The Island Life

Sunset from San Juan Island
June, 2019

I love the island life. My island doesn’t have umbrella drinks, hot sandy beaches or reggae music. My island has foggy mornings, evergreens and conifers, and orcas. I can drive to my island. San Juan is my island. Situated below Victoria Island in Canada and northwest of Seattle it is famous for orcas, mild weather, a laid back atmosphere, and beautiful forested scenery.

Orcas from the whale paparazzi boat

The journey gets it start on a ferry. While it may seem as though the ferry is still part of the getting-there, this ferry frequently has surprises in store. As the highest peak north of Seattle, Mount Baker is one of those surprises. One of the volcanos in the Cascade mountain range, it’s snowy peak can be seen from the water on nearly the entire journey from Anacortes all the way to Friday Harbor. It’s majesty can easily be eclipsed by a pod of resident or transient orcas. While I strongly recommend a trip on one of the whale watching boats (I call them the whale paparazzi) during your visit, it is still possible to spot orcas, dolphins, and other large sea life on the ferry going to Friday Harbor. Another surprise might include a tall sailing ship in the Salish Sea as you traverse the distance. The Spike Africa is one of the schooners you’re likely to spot.

The journey starts on a ferry
Lime Kiln State Park. The evening before I took this photo we saw a red tailed fox here.

Once on San Juan Island, you’ll find multiple opportunities to visit an island that is both a tourist destination and has an agricultural economy. Don’t miss a drive around the island to view the coastline but look to the interior as you go. If you from an urban area, it’s almost like stepping back in time. Highlights in your circumnavigation of the island include Roche Harbor and Lime Kiln Point State Park. The lighthouse at Lime Kiln State Park is one of the locations the resident pods of orcas have been studied for decades. The folks in the lighthouse are anxious to talk about their observations if you strike up a conversation.

San Juan Island has healthy agricultural roots.
Kayaks at Lime Kiln State park

A big plus when stopping at Lime Kiln is the immediate depth of the water. I have stood at the viewing location and seen orcas go by so close it seemed I could reach out and touch them as they went by. Don’t count of seeing the orcas so close but it is common. If you miss your chance I highly recommend you spend your $100 a head to join the whale paparazzi boat for a 3-4 tour. Regardless if the orca are one of the three resident pods or a transient group, the boats will find them. On a recent visit we ended up in Canada in the search for orcas. Of course since we were on the boat we didn’t need passports to enter Canadian waters.

One of the joys of a visit to San Juan Island is the opportunity to rent a kayak and paddle the waters around the island. You can pick a short one hour paddle or go out for multiple days. Outfitters will show you how to paddle the boats, you’ll be with a group of people, and the guides are ready to point out the seals, bald eagles, and other abundant wildlife during your paddle.

Ample opportunities abound for wildlife viewing. This bald eagle was watching us watching him from our kayak.

I know the islands that get all the press are the ones with hot sunny white sandy beaches and lots of umbrella drinks. I like those islands too, but stretch you life experience a little and check out the islands of Pacific Northwest. Don’t forget your camera.

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Susanville and the Longest Bar in Northeast California

Pioneer Bar in Susanville, CA

Susanville is a unique place. Situated near the base of Mr. Lassen National Park, it is the only town with full services in the Mt. Lassen neighborhood. Long the staging place for cowboys, ranchers, logging, and mining. The town was profiled in a 2007 PBS special titled “Prison Town” that examines the economic effects to a community that chose to host a state prison, however, I wasn’t interested in the prison, I wanted to see the old town and learn a little about this part of California.

Northeast California’s longest bar

Armed with my curiosity and my camera, I walked from the county fair uptown to the old retail section on Main Street. Not unlike how we shop for art, I was looking for a place that would capture my imagination and lunch. I took a few photos as I walked, looking for something artsy and something that would set Susanville apart from any other California town in the Sierra Nevada’s or the foothills. Obviously, the local CVS wouldn’t do. I needed something that had been around for a while, something with secrets.

As I wandered Main street the sign for the Pioneer Café caught my attention, in part because at two o’clock in the afternoon it was illuminated. The sign has a certain style to it that speaks of yesteryear which called me like one of the sirens in the Odyssey. I was greeted by the 36 foot long bar, the longest bar in northeast California. I knew this place has stories to tell.

Murals tell the story of Lassen County

The 19th century residents of Susanville were no more anxious to pay taxes than you or me. With so much ranchland both states of Nevada and California claimed the area for taxable purposes. One common tale is that the when tax collectors came by residents “agreed” to be part of whichever state suited their lowest-tax-needs. For some taxes Nevada was chosen but for others California was a better choice. Some residents naturally preferred one state over the other which caused some hard feelings. Legend has it there was a scuttle between the two sides as they worked out the border. Instead of shooting each other they went to the bar and settled the issue over a few beers. Is this the bar where the fabled event happened? No one knows for sure so the Pioneer Bar claims it must be the place!

