First light...

First light woke me this morning, and I dressed in all my layers and went outside with camera and tripod to photograph the waking day. DW lit the kerosene heater and started water for tea, then joined me on top of this knob of rock we've called home for the past few days. We watched for the sun to make it over the ridge of mountains to the east; sunrise so close to this peak we call The Mountain is a wonderful sight to see. Then we saw it: light glinting off the windows of the Fremont lookout, miles away, just this side of the three Burroughs peaks.

I'm going to miss this place.


Head in the clouds...

When I woke at first light, the mountains had vanished, with nothing but clouds as far as I could see. The closest trees were alpine firs were there, poking through the mist, but The Mountain was hidden from view. I closed my eyes and snoozed, until the beginnings of sunrise woke me up.

I was tempted to close my eyes and let the morning come, then I rolled out of my bunk and grabbed my camera and tripod and waited for the sun. It didn't come, not for hours.

We lit the kerosene heater and cooked breakfast, and were entertained by the resident chipmunk who kept coming to the windows with a bright orange Cheeto in his mouth. We never did figure out where he got them; we didn't bring any snacks with us.

We had a few visitors today, including three hikers who checked out the lookout and the fire finder, then had lunch at the picnic table with the killer view of Mount Rainier. The forest service came to deliver fresh batteries for the two-way radio, and showed us where to find the Kelly Butte and Fremont lookouts. When the light is right, you can see both of them.

My day was spent walking around with my camera, talking with visitors, and once the last had headed down the mountain, cutting pieces for a new quilt project.

No star gazing tonight. Maybe tomorrow.


Top of the world...

For the next five days and four nights, we're going to be a mile high with a bird's-eye view of Mount Rainier. This historic fire lookout will be our home and our job. During the day, we'll show it off to visitors, and at night, it will be all ours.

The lookout stands on the the top of a knoll, with the road wrapping around it in a spiral. I stand on the top, and slowly turn in a circle. I am surrounded by mountains... the majestic Mount Rainier, the far-off Olympics, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Kelly Butte, the Alpine Lakes wilderness, the Stuarts, and a lot more I couldn't identify. A 360 degree panorama of the Cascades, even the top of the gondola at Crystal Mountain.

My sister, nieces, and great nieces came to visit us today, bringing lunch and smiles and excitement at being here to experience this awesome place with us.

We first came to Suntop in June of 2015 to find a geocache. I can't believe we're finally getting our turn to call this place home, even if just for a few days.


Cold rain...

The weather has really taken a turn for the worse, but we're heading back to Mt. Rainier in spite of the weather.

East of Federation Forest, as we headed off to circumnavigate the national park, we looked both ways then hopped the guard rail and down into this forest of ancient trees. The patriarch has fallen, taking a fair number of big trees with it, to lie undisturbed between trail and river. You can climb up on the stump (which would hold my round dining room table and 6 chairs), but even more impressive is standing beside the tree.

Next stop, in even harder (and colder) rain, was the Box Canyon, which is in the park from Stevens Canyon entrance. We always stop here to walk the trail and look down at the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River. from this bridge, the surface of the river is about 130 feet below, and the canyon is less than 18 feet wide.

As you walk the loop, the huge rock to the right is scoured with deep glacial scratches. We crossed the bridge and decided to keep on walking the loop, even though that meant scrambling over a couple of downed trees. Thoroughly wet by this time, we ran back to the Pilot.

The last stop was at what is probably my favorite waterfall, Christine Falls. It's another place in the park where we always stop, and rarely do we get to see it without fifty people in the way of my photo. The weather worked to our advantage today. Christine Falls is a two-drop falls and is very pretty, but what makes it a beautiful view is the frame made by the stone bridge that crosses the river. I know the view so well, but I never get tired of it.

Wet, but happy with our day, we headed for Buckley and a burger and beer at The Firehouse. Relaxing in this packed bar and grill was the perfect way to end a long day.


Fall awaits...

It was a day to warm the chairs in the farmhouse, watching the new season of NCIS and cuddling with our cat. We're trying to turn her into a lap cat, and it might actually be working. She slept on my lap for nearly twenty minutes before she started to get restless.

It seems like autumn has arrived. In just a couple of days, the sunny days have turned to rain, and the leaves are coming down, and the mornings are getting colder.

The maple trees across the valley are starting to change, finally. Soon, unless we get a soggy and windy storm, the hillsides will blaze with color, and the trails will be thick with leaves that crunch under my feet.

All summer long, I look forward to those hikes through the woods. It means giving up the warmth of summer days, but I never mind trading them for autumn's cool, crisp mornings.


Content at 63...

I turned this age at the end of another long road trip, my favorite way to travel. A few thousand miles of stunning scenery, a few hundred geocaches, a thousand or so photographs... just the two of us on the road. That's my kind of vacation.

In my twenties, when anything was possible, if anyone had told me how good I'd feel at this age, I would have laughed. And never believed it could be true.

But it is.


Home stretch...

We cached our way north to Waitsburg, heading west to Naches for lunch, then White Pass. We watched climbers on the basalt cliffs, checked out preparations for feeding elk this winter, did our own rock scramble on a hill above Rimrock Lake, and had a burger and beer after a long, after-dark drive all the way to Buckley. Long day, fun day.


