Travel is Wonder, and Wonder is Free

I grew up in a family that didn’t have much money, where everyone was constantly telling me that it was too expensive to go anywhere or do anything. Only when I got older did I realize what a bunch of bullshit that was, and only after that did I begin to see how many people around me were feeding their own heads with that exact same bullshit.

Look, I’m fully aware of how stressful being poor is. I’ve been there. But I’m even more acutely mindful of the fact that stress will just keep you locked in those stressful circumstances you are if you let it. It’ll become your epitaph. Your prison sentence. And that, my friends, is the ultimate bullshit.

There are many ways to get out of stress, but the one I want to talk about today is one that doesn’t get a lot of press: the act of cultivating a sense of wonder.

It’s tough to rationally explain how much this topic has me pumped up and pissed off right now. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning with this post in my head. I scribbled it down right in the dark in the notebook I keep at my bedside. I realized in that moment that this is what Northwest Nomad was always supposed to be. It’s not just a travel blog. It’s a fucking mission to get people off their asses and out into the world with a fresh sense of life’s possibility, beauty, depth, and inspiration, because I remember what it felt like to have none of those things in my life.

I can’t stand all those travel blogs full of privileged pretties trumpeting the spiritual epiphanies they’re having in foreign locales and 10,000-star restaurants and bla bla bla. Those things piss me off because they make travel, wonder, and adventure seem like some inaccessible fantasy that the vast majority of people can’t hope to experience. That’s not what I’m about, and that’s not what Nomad is about.

Listen, I do big things like climb Mount Rainier and party in downtown Seattle, but that’s such a small part of life. For me, the adventure is out there every goddamn day, right on the streets and trails around me, just like it’s all around YOU if you’d just LOOK.

Do you realize that no morning is ever the same? Not even close. To say days are “foggy” doesn’t capture the totality of any given foggy day. Not if you’re really paying attention. There are different kinds of fog. Each one hugs the landscape just a little differently and smells a little differently and feels differently on your skin. No two rains are ever exactly the same. No two sunshines. No two breezes or snows. Every day is a once-ever-in-existence phenomenon, and that’s a fact.

Some part of you knows this, but you fight it or you deny it as something trivial. I’m writing this to tell you that it’s not trivial. To be washed over with wonder is to step outside yourself, outside your stress and fears. It’s goddamn transformational. It puts you in a state of expectation and optimism.

Wonder is what we really mean when we talk about travel. The trip is just the vehicle to get to wonder. And those big exotic trips are awesome, and I fully encourage everyone to go after them. But, in the meantime, finances should never be a reason to live separated from wonder and amazement.

That country road down the way; the road right outside your house; the train tracks and the marina; all of it, everything, is potentially wondrous if you’re willing to bring a sense of wonder to it.

I’m going to end up repeating myself, so just let me say, in this late-night-passion-borne post, that travel is just another word for wonder, and wonder is free.

Let me say that again more simply: travel is wonder, and wonder it free.

So get out there. Open that heart again. Open those eyes. See the moments and the spaces around you for the miracle they are feel how incredibly privileged you are to witness them. There’s beauty out there. There’s a world of wonder swimming in a sea of never-ending transformation.

Join it. Swim with it. Get out and drop the bullshit, my friends. That’s all I want to say. Get out there and take a deep breath, and take in that world around you and marvel at it.

Travel is wonder, and wonder is free, so drop the excuses and get travelling.

Skagit River Trail at the North Cascades National Park Visitor’s Center

The North Cascades are truly an awe-inspiring sight. The rugged landscape is so raw that it can be intimidating for some people, and many of the trails are too difficult physically and mentally for beginner hikers. The smooth, easy 2-mile-long Skagit River Trail, however, proves that the difficulty of a trail doesn’t always correlate with its overall quality.

The Skagit River Trail starts at the parking lot of the North Cascades National Park Visitor’s Center. I’ve got the location pinned to the map at the bottom of this post, if you’d like to see it. If you just park in front of the center you’ll find an outdoor station with a map showing how to get to the trail head.

I hiked the Skagit River Trail on the same trip during which I did the Diablo Lake Trail, and while the Skagit doesn’t have views anywhere near as grand as Diablo Lake, I have to say I enjoyed it more. Really, I can’t pinpoint why. That little stretch of woods just has a very soothing, relaxing energy about it.

The Skagit River Trail is short, and much of it intertwines with portions of the Newhalem Campground, but the woods are still nice and silent. They have a sort of homey feel about them.

