Category Archives: Travel

Spring catch-up

It’s been–yikes!–half a year since I posted anything, so here’s a quick catch-up, starting with a photo from last week’s visit to one of my favorite places in Portland, the Japanese Garden. The garden has a number of cherry trees, which were in beautiful bloom, but only one Weeping Cherry, this venerable and well-cared-for specimen. It once stood on private property and was slated for destruction, but it was moved to the Japanese Garden, where it continues to flourish. We should all be so lucky.

One adventure of recent months was a week-long trip to Costa Rica with a friend in February. We stayed in a rental bungalow on a hillside above Bijagua de Upala in the north-central highlands, about a 90-minute drive from Liberia. It’s close to Tenorio Volcano National Park, where we had a memorable hike. Another highlight was a three-hour private boat tour of the Cano Negro wetlands reserve, where we saw a great variety of birds and many splendid reptiles: caiman, basilisks, iguanas. Also some tiny bats roosting in crevices in the bark of a tree. Although the roads to Cano Negro are pretty bad and call for slow and careful driving, it’s well worth the effort to see this distinctive piece of Costa Rica’s ecology. Alas, I did not see a tapir on this trip–although my friend may have glimpsed one–but we did see two varieties each of wild sloths and monkeys, and a glorious abundance of bird life, including this Yellow-Fronted Toucan, photographed from our bungalow balcony, who just wouldn’t come any closer.

On the writing front, I’ve just had my first look at the layout and illustration sketches for the MG adaptation I wrote of David Barrie’s wonderful natural-history book Supernavigators. When the adaptation comes out from Tra Publishing, it’s going to be gorgeous. And soon I’ll be diving into the revising and polishing phase of my MG adaptation of Loren Grush’s The Six, about our first six women astronauts.

A total solar eclipse will cross much of North America next week. I’d thought about driving to south-central Texas–the closest point at which I could intersect the path of totality–but I’ve dropped the idea. Much as I would love experiencing another eclipse, I had a perfect one an hour from home in 2017. I decided I didn’t want to drive for 30 hours, park myself by the side of a dusty road (along with who knows how many other drivers), and hope that the 50-50 weather would let the eclipse be seen. All respect to the eclipse chasers who manage to see as many as possible, but I’m happy with the one total eclipse I’ve seen in my life.

Finally, a few of my favorite recent reads: The Silver Wind and The Rift by Nina Allan, both of which bring an oblique and ambiguous touch to science-fictional themes; Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a weird and compelling novel that to me suggested elements both of the same author’s later novel 1Q84 and the unsettling 2004 Japanese horror film Marebito; and Gone: A Search for What Remains of the World’s Extinct Creatures, by naturalist Michael Blencowe, whose account of his travels to see the preserved relics of creatures such as the Great Auk, Steller’s Sea Cow, and (of course) the Dodo, includes fascinating details about the animals, their discoverers and exploiters, and the author’s own feelings about the natural world and what we are making of it.

Back to the beach

Mid-October saw us back at the Oregon coast for a couple of days. Z’s cousins invited us to join them at their beach house south of Newport, and the four of us enjoyed lots of conversation, an evening out watching the harbor’s resident sea lions and eating delicious seafood, and a couple of long walks on this:

We also spent a tranquil couple of hours in our kayaks, paddling the winding stream of Beaver Creek Natural Area. Fall color hadn’t settled onto the trees yet, and it was warm for the season. We saw a lot of bird activity, and I had a lucky glimpse of a five-inch-long Rough-skinned Newt just strolling along the surface of a submerged log as I glided above.

The ocean air was glorious, but as soon as we passed through the mountains on our homeward trip, our eyes began to sting. In our absence, the central Willamette Valley had become blanketed with the all-too-familiar acrid scent and dingy look of smoke-laden air. For several days Portland and the area to the south had air quality high in the “unhealthy” range due to smoke from wildfires in the region. Fortunately, rain–of which we’d had no measurable amount since June–finally arrived at the end of the week, bringing relief to our lungs. And, I hope, help for the firefighters.

Throughout September and early October, summer seemed to have been weirdly extended, leading to a minor case of “time out of joint” on my part. The arrival of autumnal gloom and rain at last thrilled me. More, please.

Best of September

As the fourth week of September began, Z and I set off on a three-day road trip to the Central Cascades. We drove to Bend by way of Madras, where we had a terrific meal at La Posada, a Mexican place that has never let us down; we eat there any time we pass through that part of Oregon.

After checking into our motel room in Bend, we headed over to the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, about which I had just learned. We set out on a 5-mile, late-afternoon hike. Once we’d gotten past the litter of rusted cans that lined the first half-mile of the trail, the place was quietly beautiful, if less dramatic than the term badlands might suggest: a gently rolling landscape of sand and rock, dotted with desert trees and tree clusters. Several seasonal ponds were almost dry, but there was water here and there in a few channels. We passed just one big feature: a ridge of piled-high lava rocks. The hike took longer than expected due to our leisurely pace and the slowness of walking in deep, loose sand, but we arrived back at the trailhead not long after darkness had fallen and the coyotes had started to yip.

Finishing a hike rather late

We spent the next day driving the 82-mile loop of the McKenzie-Santiam Scenic Byway, which passes through several types of mountain forest and multiple lava fields, as well as along several rushing rivers. We took in the view from Scott Lake and walked the lava trails at Dee Wright Observatory, a handsome little belvedere perched atop McKenzie Pass.

Dee Wright Observatory

On the final day we returned to the northern part of the loop to explore the Head of Metolius and Camp Sherman before spending the afternoon in our kayaks on Suttle Lake. After that we headed home by way of Stayton and Silverton so as to turn the trip into a loop and enjoy a country drive. The perfect weather all three days made it an ideal end-of-summer outing.

After kayaking Suttle Lake

Beating the heat

To the beach . . .

This past week brought a heatwave to Portland, with multiple triple-digit days. We were lucky to get away to the central Oregon coast for part of it, staying in a beach house south of Newport generously offered by Z’s cousins. The misty scene above is the path through a meadow to the cool, foggy beach on the afternoon of our arrival. I was ecstatic.

The next day, we drove south along the coast as far as Florence, pausing at many viewpoints and waysides to walk on or just gaze out across the beach. From Waldport we headed inland and up into the hills for an hour or two of forest scenery.

Siuslaw National Forest

In addition to delicious seafood, good sleep, and air so delightfully cool that I wore a light fleece jacket one evening, the trip included a stop at one of my favorite coastal spots, Darlingtonia Natural Site: a bog packed with insectivorous plants.

It was painful to drive back and see the car’s external temperature indicator rise from 65 at the coast to approximately 9,000,000 when we reached the surface of the Sun–er, the Willamette Valley. But the excursion was a welcome reminder that one of the things I love about living in Portland is that the ocean is only 90 minutes away.

Desert Days

Looking east from Buena Vista, Malheur Wildlife Refuge, the golden hour

A couple of days ago we returned from our fourth road trip of the pandemic. This time we treated ourselves to four days in Oregon’s High Desert, checking out some places that were new to us as well as revisiting an old favorite. It was good to be back in this bold, big-sky part of the state, which always feels expansive and eternal.

Highlights included:

  • Cruising down the Outback Scenic Byway (Highway 31) for the first time.
  • Getting a taste of the Warner Valley, the northwest corner of the country’s vast Basin and Range terrain. It’s full of geological wonders we hope to explore when we have more time.
  • Our first visit to Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, where we saw a huge Golden Eagle take off from a clump of lava just feet in front of us, and later drove past wild horses and a herd of pronghorn.
  • A drive up Steens Mountain at the perfect time of year and day to appreciate the quaking aspen, which were blazingly colorful across swathes of the landscape. At one point we sat for a while between two low-growing clusters of aspen right next to the road: it was like being surrounded by shimmying dancers clad in golden sequins.
  • Two nights at the Field Station in Malheur Wildlife Refuge: my fourth visit since 2010, Zachary’s second. This setting appears in The Nighthawk’s Evening, an outstanding book about a bird that is less well known than it should be, coming out any day now from OSU Press. The author is scientist Gretchen Newberry, a friend who shared a visit to the Field Station with us in 2011.

The only disappointment was that when we reached Lakeview, we learned that Old Perpetual, Oregon’s only geyser, was inactive due to the low water table in the drought-stricken area. We hope it will be geysering away at its usual 60 feet up, every 90 seconds, the next time we are in that area.