Thanks to our Southwest Companion Pass, Clay and I managed to fly back to Seattle for a weekend in the middle of June to celebrate Jason's birthday! This year, Clay decided to gift Jason a set of fishing rods and take him on his first fishing trip to North Cascades National Park. The national park was so gorgeous during this time of the year with its snow-capped mountain ranges and turquoise-colored lakes formed by glacier melt. It offered such grand and majestic views of the North Cascades.
Our day trip started out with lunch at Hawks Nest Bar & Grill. We then checked out the Gorge Powerhouse, where we learned that North Cascades NP consisted of 3 lakes, 3 dams, and 3 powerhouses: Ross, Diablo, and Gorge. Together, these three powerhouses transform water pressure into electricity and are capable of producing about 40% of the total power supply generated by Seattle City Light, a public utility owned by the citizens of Seattle. So cool to learn that this national park generates so much electricity and power for the city of Seattle!
After stopping by a couple scenic views and overlooks, we spent the rest of the afternoon fishing at Diablo Lake, where we saw several campers and a fly fisherman. We stopped at a part of the lake with less people, which was really nice. I got a couple shots of Clay and Jason at our fishing spot (above). That afternoon, I got to learn from Clay how to cast a fishing line! Too bad I only reeled in a couple of sticks. Jason, however, was able to catch his first trout -- and we think he caught the same trout twice! Even though he was the only one that caught anything that day, it was truly an exciting moment for all three of us.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, Clay and I finally made the trip out to Lassen, checking off our last national park in California! From Friday-Monday, we stayed at St. Bernard Lodge, a friendly Bed & Breakfast located about 20 minutes from the main park entrance. Each morning, we enjoyed a nice breakfast buffet prepared for us by the B&B's owner.
On the first day, we visited the Kohm Yah-mah-nee (Snow Mountain) Visitor Center, where we watched a short film and learned that Lassen is one of the few places on earth where you can find all 4 types of volcanoes: shield, cinder cone, dome plug, and composite! Then we drove out to Sulfur Works, an easily accessible hydrothermal area where we were able to get a good look at some bubbling mudpots and steam vents. Since the main road of the park was still closed (we were very lucky it opened the day after), we decided to drive to the Warner Valley trailhead and hike 1.2 miles to Boiling Springs Lake. The hike was beautiful and the trail took us through a lush green meadow and across a bridge, leading us to a bubbling lake! I was quite mesmerized by all the different colors that the lake displayed and by the sight of the steam rising up from the water. Boiling Springs Lake was probably my favorite from the weekend! After the hike, Clay and I spent the rest of the day in the small town of Chester at the Lassen Gift Company & Soda Fountain (where we got an ice cream sundae) and The Locker Room (where we ate dinner and watched the NBA finals).
On the second day, we were able to drive through the main road of the park. We stopped by Emerald Lake and Lake Helen, which were both frozen and just starting to melt. At Lake Helen, we could see people hiking the snowcapped Lassen Peak. Other spots we stopped to see or drove by were: Kings Creek, Summit Lake, and Chaos Crags. We ended our drive at the northwest end of the park, where we visited the Loomis Museum and hiked the self-guided Lily Pond Trail (0.6 mile loop trail). We also hiked Reflection Lake (0.5 mile loop trail) and Manzanita Lake (1.8 mile loop trail). Clay ended up bringing his fishing pole so that he could stop and fish during our hike around the two lakes. Though we didn't have enough time to actually wait long enough for any fish to catch, all of the fishing spots we found around the lake provided beautiful views of Lassen Peak. Reflection and Manzanita Lake pretty much wrapped up our time at Lassen, but we did end up visiting another fishing spot at Hamilton Branch, which I'll cover in a separate post.
Next time we return to Lassen, hopefully we will be able to check out Bumpass Hell (closed this time) and hike Cinder Cone! For now, I feel very content with what we were able to see and will consider it a good preview to Yellowstone.
At the beginning of October, Clay and I flew back to Washington to attend our friends' wedding (congrats Eric and Lovina!!). That weekend, we also ended up taking a day trip to Mount Rainier National Park, per my mother-in-law's recommendation. Though it was quite chilly (it was snowing when we got to the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center around lunch time), it was so refreshing to drive through and see this national park during the fall season. As we were driving, I couldn't help roll down the car window and snap a quick picture of the fog surrounding the trees (upper left photo). Later that day, we stopped by Louise Lake (upper right photo) and found a waterfall on the side of the road (lower left photo). I loved being able to see the autumn colors peek out from among the evergreen trees (lower right photo). As usual, it was wonderful getting to spend time with Clay outside in nature. In the future, we would love to come back to Mount Rainier during the spring and visit more of Washington's national parks together!
