When I'm Not On The Road
I'm Discovering Places To Visit.
I'm Discovering Places To Visit.
Oregon State Parks are located throughout the entire state with some of the most appealing ones lining the coastline. Some have fees while others are drive through but all offer views, resting areas, and picnic spots to enjoy the day. One specific state park is located in Cannon Beach, Oregon and is called The Ecola State Park.
Cannon Beach is located about 30 miles South of Astoria and less than two hours West of the Portland International Airport. A popular place when the weather is warm and the ocean is calm, people from all over flock the shoreline to enjoy the white sand and hear the crashing of the ocean against the shoreline. Sunsets that disappear into the ocean and the salty breeze that runs through your hair can turn any bad day into a good one.
A popular attraction is the Ecola State Park which is located North of Cannon Beach and is easily accessible from the coastal 101 Highway, in fact, it is the first Cannon Beach exit you come to when driving into the area from the North. At the bottom of the exit, follow the signs which will navigate you easily through a small residential area before climbing the hill to the top.
The beginning of the drive is through a residential area with thick trees along the way. Peaks of the ocean can be seen but nothing that offers any great view. The further up you go the more narrow the road becomes, two cars can pass but on some curves, it is a tight squeeze. There are metal gates that mark the entrance to the park and the remainder of the way involves more sharp turns and blind corners. The road can also be rough and during a rainy season has a lot of water running down which leads to part of the road being washed away, marked with orange cones as a warning.
Other drivers on the road may not be as considerate as you are on your first drive up. Most like to take the speed faster and barely move over to allow you to pass, while those behind you will want a ride in your trunk. Don't let this push you into a faster drive, they will wait and back off, it can be a tense drive up but it is all worth it.
Once at the top there will be a guard shaft, which is sometimes operated and sometimes not. When it isn't there is a small box on the shaft that allows you to pay either with a card or cash for a day pass, which is only $5. It takes all of two minutes, however, on warm, sunny days expect to see a line of several cars when you get there. However, it does move quickly and once paid the pass is good until the park closes that day. Feel free to come back later if the area is too crowded for you or you would like to take in the sunset.
After you have paid the park fee there are two ways to go. One way is to the Indian Beach which is a turn to the right. Get ready for more wheel gripping when you head this way. The entrance was narrow enough but pretty sure this route was even more narrow and extremely rough. Due to water damage, there were several areas that were full of potholes and had to slow way down in order to get through them. Some were on blind corners and other sections only allowed one car through at a time.
Be mindful of all of these things when driving towards Indian Beach which is also popular with the surfers, hikers, and beachgoers. This makes it the most popular spot in the park and traffic can be thick going up and coming back which makes the drive even tenser. Once to the top, the view is pretty neat but it is the trails down to the beach that offer the better view as well as a lot of room to spread out.
There are over several miles of trails that will take you through the park and down to the beach, over the cliffs and allow you to experience part of the Clatsop Loop Trail and Tillamook Head. This is also the area that was discovered by Captain William Clark who upon arrival to Tillamook Head described it as, "...the grandest and most pleasing prospects which my eyes ever surveyed..." Those words ring true even to this day. But don't leave the park just yet there is one more area to visit before you leave.
As you pass by the entrance fee area continue forward to the scenic view. This area has limited parking and is more for the picnicers and leisure walkers. The view can be seen as you drive in, Haystack Rock is on your left, the majestic Pacific ocean is before you and off to your right, in the far distance, is Tillamook Rock Light. If there is any sort of fog or mist off the ocean this place disappears from sight altogether. It was at one time a working lighthouse but has since been deactivated and sits a little over a mile from the shoreline.
The salty breeze flows easily and effortlessly up here, Cannon Beach is seen behind Haystack Rock and the ocean slams against the shoreline with endless waves as far as the eye can see. During winter and spring migrating grey whales can also be seen. There are restroom facilities available here, as well as information placards along the trails up top and some of them will take you down to the ocean. Get ready for a hike, it is a long way down there and even longer back up.
This is the best place to watch the sunset and during that time the area gets pretty quiet but it is also a popular place for photographers of all trades. There is one more place I would like to quickly write about.
When leaving Ecola State Park, at the bottom of the road, turn right towards the residential area and look for the Les Shirley Park which is less than a block on your left. This is a very small, local park that has about 10 parking spots. But it has access to the beach, picnic areas and a little bit of seclusion from the main beach. A walk out to the beach gives you a face to face view of the rock formations, and allows you to watch others play with their dogs along the beach and see kites fill the sky. Follow the beach around the bend and there is Ecola State Park high above you.
If you look carefully you can almost see the visitors up top and in the far distance, on a clear day, Tillamook Rock Light can also be seen. Dogs are welcome at both parks and leashes are required at Ecola State Park, at Les Shirley as long as the dog can be controlled it can be off-leash. This was the part Aria, my dog, loved the most along with chasing the seagulls.
To learn more about the Ecola State Park please visit their website at https://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=136. Any park closures due to construction will also be posted here. Enjoy!
Welcome to Cannon Beach, Oregon a small coastal town located in the Northwest Pacific, approximately thirty miles South of Astoria and less than two hours from the Portland International Airport. This town runs on its own beat and caters to those who love the ocean. Finding a place to rent is a well-kept secret that only locals know about, the area is dog-friendly but hotels are hard to come by that allow them. The downtown area is lined with cafes, shops and of course, the shoreline with public parking and easy access to the beach.
When the warm weather flows in the beach and town are jammed pack with people from all over and the streets are easier maneuvered by walking instead of driving. Then when the weather goes bad and rain is falling every hour Cannon Beach becomes a ghost town with only those daring enough to dodge the raindrops are out and about. There are benefits and drawbacks to both.
