Category Archives: Travels

Family of Ducks Braves Rapids near Falls View Canyon Trail

Surprise Nature Magic Just off the Falls View Canyon Trail

Sit still in nature long enough and there’s a good chance you’ll be treated to something spectacular. I was reminded of this unfailing truth last spring on the shore of the Big Quilcene River, just off Falls View Canyon Trail.

I was there with my sister in July. It was a weekday, so even though the sun was shining we had the area to ourselves. We were just relaxing, dangling our feet in the water, when we saw a mother duck and three ducklings coming upstream, approaching the rough waters beside us.

I spend a lot of time outdoors and have had run-ins with bears, moose, bobcat, lynx, and all kinds of animals more dangerous and “exciting” than ducks. Still, every time I happen upon a wildlife scene, even when it’s “just” a little family of ducks, a hush comes over my soul. Everything quiets and narrows in on the scene.

My sister looked at me and we smiled and looked back to the scene unfolding. I was fully prepared for an idyllic little encounter, and had no idea the drama that was about to unfold.

The mother’s motive was unclear, but she was absolutely determined to get her youngsters up the heavy waters. She looked back multiple times towards the main stem of the river and was pushing her ducklings relentlessly onward, so it’s possible that she was fleeing a predator of some kind.

Whatever the case, she was about to take her kids on a tough journey, but she absolutely was not turning back until she completed it.

I couldn’t capture it on still camera, but the waters were batting the ducklings around violently. It didn’t seem like their frail little bodies could take it as they smashed up against the rocks. Still, they pressed on, in file, behind their mamma.

Though a good portion of the rapids, they actually walked along the rocks, rather than swimming over the water.

Obviously, I couldn’t capture this whole scene on still camera. Even if I did, showing the glut of images here would blow up your phone trying to load it all. But this struggle went on for a good ten, fifteen minutes. It was absolutely epic on a duck’s scale.

One or two of the ducklings would get rocked by the water and mother would zip back, round them up, and start over again. They progressed by slow, painful inch, and got knocked back in depressingly rapid speed. Yet, they continued, methodically finding a way up those rocks.

At points, the mother would stop against the rocky shoreline and wait, as if thinking, problem-solving on how to proceed. For most of the trip, I honestly thought it was impossible that they’d make it, and I wondered if they’d die of exhaustion in the effort.

Yet, just as I was ready to give up hope, they did it.

The ducks reached the top of the rapids and turned the bend and were gone from sight. I never saw them again.

My sister and I went back to dangling our feet in the water and talking excitedly about what we’d just seen.

The Big Quilcene doesn’t have a blockbuster Hollywood budget. No special effects. No whizz bangers. But I’ll never forget that moment watching that little family brave the rapids, possible predator in pursuit. Neither will my sister.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the stuff of magic, and sharing stories like that is the reason I started this site.

Rockaway Beach, Oregon—Great Low Key Getaway (Plus A Rowdy Roddy Piper Story)

Rockaway Beach, Oregon: Low Key and Restful Vacation Destination

First things first — before getting into the Rockaway Beach, Oregon, story, allow me address the giant stuffed bear in the featured image. The short answer to Why is that giant stuffed bear there? is: I have no idea. During my last stay at Rockaway, that bear was there, under a yield sign, for three consecutive days. There’s no greater context around it, but I figured it was a more interesting picture than the typical shots of sand and sunbathers you get in beach stories.

Anybody familiar with the Pacific Northwest knows that our rocky, primitive beaches tend to be better suited for hiking and picture taking than for sunbathing or playing in the sand. The relative scarcity of sandy beaches means that hordes of tourists swarm to every appealing spot once the weather gets nice. Rockaway Beach, for some reason I’ve never quite understood (but always feel grateful for), somehow manages to avoid the worst of the crowds.

Go to Rockaway in wintertime and you’ll feel like you own your own private beach. Go there in summertime and you’ll find plenty of fellow beach goers, but nothing on the scale of the waves of humanity that descend upon places like Cannon Beach.

When I vacation, I prefer peace and quiet over crowds, so Rockaway is my go-to beach spot. That does not mean, however, that there aren’t plenty of events and activities going on there, as well.

