Living in the Moment on Dungeness Bay

Time is too precious to squander a single moment. With one week to spend with my three adult children, spouses and youngest grandchild, all I want to do is soak up their presence and savor this rare time together. My natural instincts are to write about the experience. To blog, share on Facebook and text friends. But I refrain. For a week I shun social media and focus purely on life as it happens. And it is sweet.

Reviving the concept of a family vacation, we are all gathered on the Olympic peninsula in Washington. Settling into a spacious house on the coast in Dungeness, we are surrounded by mountains, hiking trails, beaches, tide pools, wildlife and birds. It is the perfect setting for this assembly of active people intent on enjoying the outdoors.

Dungeness Bay Manor

The week is deliberately unstructured. Couples or individuals are free to choose their activities each day, and different groups form depending on interests. The only stipulation is that we all reconvene for dinner. There stories of the day's adventures are shared, and plans begin to form for the next day's outings.

Dinner on the deck

Hiking is high on the priority list, and there is one destination on everyone's must-do list – Hurricane Ridge. On a crystal clear day with mountains visible in all directions, we all hike Hurricane Hill. It is an easy, unhurried trek as we take in the colorful array of wildflowers along the trail, the rich green of the pine trees contrasting with the deep blue sky, and the snow covered peaks that surround us. Being flanked by family clinches the moment.

Hurricane Hill wildflowers
Maren atop Hurricane Hill
Family on Hurricane Hill

Our two boys have been harboring plans for a challenge hike, and head out early one morning to tackle a steep and rugged trail. In contrast, some of us girls decide on a day at Rialto Beach where we scramble between enormous rocks known as “stacks” and spend hours peering into tide pools.

Rialto Beach

Rich naturally gravitates to areas for birding opportunities, and spends a couple days exploring the majesty of Cape Flattery – the most northwestern point of the US.

Cape Flattery

A visit to the HOH Rain Forest is another popular choice. Those of us who make the longer trip to get there all agree it was well worth the drive. We revel in the green toned wilderness, where mosses drip from every available branch, pine trees tower overhead and tangled tree trunks form intricate patterns. An encounter with two imposing elk bucks hold up our hike while they graze lazily in the woodlands. We wait as long as it takes them to eat their fill.

HOH Rain Forest hike
Elk in rain forest
Rain forest hikers

Dungeness Spit is in our own back yard, which beckons for another all-family walk on its sandy shore.

Dungeness Spit
Family on Dungeness Spit

It is a week of making memories. A week of carefree vacation time with family. A week of sunshine and beautiful scenery. A week of activity. Best of all, I haven't missed a single moment.

 

Revisiting Old Favorites

They say you can never go back. I too have concerns about trying to recreate an original good experience. But on this trip we have successfully enjoyed things a second time around.

The journey is from Duluth to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. While Rich and I drive across country, our three grown children and their spouses are packing their bags to fly out and meet us there on Saturday. A week's family vacation awaits us there.

The prior trip was to begin our Glaciers to the Sea bike tour. We followed much the same route, although in the three intervening years Rich has become passionate about staying off the interstate. Back roads rule. But still, we managed to hit some of the same spots en route.

It was a marathon first day's drive, but we were determined to get to Medora ND. That allowed us to get out first thing the next morning to cycle through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Our rewards for rising early were empty roads, frisky wildlife and a quiet ride. It was a much more up close and personal experience than driving in the car last time – especially passing right by a bison on the side of the road! The next one we saw was moving rapidly with purpose. Mid-stride, he suddenly stopped, dropped and rolled – right on top of a prairie dog hole. There were numerous deer with large ears and active prairie dog towns with yipping dogs gathering breakfast and popping in and out of holes. Despite the cloudy day, the land formations were still impressive and other worldly.

Rich Molly T Roosevelt Park
Rich cycling by a bison
Molly Teddy Roosevelt Park

Cycling along the Clark Fork River remains one of our best memories from our Glaciers trip. So we selected another section of the river for an afternoon ride. Although this road was busier and we sweltered in 96 degree heat, the river was as beautiful as we remembered it. And we enjoyed the journey through lush forest land.

Molly cycling Clark Fork River
Molly cycling Clark Fork River 2
Rich cycling Clark Fork River

There was only one remedy for our overheated bodies at the finish – a huckleberry shake, of course. Clearly we are back in huckleberry country, where you can buy anything flavored with them. But nothing beats huckleberry ice cream.

Huckleberry Shake

I guess I'm a convert. These old favorites have all been worth revisiting.

 

Costa Rica’s Local Color

It was only two weeks. But in that time we witnessed a transformation. Arriving in the west coast town of Las Catalinas, the weather patterns still clung to the winter norm. Clear blue skies, hot baking sun, a calm bay and dry brown earth prevailed. We were in the “dry forest” and the midst of the winter-long absence of rain.

The climate was most apparent on the mountain bike trails. Even just looking up into the hills surrounding town, everything was brown. Following the dirt paths up into those hills, the ground was rock hard and vegetation was dormant. But all that soon changed, almost overnight.