But this small coastal town that is almost hidden between the ocean and the mountains had me wondering how it became to be. Well, if your curiosity is as persistent as mine then I recommend checking out the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum.
It is easily accessible from the main coastal 101 Highway. Take the Sunset Boulevard Exit at the bottom of the ramp turn right onto Spruce Street and the Museum is located on the right. If it weren't for the sign out front you would think it was just another house. The museum is small but well-kept and the staff is friendly and informative. There is no fee to walk through the museum but donations are strongly recommended with a $2 suggestion.
The self-guided tour, even with all the reading, takes about twenty minutes to walk through but in that short period of time, you learn about the entire history of the town. As you walk into the main area to begin the tour it starts off on your right and goes in chronological order. First learn about the famous rocks that are located off the shore of Cannon Beach, called Haystack Rock. How they were formed and what they represent today in regards to land changes that occurred along the Oregon coastline during the last 18,000 years.
Moving on will lead you to the original settlers of the area as well as the early explorers, their living styles, artifacts that were found in the area and eventually lead you to the Lewis and Clark exploration adventures that took place here. It all started when there was talk of a beached whale and they were in need of the blubber for survival.
Continue the tour with how the town came up with the name Cannon Beach and why they have a small cannon on display in the museum. There are two more that are associated with the area and learn where they are and how they were found. The whole story about the cannons is an interesting read and even leaves the reader scratching its head and wondering; where did they go? Of course being a coastal town there will always be ships that sailed around the area learn about them and the adventures they experienced while sailing along the coastline.
There is a lot more to see as you continue the walk that includes artifacts and photos of the first post office, road, toll road and hotel that was built in the area. Name changes to areas around the town and even a visit from the President. Be sure to read above and below the main timeline as it'll tell you what the rest of the world was doing when Cannon Beach was starting to make its presence known and trying to get established.
As were most places in the country, this town was also affected by the Great Depression and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Being on the same coast as Pearl Harbor, and even though many miles away, the townspeople did fear there area would also be attacked.
Learn how the village became a town, the establishing of what are now popular visiting sites and how simple roads became highways and the area was no longer considered just another coastal town. Lastly, as were most areas in this country, the area was also home to the Native Americans and the museum pays respect to the tribe that originally found the area and even has a small room that holds their artifacts with a sample of their tribal song playing in the background.
A small gift shop is at the front, the main entrance and end of the tour, which is also small and quaint but does include books of the area, sweaters, and cups. Don't forget to sign the register before you leave and thank the staff for their hospitality. On this day the worker informed me she has lived in Cannon Beach her entire life and these are the people worth talking to not only about the history but present day tricks to help avoid the crowds on beautiful days and still see all the popular sites.
For more information about the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum please check out their website at http://cannon-beach-history-center-and-museum.business.site/. Enjoy!
We would be leaving the hotel today to do more exploring in the area and I would find a place for her to walk and bring back the happy puppy that I loved. There was a benefit to being up this early and walking, the sound of the ocean hitting the shore could be heard in the background, it was a cool 40 degrees and there was no one around or up, except the police doing a drive-by safety check. It was calming when all that could be heard was the silence of a sleeping city and the ocean in the background and the smell of salty sea air.
From here on out, the day began to present its challenges; it wouldn't be a road trip if I was given a nice, easy day. The first one began, as I gathered up my belongings for the day and realized I couldn't find my wallet. It slowly occurred to me that I had left it in my car, the entire night, with the sunroof open. As I walked out to the car I noticed that the sunroof looked fine, all the windows were in one piece, the doors were closed and the car was still locked. I unlocked it and saw the middle council was open but everything was still there but my wallet. I got into the driver's seat and saw the one compartment under the radio was closed. I popped it open and happily saw my wallet was there. Aria and I piled into the car and headed out.
I drove over to Cannon Beach and stopped at the Les Shirley Park so Aria could do her thing and I could get my shots. We walked out to the beach and I was in luck there were very few people out this early in the morning, a light fog hovered over the water and the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore filled the air. We walked over to the ocean and since there was no one around I let Aria off her leash to enjoy the freedom and the beach at her own pace.
She happily trotted off with a quickened pace towards the seagulls which quickly flew away when they saw her coming. I knelt down for a few shots and continued walking towards the ocean and in the distance,
I heard voices, they sounded like they were shouting, from off to my right. I looked up to see a couple's dog running towards Aria and they were trying to call it back. Both dogs stopped before making contact and checked each other out visually before they stepped forward. The usual dog greeting took place before they barked at each other in a playful manner. The pup ran over one last time to say goodbye before it took off towards its owners.
Words must have been exchanged between that pup and the other it was with because it wasn't long and it too came running up towards Aria to check her out. “Someone new, someone new! You have to check her out!” Was the expression they were giving and as the second pup ran up to Aria it stopped mid-stream and lied down, Aria tilted her head in curiosity before barking and the other responded before it headed back to its owners.
I laughed and we continued our walk, it was at this time I realized we were in a good area for an Aria shot, a lot of them I do with my phone camera. I reached back to my pocket for my phone and realized it wasn't there. Problem number two for the day.
All pockets were empty and I knew I had it with me when we walked out to the beach. Sickness crept into my stomach followed by panic, all photos from this trip as well as my social media links and contacts were on that phone. Aria and I walked back towards the car and re-traced our steps. We made it all the way back to the car, re-checked it, and there was no phone. No one had come on to the beach from our entrance so it had to be somewhere between the car and the beach. We returned to the beach and I checked every inch of our walk and it was nowhere to be seen. Panic and despair were about to get the better of me when the sun flickered on something in front of me, I quickened my pace and to my great relief, it was my phone. Whew!
