Big Bend Road Trip during a Pandemic Time

Last year was a busy year, but also a frugal year as I held off taking a vacation road trip like in previous years. The major road trip that I postponed was a Midwest road trip around Lake Michigan in order to visit the two states I have never visited and the one state left in which I had only visited by changing planes in a major airport within the state. When I had created my initial plan for this trip, there was also two national parks included in the trip, but since then, a national lakeshore had been re-designated as a national park, adding it to the travel plan. I currently have this trip planned for the summer, but since I missed taking a trip last year, I decided to check out doing a quick spring break trip to another national park still on my list to visit, Big Bend National Park.

Five years ago, I had planned to visit Big Bend with five other national parks on a road trip from Los Angeles to Colorado, a trip I wrote about in an earlier post on my site. Unfortunately, Big Bend was just too far off the path for me to visit on my limited timeline, so it became an outlier for any potential future trips. When I considered adding a second trip for this year, I researched whether I could do a quick trip covering Big Bend with a visit to the Alamo in San Antonio and a quick tour of Louisiana, a state I had driven through once with no stops. However, it became obvious that it would take longer to travel to all three of these locations in just a week, so I pared down the trip to just Big Bend National Park. As a road trip, I determined that it would take two days to drive down to a location near the park, one day to visit the park, and two days to drive back home. In my planning, I noted the potential to stop in Roswell, New Mexico, to check out the UFO sites on my way down and to possibly visit Bandelier National Monument near Santa Fe, New Mexico, on my way back. However, as I looked to finalize my plans, the specter of the current COVID-19 outbreak began to rise up.

When spring break week arrived, the coronavirus information was just recommendations of social distancing. I considered that since I would be driving alone within my car and traveling to a more remote section of the country, I should be fine. I went online and discovered that motel options in Marathon, a small town nearest to Big Bend, were booked up, but I found a motel in another close-by town, Alpine, to the west that had a direct road connecting it to the western entrance to the park. I booked a room for the two nights, then booked a room in Roswell for a night on the way down to Alpine. The next morning, I took off.

I reached Roswell by late afternoon, which gave me time to check out the International UFO Museum in the downtown area. The admission price was inexpensive, and the museum was an interesting display of photos, artwork, and presentations in a large hallway. It didn’t take long to experience the displays, which were interesting, regardless of one’s opinions regarding extraterrestrial visitation. My motel also took advantage of the ET reputation, projecting a space alien welcoming all earthlings. I enjoyed my night, but woke up to find the area surrounded by fog. I wondered if I had uncovered an omen.

I drove south out of the fog and made it to Alpine by mid-afternoon. I was alerted by the motel manager about potential closures at Big Bend, so I went online to check the conditions of the park. All visitor centers were being closed, but the park entrances were still open. The next day, I headed down to Big Bend. When I got down to the entrance, I discovered that rangers were not manning the gates, meaning that my annual pass was unnecessary, as entry was now free for all visitors.

Mule Ears Formation, Big Bend NP

Mule Ears Formation, Big Bend NP

Big Bend was a wonderful southwest ecosystem of desert and mountains with flat areas of cacti and yucca around buttes and rock formations. My exploration took me down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to where the Rio Grande exits out of the St. Elena Canyon. It gave me a chance to walk down to the edge the Rio Grande and look across to the cliff wall on the Mexico side of the river. Viewing the park during the opening of spring proved to be a most comfortable time as the outside temperature was in the comfortable 70s, which is probably why this was the park’s prime visitation period, since people would want to avoid the desert hot days of summer. It was a good day to discover this bend region of Texas.

Rio Grande at St. Elena Canyon, Big Bend NP

Rio Grande at St. Elena Canyon, Big Bend NP

When I got back to my motel after my day in Big Bend, I stopped in for dinner at a nearby diner where I had enjoyed dinner and breakfast earlier before going into the park, only I noticed that now every other stool at the bar had been covered to create distancing between guests. Concern that the diner would have to close in a couple of days was prevalent between the cook and waitress. Back at the motel room, I went online and booked a room in Santa Fe for the next night. I drove up the next day and discovered that I was just one of a few guests in the Santa Fe hotel. The hotel had to close their small dining room and was supplying the booking’s promised morning breakfast as a grab and go bag. Restaurants in the city had already closed down per government distancing rules, forcing me to get dinner through a fast food drive-thru. I also discovered that nearby Bandelier National Monument was now closed, so this stop was now dropped from the trip. The next day as I finished the drive home, I discovered that gas station marts along the way had needed to close their public restrooms as visitors had been stealing soap. I also noticed attendants at the gas stations were taking time to go out and spray disinfectant cleaner onto the gas pumps. I made it home from a very enjoyable quickie road trip to deal with stay at home orders and depleted grocery shelves. I hope to survive this pandemic concern and get an opportunity to take my bigger Midwest road trip in the summer.

 

2019 – A Year of Reviewing Indie Books

With the ringing in of the New Year, a calendar decade has ended and a new one has begun. Last year was a busy year for me, as I continued on in my position of president of my HOA board which dealt with many resignations during the year. At the same time, I completed my second novel and selected Outskirts Press to handle the self-publishing process. Disappeared and Found was officially published and released in November. In addition, the length of time that my first novel, Legacy Discovered, has been available as a solo published work has led to more decreasing connections with fellow indie authors on social media. It is probably for this reason that I only read and reviewed twelve indie books this past year. None of the books I read was rated at 5 stars, but most of them were rated at 4 stars, and only one had a rating of 2 stars. I enjoyed the group of books I read this year.

