Winding Up A Great Year

I spent two weeks in Chico, staying with my cousins in the canyon and helping a bit with their annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival, which was a huge success. The films are always so inspiring and I came away with a renewed determination to make some small difference on my travels.  I continued my journey south with stops in Vacaville and Atascadero before landing in Ventura for what I thought would be a single night. I arrived on November 8th, and I soon learned that my cousins in Chico had been evacuated as a fire raged in the nearby town of Paradise.  By that afternoon the smoke from a fire just south of Ventura was seen blowing straight out over the Pacific. Once I found out the exact location I realized my exit the next day might be difficult, or impossible, as the 101 had been closed in both directions. The next day dawned very windy and I decided to stay in place for another night, plotting an exit route up and around the fire and road closures. On Saturday the 10th I left my campsite at 7 and made it back to Orange County at 9:30 with few problems.

While I was relieved to have gotten through and settled in at a friend’s, my concern for the people I know and love in Chico continued to grow. Miraculously my cousins’ home in Butte Creek Canyon was spared, as were others in their area called Helltown. At this writing they have not been able to go home, there still is no power up there. Friends of Butte Creek volunteers rallied to prevent ash and debris from suffocating the salmon during the rains this week. The terrifying images from Paradise were a reminder of how quickly our lives can be forever changed.

I’ll be spending the holidays with family and friends and plan to head to Tucson in January. Thank you all for coming along on my travels this past year, I’m hoping to head back to some favorite spots as well as discover many new ones in 2019. Happy Holidays!


A lovely spot in Butte Creek Canyon, Chico.
Fall color at the Chico farmer’s market.
Wild turkeys pay their daily visit in Chico.
Benicia, CA
My campsite at Cerro Alto campground near Morro Bay.
View of smoke from my Ventura campsite
Ventura sunset
San Joaquin Marsh in Irvine, CA. Always nice to walk there.
Hanging out with my sweet grand-dog, Pistachio!

Hello, Oregon!

After spending a couple of weeks in Vancouver, WA, I headed to the Oregon Coast. First, I spent some time in Cannon Beach with a friend, and then spent four fun days exploring in and around Florence with my friend Ora. We were joined by friends from way back for the Circles in the Sand event on the beach at sunset. The weather was clear and a large crowd turned out. We walked the labyrinth, which took almost thirty minutes, then headed into Florence for a wonderful dinner at Bridgewater Fish House. I was so grateful that my friends made the trek to the coast!

I made a quick stop at Emerson Vineyards in Monmouth to stay in the beautiful Willamette Valley for a night before heading to Silver Falls State Park near Salem. This park is one of my favorite places I visited in the fall last year, where I met Kit, a volunteer in their lovely stone lodge that serves as a visitor center. She’s back for her 15th year (at age 85) and received an award for completing 4,000 hours of volunteer service!! I hiked during the day and was treated to dinner at the volunteer campground each night in Kit’s RV.  The fall colors were amazing again this year. I would love to work at their visitor center  one summer!

A stop in Eugene for a couple of days led to my drive south to Ashland, a must in the fall. This time I stayed at Emigrant Lake just south of town and was really happy to have found this RV campground. It’s a county park and there are nice views from every site. It’s a great alternative to the expensive lodging in that area. I will for sure return to it on future trips to the Pacific Northwest. The tent campground closes in October each year, but RV camping is allowed year-round.

I’m currently settled in Chico, CA for a couple of weeks as I continue my southward journey to Southern California. Stay tuned for photos from here soon!


Beautiful barn and sky at friends’ house in Vancouver, WA


Sunset at Cannon Beach
Site at Emerson Vineyards, lots of coyotes yipping that night!
Sunset over the Willamette Valley
Circles in the Sand in Florence
Bridge near Heceta Head Lighthouse north of Florence
Sunset at Florence
Port on the Siuslaw River in Florence
Fireplace in the Silver Falls stone lodge, cozy!!
Beautiful forest near Silver Falls campground
The Rim Trail at Silver Falls, which connects to trails leading to ten waterfalls!
Deer at Silver Falls
South Falls at Silver Falls State Park
Silver Falls deer are quite comfortable near people!
View from my Emigrant Lake campsite, Canada geese flew by regularly!
Fall color at Emigrant Lake
Fall color in Ashland’s Lithia Park



A Fond Farewell

I left Mt. Saint Helens a few days ago and have been reflecting on my three months there. From being immersed in natural beauty to spending time with old and new friends as well as the joy of a new-found niece, a long-lost cousin and nephew, and re-connecting with a boyfriend from way back, this summer was indeed magical.