Aria was let off leash and continued to run towards the ocean, letting the salty water kiss her feet, and chased the seagulls away, she was in heaven and enjoyed the quiet time on the beach. There was a curiosity and awe that fell over her face as she stared out to the open ocean and the waves confused her but she quickly put it all aside when I called her over for a photo shoot.
When released from her stay she ran towards me, knowing I was still taking her photo. She has been in front of the camera for so long that at times she gets a bit tired of it. So when she was running towards me I knew I was in for a collision, either I would get knocked over or the camera and since we were on the beach, I better take the hit. Wham! Without fail she brought her back end around and hit my knee which had me fall back from my crouching position. The camera was o.k.! Sand could kill it in a second and a quick look showed I was still good to go.
We did this a couple of more times only this time just before she hit, I pulled up the camera as I stood up and turned off to the side. The first time had her miss me all together and as she looked back gave me the look of, “huh, that wasn't part of the plan”. The second time she came in and as I turned went right into my leg causing me to have to quickly regain my balance.
Photo-shoot completed, we headed back to the car and settled in for the drive to Cape Meares Lighthouse. Now it has been said, over and over again that GPS's should be used as a reference and not as a guide. They are not perfect and aren't always updated on changes or best roads to take. Well, today I listened to it on the way down to the Lighthouse. Problem number three.
The route should have been the coastal route 101 to Tillamook but for whatever reason, the GPS took me on a side route on the Miami Foley Road which was a back road, with trashed places and questionable people who lived back there. The view sucked, it was nothing but swamps and high brush, the road was in decent shape but there were sharp turns and blind corners the whole way which made driving at any consistent speed impossible. I looked it up when I got back to the hotel. This route, if I was lucky, saved me three minutes. Three minutes!! I was staying on 101 when I headed back to Cannon Beach.
Upon arrival, there were signs that said the Cape Meares Scenic Route was closed and had to take an alternative route and when I arrived at the "Y" in the road there was no sign pointing the way to the Lighthouse. Just the "scenic" Three Capes Route which wasn't scenic at all, large, thick trees covered the views along with homes and private driveways. It wasn't long before I realized I was not going in the right direction. I pulled off at a campsite, which also had large potholes, and I bounced and bobbed through them, pulled into the parking lot and got myself re-grouped. Damn you potholes.
The phone GPS was able to locate me in reference to the lighthouse but still couldn't get me there. Technology, right? There was no way to get exact directions to the lighthouse via GPS or Google Maps it had to be the Cape Meares Scenic route. Make sense of that. It could take me to a route but couldn't take me to a fixed spot. Interesting.
I turned around and headed back and after a few sharp turns and a steep climb up I found the Lighthouse. There weren't many people around and wasn't sure if it was dog-friendly or not. I left Aria in the car and headed down to the Lighthouse taking photos of the ocean along the way. It was smaller than I anticipated but at least I got there, it wasn't until I was headed back up that I realized it was a steeper climb than originally thought. Problem number four.
My breathing was becoming more shallow, my face was burning hot and my heartbeat was racing and pounding in my ears. Breathing became more difficult the further I went and a sharp pain started to fill my chest. I was finally to the top and realized there was still a small climb to the car. Are you kidding me right now? A deep breath in was released by coughing and the feeling in my chest was like having bronchitis, just trying to release the pressure with a cough did nothing. I was happy for the cool breeze which started to lower the temperature in my face. Aria was up on the seat looking out at me as I tried to slow my breathing and relax my chest.
This always happened on my first hike after being away from it for so long, thankfully I had plenty of water in my trunk. I opened up a bottle and the cool water had an instant effect, the breathes were coming easier, and the tightness in the chest was starting to subside. The hot face was almost back to normal, a few more swigs and I let Aria out to continue the walk.
We walked around for about 5-10 minutes, taking pictures as I went and by the time we were back to the car, the breathing was normal and so was the heart rate. Of course, I could have just slowed down and avoided all of this but I didn't. I got back in the car and began programming the GPS for Cannon Beach, oh I see, I don't have a signal up here. Grrr.
I headed back out to the main road and ¼ of the way down the GPS clicked to life and began programming for the drive back to Cannon Beach and once again it wanted to take me on the side road. No sir! We were taking Highway 101 the whole way. Upon entering into Cannon Beach I made a stop at the local town museum which was quiet, clean and quaint. It had a great set-up for the history of the town and the staff was amazing.
Afterward, Aria and I did one more hiking trip and that was at Ecola State Park. By now, everyone was out and enjoying the weather and Ecola State Park was not immune to it. Upon entering the area there was a line of cars waiting to pay the fee to get in. Once I did there were two ways to go, one to Indian Beach and the other to a Scenic Viewpoint. I chose to go to Indian Beach, the road was rough and narrow with areas in need of work and why? Because of potholes! I did my best to avoid them or go over them slowly but at times I just had to deal with it.
As I feared this area was also jammed pack with people and no place to park. I quickly maneuvered into a handicapped spot, took a few shots, and left to take the wonderful route back to the entrance. I made it back to the entrance and crossed over to the scenic view. There were people there but not nearly as busy as Indian Beach.
Tillamook Rock Light, a former lighthouse, could be seen in this area. It was the only reason I went to the park was to get a closer view of it. Even so, it was still a long ways away from the shoreline but the photos were better from up here. Aria and I walked a few of the smaller trails and enjoyed the scenery along the way. There was access to the beach from up here as well but we stayed topside.