Now to reiterate my review standards from the past years postings, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

My main method of selecting the books that I review come from the fellow indie authors who retweet my key tweets promoting my book, but last year two of the books I read were direct requests from two fellow indie authors asking me to be a beta reader for their new works. One of these works, Bump Time, was a start of a new series from Doug J Cooper, who wrote the marvelous 5 star four novel sci-fi Crystal series. When he informed me that the new series was a multi-universe time travel series, I warned him that I am tougher with time travel concepts. His plot was very innovative and imaginative, backed by his excellent writing skills, but I was not distracted enough to avoid seeing the basic time travel contradictions, so I gave it 4 stars. He did inform me that he will address the contradictions in the second book of the series.

The second book I was asked to beta read was from another indie author that I had provided high reviews for a couple of his previous books. However, this book was a different genre from the previous works, so he was publishing it under another name. I noted and commented on some plot issues in his suspense action thriller, issues that I found that he had addressed when I purchased the published version later. The hyper action in this political thriller does walk the line at times which is why I only gave it 4 stars, but it was still a very entertaining and suspenseful tale.

The other five books that received 4 stars from me included a post-WW1 historical fiction action thriller, a very graphic abusive relationship drama at the high school age level, a dark young adult horror tale, and two action detective mysteries with one having a psychic element. All were very engaging with only minor issues that held them back from the 5 star level.

Only one novel fell to a 2 star level in my opinion, as the sci-fi tale of a complicated relationship between a woman celebrity and a couple of males from an extraterrestrial alien refugee community on earth had just a few too many complex contradictions in the character mythos to overcome in the tightly written thriller.

The four works that landed in between with 3 stars dealt with an erotic romance thriller of Greek gods in modern day culture, a relationship road journey in the hippie generation 1970s, a serial murder mystery with a psychic consultant, and a very short 40 page novella of a prison drama that mainly plays out as an introduction to a potential series.

It was a light year of reading, but still a good year. I now have two self-published novels, and I hope readers feel they live up to the standards I have used to judge the works of my fellow indie authors. If avid readers do check out Legacy Discovered and Disappeared and Found and decide to purchase and read either or both of them, I hope they decide to let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

The Politics of a Homeowners Association

This has been a most interesting year so far. I had planned on it being a low key year, and in some ways, it has been as I have had to postpone my scheduled road trip for this year to next year. However, my responsibilities have increased. I realize that it has been over seven months since I posted on my website blog, but in the opening paragraph of that previous post, I noted that an interesting event had occurred in the previous year, having the position of president of the board of my homeowners association being dropped into my lap. The responsibility has been an interesting learning curve.

The concept of a homeowners association can be varied due to the type and number of homes in a neighborhood where an association can be formed. A homeowners association formed among a group of single family homes on individual lots is more of a collective oversight of the general neighborhood with more individual responsibility of private property. However, when the homes are townhomes or condominiums sharing one or more buildings in the community, more responsibility is placed on the legally controlled association to maintain the community, and individual homeowners are required to provide a monthly fee to cover the oversight and maintenance of the shared areas of the community. A covenant limited board of owners from the full group of homeowners are formed to handle the oversight. When I lived in Los Angeles, I owned a townhome in a building of six units, a small number that basically put every owner on the board. Under this situation, our association was more like a tight knit clique that handled the management of our building simply on our own. Yet, my current townhome is one of over one hundred units spread within a small neighborhood community which requires a professional property management company to handle the maintenance of building exteriors, landscape areas, and roadways, as well as the enforcement of the rules from board decisions and oversight of the association founding covenants. Due to the small size of the community, being on the board as an elected representative of the community is basically a volunteer duty, mainly consisting of attending a once-a-month meeting to handle community decisions. However, good board members realize that the responsibility of members are not limited to just the monthly meeting.

Community issues rise up quite often, which require the property management company to seek input from the board members. Some property management companies try to respond to individual owner complaints and requests on their own with very little reporting back to the board members, but other property management companies seek to maintain transparency with the board by keeping them informed of the communications as they come in. The property management company in my association falls into the latter category, which helps the board make more informed decisions when needed. In a way, it also helps the board members to get to know their fellow owners and neighbors, especially in regards to their concerns and needs. It is amazing how this fast-paced digital-oriented modern society has disconnected people from others living next door within communities. However, it is also amazing how this disconnect has created separate perspectives that have formed splits in the views within the community, a smaller version of what is visible in the political discord within and between countries on a global scale. In my position on the board, I have a front row perspective of this subtle division.

The main issue is basically in trying to find and understand the balance, dividing line, and responsibilities between the individual and society. In our situation, the individual is the person, family, or other legal entity that purchased the defined unit within the group community. Under the concept of ownership, the individual should be free to make decisions on how to enjoy and benefit from the property purchased, but is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the property. However, on the social concept of an association, the interconnection of the units and the common property which they all share put a group responsibility on the general maintenance of the buildings and land. The constant question is where the line between social and individual responsibility and ownership lie. Unfortunately, that line is not absolute, but individual perspectives always seek to find that absolute line.

The basic argument is mainly conformity versus individuality. On one side, exterior design should be standard throughout the neighborhood, whereas on the other side, an individual should be free to express themselves within the borders of their property. With townhome associations, since units are interconnected, it is understandable to have the association determine the general color and maintenance of the exterior walls, but it is amazing to see the argument regarding window design conformity. Windows are a pathway from exterior to interior, so the responsibility of maintenance and upgrading is left to the individual owner. However, since windows have an exterior side, there is a sense of design conformity that many feel the association has a right to impose on the individual owner, not just with frame color, but also with design style. Should an owner be forced to have side sliding windows over up and down sliding windows? For some, association conformity rules over individual choice, although for many, the association conformity usually must conform to their own personal view.

