to our enjoyment.

Enjoying dinner at a beach restaurant

All in all, our time in Zihautanejo was a memorable vacation. We found plenty to do at the pace we wanted to do it. But there’s plenty of other activities, too, whether you have “champagne taste and a beer budget” or seek luxury, glamour and pampering. Your stay can be a tranquil rustic retreat, or more lively with sport activities such as golf, tennis, sport fishing, scuba diving or horseback riding. You’ll find it all in here. Viva Zihautanejo!

Larrabee: Washington’s First State Park

Larrabee State Park has been one of our favorite quick destinations for years. Only an hour’s drive from our home, the park instantly offers a welcomed change of pace and a sense of being far away.

The park is set on the seaward side of Chuckanut Mountain, off the famed Chuckanut Drive, and offers postcard views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands. Visitors have their choice of activities from camping, hiking and biking trails, birding and wildlife viewing, salt-water swimming, diving and beach exploration, and shellfish harvesting in season. One of our favorite hikes is to Clayton Beach, which features rare sandstone cliff formations and tide pools teeming with life. In addition to the impressive salt-water beaches, two nearby freshwater lakes, Fragrance and Lost lakes offer bass and trout fishing. A lush growth of Northwest foliage abounds: Douglas fir, western red cedar, alder, hemlock, bigleaf maple, willows, rhododendrons and sword fern.

Larrabee features 85 campsites: 51 standard, 26 full-utility and 8 primitive sites, plus a group camp that can accommodate 40 people. A working train track runs through the park and west of the campground. The park has a boat ramp and a large day-use area with a covered shelter.

Twenty acres of land was originally donated to the State of Washington by the Larrabee family in 1915. The donated land was envisioned as a scenic park/auto campground to complement the Chuckanut Drive section of the nearby completed Pacific Highway. That year, Larrabee officially became the first state park in Washington. Later, the family donated another 1,500 acres. The park now stands at more than 2,600 acres. Many of the park’s original buildings are still in use today, as well as a bandshell built in 1944.

Larrabee State Park is located on Chuckanut Drive, just south of Bellingham, Washington. If you’re in the area, check out this prime park. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Zipline Adventure: Zipping Among Treetops

Recently, our extended family—eleven of us—zipped along the treetops at Canopy Tours Northwest on Camano Island. The unique adventure takes place on the historic 134-acre Kristoferson Farm, which has served the community in various capacities for more than one-hundred years. Today, half of the farm is devoted to growing organic hay and lavender, with the other half devoted to the well-designed zipline tour.

Upon first arriving we were assisted in “suiting” up. The harness has lots of straps and adjustments and our outfits were topped off with a hard hat. Each step of the way we were shown how to work with the equipment, what to expect, and how to land on the various platforms.

The zipline tour consists of six separate lines, each landing on a different platform. Between the zipline sections, our guides led us on lush, green trails. I’ll admit to being a little apprehensive with the first zipline “ride.” Stepping off into a void was a little daunting, even with all the clip-ins and safety gear and in the hands of efficient, certified guides. But I soon relaxed into the adventure as I zipped along old-growth forest, reveling in the rush and the zinging ring of the line, with the assurance that I’d land safely on the platform with a guide’s help.

Once I felt safe, which was actually right away, I found it easy to let go of control and trust the guides and the equipment. We were in good, knowledgeable hands. I simply enjoyed the ride.

Along the way our guides explained some of what we were experiencing such as the various species of trees, the diversity of shrubs and ferns, and what wildlife we might see. The views are fantastic and we enjoyed observing our island from aloft. The zipline tour lasted about two hours.

For a fun adventure, I recommend Canopy Tours Northwest. For more information, visit https://canopytoursnw.com or call 360-387-5807.


Our First Landfall: The Marquesas

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

We had been at sea for 35 days. Except for the day we left San Diego, we hadn’t seen another boat. It had been just the two of us in a world surrounded by endless water. Like a little kid, I asked Bruce when we would “get there,” reach the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

“Oh, probably early Wednesday morning.”

If that happened, I would be impressed with the exactness of his calculations. Without navigation know-how, you can miss an island by days, going right past it. If an island is more than 10 miles away, a small-craft sailor can’t see it. To cross an ocean with no landmarks, using only the stars and sun for navigation, takes skill.

In any event, I had my sights set on Wednesday. I was ready to get there, to set foot on land, take a long walk, and drink something cold. Strangely, I also felt reluctance to again open our lives to others. We’d been in a world of our own and we were comfortable with that.

