We signed our fourth grader up for his free National Park Pass as soon as he was eligible, and we’ve already put it to use! Last weekend we headed to Mt. Rainier for a hike up Dege Peak.
The trip almost didn’t happen though. There was a lot of smoke in the area from wildfires burning east of the Cascades, but based on the webcams at Rainier and Crystal, I thought we’d be mostly above the smoke. Then there was the wind. I was not expecting it to be so windy down there, but when we hit Enumclaw, we were greeted by ~30mph winds. And finally, anytime I visit Rainier on a weekend, I wonder what the crowds will be like. We hit the tool booth on the way up to Sunrise at 9:21 and only waited 7 minutes to get through.
As I had hoped, the smoke was thinning as we pulled into a parking spot at the visitor center. We hit the bathrooms, applied sunscreen (which was very eager to come out of the bottle with the elevation pressure change!), and set out on the hike to Dege Peak.
The trail itself isn’t anything to write home about. There’s a bit of elevation gain at the beginning and the end, but otherwise it’s a straight dusty trail along a ridge. The incredible views are what make it a winner. Heading to the peak, Rainier is at your back, but there are still magnificent views to both sides, and it would have been even better without the smoke. Coming back, Rainier is always in your face. I had to consciously pay attention to the trail because walking while staring at the mountain is a combo built for tripping.
We didn’t stay on the peak very long because the wind was so intense. Elijah was nervous he was going to get blown off, and while that’s an exaggeration, we were all holding onto our hats, and we had our snack somewhere else. There’s not a lot of room up there, but the high winds kept people from loitering too long and we got our fill of the unobstructed view.
There are so many other hikes that I’d love to do down at Rainier. It’s a wonderful gift to have that national park within a two-hour drive of our house!
If you have a fourth grader, they are entitled to a one-year free national park pass which is an $80 value. (“Free” as in pre-paid with your federal taxes whether you use it or now.) Head over to https://everykidoutdoors.gov and fill out a quick form with them. You’ll print off a pass that you can use for free entry not just for the kid but for everyone in the car. There are of course some limits on the number of people it covers, etc but for our family, it will cover pretty much all situations that we’ll encounter. These passes are valid every year from Sept 1 through Aug 31 so now is the time to jump on this if you have a fourth grader in the house or set a reminder on your calendar if you have a younger child.
Leading up to our 40th birthdays, we decided to do something a little bigger than we normally do. Mine happened in 2020 right after COVID hit so my list of ideas got wiped out, but I’m happy with my lifetime membership to an area taproom. Tyla’s birthday was this year, so she had a few more options and ended up deciding on a few nights at Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, OR.
I feel like you never really know what you’re getting with these kinds of places. How much do you get to interact with the animals? How much freedom do you have to roam? Are the people that work there nice or just busy to move on to their next task? We hit the jackpot with this place.
There are two rental houses on the property. One is a giant farmhouse (over 4000 square feet) built in the 1895 that sleeps 14. We rented the newer, smaller cottage that sleeps 6, and we were happy to see that it had recently been outfitted with a mini-split so we had air conditioning during the 90-degree days. As a bonus for us, the farmhouse reservation was canceled so we had the whole property to ourselves!
Greg and Scottie are the owners but Greg was busy with projects and Scottie was away, so we spent the whole time with farm manager Denny, and we also got to chat a bit with his wife Kate. Denny and Kate were both wonderful, and I marveled at Denny’s patience for answering our endless questions.
Denny met us at the house when we pulled up. It was around 5pm so we headed out on a tour and started our first round of “chores”. When they say chores, what they really mean is letting us participate in the best parts of the farm. Every morning at 9 and every evening at 5, we’d meet up with Denny and either let all the animals out of the barn or collect them back in the barn. We’d get hay down from the loft, feed them all, etc. We helped muck the stalls too. Denny also showed us how he moves irrigation around the farm, how to prime the pump from the natural spring after the power goes out for a while, and how to run the pump from the creek on the property.
