Spent a leisurely morning exploring a few of the wonderful State Parks and scenic reservoirs near St. George, UT.
What’s great about the reservoirs in Utah, is not only are they breathtakingly beautiful, but you’re also allowed to boat, fish, and swim in them.
The 66-acre Gunlock reservoir, as you can see from the picture above is overflowing with scenic beauty. (Pun intended.) We heard that the falls haven’t flowed in about seven years so we got a special treat-they’re quite spectacular as you can see. Unfortunately, people have died cliff jumping here so immerse yourself in the beauty wisely. The park is approximately 15 miles northwest of St. George and the dam was constructed in 1970 for irrigation water and flood control.
Meanwhile, back in Ivins, enjoying a coffee (not as hard to find in Mormon country as you might think) and a stroll around the reservoir. Ivins is a “bedroom community” of St. George that features its own little reservoir and the dazzling artist’s and retirees’ enclave of Kayenta. They have a coffee shop / restaurant, lovely gardens, galleries, and a theater there. Imaging waking up to this view every morning. In the other direction, a snow capped mountain range. Absolutely gorgeous!
Cruising the 21.8 mile Lakeview trail around Diamond Valley reservoir on mountain bike during the wildflower super bloom last weekend was a delight. It’s a flat, family-friendly fire-road with lake and snow -capped mountain views that don’t disappoint. Yes, this was seeing it dressed in its wildflower season best. And no, you probably won’t want to do it in the blazing heat of the summer as it’s all exposed. But it’s just right, right now – for running, hiking, biking, boating, and fishing. (It’s stocked with rainbow trout, large mouth bass, striped bass, bluegill, small mouth bass – catch and release only though.)
How many places can you take a scenic, peaceful 21 mile bike ride and have it virtually all to yourself on a weekend? Ok, Catalina, but where else? (Granted the little wildflower hike was much busier, but less by the time I was done with my mountain bike ride.)
Here’s your wildflower sampling: Poppies, Arroyo Lupine, California Goldfields, Brittlebush, Owl’s Clover, Canterbury Bells, Chia, Baby Blue Eyes, and more!
Did I mention to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes?
[Rattlesnake video courtesy of Ken Wells.]
Fee: $10 per car, $3 per person for trail entry – worth it.
The entrance to Diamond Valley Lake is off of Domenigoni Parkway, which connects with Highway 79 on the west side of the lake and State Street on the east. You can take State Street south from Highway 74 in Hemet.
So glad I made the drive, not 1ce, but twice for this epic poppy bloom. How many times in our lifetimes does nature serve up such a spectacular treat? (Yes, I’ve experienced super blooms before, a couple years ago in Anza Borrego and way back when in Gorman, CA, but for me their magnificence never gets old.) You’ll have to pardon the abundance of pictures, I can’t help myself!
BTW, Walker Canyon is a 3.5 mile fire road out & back route in the Temescal Mountains. There’s a gradual incline, it’s perfect for trail running. The Temescal Creek flows through the bottom of the canyon. If you look closely you can see it from the trail and if you’re lucky, you might here it’s lovely musical melody too.
The downside of the super bloom? Too many humans, of course. Way, way too many humans and cars. They’re calling the Poppy Apocalypse and Flower Armageddon. But I am happy to see people getting outside and enjoying nature. (Not happy to see people trampling it though.)
Day 2 – Spent my St. Patrick’s Day morning immersed in a flower rainbow
To add to the amazing spectacle, there’s a painted lady butterfly migration going on right now too!
As always, happy trails to you. Let me know which pics you like better – day 1 or 2?
Getting there: Lake Street off the 15 freeway, Lake Elsinore
Driving over the crest of a hill, I caught my first glimpse of downtown Port Angeles, the shimmering water and port in the distance. My first impressions? Wow! Clean, wide roads, nice sidewalks, historic buildings, art installations everywhere you look and great views. From what I’d heard from the Port Townsend and Sequim “ambassadors”, I expected to see a smaller version of skid row—homeless people and druggies panhandling on every corner, litter in the streets and on the sidewalks, dilapidated buildings and overt grime, crime and grit. Not so—quite the opposite. In many ways, Port Angeles has more character, art and scenic appeal than either Port Townsend or Sequim. And my taste tests attest to the fact that Port A has much better restaurants too.
