Walk on the ocean, step on the stones

“You’re basically walking right out into the ocean,” the trail volunteer explained.

This thought intrigued me.  I’m used to walking along beaches, a spectator to the sea, but to walk straight out into it… for miles?

It’s true.  When you walk the Dungeness Spit trail, you’re led 5.5 miles out into the choppy waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.   Under your feet is skinny strip of land, made even skinnier when the tide comes in.

Dungeness Spit, courtesy of the Washington State Department of Ecology

Dungeness Spit, courtesy of the Washington State Department of Ecology

If it sounds unusual, it is.  Only 40 or so spits exist in the world.  Dungeness is the longest natural spit in the US.

Not only do you get the joy of this unique experience, but there is beautiful scenery helpfully surrounding you – snowy Olympic Mountain peaks behind; Vancouver Island, Canada hazily ahead.  Sometimes a ghostly cargo ship will pass in the distance.   I’m not a sailor, but even I have heard stories about how treacherous this water can be.   I’ve yet to see a sailboat.  Even just walking on the trail, I’ve experienced unrelenting wind during both of my visits.  For me though, this only adds to the intrigue of this place.  There is something about being lashed by the elements that wakes me up and refreshes me.

Dungeness Spit end, (c) 2010 J. Eby

Dungeness Spit trail end, 2010

The holy grail of this walk is getting to the lighthouse at the end of the spit.  Although there is no elevation gain, it can be a strenuous hike if the tide is coming in.  At such times, you’ll be gradually forced up from wet, hard-packed sand (easy to walk on) to loose rock and soft sand (not so easy to walk on).   That being the case, it’s a good idea to plan this hike around the tide charts to avoid high tides.  Your feet and hips will thank you for it.

Don’t feel like you need to reach the lighthouse though.  Just meandering down the spit, and sitting and taking it all in, is more than enough.  Bring a book, bring a camera, bring pockets for rocks, bring a picnic, bring a friend, just bring yourself.   Wander, look, watch, relax, enjoy.

Dungeness Spit, (c) 2010 J. Eby

Dungeness Spit facing Olympics, 2010

Distance travelled (one way): 70 miles
Travel time (one way): 3 hours
Cost:  $45 ($30 ferry round-trip; $10 gas; $3 trail fee)
In one word: rare

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Least Spectacular That

Last month, I posted about Matt, the man who is walking across the country. He just finished up his journey, and had this to say:

There’s beauty everywhere. Keep your eyes open, and keep your
mind open, and you’ll be amazed what’s out there, right under your
nose, just waiting to be discovered. You don’t need to go to the Best This
or the Most Spectacular That; just take a stroll around the neighborhood. I
blindly followed directions from Google on my walk, making no effort to see
anything special, and look at everything I found that I thought needed to be
shared with the world!


I couldn’t agree more.

More than once, I’ve had an experience where I’m in an obscure, out-of-the-way place, or even a completely normal, non-descript place, and suddenly realize how beautiful it is. “No tourist would ever make it a goal to reach this spot,” I’ve thought. “Yet here I stand… so lucky to be here.”

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled vacation…

to bring you a short side trip you can really write home about.

So what if you do undertake a big destination vacation?  First of all, lucky you!  But perhaps you’re looking for a really unique experience?  A good story to tell once you’re back home?  Ah, then a tiny trip-within-a-trip is something to explore.

For instance, I recently went to Las Vegas with my Dad (he loves the West, and so we flew in from opposite directions and met there).  Whenever someone tells me they’ve visited Vegas, I think I know how that story goes – lots of drinking, gambling, and the requisite “crazy” story.  Well, on my Vegas trip, I went horseback riding with cowboys in the desert.  Probably sounds like some kind of ordeal, right? Lots of planning, equipment, riding skills, extra travel, etc. 

Nope.  None of that.  I called Cowboy Trail Rides from my Vegas hotel the day before and made a reservation.  We both showed up the next day in street clothes.  Took a short, straight-shot drive 20 minutes out of Vegas (into incredibly beautiful country).  Were plopped on horses and away we went.  We didn’t even need to bring water bottles on the ride – one cowboy waved his hands in a “pshaw” way when we asked about this. 

For 2 hours, our gentle horses carried us up a rocky, sometimes steep trail past pretty little flowers and cacti.   One of the cowboys explained that these cacti might be dug up for big money if this land was not federally protected.  My horse veered off the trail to munch some tasty plants, and I got a gentle “get her back on, honey.” 

The cowboys stopped at the top, and we took in the surrounding mountains.   It was quiet, and the sky was cloudless and blue.   I petted my horse’s mane gingerly as we hung out for a bit.   “Do you ever get tired of looking at all this?” Dad asked the younger cowboy.  “Nope” was all he said.

Red Rock Canyon and Dad, (c) 2010 J. Eby

Red Rock Canyon and Dad, 2010

The thing is, most people don’t realize how beautiful it is outside of Vegas.  Look out the plane window next time you fly over.  If you see a ring of rusty mountains, that’s Red Rock Canyon.  It’s such a short drive outside of Vegas.  Not only can you take horseback riding trips of varying lengths (we did the 2 hour ride), you can also take a scenic 15-mile loop drive through Red Rock Canyon.  You can also get out of your car and go on a short walk or a longer dayhike – we choose to do all of these things.  (Definitely prepare for desert hiking if you’ll be doing a longer day trip – carrying the right amount of water is vital).

Each evening when we returned to Vegas, I wondered what my housekeeper thought of my room.  She was probably used to seeing sparkly dresses and heels skewn about hotel room floors, not dusty boots and trail mix.  

With pretty minimal effort, we took the tired old Vegas experience and turned it into a special trip my Dad says he’ll “always remember.”

Red Rock Canyon, Dad and me (c) 2010 J. Eby

Dad and me around Red Rock Canyon, 2010

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Just Walkin’

I just came across the blog of someone who is currently walking across the US.  Right now, after 5 months, he’s somewhere in Montana.  I’m impressed with how simple his mission is (his blog is titled “I’m Just Walkin,” and he really is just doing that).  From his “Why I’m Doing It” page:

I’m very drawn to the simplicity of this whole pursuit. Each day I’ll wake up, pack all my possessions back in my cart, and walk a little farther. That’s it. That’s the extent of my world. I’m just walkin’. I think everyone dreams about such a simple existence from time to time, when the worries and pressures of modern life start to accumulate.

No doubt.

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Walk into the past

Ghost town.  What comes to mind when you see those words?  Perhaps a Wild West scene of tumbleweed and broken buildings?  Some kind of place far from where you live, in any case.

Right?  Maybe not!  It’s true that the best-known ghost towns are in places like Arizona and Nevada, but ghost towns and ghost sites can be found in all 50 states of the US.  Some states have just a few, but there are some surprises (Michigan has close to 90!) 

Here in Washington State, there are close to 100 known ghost sites.  This includes semi-ghost towns (which are still sparsely inhabited), ghost towns that are no longer accessible, and places where just a few remains are visible.

For my first ghost town experience, I started small and choose a location close to home.  Red Town (also known as Newcastle-Red Town or Coal Creek) is a short 15 minute drive from Seattle, about 5 miles off an I-90 exit.  The Red Town ruins are now part of Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, so there is a trailhead and a maintained trail into the area. 

The short trail takes you through a quiet forested area.  On the day my friend Frank and I went, we saw very few other people, which was welcome.  Though we were close to cilivization, and chose a very easy foray into the world of ghost town adventuring, we still wanted a sense adventure and exploration.   Some Scooby-Doo moments, if you will.

We walked for awhile, enjoying the green and quiet, and then came across an old coal mine entrance.  It is well fenced-off, complete with a “danger” sign to dispel any ideas of further exploration.  Staring at the dark mouth, I imagined workers trudging in and out, dusty and dirty, surrounded by all the industry of a booming mining town.   Could they have ever imagined this bustling place would eventually be emtombed in a silent forest? 

After checking out the mining ruins, we wandered a bit more, and found a little trail forking away.  Curious, we started down the path.  It grew narrower and narrower.  Branches closed in, and brushed our faces.  Frank frowned, thinking that we were not supposed to be on this trail.  Would we get lost?  Fall into a sink hole (which can develop in this area due to the old mines underfoot)?  Would a ghostly arm reach out and…

Oh!  We suddenly stumbled into a clearing and saw… houses?  A suburbian sub division, to be exact.  I stared at a bright red and yellow toy slide, feeling ridiculous.  Apparantly the Red Town site sits on the very borders of the park, meaning we had wandered into suburbia.  Snickering at ourselves, we turned around and headed back to the car.

In a way, ghost town adventuring and related things like urban exploration are really about adults playing like kids.  What will we see?  What will we find? 

Ghost towns are not only found in the US and Canada, but all across the world.  Maybe there is one close to you?  If so, a unique day trip awaits you.


ghosttowns.com –  a wonderful resource detailing US and Canadian ghost towns.  This is the site I used to locate sites close to Seattle.  “Whether a true ghost that only a hard core off road enthusiast can get to, or a semi-ghost anyone can bring the family to, they all deserve reference on this site.”

20 Abandoned Cities From Around the World by Steph at WebUrbanist – a sampling of ghost towns across the globe.

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Tiny travels – travel for everyone

I think more people should travel.  This is basically the essence of this blog – who travels, why, and why don’t others?  Often, I think money, time, and fear block paths for many of us.  We are stuck in our own little realms – workcommutehomebed, schoolhomehomeworkbed, houseworkerrandsbed, etc.  Travel becomes this big Thing, something we have to plan for and save for, something out of the ordinary and rare.   “Not this year,” we think.  “Maybe next year.”   

If we do decide to plan a big Trip, it can become an ordeal.  Vacation dates must be haggled with employers, 10 different airfare sites must be consulted and re-consulted, complex Excel spreadsheets must be created to hold all the data (er, maybe that’s just me).   You finally arrive at your destination, attempting to relax within a short period of time, while knowing that your life taps its foot at the other end, waiting.  Or, you attempt to cram in as much culture and entertainment as possible, trying to get your money’s worth and feel like you’ve accomplished something (A+ for acing the vacation!)

It’s been 14 years since I’ve left North America.  I’m no travel expert.  I have no exotic stories about jail time served in foreign countries.  I’ve never had a spiritual moment in a yurt or climbed a mountain despite all odds.   I’m just a normal person in the world, maybe like you.

Maybe I will never get back to Europe (though I hope that’s not the case!)  I don’t think such a big Trip has to be the only travel available to me.  Or to anyone.

Now, tiny travel.  That is something we might all be able to do.  It is something that I think can enliven our lives, refresh our outlooks, and bring us out of daily ruts.   What is tiny travel? 

Tiny travel is choosing to visit a place close to you.   It’s that simple.   Perhaps it’s a park 15 minutes away that you’ve never visited.   Maybe it’s a drive to another city.  Most people never fully explore the cities, towns, and countrysides in which they live.  There is beauty, history, mystery, fun, and insight all around, all waiting for you.  The cost and time commitment can be very low. 

I hope tiny travels can enter the lives of those who are not used to travelling for whatever reason.

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