My personal favorite Rockaway event is the annual Pirate Festival. It’s full of good, clean fun for kids and adults alike. At night, there are pirate fire artists who breathe fire and play with fire swords and swing around other various fire-themed items. They perform, by the way, in the parking lot in front of a steam train that takes you on a fantastic scenic coast tour.

Affordable Quality

Because they aren’t quite as overloaded with crowds, Rockaway tends to be less pricey than many of the other Oregon Coast destinations. I don’t have the numbers for this offhand and will update this blog in a couple months after I visit Rockaway again, but the prices for food and lodging have always been very reasonable in my experience. That doesn’t mean the stuff is “cheap” in terms of quality, though. I’ve honestly never had a bad stay in Rockaway, and at this point I’ve probably stayed in all the major rooming places.

The dining options are a bit more limited than some other places, which is of course the price you pay for choosing a low key destination over one of the more storied ones. However, the food that is there has always been good quality and the service always friendly.

Rowdy Roddy Piper Story Heard in a Rockaway Beach Bar

Notice to readers: this story really isn’t part of my Rockaway travelogue, so if that’s the only reason you’re here, feel free to move on (and thanks for visiting!). I just want to share this tale that was told to me by a local at Rick’s Roadhouse on the town’s main drag.

Apparently, wrestling and entertainment legend Roddy Rowdy Piper lived somewhere close to Rockaway. The woman I spoke lived in the same town as him. She told me that Piper was as nice and down to Earth as a guy can get.

She also told me about a boy with agoraphobia that also lived in their town. Piper was this boy’s hero. The kid spent hours watching wrestling in his bedroom and dreaming of meeting his idol.

As one might expect, the kid wanted Piper’s autograph badly, and as one may further expect, the boy’s mother wanted to fulfill her son’s dream and get him that autograph. So, when the boy’s mother ran into Piper at a restaurant, she immediately engaged him and begged for an autograph for her son.

Piper began to sign his name but then thought to ask why her son wasn’t getting it himself. The woman told Piper her son’s story.

Piper sat down, got a new piece of paper, and started writing again. This time, though, he wrote a full paged letter. When he was done, he signed it “Rowdy Roddy Piper” and promptly told the boy’s mother that she couldn’t take the letter home to her son. The only way the boy would get it was if he walked into the restaurant and got it himself. Piper then gave the letter to the hostess and told her she was not to give it to anyone except for the woman’s son.

The mother went home and told her son the story. The boy was driven fairly mad with curiosity and the desire to get a personal letter from his hero…mad enough, in fact, that he worked up the courage to go into the restaurant himself and get it.

After that, the story goes, the boy’s anxiety diminished, and he eventually was able to regularly go out into public again.

I heard this tale while drinking beers at the roadhouse. I have no way to corroborate it. But it’s one hell of a story, and Piper is a man I’ve always admired, so I decided it needed to be recorded somewhere.

Rest in peace, Hot Rod.

Tacoma Day Trip: Three Free Museums Every Third Thursday

Low to No-Cost Tacoma Day Trip

The Tacoma day trip I’m outlining here would be entirely free, except for whatever gas you use getting to Tacoma and whatever you elect to spend on food.

Every third Thursday of the month, three Tacoma museums offer free entry. Even better, all three of these museums are within 10 minutes or less walking distance of each other, and all within the University of Washington, Tacoma cultural hub, which happens to be one of the most enjoyable areas of the city.

You can start your trip by taking the free Tacoma Link light rail, which you can catch from the Tacoma Dome Station right outside the Tacoma Dome parking garage. You’d take the rail to its second stop, which is directly in front of the Washington State History Museum.

Washington State History Museum

This is my personal favorite of the freebies. The Washington State History Museum is full of fascinating stuff. The giant model railroad alone is an experience worth the trip. The permanent exhibits in the museum illuminate the evolution of Washington state with full sized replicas of early tools, machines, vehicles, and houses of early Washingtonians. They even have a mummy!

The museum also happens to stand at the end of the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which is a 500-feet long foot bridge decorated with hundreds of glass art pieces from the world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The bridge itself is worthy destination, but it also leads to the Museum of Glass, which we’ll cover next.