Over the course of my PNW adventure, I spent a total of 3 nights in Port Angeles and thoroughly explored the town and its neighborhoods. Yes, eventually, I saw some homeless people. I have no doubt there are “issues”, but every community has issues and more and more have issues of this type. (For the record, Sequim is not immune – recall the panhandler at the Village Marketplace. No doubt they would say he was just on his way to Port Angeles.)
My first stop, and an easy one as its right on the main drag as you come into town, was Sound Bikes & Kayaks, 120 E. Front Street. My last chance for mountain bike rentals before I headed up the coast. I was so relieved when I opened the door and saw plenty of quality mountain bikes to rent. (And they even have an in-store rock climbing wall there too.) The friendly team at Sound Bikes & kayaks gave me the local scoop on the top mountain bike rides and hikes in the area. I shared my encounters with the Port Angeles and Sequim gloom and doomers and they just shrugged their shoulders. (Tourist dollars are hard to come by, especially in the off-season, perhaps that was what it was all about.)
Lodging was easy to find, I just walked across the street and rented a room in the historic Downtown Hotel. Now it was time to grab a bite with a view at Downriggers at the Landing and plan my active adventures.
Its close proximity to Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge / Olympic National Park and its gateway position to adventures farther afield made Port Angeles a great basecamp for my PNW explorations coming and going. Here’s my sampler for ya:
Built in 1916 and renovated in 2003 after a fire, the Downtown Hotel has lots of character. This place made me nostalgic for the old hotel from my childhood. (My family was in the hotel and restaurant business in New Hampshire.) The Downtown Hotel is historic, quaint and clean—and full of old-school charm. You can choose from kitchenette suites, apartment suites, private baths or “European style with a shared hallway bathroom. I picked a suite with a view of the harbor. The bed was a bit small for a queen and the wifi was a bit spotty in the room so I had to take my work conference call in the lobby. Other than that, I loved it. The reading material in the lobby was great. They subscribe to the New Yorker, one of my favorite magazines – another feather to put in the artsy / cultural hat of Port Angeles. It’s a cool, centrally located spot within the heart of Port Angeles. I would stay here again and consider it for a long-term stay. The general manager, Tim, is a bit of a vintage bike nut. If you are too, you might ask him to show you his extensive collection. Notes: no pets allowed and no wheelchair access. The entrance staircase leads from street level to the lobby and rooms are on the second and third floors.
Treat yourself to a great night’s sleep and a spectacular sunrise with a water view room. Extremely comfy bed with a room large enough for a happy dance. (I think it was an ADA room, not sure if they are all like that or If I just got lucky.)
Clean, comfy, convenient and budget friendly. This place has been renovated recently and is downright decent. Wifi and free breakfast are included. Be sure to pay your respects to the resident feline, Douglas. Drop into the locals’ bar, Joshua’s Restaurant and Lounge, next door for a quick bite or nightcap if you’re so inclined. This is where I got the insider tip from locals Kristin and Chef Matt Colony to visit them at First Street Haven for breakfast (see review below).
The Landing mall and the restaurant Downriggers is right on the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It features spectacular water, city and Olympic Mountain views and and is home to galleries, restaurants, offices, a co-working space, a rowing club and more. I ate a salmon salad at Downriggers my first night. Perhaps not as good as the view, but as good or better than Sirens in Port Townsend. Not that it’s a contest or anything, but if you read my previous post, you’ll understand why I’m making all the comparisons.
The line out the door is a good indication that this is the “go to” spot in Port Angeles for great grub. In general, I avoid meat. Once I caught sight of the burgers here, I caved. Delicious! For those with stronger willpower than mine, there are delectable vegetarian options as well. Whether you’re a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore, you can’t go wrong here. The outdoor seating is limited, but always my happy preference so I’m glad they have some.
Had some drinks and great conversation with the chef and a waitress from First Street Haven at Joshua’s Restaurant and Lounge the night before. The chef was from Oceanside, CA – small world. (My home base is next door to Oside, Carlsbad.) They said their establishment had the best breakfast in town. After sampling it, I’m inclined to believe them. Crazy delish cinnamon rolls, banging eggs Benedict, and so on…We even scored some local mushrooms. (No, not that kind, come on now!) Excellent cuisine (Chef Matt Colony) and service (Kristin). They are at the top of my list for a return trip.