During the tail end of our Miami/Florida trip, we were able to dedicate a couple days to visiting Everglades National Park!
On the first day, we headed straight to the Shark Valley Visitor Center, so we could see some alligators! At the visitor center, we were able to rent bikes from Shark Valley Tram Tours. (Bikes were rented out by the hour at $9/hour.) Even though it was quite a warm day and there was barely any shade, the Shark Valley Trail (a 15-mile loop) still offered a beautiful scene to bike down. Straight ahead, we could see fluffy white clouds dotted across the light blue skies. Along the right side of the trail, there were plenty of opportunities for alligator sightings. At one point, I found at least eight tiny little baby gators with their mother close by. We were also able to see a couple of Florida soft shell turtles (they have such pointy noses!) and some species of birds common to the Everglades, including the Great Blue Heron and the black Anhinga. It was really nice being able to bike at our own pace and stop whenever we spotted some wildlife to see. After 7.5 miles, we reached the Observation Tower, where we were able to park our bikes and refill our water bottles. The tower was a great spot for bird watching. As we walked up to the very top, we were able to use our binoculars to see a pink Roseate Spoonbill in the pond below! After our stop at the observation tower, we decided to bike back the way we came, because supposedly it was more scenic than the second half of the loop. Unfortunately, as we were biking back, I got a throbbing headache and a heatstroke, so that was a HUGE bummer. Luckily, the visitor center had ice cream and I was able to eat two strawberry shortcake popsicles back-to-back and cool down just before our afternoon airboat tour! Clay had helped us book a tour with Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours, a company owned by members of the Miccosukee Tribe native to Florida. During our 45-minute tour, our guide stopped our boat just in time so we could watch a Great Blue Heron catch and devour a fish whole. Our guide also called over a female alligator to our boat and gave us a short break at what used to be part of a Miccosukee village.
On the second day, we stopped by Roberts Is Here (a fun outdoor fruit stand and farm that Nancy had found!) before heading over to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. This visitor center had some interactive exhibits that allowed us to learn more about the issues related to park conservation, as well as about the wildlife in the Everglades. They also had an outdoor deck with rocking chairs, which Clay and I enjoyed. For me, the highlight of our second day was definitely the Anhinga Trail, which again offered many opportunities for us to see alligators, turtles, and birds. Afterwards, we attempted to walk through the nearby Gumbo Limbo Trail, but turned back around as soon as Hayong was attacked by some crazy bugs. After that, we ended up just driving to Pa-Hay-Okee Overlook, which was cool/different, but also kinda barren-looking...and had one two many black bumble bees (thanks Nancy for protecting me!). Overall, I think it's safe to say that we were able get a pretty good glimpse of the Everglades wildlife and make some good memories with our friends during our two-day visit! I'm already missing our time there as I conclude this belated blog post!
The second national park that we planned to visit on our Florida trip was Dry Tortugas National Park! Located about 70 miles west of Key West, this national park is made up of seven different islands. The main island that we planned to visit was Garden Key, including its historic Civil War fort, Fort Jefferson. In order to get there, we first drove 3.5 hours from Miami to Key West, where we stayed for a couple of nights. (The drive down US-1 was incredibly beautiful with Caribbean blue water on both sides.) Then, early the next morning we took a 2.5 hour long ferry ride on the Yankee Freedom III to get to the island. The ferry departed from Key West at 8am and we arrived at Fort Jefferson around 10:30am. Poor Clay actually threw up since it was quite a bumpy ride. But once we reached the island, we were all very excited and eager to explore as much as we could before we had to return to the ferry at 3pm!
We first decided to sit in on a tour at 11am, so we could hear about the history of Dry Tortugas. The island's namesake comes from its green sea turtles (now endangered) and its lack of fresh water. We learned about the history of Fort Jefferson, which was originally constructed by the U.S. to control navigation to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as to protect Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade. During the Civil War, the fort also served as a Union military prison for captured deserters. Today, Dry Tortugas National Park is a wildlife refuge where visitors can come bird watch and snorkel through live coral reefs. After the tour, we took some time to walk through/on top of the brick hexagon-shaped fort and around its surrounding moat outside. The remainder of the afternoon, we snorkeled around the perimeter of Fort Jefferson from South Swim Beach to North Swim Beach. The waters were great for snorkeling and we were able to see a variety of fish and marine life during our afternoon there!
Just capturing as I go.