Museum of Glass

The Museum of Glass is one of Tacoma’s most iconic attractions. It stands on the shore of the Thea Foss Waterway and is, as the name suggest, full of glass art. You can also watch glass artists at their work.

The exhibits are both in and outdoors. The cafe in the museum has good food with a lot of options, and the Social Bar and Grill right next door has a nice, relaxed atmosphere, drinks, and great eats, as well, though it may be a bit pricey for a budget trip such as this one.

Tacoma Art Museum (TAM)

The TAM is a five minute walk from the history museum and an eight minute walk from the glass museum.

The museum has more of Dale Chihuly’s work, but also a wide assortment of other fine art exhibits. They cycle in new exhibits pretty regularly, so the TAM always feels fresh and new.

Back on the Rail and Back Home

The Link station is five minutes from the TAM. From there, it’s a quick ride back to the parking garage and your car.

Have fun!

Olympia, Washington—An Endless Procession of the Species

Come as You Are: Procession of the Species and One of the Most Eclectic Towns You’ll Ever Find

Being the capital of Washington state, Olympia’s downtown sports a lot of political and business types. Mixed into them, however, is an even larger group of oddballs, outcasts, and freaks—basically, my kind of people.

When I first moved to Olympia years ago, my first thought was that it was a sort of elephant graveyard for hippies, but that isn’t really accurate. Not fully, anyway. You’ve got exiles of the grunge era and the Heavy Metal days along with hipsters galore, intellectuals, anarchists, Baptists, all manner of people crammed together in this beautiful tie-dyed mess.

Olympia is one of the most literate cities I’ve ever been in. It’s common for me to find myself having conversations about books with waiters and baristas and any other service person I may encounter while visiting. It’s a city where intellectuals can feel at home.

But most importantly, there are simply so many different kinds of people in Olympia that anyone there can feel comfortable blending into the static.

State Capital and a Pretty Little City

Even in its most densely populated downtown areas, Olympia feels distinctly like a small town. Everything in the town is relaxed and calm. It’s a nice respite from Tacoma, Seattle, and the bigger Washington State cities.

Capitol Lake has a walking trail around its perimeter. It’s a nice stroll on a sunny day and is surprisingly full of wildlife. I’ve seen otters, seals, cranes, pelicans, and ducks in its water. I also once saw a falcon snatch a seagull out of the air over the lake. It was a stunning, if somewhat brutal, sight, which I will never forget.

Olympia, Washington’s Endless Procession of the Species

Every year, in celebration of Earth Month, Olympia holds the Procession of the Species parade. It is, by far, the quirkiest— sometimes outright bizarre, and always fun—parade I have ever beheld. To me, the event encapsulates the city itself. It’s as if the Procession never really stops, as if it’s always going on and the parade day is simply the one day a year when everyone takes off their normal-person costume and dresses as they really are.

The city has an independent, creative spirit that has always stuck in my heart. I lived here and in neighboring Lacey for over a decade. I had to move for a job, but Olympia has never truly left my heart.

Waterfront Outperforms Its Size

Olympia’s waterfront walk isn’t something you often see advertised, but it’s a nice trek full of good viewing of the water, sail boats, mountainous horizon, and the works of art scattered around the docks like secret magic.

Some of the exhibits, such as the “Kissing Statue” featured on the main page this article, are permanent, but some of the other installments change every year with new contest entries.

Underrated Foodie Scene

I’m not sure how well known Olympia is for its food scene, but I know that I personally love driving down there to eat. Like everything else in the city, the restaurants are marked by uniqueness. South Bay Dickerson’s BBQ‘s decor mixes a refurbished garage with old farming equipment and…reggae. The odd combination creates a relaxed vibe. Their BBQ, by the way, is awesome.

Old School Pizzeria is the “most Oly” restaurant in Olympia. The pizza is brick oven and reminds me of the pizza I grew up eating on the east coast. The restaurant itself is decorated with a seemingly random assortment of 80s and 90s posters, fish tanks, Millennium Falcons, blasting punk and metal music, and much more. It also has the single gnarliest bathroom I’ve ever been in—and I mean that in a really good way. They have vegan and gluten free options galore, as well.