Another area of conflict is with landscaping. For one side, the association is there to handle plant and grass maintenance, so they have no reason to get involved with it unless the plants begin to die, which is when they send complaints to the association board about landscape contractor incompetence. However, the other side has an innate avid gardener persona that wants to create and maintain their own exterior garden area. These owners seek a space where individual flower and shrub design is created and controlled by their own views. Over-avid owners seek to impose their design views on common areas beyond their unit in order to assign their own sense of conformity throughout the community, regardless of the cost.

In the end, I see the role in which I have been placed as president of the homeowners association board is to fiscally find the best balance between these sides by listening and guiding owners to find a good level of individual freedom and social acceptance, but I am aware that this level will always change and it will never find full acceptance by all. Still, it is better than accepting one side over the other and encouraging division, something I see on a larger scale in this country and globally.

 

2018 – A Year in Reviewing Indie Books

2019 is here, which means that I survived 2018. Last year was an interesting year. A rash of resignations on my HOA board led to me landing in the president position on the board, taking a bit more of my time. I also had fewer connects from fellow indie authors through my social media campaign. At the same time, I developed another idea for a new book that I outlined and have started to write. All of this led to a lower number of books that I read last year from previous years, only 21 novels and novellas. Going over my reviews for the year, the quality range was quite broad with most ranking at 4 stars, but an equal number of books hitting the high range of 5 stars to the number of books landing in the middle range of 3 stars. A couple of books landed at 3½ stars which stayed at that rank on LibraryThing, but rounded up into the 4 star range on GoodReads and Amazon. Then, there were three books that slid down to the 2 star range. It was an interesting mixture of reads over the past year.

Now to reiterate my review standards from the past years postings, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

Of the four novels that landed in the top 5 star ratings, three of them were from two indie authors whose works I had previously reviewed. Doug J. Cooper’s Crystal Escape completed the four novel sci-fi series with the same level of storytelling as the first three, pushing me to gladly recommend the full series for sci-fi adventure fans. Western historical fiction expert John Rose Putnam’s Face of the Devil and Hang Billy Mulligan engaged me into the late nineteenth century historical adventure of the northern California gold rush days. The one 5 star novel from a new author was Beneath the Silver Rose by T.S. Adrian, which fully engaged the adventure of a medieval fantasy tale, even if it was adult-only erotica.

At the other end of the scale, the three novels that landed in the 2 star zone were basically stories that overplayed their hand, stretching plot devices and missing character connections, from a multi-year future history space fleet sci-fi tale to a couple of psychological horror stories, one with a seemingly unstoppable stalker and the other with a missing child case that upends a couple’s life.

In the 3 star range, three of the four novels were based in the sci-fi and medieval fantasy genres, showing some of the challenges in constructing a solid mythology to back up and support the plot and characters of these highly imaginative worlds, especially when erotic elements are added. The erotic element also interfered in the complicated love story of soulmates finding each other in the fourth 3 star novel. The two 3½ star novels take a step up in finding their base stories, one in a near-future zombie apocalyptic opening tale of a series and the other in an archeological high-adventure story.

The larger 4 star body of works I read had some very entertaining works, from a basic police mystery, a psychological drama of abuse, a sci-fi space flight fantasy adventure, and a graphic superhero team adventure to a family curse paranormal adventure, a 70’s English spy thriller, and a dramatic rebuilding of a shattered romance. The eighth 4 star work was actually a nonfiction how-to book for self-publishing, a book I bought directly from the author at a local book fair in Denver.

It was a good year of reading, and I hope that this year will be just as good. I will also be striving to complete this new dramatic mystery that will live up to the standards I have used to judge the works of my fellow indie authors. At the same time, I hope avid readers will check out the novels I read in 2018 and also check out my self-published novel, Legacy Discovered, and if they purchase and read it, let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 4

Here it was the afternoon of the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend and the fifth day of my grand road tour of the Pacific Northwest in which I had experienced the perspective and wonder of four major national parks from Glacier NP in Montana to Washington’s diverse trio of North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier, but after I had exited Mount Rainier National Park, I had attempted to drive southward on a weather-beaten road to reach Mount St. Helens National Monument, a protected environment under the US Forest Service, which was created a few years after the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in May of 1980 had decimated the surrounding area. However, twenty miles down this pot-holed, rocky, and gravel-roughed road, I was suddenly stopped by a sign and roadblock indicating the road beyond was still closed by winter snows. I pulled into a nearby campsite parking area and pulled out the printed computer itinerary I had created for the trip. Within the line details of the route, I noticed that I was supposed to take a southbound local road from another town to the west of the town where I had followed the road sign. The road I was on headed down the eastern side of Mount St. Helens, away from the western entrance where the informative visitor center was located. However, if I drove back up to the main road and tried to find this other unmarked local road, I realized I could find it difficult to stay on course. I could hear my friend’s voice in my head telling me that this is what a GPS app was for. Of course, I could take the main road back to Interstate 5, then drive south to the Mount St. Helens exit, then drive back east to the visitor center, but this would add a couple of hours, if not more, to the day, and it was already the mid-afternoon. I decided that I needed to pass up Mount St. Helens and move on. I had accomplished the main goal of checking off four national parks from my trip bucket list and the remainder of my itinerary was to visit a couple of national monuments on the way back to Colorado.

I put my car through the suffering of going back up the rough twenty miles to the main road and headed for Interstate 5. Once on Interstate 5, I headed south to Portland. I had thought it might be a good idea to drive through downtown Portland, but the earlier delays of the day made me decide to take the 205 bypass around Portland to connect with Interstate 84 and head east to the small town of Pendleton, where I had made my motel reservation.