When we weren’t with Denny, we had free reign of the property to hang out with the chickens, turkey, peacock, sheep, goats, cats, donkey, and horse. Tyla loved roaming the property to find Chip (donkey) and Tater (horse). It’s good that all the animals were so friendly because Tyla spent a lot of time petting them all. We all enjoyed hanging out by the creek and walking on the trails too. Elijah loved having free roam of the property and once he knew the rules, we cut him loose to explore on his own.
It was a tough week on the farm, and we tried to stay out of the way while Denny dealt with some animal issues, but we also appreciated him sharing his thought process on how to handle the various situations. I heard someone say that “interested people are interesting” and I loved hearing Denny talk about the farm. He clearly loves it, knows a lot, and enjoys the continued learning process.
Most of the time when we go on vacation, Tyla and Elijah both ask, “Can we come back here sometime?” That happened here too, but there were more tears shed than normal when we left this place, and Tyla is already trying to book a return visit.
Thank you to Denny, Kate, and the whole crew at Leaping Lamb farm for a vacation that we won’t forget!
Last year Elijah said he wanted to go camping without anyone else around. We didn’t get to it last year, but this year we set out to make it happen! Tim knew just the place: San Juan Campground. It’s out the boonies north of Skykomish, and because of a washout on one end of the road, it involves about fifteen miles of dirt roads that are rough in some spots. While you don’t need a truck and four wheel drive, both did come in handy.
There are no reservations at the campground so we arrived around lunchtime on Friday and had our pick of the nine spots. We snagged sites 2 and 3 which had their own driveway and one of the pit toilets. By Thursday evening, all the sites were full. I suppose we didn’t meet Elijah’s wish because we could see some other campers through the woods, especially at night with the fires, but he didn’t call us out on the technicality.
The days were spent playing cornhole, eating food, having good conversations, and enjoying the river which was right next to the campsites. We built dams, threw rocks, and enjoyed the beauty. It was a fantastic spot! We had to pack in all our own water, but we were able to use the river water for our dishes.
On the way out of the campsites, we checked out a nice swimming spot on the river but we didn’t venture in. Then we did a quick hike around Troublesome Creek. It was such a short/easy hike at the end of a very long drive that we would never have done it on its own, so I wanted to get it done and cross it off the list. It was short but beautiful.
The drive home took an exceptionally long time due to the ever-present backup into Sultan. It was effectively about a 7 mile stop and go backup from the Sultan stoplight. That’s a hard way to finish the weekend, but the camping was so fun that there wasn’t much complaining.
It will be different next year since they are planning to reopen the washed-out portion of the road. That will make the campground much easier to access and it won’t require any dirt roads. It might be harder to find a site so I’m glad we got this trip in!
I posted a photo sphere to Google Maps and some additional photos are included below.
In the summer of 2020, we had planned to camp with Tyla’s family at Seaquest State Park. Don had gotten stuck out of state during COVID and was still quarantining, but we did make the trip with Logan and Megan. This year we decided to try again and thankfully we were all able to make it.
We could not have asked for better weather! It was in the mid 70s during the day and mid 50s at night. There were scattered clouds both days, and on the first day, there were just enough clouds obscuring the mountain that we didn’t make the drive up to the visitor center. (We were watching the webcam.) Instead, we went to Harry Gardner Park and sat along the river for a while. I took my drone and managed to photo some kind of big hawk in flight! (It’s on the left side if the river in the center of the photo.) At the time I thought it was a bald eagle but the tail isn’t white so I guess it was something else.
On Saturday, the web cam looked great when we woke up so we ate breakfast and made the 1 hour drive up to the observatory. Getting there early was really nice as we didn’t follow a line of campers up the mountain. There were more clouds by then but we still had a great view. I’ve been there twice in 2007 and once each in 2011, 2012 (when we climbed it!), and 2020. It’s fun to see how much it has changed over the years. The dome was rebuilding for a while and the area around the mountain is slowly coming back to life. Check out these pictures comparing my view from 2007 with the view from 2022. There’s a lot more green and the dome inside the crater has grown.
