Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Too Busy to Blog

Lake View PanoramaThere have been times in the past when I haven’t updated our blog because, well, we hadn’t done anything “blogworthy”.  This time the reverse is true; we’ve been so busy in our summer job as Interpretive Hosts at Farragut State Park in Northern Idaho that I haven’t had the time to take pictures and chronicle our time here. 

Lake View1We arrived here in late April, when there was still snow on the surrounding peaks, and quickly became engaged in a multitude of projects.   Our job requires us to develop and host evening programs at the park’s amphitheater, teach a Junior Ranger class on Saturday morning, and entertain children during school tours. 

This is a state park on a scale we’ve never seen before.  Over 4000 acres, with four campgrounds of two loops each, dispersed campinTree to Treeg, group camping areas, day-use areas, a beach, a boat launch, museum, Junior Ranger Center,  4 18-hole disc golf courses, a RC aircraft area, a shooting range, and over 45 miles of trails.  And new this year is “Tree to Tree Adventure”, billed as an obstacle course in the trees.  But while today’s park is impressive, its history is truly amazing. 

In the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy needed a new station to train sailors and wanted to avoid the West Coast because of a possible attack.  They settled on this area due to the availability of land, inland location, and size and depth (1150’ with deeper areas)  of Lake Pend Oreille  (pronounced “ponderay”).  Bayview Naval BaseThe lake gave them both an area to train sailors in water drills and seamanship and a place to test submarines in a place far removed from the public.  (The Navy base is still in use: here’s an interesting link)



Farragut MapIn six months of 1942, 2,200 construction workers turned a quiet area of forest and farms into what would become Idaho’s largest city.  At its peak, Farragut Naval Training Station’s population would approach 70,000.  Six separate self-contained camps each held 5000 trainees, and the station hospital held 1500 beds.  Each camp had a drill hall that Drill buildingcovered 14 acres and held an Olympic-sized pool for water training – the total inside area was as big as 18 football fields!  There were areas for officer training, specialty training, housing for the staff, and even a school for the children.  Trains ran daily to Spokane and busses to Coeur D’Alene to provide a break for those in training.  In just over three years of operation, almost 300,000 sailors passed through here.

After the war was over, some of the station wBigas used for a technical school, college courses, and commercial purposes, but eventually everything – over 770 buildings, was torn down and carted away.  Today, the only complete structure left is the Brig, now used for a museum, Junior Ranger station, and workshop.  And once again the forest has returned.

As with any new volunteer location, we’ve been on a steep learning curve.  The history, plant life, and animals here are interesting and we’ve incorporated much of what we’ve learned into our programs.  This week we taught a Junior Ranger class on how to play disc golf; something we’ve never done until arriving here.  And  we’ve had fun  (mostly)  leading groups of up to 40 grade school children on a hike while Brenda teaches a class on animals complete with furs and skulls.  We entertained over 600 children so far.  Our one regret is that we’ve not had the time to explore the area, but now that the school tours are over we’re looking forward to getting out and learning about the area.  One thing we have had the time to enjoy is the dining and shopping in Coeur D’Alene, only 25 miles down the road.

RV Site1We’re very pleased with the volunteer sites.  We’re parked in the forest with five other RVs far away from the campgrounds.  The sites are huge – landscaped with a large patio area, fire pit, and picnic table.  It’s so nice to be away from the campground – after RV Site2the many times we’ve spent the summer with campers we’re convinced that half are pyromaniacs and the other half are trying to send smoke signals to relatives. 

The rangers and other volunteers have been friendly and welcoming.  Our ranger “boss” is an Orientation1amazing combination of energy, humor, and knowledge.  She’s the type that every volunteer wants to work for – tells us what needs to be done and then leaves us to figure out the best way to do it.  As the season kicked off, the Orientation2park hosted an orientation meeting and pot luck where every ranger was introduced and spoke of their duties, the state volunteer coordinator welcomed us, and the volunteers (30+) had the chance to visit and get to know each other.  We’re the rookies here; almost every other volunteer has been coming for years – one couple for 15 years!

Bayview1The park’s location is on the southwestern shore of Lake Pend Oreille, surrounded by mountains to the east and hills/forest elsewhere.  Nearby is the small town of Bayview, home of the Naval Acoustic Research Detachment.  There isn’t much room for homes due to the steep mountain slopes, so people have taken to the water – some of the “houseboats” are pretty impressive!Bayview2

MackWe’ll finish this update with a picture of “Mack”, a sculpture located outside the Brig.  Mack represents the thousands of sailors who passed through here, and when viewed close up you can see that he’s made up of images of individual sailors. 

