Thursday, September 25, 2008

Catching Up - Our July Vacation Part 2

So, off we went, leaving the scenery of the Gallatin National Forest for some new scenery: The Kootenai National Forest. First we had to get there; of course we decided that it was wise and more fun to completely avoid I-90, so we took the back roads. We dropped about 5000 feet in elevation over the course of the day, but you would hardly know it because you're still very much in the mountains. Our destination was Troy, MT.

This little corner of the very northernmost and westernmost part of Montana is the road less traveled. You wouldn't pass through here because it's on the way to nowhere else, except maybe Glacier National Park, but even so there are faster ways to find that NP. We stayed at our good, very good, friends' father's cabin, right on the Kootenai river, which flows down into Montana from Canada, takes note of America for a few hundred river miles and then retreats back to Canada. And what aboot that?

ANYWAY, it was a super nice cabin with fabulous views. We took a great hike into the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness to a alpine lake. On the far end of the lake, in the shade of the shear cliffs, was a small seasonal glacier that was cleaving off right as we were eating lunch! You'd see a big piece fall off, then hear it 3 seconds later rattling and booming through the valley. Then 5 minutes later the mini-Tsunami waves would bump the far shore. Pretty cool.

But I was far more interested in the - plant geek alert - thirteen species of conifer growing in a relatively short elevation range! I counted nine of these on our hike alone, of which my old Botany professor Roger del Moral might say is totally freaking bio-diverse-tastic. Plant nerd paradise indeed. Here's the conifer list off the forest service web site:

Northwest Montana Evergreens

Douglas-fir (Red Fir)
Grand fir (White Fir)
Ponderosa Pine (Yellow Pine)
Western Larch (Tamarack)

"I went to the Cabinet Mountains and all I did was look at plants." There was one point on the hike where we stopped to look at an avalanche track on the hill across the valley: we realized that we were also standing in another avalanche track. In this area about 50 feet along the trail there were about 12 species of shrubs. Down in the Puget lowlands where I live and work you'd never get that many. Interesting (to just me I guess) was the fact that around Seattle some of these species would never grow together. Wet-loving species right next to species that don't need any water.

So the Cabinet Mountains are a pretty unique place. It's pretty much undiscovered and the locals are no doubt divided about this: Tourist money vs. the old way of life. Again, do not order the fish. Stick with cow meat.

Other highlights? The rock quarry between Kalispell and Libby, MT. This Landscape Architect almost drove off the road after seeing 30' long slabs of Montana ledgestone sitting out in the stone yard - ready for me to buy, truck down and integrate into the Garff Residence Masterplan. Should have pulled over but they were closed...

After 3 days we had to pack up and drive home.

The avalanche tracks

Shrub biodiversity at it's finest. I assure you Ginger does not care. Hey - I do too care!"

Mini-glacier creating mini-tsunamis

Thought this looked straight out of a How To Design Japanese Gardens for Dummies. The bonzai-ish tree, carefully placed stone, shrub background and beargrass foreground. All naturale.

Hurry up, my dogs are barkin'

Even more photos...

Ginger's Flickr account hosts even more photos of the Gulf Islands trip and other vacations. Check it out!

And because you wanted to know, here's what we ate last night. Tomatoes from our garden. MMM!

Monday, September 22, 2008

World's Longest Post Ever (Gulf Islands!)

Any boat trip that starts with a Small Craft Advisory in effect is going to be good, right?

We left the dock Friday afternoon with the intent of getting a head start and making Kingston, so that our trip up to the San Juans the next day wouldn't be quite so long. Once through the locks, though, it immediately became apparent that that wouldn't be the smartest thing we'd ever done, so we ducked into Shilshole marina for the night. On the plus side, we had a very nice dinner at Ray's to start our trip. On the minus side, we didn't get very far.

So; up bright and early the next morning to set off on our great adventure. Slack tide at Deception Pass was at 4:26pm, so we had most of the day to make our way up the east side of Whidbey Island. Andy, Genevieve, and Jeremy on Cinnamon Girl would catch up to us at some point, their boat being much faster than Swietenia. Under the bridge we went, timing it perfectly. That's Cinnamon Girl there in front of us.

We headed for Fisherman's Bay on Lopez Island for the night. Unbeknownst to us, Fisherman's Bay is served by the world's craziest seaplane pilots ever. Looking maybe twenty feet up to pontoons as it (barely) cleared the VHF antenna was, um, interesting?

The next day we cleared customs in Bedwell Harbor on South Pender Island; this involved Mark going up to the little customs hut, calling on the phone, telling them we had less than $10,000 cash, no fruits or vegetables, and very little alcohol (ha!), and receiving a number in return. Not too stressful. We spent the night there, anchored in the bay. It's directly adjacent to a provincial park, so we spent some time onshore walking the trails, and Mark bravely captured the wild Madrona branch and persuaded it to stay on the top of our boat (this would later be the occasion for a locks-watcher-tourist to shout down to us "Nice branch!" - gotta keep the tourists amused...)
So by Monday, if you're keeping track, we felt the need for a shower. It was decided to visit hippytown, a.k.a. Ganges, on Saltspring Island. Andy radioed ahead and secured slips for both boats, and after a short cruise (a couple of hours - as all cruising should be, so as to facilitate onshore exploring) we arrived. Showers were taken advantage of, Genevieve and I met a lovely eccentric artist, and the grocery store was raided for fresh fruit and veggies. Over dinner we began the arduous task of deciding where to go next. Charts came out, discussions were had, Jeremy ate a lot of ketchup and very few french fries. The consensus reached was Wallace Island; Conover Cove to be exact. Wallace Island sits in the middle of Trincomali Channel, and is long and narrow. The entire island is a provincial park, and Conover Cove is a very protected tiny little anchorage with a small park dock and lots of trails. We totally lucked out and got space on the dock for both boats, therefore inaugurating the first annual Wallace Island wooden boat festival. Because if more than one old boat arrives at the same place, it must be a boat show! Or we must be going to a boat show, or coming from a boat show....plastic boaters have a hard time with the fact that we cruise for pleasure just like they do (well, maybe with a bit more class).
We had great time spectating as other boats came in and anchored, or tried to. The bottom, while pretty good holding, was apparently somewhat difficult to grab.

Wallace Island was so nice we spent three nights! Several crab were caught and eaten,

shells and rocks were gathered, starfish were observed and occasionally molested,

and Mark started his own sealife zoo (are you seeing a pattern here yet?).

Wallace Island was home to some of the most spectacular Madrones we've seen in a long while. This one was all the way out at the southernmost tip of the island, and you can tell I liked it.

About this time our dry ice evaporated completely and the 'regular' ice was going fast, so Genevieve and I sent the men on an ice-hunting expedition. The intrepid explorers returned from Thetis Island with copious amounts of the cold stuff.

For our next destination, we decided to head vaguely south, since Mark and I had to start to think about making our way back home. Cinnamon Girl had the full two weeks, lucky dogs. Again, after three days without, we felt like a shower, so a commercial marina was the plan. Andy and Genevieve had been to Genoa Bay, on Vancouver Island, in the past, so we headed that direction. A tiny little town with a cafe and an abundance of art, not to mention brand new washroom facilities, it was well worth the stop. This was our last night with the Carlsons, as they were headed back north, and we were sadly headed for home. We didn't need to be back to work until Wednesday, but it's always nice to have a day at home to clean/wash the boat, unpack, do laundry, and bond with your poor dog who hasn't missed you at all. So Saturday we cruised down to Sidney Spit, a provincial park just off Vancouver Island, across from the town of, you guessed it, Sidney. The spit in question is a mile long, and is mirrored by one almost as long, forming a wonderful sheltered harbor (as long as the wind isn't from the northwest) with many mooring buoys and wonderful beach. We took a walk through the woods, sadly denuded by the island's deer population. They close the park for several months in the fall to allow the First Nations to come in and cull the herd - I think they need to step it up a bit. Then we walked the length of the spit - the first barefoot-worthy sand beach of the trip. Mark collected lots of big shells, which we later put to use as a performance art project:


The weather report wasn't too promising for Sunday, so we looked up the tides at Deception Pass and 'went on the inside' of Whidbey Island. Slack at 3:45. OK, we can get there by then. Up at 7 (ack! so early!) and over to Roche Harbor to check in with US Customs. On this side there was a real person, but the actual check-in was just as easy. I guess slow old wood boats just don't make customs officials think of smuggling. We fueled up - just $4.75/gal - and started wending our way through the San Juans, crossing Rosario Strait a bit early for slack tide. So we grabbed a buoy in Bowman Bay, had lunch, and then made our way through a tiny bit early. Mark insisted we could do this. Argh. We made it, but at one point we were making VERY little headway against the current. Was the 15 minutes really worth it? No comment.

Rather than spend the night at the state park just through the pass, we decided to head for Coupeville, about halfway down the east side of Whidbey Island. Coupeville is cool! They have an historic old wharf with a public dock and several mooring buoys, a history museum, and some great old victorians. We spent an exceedingly peaceful night knowing that one more day would see us home. A boat that had followed us all the way from Deception Pass took the buoy next to us, and took some great shots of Swietenia, as well.