On Wednesday, as we approached the Marquesas, from miles away we were aware of the islands’ aroma, a tropical arboretum rich with scents of earth tinted with tropical flowers and fruits. We passed north of Ua Nuka before approaching Nuku Hiva, the largest of the twelve Marquesas Islands.

As we neared land, dolphins greeted us with wild cavorting around Impunity’s bow, slicing the water at extraordinary speeds. Our depth sounder was turned on and the dolphins kept setting off the shallow water alarm. We finally turned off the depth sounder since we had plenty of good light to see any obstacles. I stood in the bow, ready to signal Bruce if I saw any coral heads or changes in water color. I had to laugh at the dolphins’ playful antics as they welcomed us to French Polynesia.

Bruce found a place to anchor among other boats in Taiahoe Bay, yachts from the United States, Sweden, New Zealand, France, Zambia in South Africa, Germany, plus a French Navy ship. The rattling of our ground tackle was a welcome sound as the anchor was lowered 28 feet into the bay.

We made it! We’d traveled 3,200 miles in 34 days. This was the first of many landfalls, but probably the most exciting. We’d proven to ourselves that Impunity was sail-worthy. And so were we.

The Loretto Chapel of Sante Fe



The Loretto Chapel in old Sante Fe, New Mexico is as mysterious as it is beautiful. While attending the Women Writing the West writers’ conference, I joined our group on a walking tour of the old Sante Fe’s historic district. The highlight of that tour was the Loretto Chapel.

Loretto Chapel was almost completed in 1878 when the builders realized the chapel had a major flaw: there was no access to the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded that building a staircase would take too much space from the limited seating of the small chapel, and that the only access would be a ladder.

The Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared with a donkey and toolbox looking for work. He had two requirements: that he work completely alone and that the nuns furnish vats of hot water several times a day. They honored his request.

Months later, on the appointed day, the nuns entered the chapel to find an elegant circular staircase with two 360-degree turns and no visible means of support. The staircase was built without nails, only wooden pegs. Mysteriously, the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks.

The staircase was said to sway slightly and ten years later bannisters were installed for safety in climbing to the loft.

Today the chapel is a private museum and maintained for the preservation of the Miraculous Staircase and the Chapel itself. Besides museum visitors, the Chapel is a popular site for weddings.

If you’re in Sante Fe, be sure to visit this lovely chapel. It’s an amazing experience.

Mitchell Monument: A Remembrance of World War II

Photo credit: Michael McCullough (CC BY 2.0)

Photo credit: Michael McCullough (CC BY 2.0)


While driving along Oregon Route 140 in southern Oregon, we discovered a poignant and sobering memorial. The small picnic site is managed by the Fremont-Winema National Forest in the Bly Ranger District.

A monument made of native stone and displaying a bronze plaque is the pivotal attraction of the recreational area. The Mitchell Monument is dedicated to six picnickers, the only World War II casualties to occur on continental U.S. soil as the result of enemy action.

On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife Elsie, and five of his Sunday school students planned a picnic about five miles northeast of Bly, Oregon. They stopped at Leonard Creek on Gearhart Mountain. Archie let Elsie and the children out to explore while he parked the car.

Before he’d even left the car or turned off the engine, he heard his wife call to him to look at what they had found. He observed the group huddled around a foreign-looking object and saw one of the children reach for it. Before he could step out of the car, an explosion shattered the area, killing his wife and the five children. Archie was the only survivor.

The object they’d found was a Japanese fugo, a simply-designed wind-driven bombing balloon. The fugo balloons, developed in the final months of World War II, were hoped to create psychological terror, death and destruction in the continental United States. The balloons were launched in Japan and carried by the jet stream, an easterly blowing wind current. About 300 of the 9,000 balloon-bombs launched were found in several states—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan and Iowa, as well as Mexico and Canada.

The United States government knew the country was under attack but ordered the media not to disclose information, hoping to minimize public awareness and also to prevent the Japanese from discovering their mission’s success. The silence proved valuable. Americans were not alarmed and Japan believed their mission had failed.

In 1945, after the Mitchell party tripped a balloon bomb, the government finally alerted the public to the danger. By then, the Japanese were no longer sending fugos.

In August, 1950, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, which owned the bomb site, dedicated a memorial to the six who perished

In later years, on a trip to Japan, Yuzuru John Takeshita, a former internment camp prisoner, was told how a friend and her classmates were taken out of school to work in a factory to make paper balloon bombs. When told of the tragedy, the former students, moved by regret and compassion, asked Takeshita to deliver 1,000 paper cranes to the families of the victims. Paper cranes, the Japanese symbol of healing and peace, were sent as good-will gifts. In addition, six cherry trees were also delivered to Bly with the former Japanese students’ condolences. The trees were planted at a re-dedication ceremony in 1995.

