May 30 – Denali, AK

We sighted a black bear not long after we crossed the border into Alaska.  We were glad to get our unlimited Verizon service back, but had to switch our brains back to miles vs kilometers and US cash.  

After a nice stay in Tok we headed for Fairbanks.  The weather was fantastic and we were optimistic that we would be seeing Mt. Denali in all its glory: The weather is such that the mountain is visible only around 40% of the time so we would be one of the lucky few. 

We kept passing sweeping, endless mountain ranges, pressing themselves against bountiful skies.  

We stayed at the Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks to give ourselves a scheduled break from the confines of BigB. They had a beautiful wildlife preserve adjacent to the resort – it’s a nice stroll through the boreal forest to a small lake where you maybe run into another person; it was a place of solitude with a chance for tree bathing.  

We arrived at the Denali RV Park and Motel and headed out to the National Park the next morning to go for a hike along the Savage River.  We stopped briefly at the visitor center on the way; we saw a moose and were warned about said moose by a ranger as she had a calf and had been getting aggressive.  Otherwise we navigated moose spoor that was prolific pretty much everywhere we went including the RV park.  

Savage River in Denali National Park

On our hike along the river we had the luck to spot Dall Sheep; one large male was sitting there along the ridge like a sphinx with a full set of curved horns on full display.  They were too far away for a photograph – even a high powered professional lens would have found the subject challenging to shoot.  We settled for what we could see through the binoculars and watched as several more came over the ridge. 

The hike along the river was exhilarating and there was still snow to navigate even though the weather was now in the sixties with barely a cloud in the sky.  The hike skirts the edge of the river and through portions of tundra with the Alaska range providing a dramatic backdrop.  I stopped on one of the upper trails to take it all in even though I really couldn’t; these dimensional spaces and experiences fill up too many senses – I settle for contemplating their existence and the associated memories.  

A gentle cooling breeze while the river raged on

You can take the bus through the park but due to landslides the trip is truncated – we opted for the drive to and from the trailhead instead – you can’t go any further into the park from Savage River without getting a ticket at the bus depot near the visitor center. We were happy with our sojourn as it was and were able to spot wildlife on our way back to the visitor center.

The wind blew heavily during the night and we woke without a cloud in the sky; this meant we were in luck to see the mountain itself.  We headed for the Denali South Viewpoint and about an hour into the drive we turned a corner and there it was – unmistakable, stately, towering above the vast tundra, subverting the surrounding peaks – the most majestic of the North American peaks. 

Mt Denali in all its glory

We were blessed to drive past the range and different variations of the mountain.  We arrived at Denali South Viewpoint and discovered many tourists had the same idea – though it wasn’t overly crowded.  The view was unbeatable and a short hike revealed an even better picture-perfect view.  Through the telescopes we could view the peak and the massive glacier running through the range.  

The boys were super happy they could see the mountain – no Jedi tricks here

The smell of spring permeated the surrounding forest, the warm breeze enveloped us and the view was beyond the imagination. 

Denali South Viewpoint

May 25 – Yukon Territory

We arrived at Watson Lake, the official switch-over to the Yukon Territory.  The Watson Lake RV Park is in a parking lot and was good for an overnight; it was quite crowded as the large caravans of RVs we had been warned about were starting to hit the road.  The showers were warm and clean and included in the price.  You get an hour of Wi-Fi but at least there was Verizon!  Verizon only allows 0.5 gb a day in Canada so it can get used up pretty fast before the data slows down considerably.  

We stopped by the famous “Sign Post Park” and found a few gems from Oregon.  

Watson Lake Signpost Park

We headed North along the Alaska Highway 1 which wasn’t too much different than the Stewart Cassiar but with a bit more traffic and there was some gravel along the way.  Otherwise the scenery was fantastic and we saw a bear and a caribou.

We played around trying to match the videos we were taking with the music we had playing on the stereo.  We had some success – adding music to the landscape brought tears to my eyes – it puts you in a place of awe.  

We reached the Yukon Motel and RV Park in Teslin which again was a bit of a parking lot, though it wasn’t crowded and had decent wi-fi just so long as you got close to the lodge itself.   They also had showers and bathrooms.  

We hiked around the marine park and hammed it up with the local wildlife.  

When I opened the skylight to the rig, I saw large muddy paw marks and realized that it wasn’t a squirrel that was fooling around on the roof at midnight when we were boondocking at the Clements Lake Recreation area; the Fisher Cat had come back and apparently partied for a while on top of our rig, muddying up the roof and solar panels. He then slid down the back (thankfully not scratching anything) onto our cargo carrier.  Bob cleaned up the mud and we can only guess this feline was marking its territory somehow.  