Mack Side View

Mack Closeup

That’s it for now – if you’re passing through the area please let us know, we’d love to show you the area.  Check back, we’ll be updating our adventures soon!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Painted Hills and Prineville

We’ve spent a lot of time in Oregon, but mainly on the coast and the Willamette Valley along I-5.  We were amazed at the beauty of South-central Oregon when we visited Steen’s Mountain, and decided that another trip to the interior was in order.  And so, after our time in Salem reacquainting ourselves with big stores and chain restaurants, we headed over the cascades for a week’s stay in Prineville. 

We’d always been interested in visiting Prineville, the home of the Prineville “hotshots”, a trained crew of nine fire fighters who lost their lives in the Storm King or South Canyon fire in Colorado during the summer of 1994.  We first became interested in the history of fire fighting in the west after visiting Montana’s Mann Gulch, the site of a fire that killed 13 “smokejumpers” in 1949.  If you’ve never read the book “Young Men and Fire” by Norman Maclean, do yourself a favor and do so – it’s a riveting and enlightening read.  His son, John N. Maclean wrote a book about the Prineville Hotshots and the South Canyon Fire called “Fire on the Mountain”, another great book that describes the mistakes made in weather forecasting that led to the loss of the 14 fire fighters.

Prineville is an amazingly pristine little town with a population of around 10,000.  It was central to the areas we wanted to visit and the County RV Park was perfect for our stay.  We visited the firefighter’s memorial in the city park, with its nice monument and path that has a plaque with a picture and biography of each of the young men and women who lost their lives.  The local museum also has an exhibit on the tragedy, and there we talked to the volunteer who described the tremendous impact that the loss of the nine young people had on the small town.  Prineville Hotshot  Memorial

The John Day Fossil Beds were on our list, and so we took a day trip through beautiful mountains to the visitor center.  On our way we stopped at Mitchell, a struggling little town of 132 that provides the only gas and groceries in the area.  It was worth a drive through the canyon that the town sits in just to see some of the ah….unusual buildings.Mitchell OR Main StreetMitchell State StopMitchell Store The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument covers a huge area of North-central Oregon and has three separate “units”, one of which is a 2 hour drive from the visitor center.  It’s not a place where you can wander around picking up fossils, but an area where millions of years of floods/volcanoes/earthquakes have created layers of rock from different periods that contain an amazing amount of plant and animal fossils.  The visitor center was very nice, and had an area where you could watch as fossils were being cleaned and examined.  There was also a theater where we watched a very good film that described how the landscape had changed over millions of years and how the diversity of fossils from so many periods make this area special.John Day Visitor Center

A short drive from the visitor center was the historic Cant Ranch, where the backdrop of Sheep Mountain provided this image:Sheep Mountain Ranch View

We took the long way back to Mitchell and the Painted Hills and were stunned by the beauty of the mountains: Roadside View1

Roadside View2

Roadside View3

We’ve seen lots of pictures of the Painted Hills, many of which were Photoshopped into deep reds and yellows.  It’s a shame, because the magical beauty of these hills doesn’t need any help.  We took the half-mile hike to the overlook for these views:Painted Hills2

Painted Hills Panarama2

Painted Hills Panorama

Red HillAnother place we wanted to visit was Smith Rock State Park, just outside Redmond.  We expected a nice park with some scenic rocks, but were blown away by the beauty of the rock and river canyon.  The trails and people were visible from a distance, and that’s where we decided to stay.  The danger of some of the trails was driven home by a hiker’s death just a week before our visit.  Just another incredible Oregon State Park:

Smith Rock State Park1

Smith Rock Trail

Smith Rock Hikers

Smith Rock Panorama

We had a great week in Prineville, but it was time to head for Northern Idaho and our summer as volunteer interpretive hosts at Farragut State Park.  We’ll be posting a new adventure soon, so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

On the Road Again!

The trees are starting to get leafy, the grass is getting greener, and the gorse blossoms are filling the air with pollen – it’s spring on the coast, and time for us to begin our travels. 

Shell Island1We made our last visit to Simpson Reef to view the seals and sea lions.  It was during high tide and the combination of a smaller area of beach and larger amount of California Sea Lions made for an interesting show of noisy, Shell Island2squirming animals.  While the other seals and sea lions like to be spread out, the boys from California just love piling on top of one another.  It’s a California thing.  We’ll miss the magic of the reef with its seals, sea lions, Gray Whales, Bald Eagles, and occasional Peregrine Falcon – if you’re ever in the area; don’t pass up a trip to this viewpoint.