All in all, it was a fun trip. I pitched in a couple meals but thanks to Don for taking the bulk of the work! It also makes tent camping a lot easier when your camping buddies have a camper!
We held out for about two years but our whole family finally caught COVID. We suspect that Elijah caught it at school and then, since we weren’t willing to lock him in his room at home for a few days, Tyla and I caught it too. We’ve taken so many at-home COVID tests over the months since they came out that it was odd to finally see positive tests.
We’re in a weird situation now: COVID is still a leading cause of death in the United States, but it feels like we’ve lost track of it. Self-testing is great, but there doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on self-reporting a positive test. That makes it difficult to assess the risk level of going out. Hospitalization and death rates in our county have been increasing and that risk measure should be consistent, but what about all the other effects of COVID? How do I measure those risks if I don’t know how many people are currently infected?
There’s also a myth that getting COVID gives you super-immunity. Research shows that the vaccine gives you better immunity than catching COVID. Both wear off over time, and the combination of both is still the best, but this is an example of some basic information that we’re failing to spread in the community.
This won’t be the last time we catch it, but hopefully with our natural immunity, upcoming booster shots, masking in stores, and avoiding big crowds, we’ll be able to avoid it for quite a while. This isn’t something any of us are eager to go through again.
Do you remember the big thing that happened in March 2020? It was HORRIBLE. Our vacation got canceled! (Also, there was a global pandemic.) We had a trip to Hawaii planned and up until a day or two before we left, we didn’t know if we were going or not. The world decided for us and air travel was pretty much shut down. Our flights were canceled and eventually they decided to give us credit for them. Those credits were set to expire this spring so before Christmas, we somewhat randomly pointed to a calendar and rebooked figuring that either we’d cancel again and just forfeit our credits or things would get better and we’d go. Instead of the hotel/resort we had planned before, we booked a condo instead so that we could comfortably eat indoors even if COVID was raging. Days after we booked, Omicron hit but luckily for us, it peaked and by the time our trip rolled around, vaccinations were going well and states were rolling back mask mandates. We were able to take our trip during a very low risk time period just before the mask mandates ended and before the Safe Hawaii (vaccination or testing required) program ended. It was pretty much perfect timing! Ok, I think that’s enough COVID backstory, let’s get to the vacation!
Our direct flight landed on Oahu on Thursday afternoon. The day had started around 4am so Tyla and I were ready to find some food and crash in the condo, but Elijah didn’t want to just SEE the beach, he wanted to swim! So we dug out his swimsuit and he got his first taste of swimming in the ocean, or at least in a sunny, warm ocean.
I won’t give a day by day recap, but each day involved some combination of swimming at the ocean and swimming in the condo pool. The condo was about a block off the ocean so it was a good mix of price and convenience. It came stocked with a beach umbrella, beach chairs, sand toys, boogie boards, and lots of other beach goodies.
We purposely picked this condo because of its location so that we wouldn’t need to rent a car, but a couple weeks before we left, I found a great deal through work. The condo came with a free parking spot (amazing!) so we pivoted and rented the car. That gave us a little extra mobility which helped immediately on our first night because I was able to go to Safeway and stock up on breakfast, lunch, and snack foods. For dinner, we tried various food trucks (Munchwagon and Five Star Poke were our favorites) as well as takeout from some restaurants.
Our condo had a good view of Diamond Head Crater and we since we were still on Seattle time, we decided to get there right around sunrise (6:30am) and hike up before it got hot. Silly us. The lot opens at 6:00am and the lot fills up at 6:00am. The lot attendant suggested that we come back around 7:30-8:00 when the first batch of hikers come back down, so we drove around randomly until then. We randomly ended up at Kawaikui Beach Park and walked down to the beach just as the sun was peaking over a hill! The parking lot had quite a few cars but most of them must have been surfers because there were only a handful of people along the beach.