As it was Saturday night we decided to eat at the local restaurant – I had Yukon Elk sausage with perogies – quite the diverse combo and it was really good.  

We headed out to Whitehorse that we knew was more of a hub as it is also the capital.  The Caribou RV park turned out to be great; they had private bathrooms and showers and you got a voucher for Wi-Fi for the day.  Downtown Whitehorse was a bit of a ghost town as it was Sunday and also a holiday weekend for the Canadians so a lot of the shops were closed up.  

As we were there for a few days we decided to hike the Miles Canyon trail along the Yukon River.  We were told there were otter sightings but we didn’t see them – darn! They classify the hike as moderate but there were some seriously steep sections of the hill and one part that went straight up and you had to climb over large rocks to get up!  Thankfully I survived without incident as loose gravel is not my friend.  

Lower Canyon Trail

We stumbled upon Canyon City, that is an abandoned village in the woods that harks back to the gold rush days – the history of people coming to this wilderness in hopes of striking it rich are fascinating.  This part of the Yukon has been reclaimed by the wilderness – as unforgiving as the gold rush itself. 

Yukon River

We stopped by downtown Whitehorse again on our way out and one of the galleries was open so I took a gander and found a few cards but not a lot of First Nations artwork.  Mammoth fossils have apparently been found in this area and they had jewelry and figurines made from their bones which was interesting though I couldn’t find a piece that I had to have though.  

Polar Bear Reverie – Nathalie Parenteau

Our next stop was Destruction Bay through the Kluane mountain range.  We ran into inclement weather but we were heading into some more spectacular scenery.  The clouds clung to the mountain tops but the ice and snow fields were apparent along our drive.   The Kluane boasts several massive glaciers that are only accessible via plane – hence all the advertisements for air tours. 

We saw moose and elk along the road and though it had more traffic than Stewart Cassiar it still wasn’t overly busy.  

Not the best view – but still….

We reached Kluane Lake that was still frozen and stretched for miles – we saw our first caution sign for bighorn so kept an eye out but didn’t see any.  When we reached Destruction Bay Lodge there was only one other RV there.  The other RVs we saw along the way were boondocked in the day use pull outs.  The proprietor wasn’t there but had a sign on the office door that the 30 amp was working, but no water due to frozen pipes (similar to the Red Goat Lodge) and no available dump station and just go ahead and park up and then leave cash in an envelope.  Glad we decided to get cash in Vancouver!  We were thankful we had carried enough water to hold us over to the next RV Park near Beaver Creek.  The funny thing is we have great cell coverage – there is a gas station and a few homes but otherwise we haven’t seen much in the way of civilization.  

Canada has turned out to be full of contradictions for sure.  

Permafrost Parking – Destruction Bay

“In Destruction Bay it’s raining hard.  It’s a place where civilization shouldn’t be, had been blown from the face of the earth in decades past, but somehow remains, where nature keeps pushing its boundaries with unforgiving ice and wind that only abates for a few months in the summer.  The sun breaks through, a passing wave at the sky and mountains though it does less to warm than it does to illuminate.  The clouds clutch at the blue and then descend into gray, unable to completely smother the majesty of the Kluane snow fields and endless glaciers. The days grow long, the sun resting near midnight then awake again at dawn.  Casting shadows but little warmth as if the tilt of the earth is an annoyance to be toyed with.”

After a leisurely morning watching the sun spray across the mist between the splendor of the endless peaks, we headed north.  The road got pretty rough with some nasty swells and frost heaves then it dissipated as we approached the Lake Creek Campground where we stopped for tea.  It was devoid of campers and the smell of boreal pine was intense.  The creek flowed quietly along with the accompanying woodpeckers and ravens in chorus throughout the forest.  

Tea time at Lake Creek

It’s a bit of a haul to get from anywhere to these campgrounds and we wondered who actually comes here.  Unlike in the U.S. where there are substantial towns within a few hours of most campgrounds.  We were in no rush to get to Koidern just south of Beaver Creek.  I was glad for these shorter stops as spending all day on a potentially rough road didn’t seem too inviting.  

The frost heaves continued along with spots of simply gravel; when people talk about this stretch of road it actually starts above Destruction Bay and you will occasionally get a respite but not for long.  We traveled at a leisurely pace to keep the rig from being bunged up too much.  

We arrived at Discovery Yukon Lodge outside of Koidern; they had just switched on the water so we were lucky there and had full hookups.  The permafrost this time of year has made the water supplies a bit of a touch and go.  They didn’t have Wi-Fi in the lodge as advertised claiming they had no phone service (there was no cell service) and I had to pay in cash even though there was clearly a credit card machine on the counter.  I’m not sure how they function the rest of the year or if they wind up paying for a line via satellite during the high season.