Clouds moved in, and so did the rain. Evenings invariably brought flashing skies as lightning pulsed through the darkness. We had front row seats sitting out on out deck watching the sky. Most evenings thunderstorms followed. Rain was often intense and short. But it had the courtesy to come only at night, which we appreciated. The increased humidity, however, clogged the air. Stepping outside any time of day, we were immediately cloaked in hot heavy air. It was hot before, now it was cloyingly sticky. The wind picked up too. The timid waves lapping the shore turned into veritable crashing breakers.

On the trails, just a few days of rain worked magic. Buds popped out everywhere. Tiny clover-like plants poked up through the soil and began to carpet the trail. The brown landscape was instantaneously green. I was glad I had taken some early pictures as I might otherwise have thought I imagined the stark change.

Before and after rain

Flowering plants also flourished. Those already blooming increased one hundred fold. New colors and blossoms appeared. It was a feast for the eyes.  Some mornings, we would find the trails littered with brilliant flowers, brought down by the hard rain.

Costa Rica flowers

The gathering storms did scuttle a number of sunsets. By late in the day, clouds often hovered over the horizon, preventing the sun’s late rays from reaching the sky overhead with its red glow. That didn’t stop us from watching, however, ever hopeful for a display. Yes, glass of Chardonnay in hand. And on our final night, we were rewarded one last time. It was a fitting parting gift, this local color in Costa Rica.

Final Costa Rica sunset

Tropical Writing Retreat

This is true vacation. Two weeks away from the trappings of home life, immersed in a different culture, and transported to a Costa Rican tropical climate is enough to slow down and let life just happen. Or is it?

Molly on SUP

The realities of the intense sun and heat relegate any rigorous exercise to the early hours of the morning. We're talking 5:30am, to get the maximum amount of pre-sun time. It plays perfectly into my preferred workout routine, so I happily hit the trails for a run at first light. The ocean is at its quietest in the mornings, so I plunge in for my open water swim. I may follow that with a kayaking adventure, boogie boarding or my first attempt at stand up paddleboarding. But even after all that, the clock barely registers 10:00am.

Molly with latte

I linger over breakfast then stretch out my daily latte at Pura Vida Ride with some solid reading time in one of the shaded wooden rockers overlooking the beach, basking in the rising ocean breezes. I'm doing pretty well at this relaxation thing, I think.

And then it kicks in. The need to do something. That irrepressible drive and desire to accomplish. Afternoons are best spent out of the sun, engaging in less strenuous pursuits. What could be more fitting than doing a bit of writing?

Being practical, I have carefully arranged story deadlines around this juncture. Yet here I am with time on my hands that needs filling. I soon find ways to incorporate my vacation surroundings with writing. New venues for pursuing my craft materialize. Inspiration springs forth. And the occasional iguana saunters by.

Writing on the beach
Beach view while writing
Writing with iguana

One contest entry and two magazine story submissions later I'm feeling pretty good about this writing interlude. I'm right on target with my goals to get my writing in front of new editors and contest panels each month. And I've done some tinkering on my book as well.

Who says vacation has to be all play and no work? I'm quite pleased with my tropical writing retreat.

 

El Viejo Wetlands Day Trip

After a week of taking in all the outdoor activities, beauty, beach and ocean that Las Catalinas has to offer, it was time for a field trip. Rich took off his birding hat long enough to put on his travel planner persona, and came up with a destination that appealed to both of us – El Viejo Wetlands.

The preserve is owned by a successful sugar cane family that has set aside 5,000 acres of land as a wetlands refuge. Their boat trips offer views of not only birds but wildlife as well. Arriving plenty early for our 9:00am boat trip, we met Kevin our guide. As luck would have it, we had a boat and Kevin all to ourselves! The river was a fair distance from the main entrance and other facilities, and we had ample opportunity to learn how Kevin became a licensed guide and honed his English reading birding books available only in English. His expertise soon became very apparent to us.

Molly and Rich river boat

We boarded one of the smaller boats and Caesar piloted us up and down the river. With thunderstorms the last two evenings as well as more rain in the mountains, the river was swollen and the current swift. Kevin pointed out the high water point much higher on the bank. That's where the river will be when the rainy season kicks in soon.

It didn't take long to begin sighting birds and animals. Both Kevin and Caesar were good at spotting them, and Caesar would maneuver the boat over for a close look. They had an eager customer in Rich, and indulged his enthusiasm for photography and finding new species. I left the little birds and far away specimens to Rich, but tried my hand at capturing the larger birds and animals.

Bird
Black necked stick
Tricolor Heron

I sensed a bit of friendly competition between Rich and Kevin, vying to be the first to name each bird! Rich was a formidable opponent, but ultimately Kevin had the advantage, being more familiar with the local birds. As we drifted close to shore, Kevin challenged us to find the next specimen. He pointed out the tree, and it took a while before we could see them. I am proud to say I got it right – bats! Long nosed bats like the underside of trees he said, because they are so well camouflaged there. That's for sure!

