Tag Archives: outdoors

Exploring Oregon’s high desert

7 Jul

Last year, I didn’t travel internationally at all. This year I went to Africa. When I’m not traveling internationally I am trying to see more of the United States and my home state of Oregon. There is so much to see and do in Oregon that my wanderlust is often quenched just by driving an hour or two.

Recently, I went to the desert. Yes, it’s not all trees and rain in Oregon. In fact more than half of the state is pretty dry and desert like. But there is actually a desert depending on your technical definition. This was a recent discovery of mine. Once I found out about the Oregon desert, I obsessed about going. I had to find a time in my schedule to go and I preferred to go soon. I found someone that wanted to go with me and we began planning the trip. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out so well, as life sometimes does. A few days before the trip my friend was canceling due to a family emergency. So I put a last minute call out to a new friend of mine. She is visiting from Australia and loves photography. You know what? She said yes! The next day we set off on our 7.5 hour road trip.

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before: if you want something to happen you just have to ask or as Nike would say, Just Do It. Get outside your comfort zone and go for it.

On the road

We didn’t stop much for pictures until we were almost close to our destination. We just couldn’t help it with these colors and the open road. I love contrasting colors of nature and playing with perspective.

High Desert Road

Then, we came around a bend to this sight (below). We just had to stop for another photo of the storm that we were driving into. I thought, hey, what the heck, my car needs a bath. But first, a photo!

On The Road with Zoe

We drove slowly through the rain storm. We couldn’t even see the road, much less the desert we were looking for. Once the clouds parted my car looked like it went through a car wash, so that was a plus. A few more miles and we were close to our destination, yet we couldn’t figure out how to get on the desert. With some help from our new friend Rose, we found the way.

It’s really super cool to drive out on completely flat land in the middle of nowhere. It was even better to see the remains of the storm pass around the other side of the desert, somehow, leaving it as dry and cracked as ever.

Desert Rainbows

I did feel a bit guilty as my car did leave a small “footprint”. I try so hard to be a good steward to the environment and not leave any marks. However, the desert is about 6 miles wide and 11 miles long so I wasn’t going to walk the whole thing. I really wanted to explore and knew that driving on it was allowed. I thought about running the whole thing but in 100 degree heat I didn’t think that was too advisable without a lot of water.

There is a tiny lake that is left on the desert from winter. You shouldn’t drive too close to it or your car will likely get stuck in the mud. You can see in the photo where the wet desert meets the dry desert. To me, it’s a nice yin and yang.

Desert Yin Yang

This was one of the most phenomenal sunsets I’ve ever seen. It was everywhere. All around. Literally something to look at 360 degrees. I did’t know where to look and when. It was absolute perfection.

Where do you camp in the desert?

Anywhere you want, so why not the middle? That was my choice. If this was my once in a lifetime chance to camp in the middle of a playa I was going to take it and you know what, it was totally worth it. The silence is so silent. The only time I’ve ever been in such a silent place was skydiving, the moment after you open the shoot and before you get close to the ground. You could hear a pin drop from a mile away. In the desert that pin was a mosquito. You could hear them flying at you like no place I’ve ever been to. I felt like I had super hearing.

Long Sunrise Shadows

The light in the morning is absolutely incredible as well. The desert literally glows, sunrise was pretty spectacular.

Some recommendations I have if you decide to visit a desert like this one.

Rent a car. My car hit a lot of bumps on the roads and it got extremely dirty. I don’t just mean the outside either. My car was filled with dust inside out. I’m not even sure how to get the dirt out of all the crevices and upholstery. I tried for two hours and there’s still dust. Sigh…

If you plan for night photography, like we did, you should pick a night that’s not close to a full moon. Oops! Oh well. You can’t have everything you want all at once. It was perfect enough as it was. Plus, that meant we actually got some sleep. The only thing to wake you, was the flapping of your tent when the wind picks up. Otherwise, utter peace and quiet. It was absolute bliss.

Next stop hot springs! Then a few of Oregon’s other wonders. Stay tuned for more on the blog…

In the mean time follow my daily adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

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Five star service and adventures on the garden route

14 Apr

While doing our road trip along the Garden Route I reviewed two hotels. They were both wonderful places to stay and I can’t say enough good things about both of them to anyone that will listen. So, I’m going to tell you too. Along with some other fun things we did along the way, between the hotel stops.

The first hotel I reviewed was Tsala Treetop Lodge. It’s a quiet, serene place to stay away from the city. Plus, my own private pool. Woohoo! Ok, I had to share with my friend, but still. This is the second time in my life I’ve had my own pool. I thought the first time was a once in a lifetime thing, but I was happy to be wrong, on that point, at least. Tsala is a great place to unplug and connect with nature or your travel companions (even though there’s wifi and TV—you don’t need it). To me, this was a great rest stop after two weeks of being on the road or in the air. The suites are set up so that the lines between outside and in are blurred. It’s truly a great nature escape and a good spot to stay and explore the nature that surrounds the area. You can read more about the hotel in my review, plus there’s a link to book your stay! If I’ve convinced you enough that Africa is now on your bucket list.