Over the years the Pioneer has been the site for a good drink, a place to play pool and snooker. For a while it had a “Gentleman’s Room” upstairs. You don’t have to give it much thought to figure out what was going on. They don’t call it the wild west for nothin’.

Today the building is occupied by the Lassen Ale Works. Home of a couple of unique brews and good food. I had a Pastrami Ruben served on marbled rye with a good horseradishy-based dressing and wonderful beer battered onion rings with and their Uptown Pale Ale

. I’m no Guy Fieri so I‘ll just say I enjoyed my meal and recommend it. Their menu has a brief history of the place. For more details check out their history tab of the website https://www.lassenaleworks.com/history. As I waited for my meal the murals on the wall that tell the story of the county and the overall attitude of the place worked on me. The back room is a good place for the little league team to celebrate their on-field victory while the front of the store has that marvelous bar and white linen tableclothed dining. In the back is a painting that commemorates the racing heritage of Moto Guzzi, a tip of the hat to the passions one of the owner’s.

Moto Guzzi’s V7 racing heritage

I had a great conversation with the manager, Margaret Liddiard who is full of stories about the bar and the area. She filled me with stories that fit in the category of “things I forgot” and her pleasant attitude was the icing on the experience.

Here’s a few photos to give you a feel for the place. Don’t take my word for it, when you’re in the neighborhood, stop by for a meal, a brew, and some old tyme eye candy.

Lassen Ale Works is one of the local micro-breweries.
Linen on the table and good food await you.
Murals tell the story of Lassen County.
The illuminated sign caught my attention at about two o’clock in the afternoon.

Postcards from the Pacific Northwest-Silver Falls State Park

Silver Falls State Park in Oregon is a local gem for mid-state Oregonians. For us urban Californians it offers a couple of things we generally need to drive to see, waterfalls and endless forests. According to the Oregon state parks website (www.oregonstateparks.org) this is the “Crown jewel” of their state parks system. The Trail of the Ten Falls is a 7.2 mile loop with a view of ten falls including a behind the falls view. We did the two ends of the trail during our visit.

Photographically it’s always a challenge to take a photo that is somehow unique. It could be from a different perspective or perhaps include a member of your party.  When we return from a vacation place we put a collage of photos from the trip on a wall. We get a revolving art show and warm fuzzies from our trip.  Of course, there are always phone pics to show off when we’re out and about.

We visited on a sunny clear day. Anytime we visit Oregon we are ready for rain (why else would it be so green year-round?) but there was no need for ponchos on this visit. With only 800 feet of elevation change throughout the hike the attitude is easy and there is a lot of company.

Here are a couple of “Wish you were here” postcards.

Looking for additional inspiration? Browse over to  http://www.davewaltersphoto.com. 

Behind the falls look
Notice the walking path goes behind the waterfall.

The Original Memorial Day

Memorial Day was established as a remembrance of Civil War soldiers, all of them American. According to History.com tributes to the fallen began as early as 1866. While the exact chronology seems to be a little vague, it became a federal holiday in 1971. Originally known as Decoration Day, it has since been the country’s opportunity to honor all soldiers.

Here in nearby Felton we have an annual reenactment of the Civil War at a place called Roaring Camp. The American Civil War Association (www.awca.org) stage the annual event which includes camp followers and soldiers.

OLYMPUS OM-D-E-10 MII

-Our feature today is Frank. Frank is an engineer turned blacksmith. When we met him he was working on a bottle opener for a couple who stood close by intently watching him ply his trade. Blacksmiths were the local go-to for any part, tool, or trinket made from iron. During the Civil War Frank would have been responsible for repairing or replacing weapons, utensils, building tools and what not.

Of course there’s more fun to be had than just the blacksmith.

What’s a battle without a big boom?

OLYMPUS OM-D E-10MII

And a little music…

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And we have to shoot at each other (even if the aiming isn’t too good). Of course it is nearly 60″ long and weighs about 9 pounds.

Mamiya RB67 Ultrafine Extra B&W

Postcards from Joshua Tree NP-Arch Rock

Arch Rock-everyone’s view

Here’s the famous Arch Rock at JTNP. After our brief thunderstorm experience we drove down the road about a half mile, walked about 1/4 mile and there it was, marked with a sign. The challenge is to get something unique.

Yours truly in the arch, looking for a unique view

I went around to the back side of the arch and noticed the position of the sun. A couple of trial shots to get the right position and voila! Arch Rock at Joshua Tree National Park.

Postcard from Joshua Tree National Park

I was recently at Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Dessert just outside of Los Angeles, California. Moderate temperatures made it ideal for a short hike. No good thought or intention goes unpunished and during the hike we experienced a brief thunderstorm. We didn’t melt (we’re not made of sugar) and the clouds helped capture the beauty of this majestic tree.
Joshua Tree National Park, April, 2019 near Belle Campground.Joshua Tree (WP)