BADA NW is gooda 118 W 1st St, Port Angeles, WA 98362
This is one of the coolest coffee shops with a great PNW vibe. It’s up there with Woody’s in Hakone, Japan for great atmosphere and quality coffee. They serve food and beer and wine too. (As did Woody’s, coincidentally.) Bold, Ambitious, Dedicated and Authentic (BADA) is gooda.
So Port Angeles, you won me over, 3 days – not only did you not disappoint, you exceeded all expectations. All the locals here I talked to were super friendly and helpful.
Stay tuned for my active adventures in the epic PNW, including Hurricane Ridge, and points beyond.
I’ve been wanting to return to and explore Washington State again ever since I spent a whirlwind week there on the back of boyfriend’s motorcycle nearly two decades ago. I recall that it rained nearly every day and was quite chilly, but somehow that didn’t dampen my spirits or my impression of the area. My boyfriend, a New Zealander, was quite fond of Washington because it reminded him of home—pristine, fresh and relatively underpopulated. Certainly, it was worlds away from the congestion, crowds and plastic vanity of Orange County, California where we both lived at the time. (Not that there aren’t gorgeous natural areas to enjoy in OC.)
I’ve been in Southern California for half my life and San Diego for nearly a decade. Yes, I live in one of the most beautiful, desirable areas in the country, (some would say, in the world), but that’s just the problem. Everyone is here and more are on their way. Don’t get me wrong, Cali-life has been very good to me. And it’s true, you can’t beat the weather, unless you go to Hawaii. I do love my warm, sunshiny days, but I also love mountains and time away from “civilization”. To feed my need for total nature immersion, I have to drive 8 hours to the Eastern Sierras—far too far for me. I’m craving a simpler life, closer to the nature, farther from the crowds, strip malls, traffic—you get the idea. If I could move to New Zealand, I’d do it in a minute, but unfortunately, that ship has sailed. While I’m going to pack my usual active adventures (hiking, biking) into this trip, it’s also a scouting mission for me. (As was my Prescott, AZ, trip. The trouble with these areas, a gallery owner in Prescott told me, is that too many Californians are moving into them, buying everything up, inflating housing values and creating traffic. She was a transplant from California to Prescott herself and she maintains that it has changed so much in ten years that she’s thinking of moving, but where to next?)
Where to next, indeed – that’s the conundrum. We can’t seem to escape ourselves, can we? In any case, I’m ready to escape, if only for a week or so.
First by plane, then by Bainbridge Ferry to the first stop on my PNW tour, Port Townsend.
In Search of the Rain Shadow
Another reason, I’m targeting the Port Townsend, Sequim and Port Angeles areas is because of the rain shadow phenomenon known as the orographic effect. Basically, as air is forced up the SW slopes of the Olympic mountains it condenses and vaporizes, resulting in copious amounts of rain. As the air descends the other side of the mountain, it warms and evaporates, yielding dryer and sunnier climates than anywhere else in Washington State. Read more about this phenomenon and get the average rainfall of various PNW towns here.
Revisiting Port Townsend—somewhat disappointing
This little “artsy’ town has a certain rugged coastal charm, but I must admit that I didn’t find it quite as charming the second-time around. Famished from a long travel day, it was difficult to find an open restaurant at 7PM on a Monday. I walked in and ran out of a Mexican restaurant that had a terrible smell, filthy carpeting and grimy walls and counters. (Tip: Avoid Fiesta.) Settled on Sirens, a bar and restaurant with a great view from its outdoor deck. I’d been here many years ago. My salmon sandwich (just average) was delivered by a surly waitress who was obviously annoyed at the prospect of serving customers. The only other restaurant that was open other than fast food was a Thai restaurant. Next time, I’ll give it a try – heard good things about it. Lodging at the Port Townsend Inn was a disappointment as well. I went with “budget” because I got in late and wanted to walk to town. Rooms were dated and dingy. The mattress was lumpy and sagging. Camping would have been preferable. The indoor pool and jacuzzi looked decent and might be a draw for some. Many moons ago, I enjoyed a stay at the Swan Inn. and I see they’re still getting good reviews.