We decided to stretch our legs and hiked along a game trail then to the river and got a good few miles in.  We ran across abandoned moose skulls – not sure why they were just deposited there but kinda cool just the same. The lodge has a bunch on its roof and quite a collection of taxidermy in the office.  

These are kinda heavy

The upside to traveling this time of year is the drama of the landscape that wouldn’t be the same without the snow.  

The Yukon evokes images of vast forests and tundras filled with caribou and wandering moose.  A place romanticized more by the gold rush than by its beauty that threatens to swallow you whole.  And on this trip we only scratched the surface.  

Pickax Lake

May 20 – Stewart Cassiar Highway, BC

After leaving Telkwa we headed for Highway 37, the Stewart Cassiar Highway.  We had more dramatic landscape for quite a while on the 16 before we turned onto Highway 37.  After a few hours the landscape started to unfold into a winter-spring melt, leaving thick snow on the mountain tops like a Dairy Queen soft swirl.  I felt like we were sliding along a tongue into great gaping jaws; the mountains erupt from around sea level, jutting straight up into jagged peaks that conversely cascade to the lush green valley floor.  The weather actually started to warm into the 60’s.  Soon, we spotted moose-poop-spore and the road signs were now showing symbols of moose and bear but not deer.  I suspect there are still deer but they certainly weren’t kidding on the bear. We spotted our first one off the side of the road in a small meadow munching on something and giving us an annoying look. We saw the next one a ways down the road, running across the highway into an oncoming vehicle – it made it to the other side safely.  We slowed down and saw it tucked amongst the trees.  The last one we saw just off the side of the road and we managed to get a shot.

Still no moose though! 

The roads were in good condition and there wasn’t much traffic.  Our plan was to head towards Stewart on Highway 37a that turned out to be insanely spectacular.  We passed multiple avalanche warnings with other signs that warned of planned explosions, an unnatural betrayal of the natural order.  Thankfully the threat of avalanches was over, but it was obvious where it could be problematic.  There were still signs of early spring snow on the sides of the highway, but otherwise the countryside was dry save for the numerous waterfalls cascading down the cliffs.  The roads were actually in good condition considering the brutal weather conditions they endure; we ran into a few frost heaves but nothing that slowed us down much.  

Then we turned a corner and were met with a glacier that spilled into a partially frozen lake.  We paused to contemplate the glacial blue melt against the slate and snow, the only sound being the wind, the only movement being the ice flows across the lake.  We didn’t realize that this was Bear Glacier. We were simply impressed with stumbling upon this stately feature along the road.  

As with the glacier, you can always expect the unexpected; due to the unusually cold spring the Kinaskan and Meziadin Provincial Parks closed and cancelled my reservations due to snow (though we couldn’t find any in the forecast) and wouldn’t open again until the 20th, then the RV Park in Stewart cancelled as well and closed permanently. Seriously, snow…..again!!!!  I scrambled for other accommodations and no one was answering their phones in either Stewart or Hyder.  I found a recreation site near Clements Lake and decided to take our chances and boondock there.  

When we arrived the road into the recreation area was covered in a couple of feet of slushy snow, something that BigB simply could not navigate so we wound up boondocking near the entrance amongst the pines, they had cleared out that area but for some reason not the road into the recreation area.  

Thankfully we are self-contained and set up house for the evening, along with another RV similar to our size.  Not long after we settled in we felt something rocking the RV; well the bear spray was in one of the bays so I handed Bob the pepper spray in case it was a curious bear.  He didn’t see anything but the neighbor in the RV parked behind us said a “Fisher Cat” had been walking all over our cargo rack!  We never saw it but found out it is like a large mongoose.  

Then we had a run of folks trying to find a place to camp or boondock and they saw us, looked at the road to Clements Lake and turned around.  One almost got stuck trying to drive through the snow and we were wondering if we needed to help bail them out.  The problem is none of the Provincial Parks in the area are open.  We were warned about the remoteness, but didn’t bank on everything in the area cancelling on us. 

About midnight I was awakened by a misdirected squirrel who had landed on our roof, chirping and confused.  It eventually quieted down. 

Like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, despite the weather challenges we had, you certainly can’t beat the scenery.  

The next morning the sun broke through and we drove back to Bear Glacier for coffee and breakfast.  Like the Canyonlands Needles Outlook in Utah, there was no one around and we drank coffee in blissful solitude, watching the morning sun break over the ridge to illuminate the blue sky and surrounding cliffs. The gulls glided across the icefields that fed into the lake, celebrating the glorious morning.  The water falls tumbled down the precipices, feeding the lake below, converging its tears into a glacial translucence welcomed by the riverock, a pristine race easily witnessed through a magnificent wilderness lens. 