The next day, Memorial Day, I got up early and headed back onto Interstate 84 towards Idaho. I had commented in part 2 of this multi-part blog post that this trip had another goal of upgrading Idaho on my bucket list. I had first visited Idaho in the spring of my first year of college when I had visited my birthplace of Burns, Oregon, and had taken the bus to Boise to catch a plane back to Los Angeles. This was before I had a decent camera to record my trips. About fifteen years ago, I had driven a half hour through a small corner of southeast Idaho on my way to Jackson, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park without stopping. On this current trip, I had driven through the upper Idaho panhandle between Montana and Washington, but I had stopped to eat dinner in a small Idaho town. Now, I was going to complete the upgrade by visiting the Craters of the Moon National Monument in eastern Idaho, taking pictures of a stark landscape.

Craters of the Moon National Monument is a small protected area of dark rocks, cone hills, and fissures along the Pioneer Mountains. To many, it may look like a stretch of moon landscape, which is how it received its name, but the landscape is really the result of past lava flows in a volcanic fissure. Its proximity to Yellowstone just to the east gave me a wonderful perspective of the volcanic activity lying below this fissure. I walked around a small trail and hiked up a nice black cone to get my pictures before driving on.

Paisley Cone, Craters of the Moon National Monument

I headed south into Utah to reach Brigham City where I had made my motel reservation. Brigham City is also next to an important historical location where east and west rails came together to form America’s first transcontinental railroad, bridging the two coasts. The final connection was done with a golden spike in a bold historical display. I had planned to make a quick stop to check it out. However, as I drove down to Brigham City, the clouds darkened overhead. Since it was getting late in the day, and I wasn’t sure how the site would look in the rain, I headed straight to the motel and checked in for the night. I figured that I would have a chance to slip over first thing in the morning before moving on. However, when I got up the next morning, the clouds were still around and threatening. I was glad to be near the important historical site, but I felt I could pass up this little side trip under the current weather conditions.

I was now on my way to my final stop before heading home, Dinosaur National Monument. The preserved environmental monument straddled over the Utah-Colorado border with most of the land being on the Colorado side. The park is mainly known for the dinosaur fossils that were discovered within the park, making it a very scientific perspective of archeology to explore, so I had planned the itinerary to visit the Colorado side on my way home. However, as I did my research on Dinosaur NM before starting the trip, I discovered that an important dinosaur gallery was on the Utah side, so I added the Utah entrance as well. Now, as I headed east on US 40 coming close to the Utah entrance, I was glad to see the dark clouds staying behind to the west. I turned onto a local road and headed up to the entrance.

I parked next to the visitor center and went in to explore. From the visitor center, a shuttle took me and other visitors up the hill to a building constructed against a quarry wall where loads of dinosaur fossils were visible within the rock. At one spot, visitors were allowed to actually feel the bones in the rock. When visitors were finished viewing the fossils and other exhibits, they had the option of taking the shuttle back or walking the outdoor trail down to the visitor center. Of course, I chose the trail which showed stretches of the geologic strata where the dinosaurs were found. Clam fossils were prevalent and a dinosaur backbone was visible on a rock wall along the way. When I reached the visitor center, I asked one of the park ranger about what fossils I would see on the Colorado side. I was surprised to discover that there were no fossils on display in Colorado. The park was mainly natural views of the canyon created by the Yampa River with recreational activities. Since there was no connecting road within the park, I would have to drive out to the main road, cross the border, and then drive back up to the Colorado entrance. I had thoroughly enjoyed the dinosaur perspective I had just immersed myself in, so I decided that I did not need to visit the Colorado side.

Dinosaur Fossils on Quarry Wall in Quarry Exhibit Hall, Dinosaur National Monument

I headed back through the Colorado Rockies on my way home. It was a glorious way to finish up this road trip. I had accomplished this trip in seven days and seen a lot to increase my perspective. It was a wonderful adventure to experience.

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 3

The first half of my Pacific Northwest road trip had already taken me to two mountain range national parks situated up against the US/Canadian border, from a quick zip into Glacier National Park in Montana to an open crossing through North Cascades National Park Complex in Washington. Now, I was on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, wondering if I should try to slip on a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula that had all of the advanced reservations booked into the afternoon or head back off the island and drive a couple of hours circling around through Seattle and come up into the peninsula from the south in order to visit one of the most diverse and popular national parks, Olympic NP. As I got up early at the motel on a Saturday morning, I decided that it would not take that much time to drive over to the ferry port and just check out my options.

The drive over to the ferry dock turned onto a two lane road that had very little traffic that early in the day. It appeared the port was coming up just to the left, but a center divider wall came up between the two lanes and a sign directed me to head straight for the ferry. About a mile up the road, a sign directed me into a roundabout that led me back to the entrance I had passed earlier. I drove up to the entrance gate and asked the attendant about the possibilities of reservation cancellations, and he informed me that even if I didn’t get on the first ferry, I would probably make the second. I paid and was directed to a center-right lane in the port waiting area behind a couple of cars. As I sat and waited in my car, I noticed more and more cars coming in and lining up in the lanes to the left of me, starting with the farthest left lane. The two farthest right lanes filled up with long vehicles. I suddenly realized that the roundabout spur was to handle a backup of vehicles that usually occurred at the entrance gate. After the ferry arrived and the vehicles in the left and far right lanes had loaded on, there was room for the cars in my lane to board as well. As I discovered, not all of the available space was covered by advance reservation, as the ferry had to leave some space for last minute arrivals. Going early put me in that last minute available space. I got out of the car and went to the top deck to take pictures of the trip over Puget Sound.

View of Puget Sound lighthouse from Port Townsend ferry

Once I drove off the ferry in Port Townsend, I headed straight for Port Angeles, the closest entrance to Olympic National Park. The park covers most of the Olympic Peninsula and is encircled by US 101. The size and diversity of the park is the reason I dedicated this day to just exploring the park at many entrances. I drove to US 101 and turned toward Port Angeles. When I arrived, I stopped at the park’s main visitor center to grab an information pamphlet and check out the gift shop. It was madness inside the center as Memorial Day visitors were lining up for hiking and camping passes, but since I didn’t need a pass, I got out of there quickly with my pamphlet and a deck of cards. Then, I headed into the park toward the Hurricane Ridge overlook, only I did not get too far. About a mile into the park, I suddenly came to the end of a line of cars waiting to move forward. Knowing that my main interest was in the rain forests on the western side and checking the pamphlet, I decided to skip the mountain ridge area and turn back. When I got back to Port Angeles, I went west on US 101 and continued around the park. US 101 entered the park boundary around the northwest corner next to Lake Crescent, where I was able to stop on a couple of overlooks and take pictures of the lake. I drove on as US 101 turned south and traveled along the western side of the park. As soon as I saw the sign to the road to the Hoh Rain Forest entrance, I turned and headed for the prime attraction of Olympic National Park. Suddenly, as I was getting close to the entrance gate, I found myself stopped in another line of cars. The line wasn’t as long as Hurricane Ridge line, but it was not moving. It turned out that the parking area was full, and the park ranger at the entrance gate could not let a car through until a car left the parking area. It took about 45 minutes before I was able to enter through the gate, but in a bit of karma, the open parking space waiting for me was the first one next to the visitor center.

Once I had made my stop at the visitor center, I went out on the short circular Hall of Mosses Trail within the forest. Olympic National Park protects the northernmost rain forests on the planet. The yearly rainfall and high humidity, even in the cooler latitude, created a forest with colorfully green ponds along the roots and hearty mosses draped over limbs. It was a relaxing beautiful hike, and I came to respect the luscious environment. One of my Facebook friends commented on my posting about visiting Olympic NP that I needed to plan more than one day there, and I could see why, but I took in what I could in the time I was there. After I completed my hike, I drove out of the rain forest, giving my parking space to the next person in line at the gate, and headed back to US 101. I had planned to slip into another rain forest entrance in the southwest corner of the park, but as I drove along US 101 up against the Pacific coastline, signs quickly informed me of something that was not evident on general maps, that much of the coastline, even though separate from the main park, was a part of Olympic National Park. I stopped at an overlook parking area at Ruby Beach and headed over to enjoy the northern Pacific coastline, another facet of the diversity of this national park. It was getting late in the day, and I realized that I didn’t need to see the other rain forest, so I headed onward to my motel in Olympia-Tumwater.

Lake Crescent, Hoh Rainforest, and Ruby Beach montage from Olympic National Park

My next day plan was to drive down on Interstate 5, then exit east to Washington’s third national park, Mount Rainier. When I had planned my itinerary, it seemed from the computer map that the southeast entrance would provide me the better views of the epic peak, so I planned to enter on that side and take in the view, then head back out and take a local road down to visit Mount St. Helens National Monument. Now, as I drove east, I passed by the road to the southwest entrance, then further passed by a sign next to a road directing me to Mount St. Helens, until I reached and turned north to the southeast entrance. After I had entered the southeast entrance gate with another car, I checked the information pamphlet I had been given and discovered that there was a road traversing the south side of the park between the two entrances. It was a no-brainer to just travel through the park on this road, observing more of the majestic views of Mount Rainier, then circle back to the road to Mount St. Helens. The views were majestic, including the visitor center midway through where visitors still had a small snow slope to sled under the view of Mount Rainier. I was impressed. I took my pictures, then headed west for the southwest entrance. I soon discovered that my decision to go to the southeast corner was sheer genius, as I passed several miles of cars waiting to enter the southwest gate on my way out.

View at Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, Mount Rainier National Park

I circled back to the sign directing me towards Mount St. Helens NM, then turned down the road south. The road had suffered severe winter damage and was full of cracks, potholes, and rough gravel. I suffered over this road for twenty miles, until I came to a sign stating that the road was closed at this point due to remaining winter snows. There was only one way to go, back over the same rocky road for twenty miles.

To be continued…

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 2

I had started this Pacific Northwest road trip with one long day of driving just to get close to my first target, Glacier National Park in Montana. Then, on the next day, having discovered that most of the Going-to-the-Sun Road which traverses the park was still closed because of snow, I was restricted to entering only one side of the park for a short distance, and I chose the western entrance next to Lake McDonald, which proved to be a fine natural representation of the national park. After some hiking and picture taking, I headed back out on the road, going west. I stopped for dinner in the Idaho panhandle, officially raising Idaho’s status on my trip bucket list, then moved on for my overnight stay in Spokane Valley, Washington, raising Washington’s status to an officially visited state. However, it was now time to go deeper into Washington and head for the first of its three national parks, North Cascades National Park.

When I started off from Spokane Valley, I soon left the interstate highway and headed northwest to connect with State Route 20, which is the road that crosses the park. I did not expect to come upon anything of particular interest until I reached the park border, but I was wrong. The route I took came right up to the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. The dam, completed in 1942, is one of the largest power stations in the country, and it was a very impressive sight to experience. I took a few pictures from an overlook, then headed onward.

When I got on State Route 20, I was surprised not to see any signage regarding miles to the park entrance. I passed by some wide farm plain spreads, then suddenly found myself rising into a pass that led into a sharp valley between snow covered peaks. The road turned into a pass which led to some overlooks where I stopped to take photos. I passed a few tan roadside signs along the way, then passed a more prominent sign that seemed very similar to most national park entrance signs. I was still wondering if I had actually entered the park when I came upon the small town of Newhalem, which had the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center in it. Inside the center, I was informed that I had entered the park much earlier, near the valley with the snow covered peaks. Didn’t I see the entry sign, I was asked? According to the park staff, North Cascades National Park has no entrance fees, so it has no entrance stops. When one includes the small town surrounded by the park, this is very similar to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, which makes sense. Also since State Route 20 is a vital business path when it is cleared of snow, North Cascades NP is also like Smoky Mountain National Park, which also does not charge fees because of the major US route that connects western North Carolina with eastern Tennessee. It was an enlightening visit. I picked up the park pamphlet and drove on, passing many cars coming in from the Seattle side of the park.

Peaks, Pines, and Flows in North Cascades National Park Complex


At the time, I was happy to check off North Cascades NP from my national park bucket list, but later, after I had returned home and had a chance to look at the park pamphlet I had picked up, I noticed an interesting detail. When I was planning the trip and doing basic research on the park, the atlases and maps I had seen of the park had shown a border that resembled an eastward pointing boot, but the pamphlet map showed inner borders within the boot that separated two national recreational areas – Lake Chelan National Recreational Area and Ross Lake National Recreational Area. According to the pamphlet map, the Ross Lake NRA actually surrounded State Route 20 and divided North Cascades NP. Did I actually enter the boundaries of North Cascades National Park? According to the pamphlet, I did not, but rather stayed totally within Ross Lake NRA. In fact, according to the pamphlet map, no vehicle roads ever enter the national park boundaries, meaning one would need to do a major hike in order to enter the actual boundaries of the park. However, the National Park Service website does not separate the two national recreational areas on the Washington state list like it does on the other states list, and reading closely, it talks about the North Cascades National Park Complex, which includes the two national recreational areas. For this reason, I am counting my drive through the park complex as a true visit to North Cascades National Park for my bucket list.

My next target was Olympic National Park, and according to the highlighted line on my computer generated itinerary map, my path would take me over a small connecting bridge to a long vertical island in Puget Sound, then over a longer bridge to the Olympic peninsula. When I had searched for a motel near the park the night before, I noted that my best deal would be on the island, Whidbey Island, and I made the reservation. It turned out to be lucky choice. As I drove onto the island, I began to see signs about using a special three digit phone number to call for reservations on the Port Townsend Ferry. I recognized Port Townsend as the city on the peninsula side of the long bridge on the itinerary, so when I reached the motel, I quickly checked the itinerary printout. Even though the highlighted dotted line looked like a bridge to cross, a single line on the list of route directions confirmed that the dotted line was actually a ferry path, not a bridge, and the route time calculation was based upon reaching and getting on the ferry almost exactly at the time of its departure, a very unlikely occurrence. As I was checking into my room, I mentioned needing to catch the ferry in the morning, and the desk clerk strongly recommended that I make a reservation online, especially since it was the Memorial Day weekend. I took the web address from the clerk and went online as soon as I got to my room, but I quickly discovered that all of the available reservations were booked up until early afternoon. The clerk did feel that a last minute cancellation might be possible on the earlier crossings, but she was not that up on the ferry process. Because of Puget Sound, my only other option to reach Olympic National Park would be to drive back off the island and drive down Interstate 5 through Seattle in order to circle around the south side of the park to get to the west and north entrances of the park, a trek that would cover several hours. So, do I take a chance with the ferry or trek through half of the next day just to get to Olympic National Park? I started to debate it within my mind.

To be continued…

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 1

When it came to deciding which road trip I should take this year based on my travel bucket lists, my choice was down to two options: a Midwest circuit around Lake Michigan and a broad circuit around the Pacific Northwest. The Midwest trip was designed to visit the last two states in which I had never stepped foot and one of the two states where I had only visited by changing planes in a major airport. It would also add two US national parks to the list I had visited. The Pacific Northwest trip would only visit the other of the two “changing planes” states on my list and upgrade an asterisk-visited state, but would add four US national parks to my visited list. The Midwest trip also appeared to be a simple short trip when I threw in a round-trip airfare to Chicago and the use of a rental car, as opposed to a long mileage trip in my own car from my home in the Denver area. I also had to consider that unlike last year when I had a friend join me on my trip, I was undertaking this trip solo. In the end, I decided to take on the greater challenge with the grand tour around the Pacific Northwest. To add to the challenge, due to other planned commitments, I had to schedule this tour around the heavily traveled Memorial Day weekend.

The first stop on my planned trip was Glacier National Park in Montana. I had experienced Montana fifteen years before during a Rocky Mountain road trip which had included exiting Yellowstone National Park out of the Montana entrance, then traveling eastward to the Little Bighorn National Battlefield; however, Glacier National Park, connected to its Canadian neighbor, Waterton Lake National Park, is basically the premiere tourist spot of Montana and one of the most popular of the US National Parks. Its position in the northwest corner of the state bonds it well with the three national parks on Washington in forming the core of this road trip. In my initial computer mapping, the route programmed me to the western entrance of the park, but the main feature of the park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road which goes over the continental divide as it travels between the eastern and western entrances. This led me to plan a longer trip to the eastern entrance in order to drive the entire route to the western entrance. Now, it was time to start the trek to get there.

Based on the computer map calculations, driving moderately in eight hour days, it would take me two days just to drive from the Denver area to the park entrance. Knowing that interstate highway speed limits were higher in the west and deciding that I could drive a longer day, I decided on Butte, Montana, which is only hours from Glacier NP, as the first overnight stopping point. I booked a motel online the night before my start, filled an ice chest with three days of pre-made lunches, then set out north early the next morning. The long drive through Wyoming was basically uneventful, and I made my way into Montana by mid-afternoon. However, a warm day and an emerging front brought heavy thunderstorms as I headed west in Montana. By the time I had reached my motel in Butte, the skies had cleared, and I was looking for a relaxing evening before setting out for my first visit. As I was checking in, I mentioned to the manager about my plans to drive through Glacier National Park on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and he responded that the road is never open before July because of the time it takes to plow out the winter snow. In my room, I went online and confirmed his information on the national park service website. Because this was a standard annual issue for Glacier, it wasn’t even a top alert on the site. The Going-to-the-Sun Road was only open twenty miles in at each entrance. I adjusted my route to head for the western entrance and enjoy Glacier as far as I could go in from that point.

The next day, I reached the western park entrance just before midday. After stopping at the Visitor Center, then taking a short detour, I started driving up the Going-to-the-Sun Road as it bordered on Lake McDonald. I stopped and took photos of the mountain range on the other side of the lake, although clouds did cover some mountain peaks. At the eastern end of the lake, there was a lodge and cabins with parking, which is where the main road was closed to vehicles. However, the Going-to-the-Sun Road was still clear for a distance, so it was opened for exploring bikers and hikers. I was able to hike down the road and pop in the woods for a bit, even meeting a curious deer at one moment, in order to get a sense of the northern mountain environment. I may not have been able to experience the sharp mountain ridges and glacial valleys at the continental divide and center of the park, but I truly savored the natural section I was able to experience. After enjoying the hike and picture taking, I drove back out of the park and headed back south to the interstate, where I turned westward.

Glacier National Park montage from the Lake McDonald area

I crossed into the Idaho panhandle and stopped for dinner. Prior to this moment, I had only consciously experienced Idaho twice. When I first came out to attend UCLA, I used my first spring break to fly up to Oregon in order to see my birthplace. On the way back, I took the bus to Boise and flew back to LA from there. This was before I had a decent camera to properly record any travel. Later, during the Rocky Mountain road trip, I crossed into the southeast corner of Idaho for a half-hour on my way from Salt Lake City to Jackson, Wyoming prior to visiting Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Because it was just a half-hour crossing, I felt this only gave Idaho an asterisk for my more recent travels. Now I had stopped in a town and was actually enjoying a meal in Idaho, finally allowing me to remove the asterisk off my trip bucket list accounting. However, I had more planned for Idaho later in my trip.

Finally, after dinner, I headed on into Washington where I had reserved my night stop in Spokane Valley. The only other time I had been in Washington was when I changed planes in Seattle-Tacoma Airport on my way to a land tour in Alaska sixteen years ago. Now, I was going to truly experience Washington by visiting its national parks over the Memorial Day weekend. My excitement was growing.

To be continued…

 

How Should a National Park Be Defined?

In one of my earliest posts written nearly five years ago, I discussed the various bucket lists I had created as a plan to explore the wonders of our world, gaining a perspective of where we fit within the environment and history of its being. One of those bucket lists was to visit all of the designated United States National Parks. At the time and up to the start of 2018, there were 59 designated national parks managed by the United States National Park System. With last year’s road trip, I am able to mark off 41 of those 59 national parks, and I am planning a northwestern road trip in late spring which will bring me to 4 more national parks. However, the United States Congress, at the urging of a Missouri senator, recently re-designated the Jefferson Expansion National Memorial to the Gateway Arch National Park. President Trump signed the law in February 2018. Now, I have no major quibble over officially renaming Jefferson Expansion to Gateway Arch, even though the metal arch was designed and constructed in the 1960s as a homage to President Thomas Jefferson’s action of the Louisiana Purchase which greatly expanded the US in the early 1800s and led to its eventual growth as the fourth largest country in the world. However, changing its designation from a national memorial to a national park totally upends the true concept of a national park and how it should be perceived. This is an action to which I cannot agree.

Now, the birth of the concept of the national park with Yellowstone did not arise out of any grand plan, as Yellowstone was created as the first national park only because it was not within the borders of a state at the time of its designation by Congress, but was just within US territory. Yosemite was the first park set aside by Congress, but because it was within the borders of the new state of California, it was designated as a California State Park. It was only after California decided to build the Hetch Hetchy dam and reservoir in a northern valley of the park that Yosemite was taken back and re-designated by the US Congress as a National Park, allowing future national parks to be set aside and designated within individual state boundaries. Under the activism of conservationists like Ansel Adams, the concept of a national park developed into the preservation of important natural ecosystems within the US, an idea which has spread globally to many other countries. The range of US national parks stretch from volcanic geysers, mountain ranges, arctic tundra, unique forest regions, major cave systems, deep canyons, low valleys, off-shore islands, and sub-tropical everglades. Visiting these protected environments have become a great means to gain a true perspective of the natural science of the planet on which we live.

Oversight of these national parks are handled by the National Park Service, a division of the Interior Department. This oversight balances the preservation and maintenance of these protected environments with handling the large number of visitors who come to experience and gain perspective from these environments. The National Park Service also oversees a great number of historical sites from battlefields, trails, and forts to memorials, statues, and historical buildings. There are also several national monument sites that were designated by Presidents under the power of the Art and Antiquities Act. Many of these monuments could be considered a valuable natural environment that could place it in the national park designation, but it would require Congress to pass a law re-designating these monuments to national park status. However, probably for the benefit of visitors and a positive campaign touting their oversight, the National Park Service is very prominent is calling all of their 400+ protected sites as national parks. This campaign may be why Congress did not have any issue in re-designating the Gateway Arch from a national memorial to a national park. Like many Americans, the senators and representatives had become blind to the designation concept of a national park.