Afterward, we headed back to the hotel to relax before going out one last time. I drove back to Cannon Beach to watch the sunset and take a few more photos, the crowds hadn't lessened and the drive up Ecola was as nail-biting as it was a few hours earlier. The wind blew through my hair, the sun disappeared into the ocean and the sounds of the waves could block out all the other noises around me. Aria enjoyed the time up here, so much so, that several photos had to be re-taken because of her pulling on the leash. We left for the night and settled in for the next day's drive which was going to be a long one to Idaho.
There were four days left to file and it was the last weekend of the tax season for 2018. I couldn't have been happier in less than a week I would be leaving Wisconsin and heading West to warmer temperatures and enjoying more adventures along the way. Today was the day Mother Nature decided to show us that Winter was still here.
What was known to locals as “mild winters” for the last two years would be considered a drought by the experts and this year in 2018 Mother Nature made up for lost time and decided to break some records as well. Not only for temperatures but for snow amounts and when these amounts took place.
My commute started North of where I worked and I woke up to dry roads, with a few slick areas, and no added snow accumulations. I was able to maintain the posted speed limits for most of the way; however, the happy dance slowed down the closer I got to Interstate 94. About 20 minutes North of it the winds began to pick up and whiteout conditions had begun, even the road under me began to disappear.
The cars behind did too as the gusts of wind and snow blew between us. It was during these times that I hoped and prayed there would be no surprises from other vehicles who had stalled, went into the ditch or pulled out from a side road. The closer I got to I94, the fewer the cars were which was not all bad in these conditions but it did make me wonder what I was driving into. Even though it was Saturday, normally, there would be a few more cars out here. I passed through the last small town before the Interstate and as I looked up ahead the Interstate had disappeared. Wind and snow were hiding it and even the Pilot truck station couldn't be seen until I was next to it.
I slowly merged onto the ramp that leads to the Interstate and it was then that I realized there was no one in front of me, behind me or alongside me. I was completely alone on I94 West, this had never happened to me before. As this, all started to register I heard, " Everything's so blurry and everything's so empty and everything is so messed up" being sung over the radio by Puddle of Mudd and their song Blurry. How appropriate. This seemed to be a trend when "adventures" like these popped up, it was like the music knew exactly what to play that made the whole thing just a bit eerier.
Four more days... As I sat here writing this chapter we were currently in a “Historical April Snowstorm” also known as Winter Storm Xanto and under a Winter Storm Warning and Blizzard Warning. The storm came in slowly, silently and even teased us with her speed which had us thinking it would miss us completely.
Even though today marked my last Saturday for the tax season as well as the last few days of the one-way hour commute forever I still found myself staying in a hotel for the night and not wanting to deal with the roads. Which, as the day went on, would prove to be a very good idea.
The hotel was in a town along the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota. It was normally a 15-minute commute but roads and wind made it twice as long and with side roads barely plowed I was happy to not have to drive any further. Several cars were in the ditches along the way and even semi-trucks were pulled over, in more than one instance the sound of police and ambulance sirens could be heard in the distance.
When I choose to travel, I choose to stay at Choice Hotels and this was no exception. This was a Quality Inn Hotel, next to the Interstate and near the main road that went through Hudson, WI. It was small, quaint and for the most part quiet until after midnight and after a few drinks, some of the guests decided to loudly walk down the hallway. Either this was short-lived or I was just too tired to care but was asked about it upon check out. It looked like the winter storm had passed and the remainders of it were only a few flurries, the roads were snow covered but driveable at faster speeds than the day before. Three more days...
But Winter Storm Xanto wasn't done with our area as it whipped around again to drop another three inches as the day went on. By the time I left work to head home, the roads were barely plowed and the wind was back up, along with visibility deteriorating. The wind was pushing me around, the road beneath was disappearing along with the cars around me. There was a side-road I liked to take that bypasses a town and usually cuts the time on the commute but it didn't take long after I turned on it to realize it hadn't been plowed and I had no idea which lane I was in and was being pulled over to the side from the large drifts I had to drive through.
On a blind hill, a tow truck was trying to get a pick up out of a deep ditch, I could only hope no one was coming and that my slow pace wouldn't get me stuck. Success. I finally turned on to the final stretch that leads back to the main road and realized the first part had taken almost 20 minutes which was usually a ¼ of the time, so much for the "shortcut" and this last part proved to be just as bad. Up ahead was the main highway but this was only slightly better than the road I had left and it was only because of the rumble strips that I knew when I wasn't centered in my lane.
White-knuckled, going slow with traffic behind me lead to exhaustion, frustration and downright anger. This was exactly what I didn't want to do during my last days of work. It only got better as I came upon another town and had a plow in the opposite lane, one that wasn't going to budge an inch and had me moving over to the shoulder, into a snow drift and fishtailing past him. Thanks, buddy! Then came the large bridge, which is a pain even on dry roads. My lane was completely snow covered with large drifts which forced me to go into the oncoming lane to make it safely across, glad no one was coming towards me, and all cars behind me did the same thing.
But it never ends quietly, even on the backroad that leads to home I came around a curve to see a farm tractor coming towards me taking up over half of the road. I did a double take because, I mean, really? We had over a foot of snow and we're out with a tractor, why? O.k. Why not. I mean up to this point, the drive wasn't already full of obstacles and close calls, let's throw a tractor in. When I finally get home, I step outlook around at the snow, and said, "This is fucked up." Gave a gesture to the Universe and walked in.