If you’re more up for a full dinner and conversation type of place, I don’t think the Iron Rabbit can be beat. The food is fresh, high quality, healthy, and delicious.

Olympia’s a Little City With a Big Heart

There’s just something about Olympia. I’ve never really been able to put my finger on it, but if you asked many of the people who choose to live there and make a long commute to work in Seattle or Tacoma, they’ll tell you the same thing.

They have a saying in Olympia: “It’s in the water.” This was once used by Olympia Beer as their official slogan, but the saying is more than a sales pitch. Olympia sits over a natural aquifer. If you go to downtown you can find a metal spout from which the water runs all day, every day. Locals go there to fill up jugs for drinking water. People congregate around the area and sip at will on hot days. The old story, and one which some people still hold to as true, was that the water had magical healing properties. I don’t know about all of that, of course, but I do know that there is something magical about the spirit of the city. It’s hard to even describe, exactly.

Go check it out and discover some of the city’ odd charm for yourself.

Hospitality and Relaxation at the Quinault River Inn in Amanda Park, Washington, Just a Stone’s Throw Away from Lake Quinault


The Uncommonly Welcoming Quinault River Inn

I arrived fifteen minutes after closing time to find the hosts at the Quinault River Inn still awake and waiting for my arrival. I’d called a couple hours earlier for an impromptu weekend getaway but hadn’t actually paid for the room yet. Despite this lack of financial or legal obligation, the hosts—Georgia’s own Jim and Angela Sowards—stayed late to make sure I got into my room. The wind and rain had been heavy that night, and they figured I might run a bit late. That’s hospitality that you can’t find just anywhere.

When people think of staying in the Lake Quinault area, they tend to think of the Lake Quinault Lodge. While that’s a nice establishment and one I’ve also enjoyed staying at, I just don’t think the Quinault River Inn can be beat for sheer character. It’s my “go-to” place when I want to visit the area but don’t want to camp. I go the area mostly for the hiking, but for those who want to see the lake specifically, the inn is conveniently located less than 3 miles away.

A Great Location for Relaxing or Exploring the Lake Quinault Area

As the name suggests, the hotel sits right on the bank of the Quinault River. It’s popular with fishermen, but it’s also a great little hideaway for any vacationer. The river’s always there, rolling slowly, its easy-going spirit infusing the whole area.

The inn is located more-or-less halfway between the Lake Quinault’s South and North Shore Roads. Down those two paths lies that all the outdoors magic, which makes the Quinault River Inn a convenient launching point for adventure.

Far as I’m concerned, Lake Quinault is the best kept secret of the Olympic Peninsula. In addition to the lake itself, which is beautiful, the area’s also got miles and miles of rain forest hiking, waterfall and elk viewing, and camping. I’ll be doing a full rundown of the area soon enough, but for now I’m focusing on the inn.

The gazebo and the Quinault River just beyond it are right outside your front door. Mountains and forest all around. (Photographs courtesy of Angela Sowards.)

Peaceful and Quiet, but Close to All the Comforts You Need

I’ve stayed at the Quinault River Inn multiple times over the years. The rooms are always clean and the beds are comfortable. This last visit, I had one of the best nights of sleep in my life.

A couple hundred yards up the hill from the inn is the Quinault River Village Internet Cafe and Visitor Information Center, which serves my favorite breakfast in town. Not far from that is Dino’s Pizza and Grill. The last time I ate there I had one of the best Philly cheese steaks I’ve ever had…and I was born and raised in Pennsylvania.

I spend a great deal of time in the Lake Quinault area. In the spring and summer, I generally like to camp. But, when I do stay in a hotel, there’s no place I’d rather stay than the Quinault River Inn. The lengths the innkeepers went to for me on this last trip were the proverbial cherry atop the sundae, but this has my home run hotel for a while. The innkeepers’ personalities also seem to act like magnet drawing in equally kicked back, friendly guests. I’ve met some great people at the inn and had some memorable conversations, especially in the summer when people gather outside around the gazebo.

I’m tempted to say the Quinault River Inn is a great alternative to Lake Quinault Lodge, but that’s not really true. For me, it’s the best choice there is.