Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Camping in the great Pacific Northwest

Karner Flat campground
When you live in the Pacific Northwest, with mountains covered with tall trees, the outdoors plays a major part in your life: hiking, canoeing, camping, wildlife watching.
I grew up camping in central Oregon and along the beautiful Oregon coast. Over the years I've camped in many states, including Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, as well as British Columbia.

For the last 10 years or so, a majority of my camping has been in Washington's central Cascades, namely the scenic Little Naches area, so named because this is where the Little Naches River bisects the Wenatchee National Forest.

The area has several developed campgrounds, but it's not unusual to come across campers in isolated spots.

We used to camp at Lost Meadow, which only had a vault toilet, but was just a two-minute mosquito-ridden walk away from elk-grazing pastures. Alas, the trees became diseased and died, leaving the site with no shade, but still lots of dirt kicked up by dirt-bike riders heading to or from the trails. The Little Naches district is one of the few areas in the state where trail riding is allowed.

This year, however, we switched to a developed campground at Kaner Flat. The tall firs and pines are still vibrant, with paved roads throughout the campground. It's within walking distance of the Little Naches River, which you can hear gurgling by when there's no traffic. Kaner Flat is historic, as it was used as an overnight rest stop for immigrants crossing the Cascades to Western Washington.

One of the delightful parts of the trip is always passing through the small town of Naches, where fruit stands line the highway. The Yakima Valley is the state's fruit basket. We always buy whatever is in season, from just-picked cherries to peaches and apricots.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Red & Blue: a book review

Books written by people I know occupy a prominent place on my shelves. The latest to join my growing collection is Red & Blue: A Memoir of Two Alaskan Tour Guides, written by Judy Shuler aka "Red" and Hildegard Ratliff aka "Blue," who spent many years working together as private tour operators in Juneau, Alaska.

The majority of the book is written by Judy with colorful anecdotes by Hildegard sprinkled throughout the book's 258 pages.

While the book devotes space about everything from the red tape they had to go through to become licensed tour operators to their more memorable tourists, the book really shines when Judy writes about the wonders of her adopted state's environment. She was born and grew up in Wisconsin, moving to Alaska in the mid 1960s.  She spent the next 45 years of her life living in, first, Anchorage and then Juneau. She now lives in her husband's hometown in western New York.

Red & Blue reads very much like a farewell gift to the state she loves so much. Alaska will always be part of her as it is me. I lived in Alaska for eight years, mostly in Anchorage but almost a year in Juneau. In my heart, I still consider myself an Alaskan, though I moved to Washington in 1978. But Alaska never had the impact on me that it had on Judy, so I question now if I should still consider myself an Alaskan.

She quotes liberally from John Muir, a 19th century naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, who spent a substantial amount of time in Alaska himself. Her deep concern for the Alaskan environment, particularly that of Southeastern, is very evident. Red & Blue is clearly a book that environmentalists will love.

The book also paints vivid pictures of Juneau, the state's capitol, and how her residents cope with rain and fog almost every day. That, I can tell you, is not very easy for some people, me included, to do. I didn't mind so much not being able to see across the street because the fog downtown was so thick. What I minded was the airport being so fogged in that planes couldn't land for days at a time which meant no mail, no newspapers and definitely no new TV programming. In those days, shows were taped in Seattle and then flown in.

As long as the planes could fly, I was OK. I still remember a legislator who went to Anchorage, but then couldn't get back to Juueau. He made three trips between Anchorage and Seattle before he was finally able to land at Sitka and hop a ferry back to Juneau. Unfortunately, they didn't have frequent flyer plans in those days.

Whether you are an armchair traveler or planning a trip to Southeastern, you will want to read Red & Blue. Judy also wrote Alaska Travel Planning Guide: Help for the Independent Traveler, which is filled with knowledge she gained planning independent tours to Alaska for travelers.

Red & Blue: a Memoir of Two Alaskan Tour Guides sells for $14.95 paperback at Amazon.

The fine print: The Federal Trade Commission requires me to tell you that Judy sent me an autographed copy of her book. I also am listed under "acknowlgements" because I made suggestions in an early draft of the book.