The next morning roads were still snow covered but at least they were cleaner and the speed was a bit faster not posted speed limits, but faster than the night before. There were also snow showers still lingering as the last of the storm passed over us. I decided to skip my shortcut and go through the town. Bad choice. Up ahead ten cars were hitting their brake lights as I passed the shortcut turn and in the very far distance I saw heavy snow blowing; snow plow. Ugh! We now crawled into the town and as I turned into it there was a train passing on the tracks; really? It already took 10 minutes to go 5 miles and now I have a train on the track that never sees a train until now after a major snowstorm? Uh, o.k.
I drove through town and hit every green light which was good because there were still areas I didn't want to stop because it would have been difficult to get going again. As I left town I passed by the other the shortcut and saw that it was plowed and sanded. Of course, it was. That ended another glorious tax season.
Click On The Road Trips tab to read all about my adventures as I travel, once again, to the West.
Almost two years ago, which is hard to believe, I left my career in the airlines to pursue one as a photographer and blogger/writer. It was an easy decision in some ways because I was ready to leave the stress of the industry and the constant struggle of the companies I worked for but it was hard giving up the money that allowed me to live on my own. As a result, I moved back home which wasn't my highlight but now, I realize the sacrifice is worth it. I know deep down, in the depths of my soul, that I'm going to make it. I'm going to make a career out of my travels, blogs and photography and that I'm going to live the life I've always dreamed of.
The sacrifices have its moments where I ask myself, "why" but then a reward is given and I'm going "that's why" and thank the Universe for it and continue to push forward. I've been able to spend time with my family and make up for the many years I was away from home living up and down the East coast trying to figure out where and what I wanted to do. It all came back to my home state and a passion I fell in love with as a child; photography and travel.
Travel writing, as I quickly found out, is a very competitive field to break into and everyone is scrambling for the one spot in a magazine that might be available every few months. The key is to get a niche and stay persistent, I've done both, and have had to publish a few without pay which is fine in the beginning but when it is always asked of you it is time to move on. I don't mind a sacrifice here and there but to expect it all the time is no way to make a living.
Which had me thinking about all the blogs I had written and moved them over to my Patreon account. These blogs have been up for a year, free for people to read and enjoy, now as my writing and photography continue to improve and social media followers are starting to increase it is time to make money and there is no shame in that. I felt it at first, but the deeper I get in to it the more I realize I am talented and have a great way of presenting things for the world to see. The many views of my blogs proved that.
I've also had to go back to work for commercial companies, again a sacrifice, because I wanted to be done with the commercial world and be self-employed making enough money to make it on my own. Well, that didn't happen right away. So I ended up working two tax seasons for H&R Block and using the unemployment between gigs to travel. Unfortunately, travel is more expensive then first realized so unemployment was short lived before I had to find another gig that would help pay for those trips. It can be expensive lifestyle even when driving but I wouldn't trade any of it for a moment. I love being on the road, seeing the country, taking photos and writing. I feel good, alive and free so the momentary debt that I have incurred is worth it and I know that this will all be paid off very soon.
The first gig I took was a housekeeper at a Marriott hotel in a town about 45 minutes away, thankfully, it was done before the snow fell but then I decided to go back to the tax office which increased the miles, decreased the pay and put me through one hell of a winter with a lot of snow storms. O.k. I get it! I'm not suppose to work here anymore! Don't worry, I won't. After tax season, and a few road trips later, I needed another gig.
Without even knowing what I was looking for I stumbled across a temporary position as an HR Assitant at a hospital, in a town about 20 minutes away. Heaven! A few weeks later I was off to their Welcome Day event and working the next day until Thanksgiving. The Universe is a crazy thing, always shuffling pieces to make things work out the way they should. I'm full believer but like any normal person I do get frustrated and get doubts but then something like this happens and I know, I know it is going to work out. I didn't come all this way to fail and go back to a work world I wasn't happy in.
The best part about this new career is I get to spend time with Aria, my dog. She enjoys the road trips just as much as I do and is able to experience so much. New scents, new scenery, the mountains and feel the salty ocean water on her paws. To see her run around in excitement, then stop and stare at the scenery around her as the mountains tower over us brings me joy and peace and excited about my new career.
In the end I have to say this to my followers. Don't give up. Its a cliche I know, but truly if you believe in the dream, especially as an artist or writer, keep pushing forward. Don't be afraid to ask for help, to do a little side work to make ends meet, this shows the Universe that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get to the finish line which is your dream...
Willow River State Park welcomes you!
This state park is located in the Northwest Region of Wisconsin along the Minnesota/Wisconsin boarder. The park has some great views, lots of hiking, waterfalls, pet-friendly and camping. What more could you want from a State Park. Fly into Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport and you are only 45 minutes away from this beautiful area, which is located next to Hudson, WI.
I love this park not only for the convenience but location, not to mention a great hike. There is a steep hill you have to take to get down to the Falls from the main parking area; the downside? It is the only way back up, be sure to bring lots of water, good hiking shoes and maybe a walking stick for assistance. Thankfully, there are places to sit along the way as well as at the top so you can take a moment to catch your breathe.
This is Willow Falls, the main attraction of the state park. You cross over a bridge to get to the other side and there are paths that will take you down to the water and allow you access on to the big boulders. Use extreme caution if you do, the rocks are slippery, water is fast and shallow. Once you cross over you can take the stairs up to the top, once again, this is another hefty hike to the top. There are plenty of platforms for you to stop if need be, unless you have an anxious puppy, then you may not be able to stop as often.
Once you reach the top there is an observation deck that allows you to look down at the river or across Willow River State Park. As you can see, on a clear day you can see for miles. Even this area is pet-friendly but be sure to keep them close, this is the most visited park in Wisconsin due to it's location and it is a long way down from the observation deck.