Tsala Living Room

Bridge adventures on the Garden Route

Things to explore near Tsala include the tallest bungee jumping bridge in the world, Bloukrans Bridge. Even if you aren’t going to jump you can still go out on the bridge. If that’s too scary or it’s raining, like when we visited, you can watch from the viewing area (indoors or out). It’s really cool to see people jumping. I was wishing we had more time and I had a better back so that I too, could jump.

The other cool bridge to see in the area is the Paul Sauer Bridge, also known as Storms River bridge. I almost caused my friend to veer off the road as I shouted when we drove over. “Holy crap that’s beautiful!” Good news, there’s a rest area near by, with a walk way under the bridge. There’s also a sidewalk on the bridge so you can walk out on it and observe the beauty of the gorge. Stick your toes off the edge, take photos, you know, the crazy things I do. Tsitsikamma National Park is just down the river from Storms River Bridge with fun hikes, suspension foot bridges, a waterfall and beach access. You could even stay there on the beach if you wanted to. Alas, we did not stay, we had our night in the trees.

If you haven’t seen any elephants on safari check out the elephant park near by Tsala. Or maybe you have, so you go anyway because you love elephants. We passed on that this time around since we had our fair share in the Mara.

Storms River Gorge

I know what you are thinking, “Holy crap, that’s Storms River? That’s beautiful!” But there’s so much more beauty to be had in South Africa. This barely scratches the surface. I couldn’t take enough photos to capture the beauty to be had in Africa.

Storms River

The edge of the Earth

Before you get to Cape Town, make sure you detour to the southern most point in Africa, where the Indian and the Pacific Ocean meet. It’s a fun place to stop, complete with a lighthouse, rocky shore, boardwalk and commemorative plaque. We gazed at the water, snapped some goofy photos and then hoped back in the car so we could get to Cape Town before it was too late.

Far from Home

Arriving at our last stop in Africa

Coming into Cape Town we had quite the welcome. An absolutely stunning sunset on the mountains. We had to stop driving a couple times just to capture it’s changing beauty.

Sunset On Arrival

The other hotel I reviewed was close to one of the best beaches in Cape Town. You can walk there from the hotel. The hotel is on a quiet street with great views of the water. The service is stellar and there’s a great breakfast, spa, pool and work out room too! You can read more about it on the review site, plus there’s a link to book your stay or share it with your friends! I highly recommend it as a place to stay if you like personal service.

O on Kloof Lobby

Up next: Cape Town and my travel mishaps.

Previous African adventures: my dream safari, wandering through Stone Town in Zanzibar, detouring through Lesotho, five star service and Garden Route adventures.

An African path less traveled, through Lesotho

31 Mar

When I think of Africa I think big, really big. It’s a huge continent with so much to see and so much diversity. What’s a good way to see a lot of things? A road trip! So many people would say this is crazy, but I usually do the crazy things that my friends don’t do. That’s just who I am, always have been.

After safari in Kenya and a few days in Zanzibar we flew into Johannesburg for the last leg of the trip. We rented a car and drove down to Cape Town on the Garden Route. But before getting to the Garden Route we detoured to Lesotho, one of two landlocked countries in South Africa. Oh man, was that a great detour. Lesotho is so pretty and not touristy. It’s even hard to find a place to stay outside of a B&B or as they call them, guest houses. The villages are quaint with thatched roofs and nice people. The scenery is incredible with it’s mountains and fields of grass. The city names may be hard to pronounce and the roads curvy but it’s worth the detour. No Visa required, just go!

Road Trip Scenery

A word of caution about the border crossing. We had a bit of trouble because our friend traveling with us had a pretty full passport and the pages that were empty were in the middle. Apparently, not every border believes in stamping all over the place. Lesotho would rather have it orderly and all the blank pages in the back. Or at least this was his excuse for at first rejecting my friends passport. We were able to get a second opinion and he let us in. Whew! Crisis averted and back on track for our detour.

When we arrived at our, out of the way B&B, the view was great as it was perched on the side of a mountain. And it was perfect timing for one of the most incredible sunsets. It was stunning orange on one side with a pink glow the other direction. 360 degrees of stunning, if you ask me. Plus, shortly after sunset there was a lightning storm. I’ve never had the chance to photograph lightning, so I gave it a try. I was able to capture a couple strikes, but it was certainly a challenge. One that I’ll gladly take on again given the chance. So rewarding to do something you’ve never done before even if you weren’t perfect at it. The journey is the fun part.

The food at our B&B was a home cooked vegetarian meal. A bit overpriced but delicious. I would highly recommend knowing the cost of the food before saying yes to a meal at a B&B. But we were famished and tired from the drive. We were ready to settle in for the night with a full tummy.

On the way through South Africa and Lesotho the scenery reminded me of so many places I’ve been including Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Kansas. Wherever you go, you’re never far from home, it becomes a part of you.

After staying the night in Lesotho we drove down to Port Elizabeth to check out the beach and begin the true Garden Route. The drive was long to get there and not the best food* on the road but we made it in time to see the sun setting…again. Found some great comfort food and a comfortable bed to sleep in. The next morning we checked out the beach, had another wonderful meal, coffee with a smiley face on it and made our way along the green, mountainous garden route, partly skimming the sea.

*Like the states, a lot of the food you see on the side of the road or at gas stations is “fast food” or Denny’s style. Not my choice, being the Oregonian that I am I’m used to farm fresh produce that caters to my select-etarian tendencies.

Want to see more of my photos on a daily basis, check out my Instagram feed.

Next on the blog: Garden Route adventures, Cape Town and my travel mishaps.

Ireland: castles, accents and whiskey

17 Mar

Ireland is always on my mind, not just on St Patrick’s Day. I love Ireland. I’m Irish…but that’s not why I love it. I love the countryside, the castles, the accents and of course the whiskey.

When anyone asks me where my favorite place is in the world. I always find it hard to answer. I can’t pick just one. I have favorites for different reasons. However, Ireland is easily in my top 5. It reminds me so much of home but it’s so much older. The castles sprinkled in the countryside are not something you see in Oregon. We also have lots of rolling green hills and cliffs but not quite the Cliffs of Moher.

MelissaOnCliffs

I don’t know what it is about the West Coast but not only do I love it in the states but it was my favorite in Ireland too (and a few other countries). In the SW area I loved Cork and the area surrounding it. We enjoyed the Ring of Kerry and driving through towns like Doolin and Dingle. We may have giggled a little at the names but it was all in good fun. It made it easier to smile and laugh when our GPS would send us the wrong way or have us going in circles. At least we had good scenery on our road trip no matter how roundabout the route.

I can’t miss mentioning that we also spent St Patricks Day in Dublin. We had our Irish coffee at Temple Bar. We visited the Guiness Brewery for the tour, the beer and the view. We became certified whiskey tasters at one of the best places on earth, Jameson Distillery. And, in the end, I learned of my favorite winter drink from a local in a random bar: Hot Whiskey (hot water, Jameson, lemon wedge and whole cloves).

If you ever get to the Jameson Distillery, pick me up a bottle of their finest, aged in sherry casks. Yummmm…my favorite.

When in country do like the locals do. Or at least try to experience the country like one. That’s what I always try to do. I may look Irish but I had a lot to learn about my heritage.

African safari: a dream come true

17 Feb

Its been a dream of mine to go on a safari for quite awhile. I always thought it was expensive and I wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

Recently, I had a friend move to Kenya and make a great safari connection which made the safari more affordable. Having a local connection rather than just an internet search can come in handy, at least it has most times I’ve traveled. My friend even agreed to go on the safari with us. I thought how crazy is that to go on another safari? How wrong I was to think that. After going, I’d go again in a heartbeat. Instead of the safari being a dream come true it was as if I were in the dream. It’s so surreal and amazing. It’s real life Lion King!

Lion king eats, lady waits

I’ve been thinking of how to write about this powerful experience and I just haven’t found words that could possibly express how magical it was to see all those animals in their natural environment. And all the babies!

It’s baby season and I couldn’t be more pleased to see all those little animals along with all the big ones. They say the best time to go on safari is migration season but I beg to differ. I think baby season is the time to go. All those cute, little animals. Plus the park is less crowded. You could almost go all day without seeing another van, except they keep in touch and report on anything cool so you’ll all end up at the cheetah sighting, eventually. All five cars that is. I can’t even imagine competing for the front row when it’s high season on the Mara.

Mara at sunset

We also checked out Lake Nakuru. I must say, staying at that lodge is amazing. You wake up to animals just steps from your patio. I’m sure that’s an option on the Mara as well but we stayed just outside the park there.

It was at Lake Nakuru that we finally saw the rare black rhino. We also saw some white ones but those aren’t quite as rare. We almost saw a leopard to complete the big five (elephant, lion, buffalo, black rhino and leopard) sighting as well but he/she was shy. We knew it was there by the herd of gazelles starting at the location but we couldn’t see it. Oh well, next time!

Black Rhino

I think words cannot truly express this amazing experience. The photos are better but you still can’t get the full feeling. I was literally in tears seeing all these animals. It’s phenomenal. A dream come true!

Baby Elephant

Another item checked off the bucket list. What’s on your list to complete this year? I’d love to hit up another continent or two — South America and/or Australia.