Headed home.......

Monday, September 15, 2008

Catching Up - Our July Vacation Part 1

As Ginger soaks her feet (seriously) as part of our Gulf Island recovery plan, I thought I'd catch up on our Montana vacation from way back in July. The first half was the inaugural Garff family reunion at Grandma and Grandpa's cabin, built in 1947 near Hebgen Lake.

(The lake most recently made headlines for a "malfunctioning headgate" which forced the evacuation of the Madison River below the dam. The dam is older than dirt. And filled with dirt. Grandpa Garff used to say he "went to the dam to get some dam water. But the dam man said I couldn't have any dam water. So I told the dam man to keep his dam water. And I didn't swear once" to wide eyed nephews. How could Grandpa say that? WOW!)

We've attended many reunions here with extended family, always a blast, but this time it was just the FOURTEEN of us + Lola the sole attending species of Canis familiaris. Grandma Judy, the Hawkins, Fosters and Garff's (Me and Ginger). It was seriously fun.

The cabin played a huge role in my formative years and there is not a corner of the house, garage, the surrounding landscape and even the outhouse(!) that doesn't have a vivid memory attached to it. We went to the cabin every summer no matter what and played in the boats and on the beach with the cousins, 2nd cousins, great aunts and uncles, regular aunts and uncles, cousins once removed, Grandma and Grandpa. Sometimes we'd go early in the spring before you should really be recreating at 7000 feet in the Gallatin National Forest. A few times my Dad and I would sneak away after the cabin was closed in the fall and launch the fishing boat into the cold water for one last fishing trip. And we'd launch that little boat with the black velvet upolstered '77 Pontiac Catalina - a car I would later crash at age 14 with my cousin Ben at where else, but the cabin.

The cabin makes you sick (dry heaves twice), the cabin burns your skin (no ozone in Montana), the cabin gives you rashes, splinters, a billion insect bites and the occasional close call with a bear. But the cabin pays you back with the clear sunsets, amazing scenery, unrivaled wildflowers, amazing hikes and incredible memories that fade far slower than anything else.

We spent 4 days eating too much, playing crazy games (Pit is still my favorite) and beating up the neices and nephews behind the boat. The mosquitos were horrible this year but who cares, you're at the cabin.

Kate on the player piano (Sorry Kate, but I am still the best at making the old instrument sing!)

That's Ellen and her prized Vaccinium membranaceum cobbler. Some call it Mountain Huckleberry. Some say it's the state fruit of Idaho. Others call it the best part about the cabin.

Leah did a lot of this. And Sam sort of did the opposite. Who was more enjoyable to be around?

Costco gave us the HO GT3! Are you sure you want more speed, because I can (and did) flip this thing over! Sammie, Adrie and Nick.

Nathan conquers kneeboard.

Kate is screaming for me to slow down. I can't hear you over the roar of the V8 sucking gas!

Sammie pulls a deep water start.

And Uncle Mark loves to drive the boat. Really loves it. As long as Grandma Judy buys the gas. Which she did, at only $4.75/gallon.

After 4 days of fun, cobbler, food, boat, noise, hikes, family, food, little sleep, noise, food, games, water, sun, food, sand, tennis ball w/ Lola, food, noise and fun we bid farewell and headed off on the Montana backroads to Troy, MT. Population: more ungulates than people. This would be a far calmer 2nd half of the vaca. Coming up in July Vacation part II.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gulf Islands Pix

Recently we took a week and a half long trip on Swietenia. We hadn't been out on the boat for more than a weekend in a couple of years and this would be our furthest trip ever on the boat. Here are some pix from the voyage to keep you tied over. Ginger is currently working on a post describing the trip in detail...

"Oh Canada (sing it with me)." You put up a courtesy flag when you cross into Canada. It is not required to sing the Canadian national anthem with your own made up words, but I did anyway.

Our first killer sunset (of many, Bedwell Harbor).

Scenic anchorages were the rule, not the exception. (Bedwell Harbor)

Crazy abandoned cabin on Wallace Island where everyone writes their name on a piece of driftwood. Except us. We were only there 3 nights, so we couldn't find the time!

Ginger is off the hook. The Wallace Island hook, that is. I kill myself, really.

This Pseudotsuga menziesii never looked better. That's Galiano Channel and Island in the background.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More soon, I promise

We're trying to get back to the blog. Just too much going on to sit down at the computer! More soon...