The Memorial plaque lists the victims of the fugo bomb:
Mrs. Elsie Mitchell, age 26
Jay Gifford, age 13
Edward Engen, age 13
Dick Patzke, age 14
Joan Patzke, age 13
Sherman Shoemaker, age 11

Idaho’s Bruneau Dunes State Park

Bruneau Obs Dune

On a typical two-week vacation, we stay at a difference place practically every night. Traveling with a truck and camper, this is how we like to spend our vacations. The exception is the weekend between the two weeks. Then we usually try to spend Friday and Saturday nights in the same place, since a campsite can be harder to find on a weekend.

This year, it was our good fortune that we stopped at Bruneau Dunes State Park in southwest Idaho’s high desert. With so much to do and see, it was a perfect place to spend two nights. The 4,800-acre park is the site of North America’s highest single-structured sand dune, which is approximately 470 feet high. (North America’s highest multi-structured dune is at Great Sand Dune National Park in Colorado and is approximately 660 feet higher than its immediate base.)

The dunes at Bruneau are unique in North America. While other dunes in the Americas form at the edge of a natural basin, the Bruneau Dunes form near its center. The dunes are ancient, probably forming with sands from the Bonneville Flood about 15,000 years ago. These dunes are fairly stable with winds blowing from the southeast and from the northwest. Unlike most dunes, these do not drift far.

No vehicles are allowed on the dunes, but visitors may climb and even zoom down on sand boards, similar to snow boards. Seven- and nine-mile horseback riding trails wind around the dunes. An equestrian overnight facility, with corrals, is also available.

We found the campsites spacious with grassy lawns and shade from willow and cottonwood trees. Eighty-two sites have water and electricity, plus there are 31 standard campsites. Two cabins are available for rent.

The park contains several habitats: desert, dunes, prairie, lake and marsh. Wild predators, which are protected within park boundaries, maintain a natural balance of animal population. Fishing for bass and bluegil is popular. It’s a peaceful lake with only non-motorized boats, canoes, rafts and float tubes allowed.

A big attraction at this park is the Steele-Reese Education Center, which includes an observatory. At dusk each Friday and Saturday from April through mid-October local astronomers present a multimedia introduction to the night sky in the comfort of an indoor auditorium. Once the stars begin to twinkle, visitors can observe through the rotating observatory planets, galaxies and nebulae, which I learned is a cloud of gas and dust in outer space. Visitors can observe the night sky through a collection of other equipment, including refractor and catadioptric telescopes.

Bruneau Dunes State Park is just south of Mountain Home, the county seat of Elmore County, and the home to Mountain Home Air Force Base. Mountain Home is a good place to provision and it also has one of the largest laundry facilities I’ve ever seen.

If you’re in southwest Idaho, plan to stop by Bruneau Dunes State Park. It’s a special place.

A Welcomed Oasis: Bates State Park

Bates State Park OPRD VisitorsAlthough it was only mid-June, eastern Oregon was hot. We happened upon Bates State Park, near the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the John Day River, and discovered a lovely oasis with shade trees and green grass. At 4,000-feet elevation, the park offered cool relief at night.

Bates State Park is the site of a former thriving lumber mill that operated for nearly 60 years. The 131-acre park is adjacent to the former Bates company town, home to about 400 families at its peak. In 1975, when a new mill was built in nearby John Day, the Bates mill was shut down and the town gradually disappeared. After the mill and many of the homes were dismantled, the land sat empty for more than 35 years.

A non-profit group, later named Friends of Bates State Park, worked tirelessly for many years advocating for the property’s preservation as a state park. Oregon Parks & Recreation Department purchased the land, and the park officially opened in 2011.

One of the central features of the park is the mill’s log pond. In its hey-day, local mill workers and ranch hands used to water ski in the pond, towed by a pick-up driving the bouncy road at the edge of the pond.

The park offers more than three miles of well-maintained hiking trails along the Middle Fork John Day River, Bridge Creek and Clear Creek. Interpretive panels throughout the park describe Bates life in the early to mid-20th Century and the steps taking place now to restore the land and waterways.

Although the park’s 28 sites do not offer hookups, there’s plenty of space to park rigs or to set up tents.