After a poor night’s sleep, I went for a morning stroll and had a cup of Joe at Living Better Through Coffee, where I enjoyed spectacular views of the Puget Sound. Things were looking up.
Next, I stopped into PT Cyclery to check into the bike rentals and decide if I wanted to cycle a portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) starting in Port T or continue driving through Sequim and Port Angeles. If you’re into vintage bikes, this is the shop for you. If you want to rent a bike – road or mtb, this isn’t the shop – very poor selection. After discussing various options, the gearhead at the counter asked where I was going next. I mentioned Port Angeles. He immediately started bad mouthing it. “Why go there? It’s a dump.” He relayed a story about how he stayed in hotel there and put his chair up against the room’s door handle for extra safety at night. Wow, that bad, really? (Yikes, I’m thinking.)
Fort Worden Historical State Park
Fun Fact: Officer and a Gentleman was filmed here.
I made a brief stop at Fort Worden Historical State Park, a former military base on the Puget Sound shoreline that offers hiking, 2 miles of beachcombing, a lighthouse, a conference center, camping and house rentals. There’s also a marine discovery center (limited off-season hours – was closed when I visited) and WWI-era bunkers to explore. I took in the coastal views and foraged for wild raspberries, before continuing on to Sequim.
I stopped in the Chamber of Commerce / Visitor Center first and spoke with the older clerk there. She asked what my plans were. Again, the minute I mentioned Port Angeles, she began to bad mouth it, suggested that I skip it. “What’s so bad?” I asked. She replied, “It’s the drugs and the homeless.” Yes, I’m getting that message loud and clear. After listening to her brag about the safety and desirability of Sequim, I headed over to Ben’s Bike Shop to check out their bike rentals. When I pulled into the Sequim Village Marketplace, a strip mall that could be anywhere in the US, I noticed a homeless person panhandling at the entrance. (Hmm, seems the problem is not limited to Port Angeles.) Since it was off season, the clerk at Ben’s Bike told me that they’d sold all their rental bikes and had none to rent. Interesting policy. Second strike out for bike rentals.
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
The day was slipping by and I hadn’t had my nature fix yet. Luckily, the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge was on my way to Port Angeles. Extending five miles into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, the Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the US. Its various habitats are home to 244 bird species, 18 types of land mammals, and 11 marine mammal species. Lots of opportunities to stretch the legs, take in some fresh air and perhaps get a glimpse of some wildlife. While I’d been here on my previous PNW tour (saw deer frolicking on the shore), it was worth revisiting. I have yet to make the 10-mile round trip trek to the Dungeness Lighthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. If you love this spot, you can apply to be the resident light house keeper for a week . How cool is that? May have to consider that for another trip. If you’re just visiting for the day, you’ll need $3 per car for the entrance fee.
Back in the car, I braced myself for the squalor of “frightful” Port Angeles. Given my early conversations in Port Townsend and Sequim, my expectations were now rock bottom. I’d heard that Port Angles was a diamond in the rough – had no idea just how rough. I’d read about the drug abuse, associated crime and a growing homeless population and its lackluster reputation. (It didn’t make my previous tour, but it was high on my list for this one.) The draw, of course, is the incredible natural beauty that surrounds the town – this area is pure Pacific Northwest Wonderland as they say. It is the gateway to Hurricane Ridge and Olympic National Park, the Elwha River, Lake Crescent, Lake Quinault, rain forests, and a plethora of PNW adventures. Road cyclists may be familiar with the annual Hurricane bike ride in late August inside Olympic National Park, One of the most scenic bikes rides in the country, this 18.6-mile bike ride has over 5,000-feet of elevation gain at an average grade of 5 percent and is not is not for those faint of heart or knee (me – though I might be tempted to give it go one day. The descent scares me more). At the base of the Olympic Mountains and on the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Port Angeles offers breathtaking views out to Victoria Island, Canada (a 90 minute ferry ride away) and flip-side views of the Olympic mountain range. With a population of about 20k, Port Angeles was hit hard by the recession and its economy continues to struggle. The timber industry was its original focus and it’s been a bit shifty ever since. As a deep-water port, Port Angeles continues to attract marine trades companies and the hope is that outdoor tourism will define its future. (If you’d like more than my opinion on Port Angeles, here’s a great Seattle Time’s article.)