Now looking through the other designated national parks, some may argue that social and historical constructs had already pervaded the natural identity of a national park. The smallest US national park, Hot Springs National Park, has its borders entering the northern city limits of Hot Springs, Arkansas, in order to take in historical bathhouses that formed a key part in the area’s use of the hot spring water for health reasons. However, the national park was designated mainly to oversee and preserve the naturally heated waters caused by the underground pressures within the surrounding Ozark Mountains. The park boundaries circle within the mountain ridge around the northern neighborhood of Hot Springs where campgrounds have been set aside. In another of the newer national parks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, the park boundaries surround several towns with a few schools and farms inside. When I visited the park eight years ago, I found it interesting to find a home up for sale in one of the towns within the park borders. As I understand, these town sections are not considered to be federal land nor technically part of the park. However, the reason for the designation of a national park was for the oversight and protection of the Cuyahoga River and the surrounding natural environment, since the Cuyahoga River was one of the first heavily polluted rivers that was successfully cleaned up, a major conservation act of nature. So, in comparison, the Gateway Arch is a major human-manufactured metallic structure designed solely as an artistic memorial based on a stretch of landscaped grassy areas along the shore of the Mississippi River next to an ornately domed historic courthouse in the downtown center of St. Louis. Nowhere in this description do I perceive a preservation of any sort of natural ecosystem associated with the concept of a truly designated national park. This was totally a socially grand memorial commemorating an historic era in the United States. It should have stayed a designated national memorial.

So how should this affect my bucket list of visiting all of the US National Parks? Even if I were to add the Gateway Arch to the national parks list, I will still be able to check it off as having been visited since it was a part of my Central Plains road trip last year, meaning I still have the same number of national parks left to visit. Of course, I still have my little slideshow of personal images from the national parks I have visited on another page of my website. Should I add a Gateway Arch image I took from my current visit last year to this slideshow? At this time, I will not, as I still do not consider this re-designation to truly fit within the natural concept of a national park.

2017 – A Year of Reviewing Indie Books

Welcome, 2018! Many of us wonder how we got through 2017. However, despite the angst of the year, I continued to find time to read works from fellow indie authors, racking up 30 novels or novellas. As I go back over my reviews for these works for the year, I find it interesting that my ratings were more centered this year. I wound up only rating one work with a 5 star rating, but before anyone worries about a loss of quality, I also notice that I did not rate any works below a 3 star rating. Beyond the one 5 star rating, the other works were pretty evenly split between the 3 and 4 star level. I rated 15 works at 3 stars, one at 3½ stars, and 13 at 4 stars. The 3½ star work could only maintain the ½ star on LibraryThing, but had to be rounded up to 4 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. I still felt some positive vibes from all of the works I read this year.

Now to reiterate my review standards as I posted over the past three years, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

The one 5 star novel was actually the next novel in Doug J. Cooper’s Crystal Series, Crystal Rebellion. Doug’s introductory novella and two previous novels in the series had also received 5 stars from me, so the complete science fiction series of an artificial intelligence crystal being and its human handlers battling alien invasions can officially qualify as a full 5 star effort. The characters are empathetic and exciting, the plots are well constructed, and the thrills are wonderful. I heartily recommend the series.

Two of the 4 star works were actually quick novellas, one even being closer to a short story looking for a few more equally good stories from the author to form a good anthology of shocking tales. The other novella provided a touching look at the world of autism. The other eleven 4 star works are standard novels that delve into a broad range of genres with a few suspense thrillers ranging from drug conspiracies to corporate secret agents, a couple of science fiction adventures from corrupt enterprises within space wars to an utopian genetic enterprise, two mysteries from a dark serial murder investigation to a dramatic romance seeking redemption within the resolution, a horror tale derived from paranormal religious conflict, a rugged historical drama, and a light comic erotic romance. The 3½ star work was a sports novel about a young golf prodigy and his mentoring by a local golf course pro. The broad range of themes and genres in this group means that many readers will find something in this list that will please their preferences.

In the 3 star list, one book was an anthology of 43 short stories, each story no more than 2 pages in length with the theme of food and murder. Each story was submitted by a different author, which meant that some stories had duplicative plots and ideas, and that not every story hit the mark. However, my 3 star review meant that there definitely were some top gems in the bunch in order to create a decent collection of tales. The other fourteen 3 star works covered a broad range of genres and themes that covered a couple of science fiction tales focused on underground communities and utopian military space action, two time travel fantasies that placed their characters back in the US Civil War and pre-Revolutionary British historical eras, an erotic historical romance in the antebellum South, three YA fantasy stories with magically gifted heroines having to face a little horror and action, a couple of dark murder mysteries that includes some psychic detective work in one of them, a couple of more YA teen tales from a romance after a rescue from danger to a teen against the world survival conflict, an erotic romance between social classes, and a Hollywood tale of four women’s relationships. For some of these novels, the general plot stretches held back some interesting tales, while in the others, the occasional stumble upended a basically strong theme. Still, there is enough in these works to provide a decent story for many a reader.

All in all, it was another good year of enjoying my fellow indie authors, and I hope avid readers will check out these earnest works, while I seek out more for the following year. I also hope that avid readers will check out my novel, Legacy Discovered, and let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.