So we have the ellusive pupfish, volcanic craters and scrambles through Golden Canyon in Death Valley - and if that wasn't enough, there is more.  I swear all these National Parks are like Disneyland, except for maybe the Grand Canyon, but I will get to that another day.  

To the left is the Devil's Golf Course.  When I first saw the sign pointing out this attraction, I drove on by, thinking it was actually a golf course (I have always had a bit of trouble taking everything literally).  But I had this niggling suspicion, or common sense perhaps since there were no signs of a golf-course in sight, that perhaps this was some sort of joke.  So I turned the car around and sure enough - no golf course.  Instead was a sea of odd rocks covered in white formations - salt! So strange how something can look like a boring sea of brown from afar, but on closer inspection is so cool!  No, although tempted, I did not taste the salt. 

Another Death Valley attraction is Scotty's Castle.  Walter E. Scott (or Death Valley Scotty) first was part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and later a con-man.  He did try to honestly start a mining operating, but after that did not pan out, he still went ahead gaining investors.  For many years he convinced them that he had an operational mine and took their money.  Eventually he was outed, but could not be convicted due to some technicality.  He must have been quite a charmer because somehow he became good friends with one of the men he scammed - good enough friends in fact that this man, Johnson, supported Scotty, as well as his estranged wife and child for the rest of their lives.  Although this is Scotty's Castle, Johnson was the one to build it and Scotty never actually lived there (Johnson built him another house somewhere else), but he would come up for dinner parties and tell stories of his escapades.

When I visited Scotty's Castle, the tours were finished for the day, so I wandered around the grounds on my own.  I watched a short clip from a video which (completed unrelated) was talking about how burros were introduced to the desert and then abandoned after the mining operations closed down.  These burros went on to thrive in the desert and have become a bit of a nuisance.  Every year they are rounded up and brought to a farm in Ridgecrest (I stayed a night there on my way) where the public can adopt them.  If only I had known this while I was in town!!!  What kind of paperwork do you think I need to bring a burro back across the border? ;)    

Death Valley is a land of distance.  You look out and all you see is the same thing for miles and miles - or what looks to be the same endless desert, but in reality it is very different.  At first I thought I would have had my fill of sand and low red mountains within about an hour, but each area they recommended you to see had some sort of interesting distinction.  It became a bit of a game - I wonder what is going to make this place special?  

There was Ubehe Crater formed from molten lave warming the water in the earth to steam until the pressure grew to great and exploded to create this massive depression.  There is salt canyon that has the smallest trickle of a stream running through it - but that is enough to bring green life.  It is also supposed to be a place where the endangered pupfish live (practically prehistoric).  I went to seek out these creatures only to find in the winter they hide deep down in the water away from the cold surface - so no luck there.  

There is an interpretive walk through Golden Canyon (although I saw no signs of interpretation except an empty trail guide box).  This area was the highlight for me. 
You see what started as a lovely walk with rock walls rising on either side of you, became a bit of a rock climbing (I use that word loosely) expedition.  I saw this little trail leading off from the main route, so I decided to follow it.  As I went on, the trail became steeper and steeper until soon it was scrambling up a rock face looking for handholds and always trying to maintain 3-point contact (ie - at least 3 of my limbs had to have a sure grip before moving on).  Going up was easy - but coming down!  DIfferent story completely.  It probably didn't help that I decided to follow a new trail down so I didn't know what was coming, but it was scary!!  At the moment I was cursing myself for having gotten into this mess, thinking that perhaps my adventurous nature got the best of me this time and I would slip knock myself out and no one would ever know..... but anyway - I was fine!  My forearms and palms were filled with a multitude of minute scratches, but besides that - totally unscathed! 

There is something wrong with my internet connection - so I will just post this as Part 1 - no pictures.  More to come!

Hiking the trails at Yosemite made me think that this is a nature-lovers Disneyland. There are so many trails leading to various natural wonders, you could easily spend a week in the park and not get bored.  The trouble for me was I wasn't sure what to do with myself when the sun went down around 5pm.  And the cold sets in.  