The area is a rich fish habitat. The Middle Fork of the John Day River and its tributaries are home to Chinook salmon, steelhead, trout and other native fish. Oregon Parks & Recreation are currently in the early stages of a restoration project, including a fish ladder, that would improve access to 14 miles of ideal fish habitat.

We found that Bates State Park makes a great home base when touring the area. The campground is situated between three nearby Wilderness Areas: Strawberry Mountain and Monument Rock to the south and North Fork John Day to the north. Hikers can climb to spectacular views atop Indian Rock and Vinegar Hill, which together make up the summit of the Greenhorn Range of the Blue Mountains.

Bates is convenient to the Old West Scenic Bikeway, a 174-mile loop that passes through landmarks such as John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The park is also on route for cross-country cyclists touring the TransAmerica Trail, which runs along nearby Oregon Highway 7.

On U.S. Highway 26, nine miles from Bates State Park, we found a nice little hike at the old Sumpter Valley Interpretive Trail that overlooks the historic Dixie Switchbacks. The tracks were used by the Sumpter Valley Railway that connected Prairie City, Oregon to Baker City, Oregon.

Bates State Park was a great find–just our kind of place.

The Blooming Fields of Skagit Valley



It’s like viewing the perfect mural—row upon row of dazzling color—brilliant red, sparkling yellow, vivid pink, rakish purple. Though picture-perfect, they’re real, these delightful tulip fields of the Skagit Valley. Not only tulips, but daffodils and iris grace these lovely fields. Although Mother Nature dictates the bloom dates, daffodils bloom first, followed by tulips and finally, iris.

Now extended to cover the entire month of April, this year’s 33rd annual Skagit ValleyTulip Festival also features, in addition to viewing the blooming fields, a packed schedule of events including art shows, wood crafting events, barbecues, quilt walks, and walking tours.

Since the mid-1930s, spring-time visitors to the Skagit Valley have marveled at the striking beauty of tulip, daffodil and iris fields. Northwest Washington, particularly in the Skagit Valley, has become world- famous for its seasonal showcase and for its commercial bulb production. Washington Bulb Company, the nation’s largest tulip, daffodil and iris producer, makes its headquarters in Skagit Valley.

As it happens, the Northwest has perfect bulb-growing climate with cool moist winters, which encourages root growth. Also, relatively cool spring and summer weather helps control diseases common in hotter places. Another factor is well-balanced, level and well-drained soil.

A favorite local story tells about the local gardener who thought he would buy his bulbs that year from the source, Holland. You guessed it. When he received his bulbs from Holland, the package label said the bulbs were grown in the Skagit Valley!

Those who are returning to enjoy the springtime hues will notice that those fields seen last year frequently will not have the same crop this year. That is because flower bulbs, like many other crops, must be rotated to preserve the soil and reduce pest contamination. The flowers rotate to their original field about every five years.

Tulip Festival maps are available at many Skagit Valley stores, but it isn’t necessary to have a map to enjoy the blossoms. Signs indicate the “Tulip Route,” or you may simply drive along until you see a field. If there is a pull-off, park and enjoy the view, or even walk along designated paths. Remember, for some traffic on the road, it’s business as usual and drivers aren’t expecting sudden stops. Also, this is a busy time of year for farmers and heavy equipment will be moving about, so please be patient.

The Skagit Valley growers ask for your cooperation in touring the fields. Be aware that only certain fields are open to visitors. Always observe private property; please don’t trespass to get a picture. Enter only those fields with signs posted that visitors are welcome. NEVER pick a flower—cut flowers are available for sale at various stands.
Two local growers encourage visitors to stop: Roozengaarde and Tulip Town.

Roozengaarde has a three acre display garden with an authentic Dutch windmill. Bulbs and cut flowers are available for purchase—stroll the gardens to find your favorites. At Tulip Town, in addition to the tulips fields and purchasing opportunities, visitors will enjoy more than 100 exquisite tulip arrangements, live music, food, and horse-drawn wagon rides through the tulip fields

Splendid opportunities await eager photographers. Early morning or late afternoon give the best light for picture taking. For really spectacular pictures, include landscape attractions, such as barns or snow-capped Mt. Baker. Tulip fields provide a colorful carpet against the backdrop of the majestic Cascade Mountains.

To get there: The blooming fields are 60 miles north of Seattle, directly off I-5 using exists 221 through 236. All of these exits have tulip brochures at the nearest businesses. The fields are spread out over a 15-mile radius and events are scattered around the entire county. Festival site guide maps are available.

For more information, visit tulipfestival.org or call (360) 428-5959.