The people you meet here are nothing short but friendly and courteous, welcome to Wisconsin hospitality. However, the state park doesn't have any trash barrels on the trails so if you bring it in, you have to take it out. Just a little tip especially if you bring your puppy along, be sure to keep the trails clean!
After you have taken in the view from the observation deck you can either head back down the stairs or follow the other trail on the top like I did. This trail takes you up, down and around the park with open areas to see more of the river upstream before the Falls. It will eventually bring you back to the bottom of the staircase, where you will then cross back over and return to the main parking lot.
Another attraction at the park is Little Falls Lake which is a shallow reservoir more popular in the Summer time for picnics and the beach. This area does have pet restrictions be sure to read the signs carefully during the seasons. Willow River State Park is also a great place to visit in the Fall, from the observation deck you will have an endless view of colors.
Welcome to Wisconsin and enjoy!
While out on the road touring some Rustic Road routes of Wisconsin I decided to spend a night near Madison, Wisconsin; our state capital. This, at one time, was my second home while attending college and my first home away from my hometown. I spent four years in this area and haven't been back for over 10 years. Even so, I found the area still easy to maneuver through but most of the buildings and former living areas have changed.
The city is alive with growth and opportunity. The Dane County Regional Airport is twice the size it was when I worked there, with expanded parking but the general route into and out of the airport has remained the same. My loft apartments are still there but now surrounded by more commercial and residential area. One thing hasn't changed and that is the road which was always in bad shape and continues to be even now.
After passing by the airport I pass by The Madison Area Technical College which is also twice the size it was when I attended with several buildings added that specialize in different fields and continues to grow with part of it still under construction. The new buildings are now where overflow parking used to be, I can only imagine the hike that has to be taken now by students; and we thought it was a long walk back then.
At one point I lived in a duplex in the suburb town called Waunakee a back road from De Forest and my hotel confirmed that I do know where I'm at and have a good memory but once entering Waunakee I was at a loss. The town, like everything else, has doubled in size bringing new shops into a historical feel, some of the buildings I remember but most I don't and new apartments and condos continue to grow. I finally come down the road of the duplex and it is a whole new world. The open fields that are now filled with residential homes, cul de sacs as far as the eye can see with single family homes line the road with new homes on the other side and continue on all the way back towards De Forest. I look for the duplex and it no longer exists bought and destroyed to make room for the new.
But the tour must come to an end as it is a long ride back to my hometown and even though most of that route has changed the bypass around Eau Claire has helped to cutback the commute by a half hour. However, weather is coming in from the North and if there are any delays I want to be back in familiar ground before it hits. There is one last stop I must do. When I came here for a college I was accompanied then by my rescued black lab mix dog and her name was Mitzy. She was first co-pilot and hiking buddy and it is only fair to show Aria her favorite spot and that is at Token Creek County Park.
Located outside of De Forest, Wisconsin. Token Creek park is 427-acre park that offers shelters, restroom facilities, disc golf, hiking trails, volleyball nets and in the winter cross-country skiing but the main attraction, for me, is their dog park. This dog park is located near the back and end of the park, completely fenced in with access to the local pond. There is also a smaller fenced in area, once inside, for puppies and small dogs. There is a fee to enter and can be purchased as a day pass or year pass, with forms available near the parking lot or once inside the fenced in dog park.
There are several picnic tables and benches throughout the park and along the trail. Upon entering the first trail on the right will take you down to the pond which allows dogs to enter and swim in. The trail continues around and comes back to the main trail of the park. Near the entrance the second trail which can go right or left is considered the main trail and in the middle is a high mound with benches on top. Going right or left takes you completely around the mound with trails that lead up to the top. Or you can skip the walk around and go right up to the top. There are also doggie bags for clean up, trash cans and water dispensers for your dog. The park always has been, and continues to be, clean, safe and well-maintained thanks to the fees paid at the gate.
Being here was a time of reflection for me on what was and what is about to be. I started a long, stressful, and confusing chapter in my life when I moved down here and spent a lot of time moving trying to figure things out. I learned a lot about my field of study, travel, customer service, friends and living on my own. I enjoyed it all, both the good and the bad, which made me who I am today. But it is now time to close that chapter and open the new one which is my Travel Writing/Blogging career. I look forward to the opportunities, travels, friends and memories that are going to be made along this new journey.
Time to put the boots away and sit back in your favorite vehicle. Make sure you have your favorite music available as we set out to take a road trip on Minnesota's St. Croix Trail.
The trail begins in Northern Minnesota approximately 50 miles North of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport in a town called North Branch, MN. You can also begin on the South end of the trail which is outside of Prescott, WI. My journey begins in Stillwater, MN, a 20-30 minute drive from the Minneapolis Airport.
This is downtown Stillwater. An area that makes you feel like you have gone back in time with older brick buildings. Modern shops with old-fashioned attitude and welcomes everyone including your furry friend, keep them on a leash though!
As you can see, there are places to walk down by the St. Croix River but no place to let them off leash and the dogs are welcomed on the main streets as well. In fact, some owners will even leave treats and water out for them on the sidewalk just to let you know they appreciate your furry friends as well.
Regardless of where you start on the St. Croix Trail I recommend taking a moment to visit Downtown Stillwater. There are plenty of places to park, river tours, sitting areas along the walk as well as great restaurants that also offer outdoor seating. You couldn't ask for a better place to get out and stretch your feet before you continue.