It was a beautiful quiet spot to hang out until we headed back to Diamond Head. Thankfully the tip was correct and we got a spot. The hike up wasn’t too bad physically, but it was packed. I know I say some trails around here are busy but this was solid people the whole way. We didn’t linger long at the top viewpoints because it was just a mass of hot, sweaty people. But despite all that, we were all glad that we did it and Elijah was really proud of himself for making it to the top. When we got back down, we hit the obligatory treat truck to get a fresh fruit bowl served in half a pineapple and a shaved ice. On our way back, we drove around a bit looking for some place to buy fresh, local fruit. We ended up at Whole Foods which had a decent selection, but you have to be careful to actually find stuff grown in Hawaii and not imported from Mexico or South America.
Another day, we walked over to the Honolulu Zoo. It’s not huge, but it was just about the perfect size. As we finished seeing most of the exhibits, we were all ready to get out of the sun for a bit. The animals were fun to see and Elijah learned about a new species of penguin, but my favorite part might have been the amazing trees!
Other activities included a visit to Leonard’s bakery, boogie boarding in some waves, finding our annual ornament at the Waikiki Christmas Store, geocaching, a second trip to Kawaikui Beach Park, and checking out the Koi pond in the lobby. Our condo was on the 29th floor and our balcony had a nice view of the sunset. I suspect that in a couple weeks, the sunset view would be blocked behind another building, but the timing worked out well for us.
We had four complete days there with a travel day on each end. On our final day, we got packed up and had an extra hour or so to kill so we drove to Pearl Harbor Nation Memorial. It has free parking and free entry. Thankfully we got lucky and found a parking spot so we were able to walk around the grounds. The boat ride to the Arizona is free too but you have to book weeks in advance. I knew that going in and our plan was to just see the area but skip all the various museums and things that required tickets and entry fees. While I’d love to spend more time exploring the museums, I’m very thankful that we got to stop there so I can have a memory of that area. The historical accounts feel even more real when you can remember standing in the spot.
Our flights both ways were smooth and uneventful. We were tired when we got home but we were so thankful to have had the opportunity to take the trip and to get there and back safely and in good health. Aloha!
We took our own family photos again this year and we used that for the front of the card. On the back, I realized that we can fill it with pictures so it was fun to dig through all of those and pic some for a collage. Merry Christmas!
Every year since Tyla and I started dating, we’ve gotten a new ornament as a memory of the year gone by. It has been admittedly more difficult to keep that going the last couple years what with the pandemic and all, but we’re still chugging along. This year we picked up an ornament when we went whale watching.
Today is an exciting day for our family: Elijah is getting his first vaccine shot! We got on the list pretty quickly after it was announced but the wait times were a couple weeks everywhere I called. So three weeks from now he’ll get his second shot. Two weeks from then he’ll be fully vaccinated, and that will be the best (late) Christmas present for our whole family.
On a broader scale, it’s been over five months since my last post and the whole situation has gotten more and more frustrating. Now we’re in an argument about whether or not you can force someone to get a shot. Why is this even an argument? How did we get to a point where people are fighting against helping themselves and everyone around them by getting the shot? I pray that we quickly get to the point where science will outweigh politics, but I think we’re in for a very long haul and we might not have seen the worst of it yet both in terms of infections/deaths and in the economy.
So… woosah… I’m thankful that Elijah is able to get the vaccine now. Thank you to all the doctors, scientists, researchers, manufacturers, and government agencies that have joined forces around the globe to give us this life-saving option. Soon my family will be able to reassess the risks and figure out what things we can do that we weren’t doing before. We’ll be able to do that with much less risk of getting COVID ourselves or spreading it to the vulnerable population that we encounter.
P.S. Here are a few links I’ve found helpful lately: