Coulee Country

Catastrophists unite!  We’ve been hiking and exploring the sights around Grand Coulee, and in doing so we’ve become believers in catastrophism as it relates to the creation of the Grand Coulee.  A self taught geologist named Harley (J. Harlan) Bretz in the 1920’s came up with the idea that the massive scale of the coulees, the scab-lands, the wide-ranging disbursement of boulders and moraines, and the rippled land forms could only have been created by catastrophic floods.  It took many years and the arrival of aerial photography and satellite imagery to get anyone to take him seriously, but his ideas were finally vindicated.  In 1979, at age 96, Bretz received the Penrose Medal, geology’s highest honor. He later reportedly told his son: “All my enemies are dead, so I have no one to gloat over”.

I was born in Omak, which is only about 50 miles from the coulees of eastern Washington, yet I still had to do some googling to learn the definition of a coulee.  I’ll make it easier for you though; “As a geological term, coulee means a ravine or deep gully, usually dry, which has been cut by water”.  In this area the water that cut the Grand Coulee is on a scale that is mind boggling.  We stood on the top of Dry Falls looking down the cliffs into the gorge and tried to imagine the flood waters from an ice dam bursting far upstream that swept water 300’ over our heads at a speed of 60 mph.  Yes, I guess that would carve some coulees!  I won’t delve into all the details, but if you’re interested you can google it for yourself; it’s fascinating history!  We’ve been ooh-ing and ahh-ing for the past week as we’ve hiked through Northrup Canyon, toured the dam, and camped along the shores of Banks Lake and Roosevelt Lake, and driven through miles and miles of rippling wheat fields high above the Columbia.

When I was little my friends and I would build dams in the gutters to create lakes and rapids for our leaf boats to float down so I guess it’s only natural that I should be captivated by the massive scale of Grand Coulee Dam.  It’s one of the largest concrete structures in the world; 550 feet above the bedrock, and 500 feet wide at its base.  It’s beautiful, functional, it put 1,000’s of people to work in the depression, it continues to provide clean electricity to millions, it provides irrigation over an area the size of Delaware, and it provides flood control.

All that being said, I’m still a tree-hugger at heart and I tend to sympathize with the cultures of those who came before us, so my heart is saddened by the loss of the salmon run and the destruction of the Indian culture that depended on it.  Yet, here I sit on the edge of Lake Roosevelt enjoying the view out our door, watching the fishing boats and house boats on the lake.  It’s the old “betterment for the masses at the cost of a few”, but sometimes one has to wonder and take stock of the sacrifices of those “few”.

We’re learning the art of camping in our new little land yacht, and we’re now moving east toward the mountains of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.  Along the way we always seem to gravitate toward the water, whether it be a river, lake, or creek.  We’ve stayed at “Bob’s Lakeside Hideaway”, my brother’s property on Lake Osooyos, where we had a great visit with my brother.  We got to pound a few nails and drink some margaritas with my sister who lives on the other side of the lake in the house she and her husband are building.  From there we moved on to a campground in Grand Coulee, right above the dam, and then went to nearby Steamboat Rock, a gorgeous State Park on Banks Lake, which is a reservoir created from water piped up the hill behind Grand Coulee Dam.  Now we’re about 100 miles further north on Lake Roosevelt, enjoying the mountains and pine trees around Kettle Falls.  Marty is learning how to relax (he’s a slow learner), and I’m loving the smell of pine trees and sage.  It’s just another version of our floating happy dance!


We’ve visited 100’s of shorelines in the past five years, but the beaches along Puget Sound will always be home.  There is a particular friendliness to the sound of smooth round stones being jumbled over themselves in the waves.  The water is crystal clear and triple-gasp cold, the snow capped mountains float over the pine tree horizons, and the friendly green and white ferries continue on their invisible paths back and forth between the islands.  Yep, I’m home!!

But wait a minute!  How did we get back to the beautiful Pacific Northwest you ask?  We flew, but not until we’d had a few more adventures in El Salvador.  In our last few weeks in El Salvador we’d been exploring inland and enjoying time with our new cruiser friends.  One day a group of us went to the annual Mango Festival that is held in the nearby town of Zacatecoluca.  Think of any food or drink you could possibly make from mangoes and they had it.  It was a YUM fest, with the whole population of the state seeming to be there enjoying the day.  It was funny to be the only gringos in town, and people would stop us just to talk and practice their English.  Everyone is so friendly, it’s really a great feeling.

We also made a quick trip to El Zonte, a popular surfing beach near La Libertad.   We enjoyed a few days with our cousin Jim in a house we rented that was right above a long sandy beach where the huge swells rolled in from the ocean in wave after wave.  It was the perfect place for some chillaxin’ and we spent a good amount of time just gazing out at the ocean from our hammocks and listening to the booming waves.  Not being brave enough to tackle the surf, we settled for happy hours in our private pool watching sunsets over the ocean…I know, it’s a tough life we lead.

After spending time enjoying the sights and sounds, pupusas and mangoes of El Salvador, we put Happy Dance to bed in Bahia del Sol to enjoy the rainy season on her own, and then we started our trek north by land and air.  As we made our way to the Pacific Northwest we took care of a bit of car selling, truck and trailer buying, and soon found ourselves on the doorstep at Three Tree Point being welcomed by my Great Aunt Peggy and having a week of fun with family.

We had a wonderful stay at Hemlock Cottage, the house that my great grandfather built on Three Tree Point, just south of Seattle.  Unfortunately, my cousins were on their own adventures in Alaska, but that meant we had the added bonus of being able to sleep in “the bed with the view” next to the windows looking down to the beach and out to the sunsets over the Olympic mountains.  It was like being a kid again when I used to sleep in the same spot, albeit in a different bed!  (When I was little I always slept tucked away in the top bunk of the bunk bed that was wedged into the corner at the end of what was then, the sleeping porch.  My grandmother’s bed was just below me and it wasn’t unusual for me to wake in the morning on her bed, having fallen from the top bunk to a soft landing.)  I loved having the huge windows open so that we could listen to the waves on the beach and hear the early birds welcome the dawn.  Every part of me seems to utter a deep sigh when I return to Three Tree (Thanks Barb and Gene!!).

After my trip back in time at Three Tree we headed to another memory lane and another beautiful beach, this one in Coupeville on Whidbey Island where Marty and I first met!  Along the way to Coupeville we picked up our new land yacht, affectionately named, The Murph and we were parked on the shore at Fort Casey.  It was a busy week, as we unloaded “the shed”, our final link to a home base, and we sold or gave away a whole lot of history, aka “stuff”.  I was kind of surprised at how hard this final purging was, but once done there’s always a sense of lightening the load; less is definitely more.  Thankfully we had some time to walk the beach, watch the ferries come and go, and enjoy some awesome sunsets with Mt. Rainier floating in the distance.  I collected a few more beach rocks, because really, can you ever have too many rocks?

So now we’ve left the beaches of the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound behind for a few months as we begin our new adventure of traveling the U.S. and Canada in our land yacht.   We’ll be roaming around in The Murph for a few months, without a plan, just a goal to explore and see new terrain.  Along the way I’m sure there will be plenty of beaches to put our toes in the sand along the lakes, rivers, streams, and maybe we’ll even have time to find the world’s largest ball of twine!  Once the hot, humid, rainy season ends in Central America we’ll park the land yacht wherever we end up and fly back to Happy Dance to float our way to Panama.  So, stay tuned for possible lake shore beach-capades and travels to twirled twine, in the ongoing adventures of Marty and Sue!


Road Trip Part 2

Living on a boat is great, except during the stifling heat of the summer hurricane season.  Every year we make new plans to inexpensively travel north while escaping the heat in the Sea of Cortez.  As most of you know since we’ve visited at some point, that means a few couch surfing adventures!  In an effort not to wear out our welcome with friends and family, this year we thought we had the perfect solution; house sitting!  We could spend time in new places and exchange plant watering and pet minding for a roof over our heads.

As it turned out, our best laid plans to be house sitters came to an untimely end when we discovered that I was allergic to cats.  Having never had allergies, I was pretty dismayed to suddenly be covered head to toe in itchy, red welts.  Anyone who’s had hives knows they are no fun!  Luckily we were able to make other arrangements with the home owner resulting in a shorter stay in Slave Lake, and we were able to cancel our other “sit” in Nanaimo.  Oh well, it was a great plan, but as we say in cruiser land, plans are written in the sand at low tide.  Next time we try house sitting we’ll do a bit more research.

We happily departed Slave Lake, which wasn’t really a spot we wanted to stay in anyway, and headed for higher ground.  Next stop, Jasper National Park.  We drove into the town of Jasper and walked around a bit; cute, with some interesting history, but too touristy for our taste.  Our lodging that night was at the edge of town in a funky lodge with cabins and conference rooms, right on the Athabasca River.  It was fitting to stroll along the milky glacier fed river channeling Siddartha’s path to enlightenment while singing Loggins and Messina’s, “Watching the River Run”, and wrapping our minds around the fact that the water in front of us was flowing north to end up where we’d started that morning, in Slave Lake!  Ah, the circle of life…

The next morning we took off for our trek down the Icefield Parkway.  Unfortunately the smoke blowing over the mountains from all the forest fires in the west started to get thicker the farther south we traveled.  No worries, instead of focusing on the gorgeous mountain peaks hidden in the mist, we concentrated on the roaring beauty of the waterfalls and ravines. Since I was still a bit gimpy from my surgery we were going to have to keep our walks short and sweet anyway.  No big hikes just yet!

Our first stop was Maligne Canyon, a very popular spot because of the many waterfalls and easy trails.  After driving in circles around the parking lot for a while we finally made our way on foot down the path to bridge #1 and took our turn along with all the other tourists at the perfect viewing spots.  We meandered slowly across a few more of the 6 bridges in the canyon, enjoying the incredible force of the Athabasca River being squeezed between the rock walls.  Needless to say, it was gorgeous.

Our next stop was Athabasca Falls, known not so much for the height of the falls, as it is for the sheer force and volume of the water falling into the gorge.  Even being there at the end of the summer when the water levels were lower provided a pretty big wow factor.

We made plenty of stops for short walks and scenic views as we drove south, and one that really stood out was a wide spot in the road looking over the Columbia Icefield.  The Athabasca River and the North Saskatchewan River originate in the Columbia Icefield, as do tributary headwaters of the Columbia River.  Since the icefield is atop a triple Continental Divide these waters flow ultimately north to the Arctic Ocean, east to the North Atlantic Ocean, and south and west to the Pacific Ocean.  Mind boggling!

We finally wound our way down out of the mountains, driving west from Lake Louise.  There was lots of smoke and it was sad to think of how much timber must have been burning.  We finally arrived at our next stop in Golden, on the western slope of the Rockies.  Our accommodations were pretty funny; a small cabin with plywood walls and the breakfast room had dirt floors.  It was nice and quiet though, and we slept well listening to the owls in the woods.

After our sightseeing tour in Canada we soon found ourselves crossing the border back into the U.S. of A., where we’d booked our next accommodation at brother Bob’s house for a couple of days.  Sitting on the porch looking out over Lake Osooyoos is not a bad deal!  Plus it’s pretty funny watching all the crazies that are on the lake “surfing” on the wakes behind the motor boats.  We miss Happy Dance!

From Eastern Washington, the rest of our trip was brought to us by the letter “S”.  Stops in Seattle, Salem, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, and S-Pheonix, with a final landing point in San Carlos!  We couch surfed all the way south, enjoying visits with family and friends and we thank each and every one of you who entertained us!  It was a perfect way to end the summer, seeing so many of the people we love and miss while we’re off sailing.

Since arriving in San Carlos we’ve mostly been spending our days getting Happy Dance ready for a 5th season in the Gulf of California.  The first few days were unbearably hot, but since then the weather has been lovely.  We have been walking each morning at sunrise, trying to lose those summer pounds, and we’ve also found a few new adventures in the area to enjoy.  We visited a dragon fruit farm, and learned more than you ever needed to know about these delicious creatures, then we went to the pearl farm nearby and learned about rainbow lipped oysters.  We’re just filling our heads with more trivia!  In a couple of days we’ll be storing our new wheels, and untying the dock lines as we leave San Carlos to head west over to the Baja.

So there you have it.  79 days, 7,140 miles of driving, 20 different beds (21 for Sue since she stayed in the hospital), and only 4 rib eye steaks.  We may need to re-think the numbers next year!




Road Trip!

After traveling nearly 1,000 miles by boat, we decided it was time to make some tracks on terra firma so we docked our delivery in Anacortes in a driving rain storm, handed over the keys and jumped on a bus to Seattle.

First stop; Three Tree Point, birthday cake, Seahawks games, family gatherings, and beach walks.  This was our second pass through Seattle since leaving Happy Dance in July, so it was great to have more time to visit with family and friends before we jumped on a plane to Denver.

Next stop; Boulder canyon, golden aspens, thin air, and elk bugles.  We visited our buddy Janet who helped us start this life of grand adventure by finding a buyer for the Inn three years ago.  While too short a stay, we had time to visit Nederland, enjoy morning coffee under the aspens, look for moose, and spend an amazing day in Rocky Mountain National Park watching the elk (my photos of the bugling elk herds in Rocky Mountain National Park were wonderful, but alas, they were eaten by the computer gods..!).

In Boulder we picked up a car (the deal of the century) and started our driving tour with a stop in Pueblo, to meet up with some friends of Marty’s from his old neighborhood.   It was a hoot for me to see old friends greeting each other after 40 years….”you haven’t changed a bit”!  Terry, Rick, George, and Susie, plus all the family that could gather served us up a fantastic Pueblo bar-b-que complete with yummy green chile sloppers!  Thanks clan Kratzer!

From Pueblo we headed west into the mountains.  We stopped near Cotopaxi for a couple of nights and explored Canon City and the Royal Gorge.  We didn’t feel like paying the exorbitant entry fee to walk across the Royal Gorge bridge, and as luck would have it we missed a ride on the Royal Gorge railroad by minutes, but we still enjoyed a walk on the river and a crazy drive on a rough (very rough) road back to our cozy cabin in the woods.  At night we listened to the wind in the pines and the coyotes howl.

Our next stop was an old farm cottage situated in the valley near Ridgway, with picture windows that gave us a jaw dropping view of some of the 14,000 foot snow-covered peaks nearby.  From our home base on the valley floor we explored in three different directions; Black Canyon, Telluride and Ouray.  We drove on crazy roads with steep cliff edges, plenty of wow’s and whoa’s, and started making plans for a return visit.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. The Gunnison River has been working on the canyon for the past two million years sculpting a vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky into a unique beauty that left us speechless.  Looking straight down the cliffs it was a mere 2,700 foot drop into canyons that squeezed the river into 40′ widths in places, where adventurers in the early 1800’s began to survey the river.  It took many years before they succeeded, but today there is a 6 mile tunnel that cuts through the cliffs taking water from the Gunnison and feeding into the arid Uncompahgre Valley.  Amazing ingenuity and persistence.

After spending a day looking down into the Black Canyon, we spent the next day in Telluride  looking up!  The town of Telluride is like landing in a picture postcard.  Everywhere you look there are colorful Victorian homes framed by golden aspens and dwarfed by 13,000 foot snowy peaks.  We rode the tram up and over the mountain enjoying the views and adding a few gazillion more wow’s to the count.

Originally a traditional summer camp for the Ute Indians, this area was heavily mined and the population boomed when the railroad arrived in 1890.  “There are two theories as to how the town came to be known as ‘Telluride’: 1) The name was derived from the mineral tellurium, a non-metallic element often associated with mineral deposits of gold (and ironically, not found in this valley), or 2) The town was named for the famous send-off given to fortune seekers headed to the southern San Juan Mountains — “To-hell-you-ride”!”

Our final excursion from Ridgway was a short drive into the town of Ouray, named after the great Chief Ouray, a Ute Indian leader who lived here and spent his life trying to keep the peace between the Utes and the whites even as the whites continued to take more and more land from the Utes.  While he is honored today, the Utes lost their land and their way of life in the San Juan Mountains by 1880.

Like Telluride, Ouray is set down in a narrow valley surrounded by mountains and rugged canyons that were mined heavily.  We hiked into Box Canyon to see the falls that rush through an 8′ gap in the rock walls, then we climbed up the stairs to see the falls from the top…yikes, it’s a long way down!  The canyon is a geologist’s dream and tells the story of how these mountains were created.

Leaving Ridgway we headed up and over Red Mountain Pass (11,018 ft), Coal Bank Pass (10,640 ft) and Molas Pass (10,970 ft).  During the 1800’s this area was the site of some 20 silver and gold mines.  They are no longer in operation, but the old tailings and rugged looking mine buildings are scattered around the mountains.  If you’re ever in this area, drive Hwy 550, it’s not to be missed!  Known as the “million dollar highway”, it’s also listed as one of the most dangerous roads and we could see why as we clung to the road that had been cut from the side of the mountains!  We spent a couple of hours hopping in and out of the car as new vistas emerged around each corner.  WOW!

Albuquerque was our next stop and we were treated to posh digs provided by a high school friend of Marty’s.  It was another 40 year reunion with all the stories and laughs that go along with getting re-acquainted.  Thanks so much Patsy and Ed, it was such a fun stay!

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was in full swing so we woke before dawn and headed down to the field to see the balloons taking off in the dark.  What a rush!  Huge colorful balloons everywhere we looked, in all stages of being filled with air, then heating the air, hooking on the basket, then up, up, and away!  In the dark the balloons glows are stunning, with all the balloons firing their burners at once to create glowing orbs of color.  When the sun came up all 500+ balloons ascended into the blue sky for a show that was worthy of our bucket list….check!

So let’s add it up….1,700 miles driven, 5 states visited, 8 beds slept in, and 5,843 WOWs!  It has been a great trip, in an area that we hope to come back and explore much more.  Since leaving Happy Dance in July we’ve traveled many, many miles through endless empty country, with varied climates, landscapes, and history and we’ve been stunned at the vast size of it all.  We’ve come away with a renewed respect for the wealth of beauty in this country, the startling history, and a realization that having family and friends outweighs it all.







Land travels

I grew up in Seattle and even though I left soon after high school, I still feel very much at home here.  I love being surrounded by water and green trees, ferry boats and distant mountains.  But I’m getting ahead of myself since we made a few stops along the way.

Back in Mexico, we spent a few days of melting at the dock in San Carlos which made us ready to leave the heat for a while and head to someplace cool; so we headed to Phoenix (109 degrees), and Sacramento (90’s).  But first we had to put Happy Dance to bed for her long summer’s nap, and make sure that a hurricane wouldn’t wake her up.  We doubled the dock lines and removed the sails, tied down the dinghy, replaced the halyards with messenger lines, cleaned every nook and cranny, emptied the refrigerator and freezer, pickled the water maker, stored the toys below decks and turned everything off except the bilge pump.  You get the idea; Happy Dance was as ready as possible for us to leave her.

So the next morning at dawn we hopped into a taxi to get to the bus station to get to the airport to get to a taxi to get to a hotel, with…air conditioning!  What a wonderful invention.  We slept like logs that night; under a blanket!  The next day we started family visits; first in Phoenix to see Marty’s 102 year old Grandmom, his Uncle and cousins, then off to Sacramento to see the rest of the McDaniel clan and especially the newest member, our Grand Nephew, 2 month old Zachary Lee.  Loads of 4th of July family fun and silliness, along with plenty of awesome bar-b-que (thanks Ross).  And even though the main 4th of July fireworks show was cut short by a shell blowing sideways we still enjoyed some spectacular bangs!

From Sacramento we flew to Seattle, rented a car and drove to Eastern Washington to see the Cunningham clan.  We visited beautiful spots on Lake Osoyoos in Oroville, enjoying the quiet views, best ribs ever, apple trees and rowboats.  Marty even had the opportunity to try out “el drono” again, and with success this round (though a few trees were trimmed!).

From Oroville we took a side trip into Canada, heading past a crazy spotted lake, beautiful mountains full of forest fires and smoke, and stayed a night at Harrison Hot Springs.  We walked the lake, checked out the hot springs, laughed at a floating blow-up water park, and soaked in sulphur hot springs…ahhhh.  After we were noodles we walked back to our hotel for another lovely night of cold air and blankets.

Heading back to Seattle required a bit of guess-work on routes since we no longer have a cell phone or any way to get GPS directions while on land.  I guess we could bring the chart plotter with us, but I’m not sure how we’d get it out of the boat!  So we do what all sailors do, we steered by the sun, heading south and west, until we came around a corner and voila – the border crossing!

Those poor border patrols; it’s always a bit confusing for the immigration agents to understand our living situation.

Agent:  “Where do you live?”

Sue:  “On our sailboat in Mexico.”

Agent:  “Where do you keep your car?”

Sue:  “We don’t own a car, this is a rental.”

Agent:  “Where did you rent the car?”

Sue:  “In Burien.”

Agent:  (Puzzled face…)  (Giving up on me and leaning down to peer at Marty)…”Martin, do you live in Renton?”

Marty:  “I did many years ago.”

Agent:  (back to me…)  “Where did you come from today?”

Sue:  “My brother’s house in Oroville”.

Agent:  “How did you get to Oroville?”

Sue:  “We drove from Seattle.”

Agent:  “So you flew from Mexico to Seattle?”   (another puzzled face)…and on and on…until the important question…”Did you buy anything in Canada?”

Sue:  “Two bottles of wine.”

Agent:  “Welcome home, have a nice day!”


And with that we were back in the good ol’ U.S. of A.  We drove down Chuckanut Drive to Skagit Valley to enjoy the view, some clam chowder, with a stop at Deception Pass to watch the whirlpools, finally landing at Coupeville to see friends there, and to visit our 8′ x 10′ shed that holds all our earthly possessions that don’t fit on Happy Dance.  We opened the door, looked in, shut the door and walked away…yep, our stuff is still there and we don’t seem to need any of it so it will stay there for now!

From Coupeville we rode the ferry down to Seattle, missing it by one car, just like the good ol’ days!  I tried to drop Marty off at Boeing as we passed by, but he decided to stay retired.  We drove down I5 with memories going into overload, and ended up at REI.  This isn’t your everyday REI, this is the mother ship!  It’s such a culture shock to go from Mexico to a land of materialism on steroids.  We get caught up so easily, but then we remember; where the heck would we put it?

So now we’re enjoying some lovely days in Seattle staying with my cousins in the little house that my great-grandfather built on Three Tree Point.  It’s been great to take walks on the beach (and yes, I found an agate!) and hear of all the family haps.  We’ve had a few visitors and hope to plan a few more.  We’ll sleep to the sound of the waves on the shore, watch the freighters go back and forth, watch the tides come and go, and plan our upcoming travels.  It’s always fun to come home, even as a wayward visitor!