The surprising thing was how much I enjoyed working with the visitors at Pine Creek. I spoke with thousands of them, most of whom were friendly & appreciative, a few were downright rude, and a handful with whom I felt an instant connection, either through meaningful conversation or simply a moment when our eyes met and something deep was conveyed.  And I was  reminded to not judge a book by its cover since some of the people I may have avoided under different circumstances often proved to be those I  learned the most from.

On one of my last nights I heard two barred owls “talking” on either side of the woods nearby, which made me so happy.  As I drove down the mountain on a beautiful day I felt nothing but contentment and knew I’d return to this magnificent area.


Summer photos, in  no particular order.

Visitors Galore!

August has been full of friends and family coming to visit. Cousins Pamela and Allen from Chico, CA arrived and set up camp near me at Pine Creek.  We took a beautiful hike in Cedar Flats and they made a lovely salmon dinner that we enjoyed under the trees and stars. Steve and Janet from Eugene, OR came the next day and we all had a few days together, hiking and enjoying dinners.  While I would have loved company during by first month at Mount St. Helens, I was glad I’d learned so much about the area that I could share with everyone.  A few days later, Charlie and Cindy arrived to stay in Cougar at the Lone Fir, about thirty minutes down the road from Pine Creek. The three of us hiked the Lewis River Trail, which I’d been wanting to do for a long time, and it was absolutely gorgeous! The trail was shady and above the river, which at times was rushing past and others was a still, blue-green pool. I fully intend to hike it again before leaving the area in a few weeks!

As I wind down my time at Pine Creek, I know I’ll be a bit sad to leave this beautiful and peaceful place. It’s been a great experience, one that I’ve learned much about myself as well as how to go about securing other positions in the future. Along with the sadness though is the excitement of hitting the road again, with plans to meet up with more good friends on the coast, and staying with family as I make my way back down to Southern California for a much-needed reunion with my daughters and friends there.

Many thanks to all who visited me this summer, I really loved our time together!


Tried on my cool hat for a pic with Steve & Janet
Cedar Flats, amazing old growth forest/research area
View from Norway Pass hike with the gang!
Lots of wildflowers at Norway Pass
View of Mount St. Helens on the way to Norway Pass trailhead
My hiking buddies! Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake in the background.
Lewis River, always lovely

My Favorite Year

The past several days I’ve been reading my journal entries from a year ago. I can recall exactly how I felt in the early days of figuring out this new life. There were moments when I wondered if I’d made the right decision, but they’d pass quickly and soon ceased all together. I remember saying that my goal for this summer was to volunteer in a state or national park without really knowing any of the logistics, and now here I am, six weeks into my Mount Saint Helens stay. When I drove here at the end of May, through a dense forest past rivers and lakes, I said out loud “I did it!”

Staying in a remote spot for an extended period is not without its challenges. But just as I’d expected, it’s also gratifying. Learning about this beautiful area, getting to know new people and chatting with visitors passing through is great fun! The silence at night is incredible, as is the night sky, complete with Milky Way sightings. Each time I see a woodpecker, hear an owl or catch a glimpse of a bald eagle overhead, I’m reminded of why I chose to pursue a life immersed in nature. Scaling down and simplifying my life has enabled me to truly enjoy those moments.

Here are photos of some of the highlights of my stay here so far. I’m certain there will be a lot more very soon!


Visit from Smokey Bear at Pine Creek!
Totem poles along the Columbia River in Kalama, WA
Hiking to Norway Pass with Donna Schimmer!
Nice view of Mount Adams from our Norway Pass hike
With hiking buddies, Jeff & Donna Schimmer!
The payoff, an amazing view of Spirit Lake and Mount St. Helens from Norway Pass!

My Summer Home

I’ve been at Mount Saint Helens almost a month now and it’s proving to be as interesting as I’d hoped. The people I work with in the center are great, they are locals who know a lot about this area so I can depend on them when a visitor has a detailed question. For the most part people come in for directions to trails and waterfalls, to vent their frustration over road closures and to buy fun mementos in the store.  We’ve had visitors from many parts of the world already, it’s really fun talking to them.

Life in a remote location isn’t without some frustrations — building generators fail to start up, cell service is next to impossible, etc. But the beauty, silence and stillness of this forest more than make up for such minor inconveniences.  I feel privileged to be able to spend an entire summer in such surroundings.

I haven’t gotten out for much sight-seeing yet, a lot of the Forest Service roads are in bad shape, either permanently or as a result of winter storms, so driving them in an RV has little appeal. As friends come to visit me I’ll be riding with them to the many beautiful places I know about here so please stay tuned! For now, here are some photos of my immediate surroundings as well as the Recycled Arts Festival that I attended in Vancouver last weekend.