Moving along we head South along the St. Croix trail where we come along a sign that states "Historical Marker 1/4 mile". Why not pull over and find out what used to be here back in 1843 and this is all that remains. This marker is located outside of St Marys Point, want to see more?
Let's take a stroll. These walking, running and biking trails also follow the St. Croix Trail and you are welcome to use them to see the area in more detail. A lot of residential areas is around this part of the trail and if you like viewing homes like I do, then take a drive down St Marys Point Road. Just be cautious of the wildlife. When I drove through there was a fox strolling around the neighborhood, unfortunately, moving too fast for a photo as most wildlife do. It's like they know I want to take a picture of them...
Unfortunately, you won't get many views of the river around here unless you follow the signs that will lead you to different beaches. If you choose to do so, make sure you read the parking signs! Most of the beaches are in residential areas that only allow one place to park. Pets are not allowed on the beaches or in the picnic areas during the season.
This is the St. Croix Trail as you are leaving the historic marker. The trail is full of twists and turns, be observant, as well as large trees and must be an amazing sight when the leaves are changing.
As you drive the trail you will see small city parks along the way, but most you may not even know are there until you are past them. Don't worry let me welcome you to Afton, MN, or more specifically, The Afton Alps. This area is right off of the St. Croix trail with good signage so you won't miss it. It is an easy pull off and even easier return.
The best part of Afton Alps? You have three points of interest in one location. The Afton State Park, The Afton Golf Course and The Afton Ski Slope which is accessible even now if you want to see what the hills look like.
There is a cost to tour the State Park, be sure to stop by the office near the entrance and pay your fee. The park also offers camping sites for those who are interested and do have set hours when you can enter, be sure to check their website for more details: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/afton/narrative.html.
Time to keep moving, here is another view of The St. Croix Trail as you are leaving Afton, MN. I'm not sure about you but I'm in love with old and even abandoned places. There is just something about them that makes me want to photograph them and yes, I do quick pullovers to get shots of the amazing places.
Use extreme caution when you arrive at these areas. There are a lot of blind spots, sharp turns, bikers, residential walkers, and posted speed signs that have you slowing down in a short period of time. Relax, go slow and enjoy the view, these areas are the best part of the trip.
As you will notice there haven't been too many shots of the St. Croix River, even though the trail is following it there are very few points where you will actually see the river. Plus there are no stopping points or observation areas along the route which is why I recommend having someone along so one can drive while the other takes photos.
Another point of interest along the trail is St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park. Once again there is a fee to enter this area and the station is located right at the entrance.
As you drive in there is a place to park or you can continue down the road to other areas for more hiking, as you can see the trails are paved and the area is well kept.
Continuing South on the Trail we will come upon one more attraction that offers a bit of an education. Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center. Free of charge but donations are welcome and encouraged. They will educate you about anything and everything that has to do with nature as well as give tours of the area. You are also welcome to take your own tour.
Just a few short minutes after the Nature Center you are at the end of the St. Croix Trail. Welcome to Point Douglas Park.
The St. Croix River. On the left is Minnesota, on the right is Wisconsin. Douglas Point isn't just an area where both states can be seen by just turning your head which alone is pretty neat. This also where the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers become one. Unfortunately, the Mississippi River isn't able to be seen until you take the bridge over to Prescott. WI.
Before you do, take a moment to relax and enjoy the scenery. As you can see dogs are welcome here but only on the side that doesn't have picnic tables. There are also restrooms here if needed, a small beach area to wade in as well as docking slips.
Let's go check out Prescott, WI. Another personal favorite of mine, trains, and railroads. Luckily I got them both as they are crossing over the Mississippi River into Minnesota. I've always enjoyed the rustic look that is part of cargo moving trains.
As you can see, Prescott also holds on to a bit of history as well. I think it's part of the river town theme to hold on to the look of classical buildings made of brick that have withheld through time. I absolutely love walking around and taking pictures of these buildings. For a moment, I feel like I've stepped back in time. These towns make up the St. Croix Trail and are worth taking a few moments to explore and stretch your legs.
If you live in the area or find yourself in Minnesota I hope you too will take a moment to enjoy this road trip. The entire trail from North Branch, MN to Prescott, WI is approximately 65 miles long. My route from Stillwater, MN to Prescott, WI was 34 miles long; the halfway point on the trail. I never went any further North on the trail than Downtown Stillwater and am not sure what it has to offer.
I have no doubt that one day I will explore the North part of the St Croix Trail so I can compare. I'm looking forward to driving the South route again in the Fall. Until then, I highly recommend taking the time to drive this trail if you live in the area or coming in for a visit. Safe travels and enjoy!
Only about 30 minutes outside of Minneapolis/St. Paul is the small town of Afton, MN which has a state park that is also named Afton State Park. Signs for the park are all along the 94 Interstate and appears to have several different ways to get there. My favorite way is to head down towards the border and jump on the St. Croix Trail Scenic Byway. The road offers many twists and turns through small towns, open fields and rolling hills through the trees. Not a very busy road but one that is enjoyed to get away from the city for a few hours.
As the road continues it twists and turns it finally opens up and endless views can be seen beyond the hills and then there is the sign to Afton State Park pointing to the left.
At the four-way stop, you are greeted by another sign that says Afton Alps. As you continue on toward the state park you will see a sign that welcomes everyone regardless of the season. Golfers during the spring and summer and skiers during the winter.
A very clean and well-kept area welcomes visitors to all three points, and even though there isn't any snow you are still able to follow the road down to the ski slopes and view what they have to offer in the winter.
On the right is Afton State Park that greets you will an open field and groomed landscape as the road curves and ahead can be seen the ranger station. Here is where information and fees can be paid if you hold a year pass, continue on into the park.