Round and round...

The Dahmen Barn near Uniontown, Washington was built in 1935, and it's still in the Dahmen family. It has been completely restored, and the owner has spent more than 30 years building the fence, made from more than 1000 wheels from every type of vehicle you can imagine, from antique farm equipment to a baby buggy. It's off the beaten path, but so worth the drive... even in the rain.


Sod cabin...

Our last day in Colorado. It's been a different trip than our usual road trip to the Rockies. Last year we traveled all over, visiting the national park and climbing up into the mountains, and chasing fall colors. This year we stayed close, spending time with family and exploring Montrose.

This morning we said our goodbyes and headed out, but first we took a detour through town to find a geocache we couldn't do yesterday. The entire twisty road down along the Uncompahgre River was being worked on, and the road crew was camped out right by the cache. It wasn't a total loss... we parked right next to an old homesteader's log cabin, still standing with a lushly growing sod roof.



For a gal who grew up within sight of the Boeing plant in Renton, an air show is pretty hard to resist. Especially when it's free. And when it's at the local airport in the town we're staying in for the next week.

Everyone was game to check it out, so we met there today and spent the afternoon walking around and through a big range of military planes:  A KC-135 Stratotanker. Apache and Blackhawk helicopters. A very cool WWII-era bomber, the B-25. A huge C-17 Globemaster. It was especially fun to talk with the pilots of a squadron of F-18 fighters, who flew in from the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

We hung around until the end, to watch the planes take their turn to taxi out to the runway and take off. Two hours, and those F-18s will be home on Whidbey Island.


Nine miles...

We took an amazing drive yesterday afternoon, up what's called 9-Mile Canyon. It's actually more than 50 miles long, and there are different theories as to how the canyon got its name. The canyon floor is brilliant green with river-fed grass and hay, with cattle and horses (and a lot of rabbits), and a few old homesteads. The road is in perfect condition, with a dozen or more concrete fords to let flash flood water flow out of side canyons into the river without damaging the road.

The photographs tell the story of what brought us here, and what will bring us back again.



Out of the desert of southern Idaho, and into the mountains of Utah. We're here mainly for one short hike above 8,000 feet, into the alpine meadows with running streams and towering firs. The back dirt roads were empty of travelers, the forest camps closed for the season. At the trailhead, the twin ponds were peaceful and serene, and just begging for a bit of fly fishing. Alas, we didn't bring our gear this trip.

The hike up the hill was short, but I was out of breath by the time we made it to our goal: Utah's oldest geocache, placed in August 2000. Then we hiked back down through the meadows, and followed the narrow winding road down the valley through forests of aspen. This is a part of Utah we've not visited before, and it's beautiful.

Mac, the travel bear, at Utah's oldest cache


Resting place...

We headed east into thick fog this morning... no sun made it through for a couple of hours. Quite a change from the past few days, geocaching in the sunny wheat fields of southeast Washington and into the mountains of northeast Oregon. On our radar this trip are pioneer cemeteries, and each time we pass through a small town, we make sure to seek out the original cemetery for that community. Some are just a fenced area in the middle of a huge wheat field, others are an emerald green oasis with huge trees, lovingly tended by volunteers.

This morning we left Mountain Home early, and decided to wait for breakfast until we've been on the road for a while. We found a Basque restaurant for breakfast just a couple of miles off the freeway. I would have stopped here just for the name: The Farmhouse. Amazing food, great coffee, cheap prices... and the sun finally burned through the fog. We drove all the way into Central Utah today; a very long day. I was so glad to finally get off the freeway and turn up into the mountains.


Snake magnet...

On the road early this morning to explore, drive the back roads, and follow the Oregon Trail. We stayed out longer than planned, playing "just one more cache." At our last (really) cache of the day, in the fading light, DW pulled over on the side of a dirt road, and got out to start looking.

I hopped out of the Pilot, and just two feet away, coiled up between two sagebrush bushes, was a Pacific rattlesnake. As fast as I got out, I was back inside. I lowered the window and called for DW, pointing out my window, and saying, "Snake!" At least I think I was saying the word, not yelling it. I'm not sure.

He finally got the message and came around the back of the Pilot to have a look, and his eyes got pretty big. Maybe just as big as mine. But I could still aim the Nikon out the window, and take a few photos. And then we drove to the other side of the road, and found the cache.

I lived in eastern Washington for seven years, and never saw a rattlesnake. For decades I've traveled through the snake country of the West, without ever seeing even a hint of a snake. And twice in the past three months, I've ended up way too close to a coiled rattlesnake for comfort.


Flaming skies...

At the end of the day, a brilliant sunset made the early morning and bad coffee and allergy symptoms and and cold wind all worthwhile. I can hardly wait to see what tomorrow brings.



This month is the one I love above all others. It's partly because my birthday falls in the center of it. But more than that, it's because September is a month of anticipation.

When I was a child, I would practically shiver with anticipation of going back to school. New classes and new things to learn. New classmates, and seeing old friends after the long summer. Spending hours in the fabric stores and poring over patterns with my mom, and standing beside her as she sewed. And that first day, dressing in my brand new, mom-made outfit, and posing for a photo before I headed off to school.

I haven't lost that sense of excitement, feeling that wonderful things were about to happen. It's what makes this my favorite month.