Rolling over the crest of a hill, I caught my first glimpse of downtown Port Angles and its port in the distance. My first impressions were…To Be Continued…
A popular spot for mountain bikers and hikers, the San Dieguito River Park in Escondido is squeezed between the I15 freeway and a couple housing developments. It’s not wilderness, but it still makes for a decent, suburban excursion and nature fix.
As I mentioned in my Cruising Lake Hodges post, the main mountain bike route on the Coast-to-Crest Trail is beginner friendly. The Bernardo Summit trail is not—it’s rated difficult due to loose rocks and steep technical sections. In other words, it’s way out of my mountain bike skill league so I left it undone on my last visit, vowing to come back and hike it. Note don’t let the words summit and mountain deter you. We’re only talking about a ~1k ft in elevation gain here. But that elevation is enough to deliver views that do not disappoint.
If you’re like me and want to bypass some concrete “hiking” and walking under the freeway, you may want to start your hike at the bicycle/pedestrian bridge (the world’s longest stressed ribbon bridge) which crosses the variably wet/dry section of Lake Hodges. After traversing the bridge, take the trail to the left heading towards the Lake. Before long, you’ll hopscotch on a couple rocks across Felicita Creek, a small perennial brook, and round the bend from there. Look for the summit trail splitting off to the right (the sign for it is facing the other direction). It’s a gradual, steady climb – mild to moderate and absolutely runnable – you just need to watch your footing on the loose rock sections. (I find it easier, more fun and less painful to run up vs. down.)
At the last and steepest section, you’ll encounter a fenced-in water tank – not very pretty, but don’t be discouraged. Your final ascent will be rewarded.
I highly recommend this hike for the best views in the park and a good workout. If you’re not up for incline, you can keep going straight along the North Shore trail to Del Dios Community Park and eventually, past the Lake Hodges Dam. Note it’s an out and back.
Hiking difficulty: Mild to moderate+ depending on your fitness level
Elevation change: ~1,000 ft
Distance: ~6.2-7.2 miles roundtrip, depending on where you start
If you hike around Prescott, you’ll notice that they name and number their trails, which is nice. The only problem you may encounter is when a local gives you a hiking tip by the number only and happens to be off a digit or two. Could be the Prescott way of telling you to “Go take a hike.”
Anyway, I found the high-country trail that leads up Spruce Mountain, which isn’t hard to find if you know the trail’s name and number. It’s the Groom Creek Loop Trail #307. Some (Prescott National Forest Service peeps) say that it’s “one of the most attractive trails in the Prescott National Forest. Despite the misleading moniker, there are no Spruce trees on the trail to Spruce Mountain, but that’s okay—it’s a lovely shady trek through Ponderosa pine, Gambel oak and Douglass fir. I chose the trail to the left as it was a hot day and this side of the loop is pleasantly shaded. On a cooler day, I’d go for the loop. Perhaps start with the opposite, more exposed side (on the right) and come down the shady side as it gets later in the day.
The trail begins with a gradual climb and easy terrain, ramping up to a steady climb with rockier and rootier terrain near the top. You definitely have an opportunity to get your heart rate up if you’re so inclined (pun intended). The trail is runnable—the deer I startled on the way up concurs.
On top, you’ll find a picnic area with an outhouse and a fire lookout tower. If the lookout-in residence is accepting visitors, you might just be lucky enough to soak in the panoramic views of Prescott’s lakes and forest from the tower’s vantage point as I did.
Distance: ~6.5 miles, if you do the loop it’s ~8 miles
Elevation gain/ loss: ~1,400 ft (starting elevation is about 6300 feet and the top is 7693 ft)
Getting there: ~15 min drive from Prescott, AZ: Take Mt. Vernon Avenue south for 6.4 miles. It becomes Senator Highway and passes through the small community of Groom Creek. Look for the trailhead on the left side of the road.
Notes: Free parking. MT Bikes & Dogs allowed.
Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.