Long nose bats

Crocodiles were abundant along the shores. Most of the time all we could see were the tops of their floating bodies and an eye peering out over the water. But one in particular gave us a great show. He'd found a cache of fish and opened his mouth to strain them in, showing us his gruesome teeth. Suddenly, he was thrashing and splashing, having caught a good size fish. It was clear that the river was not a safe place to swim!

Crocodile on shore
Crocodile teeth

The day was cloudy and humid, which kept the sun at bay. With a good breeze on the river and the movement of the canopied boat, it was very pleasant out there plying the water. We were sorry to see the boat tour come to and end, but still had a treat in store.

Molly and Rich in boat

Lunch awaited us in the beautifully restored Casona Hacienda El Viejo, a large wooden open air building. We enjoyed a typical Costa Rican meal, then spent time walking through the grounds. There were ample iguana present, including one that looked like a dinosaur and two fighting iguanas. They also liked to perch on the roof and supports for the building. We had to be careful where we walked!

Casona Hacienda
Iguana

My travel guide did well. It was well worth the journey, and we both enjoyed our day trip to the El Viejo Wetlands.

 

Adapting to Paradise

It's a rough life. But I'm managing. I sit in a wooden rocker in the mottled shade of the trees, studded with sleeping monkeys. Draped over high branches, their limbs hang limp. They are carefully balanced yet secured by the end of their tails as they slumber through the heat of the day. I see seven in one tree alone.

Monkeys in tree

An iguana saunters by and scurries up a tree. Rich has seen a much larger one. A local named Dino. I'm sure I'll catch a glimpse eventually.

Iguana

Out front, beyond the colorful racks of kayaks and paddle boards, the ocean glitters in the sun. The water is an impossible hue of blue, only rippled by the wind then heaving and cresting into foamy white breakers against the shore. Paradise indeed.

View from rocking chair

Las Catalinas is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I count myself under that label, but here I am compelled to reconfigure my exercise fanaticism. I arrive open to trying new sports, to make the most of the local offerings. But I'm off to a rocky start. Mountain biking and I don't get along so well. Even on my second attempt I feel my psyche getting more of a workout than my body. But trading wheels for running shoes, I suddenly find relative safety on those same trails. Funny, I never liked trail running before. Now I relish my new activity and still get the amazing views.

View from bike trails

The bay calls out to me, and I find it calm enough for distance swimming. It sure beats lap swimming in a pool. When the wind picks up, Rich and I try out boogie boards. We manage a few good rides on the waves and do a lot of floating on the swells. I see a kayak and a stand up paddle board in my future.

Evening comes quickly here. Sunset is around 6:00pm, and the lingering colors may last 20 minutes longer. Then darkness descends. The temperature moderates and a nice breeze comes off the ocean, perfect for outdoor dining on the beach.

Las Catalinas sunset
Dinner on the beach

Welcome to paradise. I think I'm getting the hang of it here.

 

Santa Fe al fresco

Every tourist has his or her own motives for visiting places. While Santa Fe is rich in art, history and Native American culture, that's not what drew Rich and me to the area. It was the setting. The outdoors. The climate. And we were not disappointed.

Just before reaching Santa Fe, we stopped to see the Upper Rio Grande. We started off driving down the canyon on a small lane next to the river, when it suddenly occurred to us that we had bikes on the back of the car. A quick change in the campground and we were soon cycling instead of driving. Much better!

Rich cycling the Rio Grande
Rio Grande

From the start, we opted to stay on the outskirts of the city. We were attracted to a VRBO home which offered a peaceful and attractive rural setting. The unique aspect was sharing it with owner, Kevin. After years of staying in host homes while cycling, we welcomed the opportunity to meet new people and take advantage of their local expertise.

We immediately felt at home in Kevin's comfortable adobe house. Just being there was vacation enough for me. My favorite morning spot was on the sunny front porch with my coffee and breakfast. For writing, I retreated to the back patio. One of our best evenings was spent watching the ever changing colors of the sunset from the patio over a glass of wine with Kevin and Jen.

Our VRBO home

Saturday morning was Farmers' Market Day, and Santa Fe has one of the best. It prides itself on the requirement that all produce be locally grown and that those who do the growing are the same people selling it there. I indulged in one of my favorite ways to spend a morning, wandering among the tables with fresh coffee and scone in hand. Admiring the colorful produce and listening to local music was great home grown entertainment.

Santa Fe farmers market
Santa Fe farmers market produce
Santa Fe farmers market musicians

Rich's pick was the Randall Dave Audubon Center. We arrived before dawn for prime birding opportunities. I will admit to going for a run while Rich sought out new bird species, but I did join him to hike in the beautiful environs preserved by the Natures Conservancy.

Rich at Audubon Center
Audubon Center

In between cycling the local trails and countryside, we did make sure to get to the historic areas of Santa Fe near the Plaza. We especially enjoyed visiting San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church in the country. We also ate well, sampling New Mexican cuisine and local organic foods thanks to recommendations from Kevin.

San Miguel Chapel

We went for the outdoors, and Santa Fe treated us to a record warm spell. With unrelenting sunshine and temps in the 70s, it was the perfect escape from the cold Northland. Every moment spent al fresco was a delight.