Next on the blog…adventures in Zanzibar, Lesotho road trip, Garden Route adventures, Cape Town and my travel mishaps.

 

Top 10 not to miss adventures in Maui

7 Dec

I’m Irish: I have pale skin and I burn easy. Not really conducive to sitting around at the beach all day for a week. Plus, I love adventure. I love to have new experiences, explore and really get out there. I’m not one that likes to sit around when there are sights to see. I can read on the plane or when I’m at home.

Here are my top 10 experiences from a week in Maui:

Drink beer at Maui Brewing CoThey don’t have a ton of beers on the menu but they have something for everyone, including some guest taps, homemade root beer and cider. I had a sampler tray of four deliciously dark beers. The food is also pretty good. We opting for onion rings and nachos.

Hike Waihe’e Ridge Trail. It’s winter in Maui, which means it rains on and off. The good news is you also see a lot of rainbows. Certain parts of the island are drier than the hills that take you near the wettest spot in the world (sometimes second wettest). It may have been one of the muddiest hikes I’ve ever done but the views were spectacular. You feel like you are on top of the world. It’s so quiet and the clouds are so close. It’s also a study in the different colors of mud. Quite interesting to see the range. I never knew there could be so many different dirt colors.

Waihee Ridge Trail

Eat at Leoda’s. They have great food that isn’t centered around meat. This is great for me since I’m a selectetarian (somedays I select to have meat but most days I don’t). They have wi-fi, beer and coffee. What more do you need? It’s like being home in Portland…but warmer.

Join a canoe club. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings you can join Kihei Canoe Club or another club for a fun adventure. For a small donation they’ll teach you how to row in an outrigger and take you out into the water with their crew. Let you swim around. If you are lucky you also get to see some wildlife. Perhaps, a turtle or two, some dolphins or, if you time it right, whales. for us, we saw three turtles.

Canoe Clubbing

Hike the Pīpīwai Trail. To me the most spectacular spot on the island is the bamboo forest on this trail. There’s a really cool waterfall (400-foot Waimoku Falls) at the end but to me, the magic spot was in the bamboo. The wind in the bamboo and the tranquil noise you hear when they hit together. It’s really peaceful.

Bamboo Forest on Maui

Watch the sun rise at Haleakala. Rivaling the bamboo forest for my top pick on the island was watching sunrise above the cloudy mountains. Before dawn the air is crisp and the silence is welcome. After the sun rises there are many hiking trails you can take down into the valleys.

Peace on Earth

 

Swim with the fishes. We went snorkeling at La Perouse Bay but there are several other spots on the island plus boating trips you can take.

Visit a red sand beach. It’s like a rainbow of sand on the island. It’s really cool to see them all: white, brown, red, black. The red sand beach we visited was a short hike along a cliff and some lava rocks. I’m sure it’s less of a secret than it felt like.

Visit a black sand beach. We went to the Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park. The greens of the plants and blues of the water were just stunning against the black rocks. Truly a sight to see if you’ve never seen black sand.

Black Sand Beach

Drive around the whole island. Between Hana and La Perouse Bay there is some stunning terrain that most folks will never see because the rental car companies forbid it. If you are not in a rental and you want to see some really cool farm land. I highly suggest the route. The road is narrow and not paved all the way so be warned.The terrain of Maui is so varied and interesting that I don’t see how you could just sit at the beach. Unless you go to all the colored beaches. That’s fun too. But the terrain in between the beaches or inland or upcountry are worth a visit too. Spectacular scenery, rich in the history of the islands’ formation.

If you like my photos, follow my adventures on Instagram @rouxroamer or consider buying a print.
How did I get to Maui on Miles? Read more.

Escaping the winter weather blues

26 Nov

When it’s cold outside, I’m cold. Crazy, I know!

Something that I have learned about myself is that during the winter I need a cold weather escape. As most Oregonians, I suffer from SAD (Seasonal affective disorder aka best acronym ever). I need a sunshine reboot. I need to feel warmth on my skin and get some real vitamin D.

I usually do this in January but this year November was colder than normal. I feel like I woke up after two weeks of fall and it was January already. Time for an escape. I had a place to say in Hawaii and friends I have been wanting to see for over a year. I had a bank of miles but didn’t want to spend them all to get there since it was fairly last minute (within two weeks).

How to get the best deal?

You can pay one price to go anywhere in the U.S. But you can also pay for the distance you are traveling if you use a distance based mileage chart like British Airways.

For 33,200 per person, round trip we were able to get tickets on a non-stop to Maui. Aloha!

It would have been cheaper had we booked ahead. And more expensive if we just booked the flight to somewhere in North America.

We went from this…

Frozen Falls

To this…

MauiBeach

More on travel hacking in this post. Or sign up for my favorite travel card of all time.

My friend even wrote a guide on this very subject. I can get you a link, just let me know! Comment below.