Once away from the station the road begins to curve and drop down into the valley and hills that make up the area. There is a paved path that is laid out next to the street and along the tree line.
Large trees encompass the road and not much can be seen beyond what is around you. The hills are steep and some curves are sharp, use caution and be aware of any hikers that maybe out and about. A few twists and turns and you're going back up a short hill and as you gaze to the right you will see the ski slopes and chairlifts that will be used in the upcoming season. The large building next to them is what is currently being used by the golfers as a place to rest and register.
The area will be absolutely beautiful once the leaves are in Fall mode and have all completely changed. The road continues on with signs directing you to the camping areas and the information center as well as the parking ramps, although, not much will lead you elsewhere. Follow the road to the end and you will see several different parking lots, one specifically for buses and trailers, and the others give you access to the many trails the park has to offer.
On this particular trip, Aria and I went to the very end and to the farthest parking lot. I was surprised to see how busy the park was and this is clearly a popular spot for many to come. The park welcomes walkers, hikers, joggers, bikers, dogs on leashes and even horseback riders. There is information about the park and its trails when you first enter the area where picnic tables have been set up.
There are a total of seven trails throughout the entire park; four are at the North end of the visitor center and 3 are at the South end. The shortest trail is .4 miles and the longest is 3 miles. They range from easy to moderate and even though most seem to be paved the ones that aren't have been packed down with dirt making walking easy even after heavy rain. However, even the paved trails are on the uneven ground so caution must be taken at all times.
Camping and campfires are allowed in the park. Off the main trail, there are several paths that lead away, some will lead you to a fire ring that has wood next to it ready to be used and others will lead you down to the water's edge and offer you a small beach area to relax on.
Even these paths offer steps and a clear indication of where it leads, along with maps at various intersections it makes it easy to figure out where you and where you need to go. According to the maps, it appears that eventually all the trails will link up and you walk the entire park without having to go back to your car, however; it is highly recommended to take your time, bring extra water and the proper hiking shoes when you set out on these trails. I was able to meet several people while hiking, some were like me and enjoy a nice stroll through the park and others were more serious with walking poles and large hiking packs.
What I love most about hiking is the people I meet along the way. Everyone is polite and courteous, keeping in mind that not everyone is a dog person I keep Aria close to me, and there is nothing but appreciation from those I meet. A warm smile, a slight nod and an occasional 'hello' have all of us continuing on our way looking forward to seeing what the trail has to offer at the end.
This particular trail that we're on takes us down to a large picnic area that is next to the St. Croix river as well as a beach area to lay about and enjoy the day.
The park has plenty of restroom facilities as well as trash receptacles for hikers to use and they even have a separate receptacle for recycling. Take notice of your surroundings as you may meet a ranger out checking on things in his large pickup, give a wave and a smile and continue your hike. It's rare to see a ranger outside of the station but it is also a comfort to know they are out there checking on things for everyone's safety and assistance if needed.
After taking a few minutes at the beach we begin to head back towards the parking lot and along the way I notice there are several areas for people to sit and catch their breath. A must when you get done hiking back uphill towards the parking lot.
There are bridges above the streams and down closer to the water which also brings about those wonderful mosquitoes this park is definitely requiring repellent if you hike it during the summer.
As Aria and I begin to slow our pace we are greeted by the site of the parking lot, that has few cars than when we left but only for a moment as more people begin to filter in and enjoy a day of hiking. I was happily surprised by this park. I wasn't sure what to make of it when I first saw but I'm glad I took the time to visit it. I look forward to going back again and viewing the rest of the trails as there is one that takes you along what used to be a railroad track. Be safe and enjoy.
The beauty of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area is that you don't have to go far to feel like you are out of the city. Tamarack Nature Preserve has become a favorite hiking spot for me and Aria. The location is just a few short minutes away and as you walk on the trails you feel like you are no longer in the city.
The Preserve is accessible year round, although, in the winter, non-paved trails become slick and can be extremely treacherous if you are not cautious. Tamarack Nature Preserve also offers an ice skating rink in the winter and the trails are groomed to accommodate cross-country skiers of all levels.
As a nature preserve location, there are a lot of tall brush and swamps throughout and at times you're going to have to walk over water to get to the other side. Pictured above is an example of the what these trails look like. Due to the temperature change and the water underneath these boardwalks can become shaky an have an extreme tilt to the side. As you can imagine, this makes for an interesting walk during the winter.
Most of the trails are like this, unpaved and soft which make it easy on your dog's feet for hiking but not so easy after a shower has passed. Due to the large trees which make the trails more secluded the trails take longer to dry out and you will find yourself ankle deep in mud if you aren't aware of your surroundings. This has happened to me and it makes hiking even more challenging as there is no dry place to dry and clean off your shoes. Aria, however, takes advantage of these days and tries to get as muddy as possible, or she'll just jump into the swamp.
Unfortunately, muddy paw days and a dip into the swamp are never on the same hike. Admittedly it was an extremely muggy day and we ended up hiking longer than originally planned, but, seeing as how you can't see what is in the water... I was anxious to get her back out and on to dry land. Which had her running to me and sharing the "refreshing" water that she had just experienced. Thanks, Aria! As we continue the hike back to the car she keeps looking over the edge of the boardwalk with a look of "let's do that again!".
The Tamarack Nature Preserve offers miles of trails that will take you through a residential area, secluded nature scenery and then back to the main paved trail that encompasses all of Woodbury. Most of the time there are very few people on the trails. The unpaved trails do get rocky, secluded, hard to follow and have hills stay vigilant, be safe and enjoy.