In a couple places, the trail leads out into the Skagit River. The wide tree canopy blots out the sun and, while I’m sure there are periods where the sun hits the spots, I don’t think they’d make realistic sunbathing areas. I could be wrong, though. I went there in the early morning.

Either way, the view from the shore is beautiful, with the Skagit at your feet and the soaring North Cascades in the distance. I definitely plan on hiking this little trail again next time in the area. I’d also like to check out the Newhalem Campground, as my guess is that that spot makes for some terrific sleeping.

Hiking the Diablo Lake Trail at North Cascades National Park

You’d be hard pressed to find any place in Washington state more rugged than North Cascades National Park and its surrounding area. The mountains jut straight up out of the earth, no foothills or gradual incline to speak of. The dramatic landscape makes many of the area’s trails among the most challenging you’ll find. Luckily for those not looking to set their thighs on fire or to take a mallet to their feet, the 7.5-mile-long Diablo Lake Trail is an easier option that nevertheless leads to some beautiful views.

Note that I said “easier” here, not “easy,” which is what some other sites designate the Diablo Lake Trail as. I disagree with that designation, and I base that disagreement on the fact that most of the people I came across on the trail were sweating heavily and asking how much farther they had to go.

Diablo Lake as seen from Diablo Lake Trail.
Diablo Lake as seen from Diablo Lake Trail. You come across this view within the first couple of miles of the trail.

I’m just getting back into hiking shape myself, but I’m not THAT far out of shape, and the trail certainly didn’t feel “easy” for me, just “easier” than the other trails I’ve done in the North Cascades. It’s no Storm King, but it’s no Box Canyon Loop, either.

I’m more apt to lean towards a classification of “moderately difficult” in terms of strenuousness. The Diablo Lake Trail is straightforward, though, and doesn’t have any river crossings or climbs or anything that will test one’s outdoors skills in any serious way (assuming that you don’t sustain some kind of injury, of course).

The trail takes you up the mountain and then down the other side to the shore of Diablo Lake. The lake is artificial, created by Ross Dam, which you can also see while being down by the lake. So, if you’re looking for a feeling of escaping civilization, this trail might not be for you.

Ross Dam as seen from the Diablo Lake Trail. A crane is working on top of the dam.
Ross Dam as seen from the Diablo Lake Trail. It’s somewhat intrusive and maybe an unwelcome reminder of human civilization, but the dam is actually kind of cool looking in and of itself. Quite a feat of engineering.

If you’re just interested in a nice, easier hike with some pretty views, the Diablo Lake Trail is a good choice. It’s not as as easy (and not nearly as short) as something like the Skagit River Trail, however, so there may be better options if you’re looking for something extremely quick and easy.

The trail leads through the base of  a boulder field that offers some interesting views. Another section of the trail leads over an extremely steep slope that drops off and leads a long, long ways down to the water at the bottom of the mountain. The trail is plenty wide at this spot, but people who don’t like heights might find it frightening.

North Cascades National Park is one of the lesser-visited parks in the Pacific Northwest, but its spectacular, rugged scenery shouldn’t be missed. The Diablo Lake Trail is a good starter hike to get to know the area and to get a feel for what it has to offer.

Northwest Nuggets: Fred Crisman’s Murder of a City, Tacoma

Fred Crisman, UFOs, and the Murder of a City

The Maury Island Incident is a well-known (though perhaps not as well-known as it should be) Washington state UFO event. Whether you consider the event to be a legitimate UFO contact or just a hoax, it’s a story that lives on to this day, and Fred Crisman played an important role in it.

Less well-known than the “Incident” is that Crisman was also involved in a weird aspect of the John F. Kennedy assassination, being fingered as one of the “Three Tramps.”

Even LESS well-known than that is that Crisman spent years raising hell around the city of Tacoma under the pseudonym “Jon Gold.”

As “Jon Gold,” Crisman ran a radio show spreading what some call “conspiracy theory” and others call “investigative journalism.” Much like the UFO stuff, it really depends on which side of the aisle you choose to stand.

Out of those Gold radio shows was spawned a book titled Murder of a City, Tacoma, published in 1970. The Northwest Nomad recently got his hands on a copy of that fascinating slice of weird history.

Murder of a City, Tacoma was written off in its day as a “rant” and basically a bunch of paranoid conspiratorial lunacy. I’m partway through the book, and it doesn’t seem that way to me.