Lower Lewis River Falls, photo courtesy of Nancy Jensen
Co-workers Eric and Gatsby!
Eagle Cliff at the Lewis River Bridge
Morning view at breakfast
Yep, middle of nowhere!
Recycled Arts Festival
Recycled Arts Festival
Spring Run!
I heart this one!
So much character in these guys!

Mount Saint Helens

After a brief stop at a friend’s house in Eugene, I made my way to Emerson Vineyards once again, in the beautiful Willamette Valley. This being my third visit, the owner referred to me as “family” to some people in the tasting room, which really made me laugh. I purchased a lovely bottle of their 2015 White Pinot Noir as a house-warming gift for my friend Nancy, whom I’d be seeing in Portland soon. I spent a cozy night out back by myself and headed out the next morning.

Hendricks Park in Eugene, OR
Hendricks Park in Eugene, OR
Vine growing up the side of a barn at Emerson.
View from my spot at Emerson, see why I keep going back?
Dark clouds over the Willamette Valley

My next stop was Champoeg State Heritage Area, about an hour southwest of Portland. This is a beautiful expanse of green grass and big trees along the Willamette River. I hiked up to the historic area to tour the small museum and buildings. There was a school group going through, so staff in period costume was on hand to demonstrate life in the  1850’s. It was a beautiful sunny day but by the time I got back to the campground big dark clouds had rolled in. Soon after I settled inside, rain started falling at a furious rate so I made some tea, pulled out my sewing machine and had a cozy afternoon.

Barn at Champoeg
View across a field at Champoeg
Joanie enjoying the view at the campground.
Champoeg Museum display

I made my way to Portland for a 5-day stay with my friend Nancy. We had a great time going out to eat, hitting the Saturday market and seeing the Rhodendron Garden in all its glory on a crystal clear spring day.

Rhodendron Garden lake
A family of geese enjoying the sunshine!
I get why Oregonians love their rhodies!
My personal favorite!
Too early for roses at the Rose Garden but it was beautiful on this evening!

Into Washington I went, stopping in Vancouver with my friends Bridget and Kitra, parked under their enormous walnut tree out in the country. The sounds of baby goats floated over from next door during the day and at night there was complete silence with an occasional owl hooting.

Urban art in downtown Vancouver, WA
Joanie and Pablo enjoying the farm life.
Sweet spot!
View out back of my RV

While in Vancouver I met with the USFS volunteer coordinator at her office. She drove me up to where I’ll soon be for the summer, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. The drive was great with views of the mountain from time to time. I saw the compound behind the visitor center where I’ll be staying in my RV. Huge trees all around with a lake nearby where honking geese land. A beautiful stretch of the Lewis River is within walking distance. The following week I’d be going up for real!! Stay tuned . . . .


Beautiful sky at Mt. Saint Helens
The Lewis River
Drama queen Joanie in the Portland heat.

Back in the Pacific Northwest

I continued my northward drive, stopping to visit wonderful cousins in Vacaville and Chico. I so appreciate the support I receive from these people, the combination of solo time on the road along with periods of socializing keeps me balanced. My last stop in California was at Mt. Shasta on a beautiful sunny day, what a nice farewell.

Beautiful day at the lagoon near Vacaville, CA
Lovely cottage on the bay in Benicia, CA
My dear friend Erin gave me the perfect pillow!
My private RV park in Chico, CA
A Chico local outside my window one morning.
My cousins have a tiny farm now, this is their beautiful walnut orchard.
Hiking at Table Mountain near Chico
Mount Shasta, CA

My first stop in Oregon was at Marsh Anne Landing, a beautiful winery near Oakland. From there I drove to the coast along the Umpqua River on Hwy. 38 and it was spectacular! Back on the 101 heading north I was in familiar territory once again. I spent a lot of time on the coast when I first visited last summer and fall.  My destination for two days was Cape Perpetua, an area I fell in love with on two visits last year and just had to see again. The campground is on a creek in a beautiful forest just across the 101 from an amazing stretch of coast. Deep in the campground there’s no road noise whatsoever and it’s dark and peaceful at night. No wi-fi or electricity is available, but who needs that stuff when you’re in such a pristine setting? Nine months after my first visit it’s still one of my favorite spots in all of Oregon.

Marsh Anne Landing winery in Oakland, OR
View from my RV at Marsh Anne Winery
Wild turkeys at Marsh Anne Landing
A beautiful spot along the Umpqua River
Cape Creek runs behind the Cape Perpetua campground and lulls me to sleep each night!
Part of the stunning coast at Cape Perpetua

More from my Oregon travels soon, I’m currently in Vancouver, WA and will head to Mount St. Helens at the end of the month for the summer. I can hardly believe the time has already arrived for this adventure!