The nearby town of Charleston is a small but vibrant fishing community.  It also hosts the University of Oregon’s Charleston Marine Life Center, where we visited with friends Rob and Syd.  It’s sort of a miniature version of the Newport Aquarium, with touch pools, exhibits, and a bit of local history. Charleston Harbor The marine center is a small part of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, a 100-acre campus that provides undergraduate training in Marine Biology, services for visiting scientists, and of course their annual “Aw Shucks” oyster feed.  We visited on a beautiful sunny day which provided us a great view of the harbor from the center.  Inside, we enjoyed viewing the skeletons, underwater videos, and even got a “hug” by an anemone in the touch pool.   Dolphin Skull



From Coos Bay we headed over the coast range to Junction City, where we had scheduled some motor home work at the new Winnebago service center.  It turned out that the work would take longer than we had anticipated, so we decided to defer it until the fall and headed for our next stop, Salem – the state capital that no one can remember when reciting capitals of the United States.  After five months of being shopping and restaurant deprived on the coast, we were anxious to visit a big city again, and found a great RV park convenient to the city center. 

Salem isn’t a particularly picturesque town, but the capital grounds and downtown shopping center are interesting.  Stores contained in buildings on four city blocks are all connected by covered walkways to form a large shopping mall, with another block serving as a multi-level parking garage.  Macy’s, Penney’s, Nordstrom and a host of smaller typical mall stores are here, as is Brenda’s favorite – Kohl’s.  But it was the capital grounds that we found truly special.

Salem CapitalWe strolled the North capital grounds, an area of cherry trees, azaleas, and a spectacular fountain.  The capital building is the fourth-newest in the states, finished in 1938.  Atop the dome is an interesting statue, the 22’ tall, gold-leaf covered “Oregon Pioneer”, also known as the “Gold Man”.  Capital Statue

We picked the perfect time to view the capital gardens – the cherry trees and azaleas were blooming, the sun was shining, and it was 70 degrees.  Capital Garden SculptureSalem Capital Gardens2

Capital Azalea

The cherry blossoms were simply spectacular; each gust of wind made it look like we were in a small snowstorm.Salem Capital Gardens1

Cherry Blossoms

We enjoyed our stay in Salem – we caught up on shopping, made two visits to Buffalo Wild Wings (whoo hoo!) and had a great day visiting the capital grounds.  We’re traveling East over the Cascade Range to our next stop, Prineville.  We’ll be posting again soon, so check back!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Images of the Coast

The end of February is always the most depressing time of the year….winter has gone on for what seems like forever, there are no more holidays to look forward to (unless you’re Irish), and spring still seems far away.  We’ve been staying busy by setting up our spotting scopes and explaining marine mammals and shorebirds to visitors, and on good weather days, visiting museums and historical sites.  Instead of a narrative, this blog will be a pictorial review of what we’ve been up to.

The little town of Bandon where we’re staying is our favorite place on the coast.  Besides the charm of an “old town” shopping area and waterfront, the offshore rocks are beautiful, especially “elephant rock”:Elephant Rock Surf

Winter storms, generated far offshore, create crashing waves:Needle Rock2

Surf on Rock

The California Sea Lions don’t seem to mind:Sea Lions at King Tide2Sea Lions at King Tide1

Sunsets along the coast can be breathtaking:Ophir Sunset1

Ophir Sunset2

Harbor Seals have the ability to relax on rocks, and always seem comfortable:Harbor Seals

Elephant Seals are the Northern Hemisphere’s largest, some get to 15 feet long and 5000 pounds.  This guy crawled onto the beach below us one day - he was afraid to beach on the island since a much larger male has his harem there:

Male Elephant Seal on Beach

This area is the farthest north that Elephant Seals give birth, and the pups rarely survive.  They can’t swim, and will be left by the adults after about a month.  Nature compensates by allowing them to gain ten pounds a day on their mother’s rich milk.  Hopefully, that fat will sustain them until they figure out how to swim and fish.  We’ve seen half a dozen pups born, but four were washed away by storms.  We’re hoping the last two (the dark shapes next to the large females) will survive.  The first picture is shortly after they were born – the second two weeks later:Elephant Seals w PupsElephant Seals2

Coastal Oregonians are outdoor people, and it’s a rare day when people aren’t walking on the coastal trails, out on the beach, or gathering to watch the sunset.  And so this image is a fitting way to close our blog – until next time!Shore Acres Sunset