I need to research and verify the stuff he’s saying, of course, but so far, the book reads more like an expose of the political corruption Crisman says afflicted Tacoma in that time.

Whether there was any meat to Crisman’s claims remains to be seen, but we do know that Tacoma was a city in dire straits in the 1970s and all the way up to the 2000s, when the city’s famously successful revitalization effort began to take hold. It doesn’t seem (to me, anyway) to be a major stretch that there may indeed have been a lot of corruption in the city at that time.

The Northwest Nuggets series is designed for little slices of Northwest history and travel, so I’ll be doing a full examination of the book in another post. Here, I just wanted to bring The Murder of a City, Tacoma to light.

Ruston Waterfront: The Nightmare Continues

I have written in the past about the terrible, mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston Waterfront. I write now to let you know the horror is multiplying, and the nightmare has deepened.

I was out walking the Ruston waterfront on this beautiful April day of sunshine, seals, and the Sound, when I discovered to my great dismay that a new suspended bike has appeared.

This one’s red—spawned, undoubtedly, from the same nether regions as the last bike, which has haunted my dreams from the I first set eyes upon it—monstrous, unnatural thing that it is.

When the tide is out, as it was when I got there today, you can get rather close to the new bike. It was a just a couple feet off the shore, screwed to a pole in shallow water.

In researching this phenomenon, I found that my friends over at Grit City have already located this bike, and are less irrationally horrified by it as I am.

Grit City‘s excellent detective work puts forth the hypothesis that this and the other bike are related to Burning Man in some way.  I’m not going to plagiarize or steal their thunder here, so I’ll just say that it’s erudite detective work on their part, and you should follow that Grit City link up above to see what they’ve to say.

Let no one say that the Northwest Nomad is less than noble in his content creation…and let no one say, either, that the Nomad is anything less than paranoid about cool art sculptures that add so much wonder to our fair city of Tacoma.

Thanks, suspended bike guys…gals…demons…whatever thou be.

Thanks, too, to Grit City for the fine gumshoeing.

If you’re mad enough seek this bike out, I can tell you that it’s near Cummings Park, which I’m going to pin to a map below. Good luck, seeker, but remember the old adage: be careful what you wish for. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

New Maury Island Incident Film Sheds New Light on an Old Legend

For me, one of the highlights of the UFO/Paranormal Conference at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino was their showing of The Maury Island Incident.

The film, now being shown on select dates around the Pacific Northwest, dramatizes one of the most fascinating events in Washington state history, and one of the most significant UFO events (or hoaxes, depending on where you stand on the issue) ever.

That event is known as the Maury Island Incident, and it just happened to be the event that spawned the “Men in Black” myth.

The event took place on June 21, 1947, just off the shore of Maury Island (same location as Point Robinson Lighthouse), which is just off Vashon Island, which itself is a short ferry ride from Tacoma‘s shore.

During the event that would come to be called the Maury Island Incident, Fred Crisman and Harold Dahl were working on a harbor patrol boat when six UFOs appeared in the sky.

One of the doughnut-shaped objects emitted a lava-like substance onto the boat. The impact of the substance killed the dog on board and broke a man’s arm. The men initially spoke about the event, but eventually the official story became that it was all a simple hoax cooked up to win the pair a spot in Fantasy magazine.

The new Maury Island Incident film, however, uses newly declassified FBI documents to make the case that the hoax claim was a lie made out of fear after Dahl and Crisman were harassed by unidentified men wearing black suits.

These “men in black” appeared to be unrelated to the FBI or the Air Force personnel also sent to investigate the situation. No one’s really sure who they represented.

If they were real, though, they managed to frighten two hardy Pacific Northwesterners enough that they destroyed their own reputations and said they’d been hoaxing everyone the whole time.

My purpose in this post isn’t to give away the new information contained in the film nor to fully recap the whole Maury Island Incident story, but instead to encourage readers to check out the film and the rest of the story.

The film is half-an-hour long and very well made, so much so that it can be enjoyed purely as a fictional movie, if the reader is not a UFO believer at all.

In the short space of 30 minutes, the movies packs in a whole lot of intrigue and emotion. I felt connected to the characters despite the relative brevity of the film and the broad scope of the events packed into that short time frame.

It’s well worth checking out, whether you’re a devout believer, a devout non-believer, or just someone interested in one of the most fascinating, iconic events in Washington state history.