Heading North

I’ve begun my slow journey back to the Pacific Northwest with my ultimate destination being Mount Saint Helens for my summer position at a visitor center. While I do not have a lot to write about from my stay in California, I do have several photos I’d love to share with you. So this is a pared-down post, I hope you enjoy it!


Doheny State Beach where we celebrated my daughter Sofia’s birthday!


This beautiful bald eagle, a rescue, was at a wild bird supply store.
Huge red-tailed hawk
Wonderful book I’m reading to learn about MSH
Socks from my dear friend Ora, hoping I get a similar hat to complete the look!
Dinner with my friend Fini, who is 96 years old!
First day back out on the road, view from my spot in Ventura.
Winery stay in Paso Robles, CA
Bucolic setting at a friend’s in San Juan Bautista, CA
One of the many goats wandering around.
Historic building in downtown San Juan Bautista


Hasta La Vista, Arizona!

While in Tucson I learned that an old friend would be coming into town and would love to show me around Patagonia, Arizona, where she lived for several years.  The drive down was beautiful and I settled into an RV park where I had a herd of longhorn cattle for neighbors. I was excited to be in an area without many lights as the big moon event would be occurring the next night. As it turned out, some friends invited us to their home at 6:00 a.m. to watch the total lunar eclipse over the mountains just across the valley from their place. It was really cold so we would view the spectacle from the balcony, then run inside for coffee next to a roaring fire and repeat! I couldn’t imagine a better place to experience this phenomenon.

My view in Patagonia, AZ
Beautiful cottonwoods on a hike in Patagonia, AZ
Super friendly horses we met on a rugged drive in Patagonia
Patagonia neighbor

My friend headed home to New Zealand and I went back to Tucson in anticipation of my daughter’s visit and our camping trip to Lost Dutchman State Park.  I’d heard good things about this park and it did not disappoint!  We arrived at night so could only see the outline of the famous mountain but the next morning the view from our campsite was fantastic. Good hiking at this park, RV sites with or without hookups and a couple of lakes nearby. Next time we’re going up the road to Canyon Lake and taking a cruise on the  Dolly Steamboat, it looks fantastic. Bonus side trip: Goldfield Ghost Town near Apache Junction. All the fun/corny stuff you’d expect from a ghost town. It’s an easy day trip from Phoenix so be advised that weekends are pretty crowded.

Lost Dutchman State Park
Lost Dutchman State Park
Daughter Mila at Goldfield Ghost Town
Goldfield Ghost Town
Hiking with Mila!

Mila’s wonderful friend Stacy showed me around Tucson several times while I was there, and also took Mila and me to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which was truly the highlight of my time in Tucson. This place is not to be missed and allowing 4-5 hours to savor it is a must. The whole museum is amazing, but two things are one-of-a-kind experiences. One is the Stingray Touch exhibit. I know it seems weird to find this at a desert museum, but since the Sea of Cortez in the Sonora Desert of nearby Mexico is home to these rays they absolutely have a place here. We probably spent close to an hour watching and “petting” these creatures. They are beautiful and feel like nothing I’ve ever touched before. The second experience is Raptor Free Flight. We were lucky to catch both the morning and afternoon shows, different birds are flown at each. I’m a huge fan of birds of prey so this was pretty much the best live animal exhibit I’ve ever seen. The birds are not tethered, all were either rescued or born in captivity and are conditioned to respond to the handlers’ cues as to which perch has food for them. These large birds literally flew right over our heads and would land only a few feet away, making for great photos without fancy camera equipment. When I return to Tucson next winter I plan to visit the museum twice and see the raptor free flight show four more times!

Beautifully colored rays!


Mila and Stacy dubbed the rays “sea puppies”.
Sweet little barn owl!
Gorgeous gray hawk
Great Horned Owl
Harris’s Hawk
Harris’s Hawk

My last stop was at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park  in California, for a little hiking and quiet before re-entering civilization. I was lucky enough to encounter some bighorn sheep up in the canyon, they came within feet of me as they have little fear of humans!

Ocotillo cactus
Canyon hike
Bighorn sheep

I’ll be spending some time back in Southern California before heading back to the Pacific Northwest for the summer. I’ve been offered a volunteer position at a visitor’s center at Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument so I’ll be on the mountain from late May until September! I’m looking forward to it so much and hope to have a lot of encounters with animals and humans that will be of interest to you. In the meantime I will post sporadically as I travel north, seeing new places and re-visiting some from my first trip up. Thank you all for your comments and support!