Now I hate the idea of running out of food, so I carry enough food for a week if need be, but unsure what else to do I decided to go out for dinner.  The closest plave to eat to my campsite was the Yosemite Lodge cafeteria.  Now if my logic was working, I should have known the cafeteria would not be the best place to meet other people....  The other patrons were either families, older couples or young school groups.  And of course a couple creepy men.  There are always creepy men.  Scraggly hair and leering eyes aside, I am sure they are nice people.  

At least if I did not meet other people - I could have a cup of tea and read my book?  No!  There was a persistent draft that made the idea of hanging out here longer than necessary completely unappealing. So after a yummy lentil soup and cornbread muffin (I love cornbread!!!), I bundled up and headed back to camp.  Is 6pm too early to get into bed?  I think not!

It was too cold to leave any part of my body outside of my sleeping bag, so I grabbed my ipod with my audiobooks on it, cinched my sleeping bag up around my head (then covered that with another blanket), and disappeared into my cocoon.   

I have just realized I haven’t said anything about how wonderful this place is – I don’t want you to get the idea that Yosemite is a place to be avoided in winter – not true!  The hikes are marvelous, and in the sunshine (and it does) you heat up nicely.  For a lot of the hiking, I only had my leggings and a long-sleeved baselayer on (my ski pants and jacket were shoved into my way too small for the job camelback).  And the views are spectacular – everywhere you look, you just cannot believe this is real.  Just lovely J

On one of my walks (this one out to Mirror Lake), I came across a John Muir quote.  John Muir is refered to as the "Father of National Parks" (according to Wikipedia, but sounds about right).  He fought for the preservation of Western forests.  Another interesting way his work has been describied is "saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism." Anyway he is a pretty cool dude - here is the link if you want to read a bit more about him.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Muir  

The highlight of today's drive from the rest stop outside of Medford, Oregon to a hostel in Groveland, CA was a spur of the moment detour into Redding.   It was rather serendipitous - without knowing where I was going or why I ended up at the Sundial Bridge, something I had read about ages ago and forgotten about completely.  

The Sundial Bridge is supposed to be a bit of an architectural marvel as it was created by the world-renowned Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrave.  Although I do not follow architecture much, I do appreciate a beautiful creation - and especially one that is sensitive to the environment around it.  

The tall pylon and cable stays allow the bridge to stand without putting any supports into the water and disturbing the salmon spawning habitat in the waters below.  The bridge also draws residents and tourists alike to enjoy the lovely Sacremento River.  The adjacent park has what looks to be a wonderful trail system for biking and walking - something that almost tempted me to set up camp in town for the night.  The short walk I did along the trail was a delight!  I first saw a group of black birds (about the size of ravens) in one of the trees, and while I was stopped to ponder what these birds could be, I heard the distinctive sounds of a woodpecker behind me.  When I turned to look at the woodpecker, I caught the eye of a small deer feeding a stone's throw away...... this is my kind of place.  

I was hoping to make it to Yosemite before nightfall, so I had to tear myself away and hit the road - well after quickly checking the internet and getting some groceries.   The sun fell when I still had a couple hours to go, so I stopped at a hostel in Groveland - not too far from one of the entrances to the park.  I plan on getting up early tomorrow morning to get a full day of.... snowshoeing perhaps... and just checking out the sights.  The town here seems to be really cute - very small, with old style saloons and hotels.  I say seems to be because it is really too dark to tell, but I did take a short stroll through the town.  I saw no other people... this is definitely the off season!  

One last thing of note - and what a note!  The guy who checked me into the hostel had made a fresh batch of cookies and gave me one! Delicious the kindness of strangers. 

Hello Everyone!  I don't have much time to write right now - so just a quick update.  Spent a wonderful weekend at Sonia's cabin in Snowqualmie pass and drove south from there.  Yesterday I drove over 1,000km... something I didn't think I could do because I usually have a hard time staying awake while driving across town!  But I think it is these books on tape!  I love it - for those curious as to what I am listening to - more to come on that later.   

I slept last night in the back of my car at a rest stop just north of the California border.... I was a little scared, but there were quite a few people sleeping in there cars here, so that was a bit comforting..... still I kept picturing a tap on the window and turning around to see someone in a ski mask threatening me with a chain saw....... perhaps I have seen too many horror movies?

Anyways nothing of interest happened all night (a good thing) and I even slept in to 7:30... I thought I would be awake at the crack of dawn.  Temperatures dropped over night - it was -10C  when I woke up!!  Freezing! But I was given a new sleeping bag for Christmas good to -20C so I was ok (Thanks Sonia & mom!!).  

OK got to run - still have 5 hours to drive from Redding to Yosemite where I will probably camp tonight (or hostel - but apparently sleeping in your car is illegal).... 

Bye for now!

ps. pictures to come!
The bags are packed (well, sort of), the road trip playlist is ready, 6 audiobooks have been downloaded and passport and travel insurance are in my purse, now all I have to do is figure out where I am going!  

The very, very vague plans are to head to Snowqualmie Pass to hang out with my brother and his family for the weekend, and then just keep going.... perhaps into Idaho (there is a potato museum there calling to me) or to the coast and immediately south to find some sunshine.  But I have my skis with me, so perhaps hit up a mountain or two first... the bike can wait.  

The goal of this wandering is really more like an anti-goal - to not have a goal.  I have spent so long having a plan (ok those of you who know me, know it is more like jumping from plan to plan at lightening speed), and now it is time to not have a plan and see what materializes.... to see where I end up (both mentally and physically) when I am on my own, with no distractions, no obligations, and no plans.  A watched pot never boils right?  Perhaps I am that watched pot.   

I am however planning to write - and perhaps try some experiments with writing (I am reading a book called Travel Writing and it gives some exercises to cultivate the skill of sharing a story)... so perhaps if the result is not too silly, it will appear on here.  

And now it is time to organize all the stuff I have pulled from my drawers, cupboards and shelves into some sort of logical packed state - tomorrow morning I hit the road!  

For those die hard grouse grinders who cannot go a winter without swiping their pass, starting the timer and heading up a hill in hopefully record-breaking speed - there is a winter version of the infamous Grouse Grind.  Now I have heard of people (my uncle...) who wear crampons and use ice picks to scale the normal grind in the winter, but for the more .... sane.... folk (not a dig here, I think I fall into the not sane category too), there is another, completely different trail from the top of the gondola.  Sorry it's feeling like a run-on-sentence kind of night! :) 

Unlike the regular Grouse Grind, which is a 2.9km trail of pure torture (that feels wonderful) straight up to the top of Grouse Mountain and the gondola down - you have to use your own body power for the return portion of the Snowshoe grind.  However, gravity, and a pair of slippery snow pants, often helps out.  

The Snowshoe Grind is a 4.3km out-and-back trail to the top of Dam Mountain (yes, that is really what it is called).  The route is not as intense as the regular Grind but still has some steep sections - with an overall gain of 705ft (215m). The view from the top is absolutely spectacular and totally worth the effort!  

Click here for the Website
A beautiful stretch of Vancouver Island waterfront follows Dallas Road from Clover Point Park to The Breakwater at Ogden Point.  This a fantastic place to run, or walk, not only for the spectacular views of the Olympic mountain range in the distance, but also for the little pieces of history peppered along the way. 

First you meet Miss Marilyn Bell - the first woman and first Canadian to swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Two years before this feat, she swam across Lake Ontario.  Three swimmers began at the same time - all wanting to be the first person to cross.

Bell had been offered $10,000 to undertake the task to increase publicity for the Canadian National Exhibition.  She declined because she thought this offer snubbed other swimmers.  So what happened in this race to cross the lake - well the American, Florence Chadwick, had to forfeit due to stomach pains and vomitting, and the other woman - well not much info about her, just that she failed..... so Bell became the first person to swim this distance as well.   Apparently there were crazy winds, incredibly high waves, and lampreys trying to take bites out of her...... sounds fun!!  I'm serious. 

The following year she became the youngest person to swim the English Channel, and the next year was her epic swim from Port Angeles to Victoria - 18.3 miles in 11 hours 35 minutes.  

Along Dallas road, there is another commemorative plaque for a great Canadian - Terry Fox.   

I am sure you all know the story of Terry Fox - my all-time biggest hero.... I won't go into the details of it now - perhaps a whole blog entry devoted to his inspiring life in the future. 

Terry's statue if located at Mile "0" - the unofficial beginning to the Trans Canada Trail  Also the end point of two other amazing runner's Al Howie and Stephen Fonyo, who both ran across Canada.  

Everytime I see the Mile "0" sign, I dream about riding my bike down here from my house, and beginning my ride to Newfoundland... then down to visit Emily in Hanover, and across the states..... dreaming.  No matter what I do, I will for always and ever be dreaming! 

Two other interesting sites along the way are glaciar-marked rocks from about 10,000 years ago... I didn't actually find these markings...... and a memorial or sorts to a ship that sank, but no casualties.  Although all this history is inspiring, interesting, educational, etc... the highlight of the run was seeing two pelicans!!!  

Seemed so out of place here..... I don't know for sure, but shouldn't they be somewhere warmer than the frigid Pacific Northwest waters???!

Find more Run in Victoria, Canada
Found myself the most wonderful park - miles and miles of trails just waiting to be explored!!  I have been to Gowlland Tod Park twice now, and still feels like completely unchartered territory. 

My first adventure is one I plan to take all future visitors to - it is just a short walk, maybe a couple of kilometers through the woods, to the Tod Inlet.  There is the most picturesque yacht moored in the inlet amongst the fog.  I mean seriously just look at it - its like out of a postcard or something.  

Throughout the trail, I kept seeing signs of old houses having been here - old cement foundations with trees growing out of them, that type of thing.   So I looked it up when I got home, and all it really tells me about it is that there has been a long history of people living in this area - as well, it used to be part of the property where the Vancouver Portland Cement Company was (happen to remember this from the Butchart Garden??  Also was part of the Cememnt Company).   

The next time I went to the park, I explored from a different trailhead - McKenzie Bight.  The first trail I picked led me downhill for about a km and a half - straight into the ocean!  

The river was so high, the trail was underwater, and not just a little bit where you can just wade through, but like three feet underwater.  I didn't feel like going for a swim, so I turned around and headed back up the hill.... I was running today, so it wasn't a particularly happy moment.  The next trail I took - The Timberman Trail, was much better - just nice rolling hills leading up to a view over the Saanich Inlet. At this point I was out of time and had to turn back, but I think there was at least 20km of trail past that point - until next time!  

For more information and to have a look at the trail maps check out:

Fish in mid air
This was my first weekend alone in Victoria - two months after moving here!  Thank you all for visiting me :)   Luckily my first weekend on my own coincided with the first weekend of Christmas craft fairs, so I made myself a list of community centers and got going.  But that is besides the point!  The highlight of my day was finding this really beautiful park - Coles Bay regional park.  It was just a tiny park with only a 5 minute walk or so down to the water - a very small cove.  I took a few pictures and was getting ready to head back to the car when I heard a loud splash - spun around just in time to see a massive salmon catapult itself through the air!  It was so cool!!!  I couldn't leave.  It became my mission to get a picture of one in the air - so I huddled in under my hood and waited.  My dad says that they do this when it rains - something about getting excited when the fresh water hits the salt.   Two fish were jumping one after the other, every 5 - 10 minutes or so, and i repeatedly missed them in action.  When I finally switched to video, the fish all but disappeared..... but after a long wait, they came back.... I don't know if I am a bit unusual in thinking this is like the coolest thing in the world, or if it actually is pretty cool, but you decide!