After this meditation, we spotted beaver further up the road and of course more bears.  

Breakfast Bear Glacier

Alas, still no moose….

Be warned that we had no cell service and even after driving back to Highway 37 we thought we would have encountered a cell tower but, hence no luck.  

We swung by the Kinaskan Provincial Park that was supposed to be closed but we found it open.  We stopped for tea and pondered whether to stay in one of the lovely spots but we really needed to get in touch with our realtor as our house is in the process of being sold.  

We arrived at Iskut thinking there would be a cell tower, still no luck.  We arrived at the Red Goat lodge and RV park and managed to get some wi-fi and hookups.  None of the major carriers can be bothered with cell service on the Stewart Cassiar Highway.  In a way it’s fitting, it forces you to embrace the remoteness we used to experience camping years ago.  If you want to be off-the-grid where the wild things are – this is your ticket!  

We set up camp across from the partially frozen Eddontenajon Lake.  The weather was nice and since there were so many sites available (until we pack of RVs showed up) we decided to be naughty and hijacked one of the camping spots that overlooked the lake to build a fire (they were 15 amp which is why we didn’t choose it in the first place); we essentially spread across two camping spots.  

We ended the day with our version of “Fire and Ice.”

Sheer bliss!!

After a cold night (down to 28 degrees) we headed out to Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory – this would take us through the remainder of the Stewart Cassiar Highway.  We drove for several non-descript miles until Dease Lake.  The traffic is scarce and there isn’t much along this stretch of highway; you really are in the wild.  No cell, no gas stations or towns for miles; not the best place to break down.  

We passed our first “caution – caribou” signs and then suddenly we saw a moose in a marsh along with swans, loons, geese, duck and other birds whose origin I wasn’t sure of.  

Our first moose!

We started to meander once again through spectacular mountain ranges with never-ending frozen lakes.  

Then, as you can expect the unexpected with wildlife, a caribou appeared on the side of the road – I only had a second to catch a poor quality iPhone image before it disappeared further into the forest.  

Poor image but still – we saw a caribou!

We continued our trek through this remote wilderness, barely seeing any other cars, disconnected from society wondering if this road ever got much busier; you drive through it and there are some campgrounds and the occasional towns where the population can’t be more than fifty people.

After nearly 180 miles and around four hours of driving we passed approximately 15 cars and 4 motorcycles.  

If you want to disappear into the wild, then the Stewart Cassiar Highway is a must-do.  

Stewart Cassiar Highway – where the wild things are!

May 18 – Fraser Valley, BC, Canada

We headed back to Vancouver via the ferry and were greeted with a hump whale sighting on the way over!  Nice to get a freebie along the way.  Once we hit the mainland we made our way up to the Cayoosh Campground in Lillooet.  The GPS took us on the Transcanada Highway 1 instead of 99.  While it was cloudy and rainy, we were greeted with towering peaks that jutted straight up six-thousand feet, they loomed behind breaks in the clouds, making their presence somewhat foreboding vs. the usually breathtaking reaction we have to such dramatic landscapes.  We wound through the Fraser Valley where the churning, muddy river cut through gorges that felt more like fjords; thousands of feet of sheer drops into the river below. 

We eventually  came through the rolling hills to Lillooet through a town called Lytton that had been completely gutted by wildfires.  It was looked like a scene from a holocaust; apparently sixty-five structures were consumed within one hour. With much dismay, we saw a fair amount of forest fire damage on our way through. This is one of the reasons we decided to come in the spring, as the fire seasons start earlier and earlier – as we experienced in Oregon over the last few years.  We are thankful we did New Mexico when we did – now the places we visited are being ravaged. 

We settled into a nice barbecue and campfire as we had sunny weather.  

We walked into town and had breakfast.  It’s a sleepy town but this is why we don’t mind going a bit off track; we get to experience parts of the country that may not be deemed as popular.  Somehow people subsist in these remote areas; you certainly can’t beat the scenery. 

Next we headed to the 100 Mile House.  There are various towns with the names such as 100 Mile House, 150 Mile House. These designations hark back to the Cariboo Gold Rush (we see the spelling “Cariboo” instead of “Caribou” for the most part).

Besides the leaping deer sign warnings we saw our moose first sign, and also our first frost heave sign (little pyramids warning you of their presence).  Then we saw the deer and moose combo sign.  I kept my eyes peeled for moose but only saw deer. 

We settled in for the night at the Big Country RV Park.  They hadn’t been busy in a while and said things were now really starting to pick up.  We parked next to some friendly Canadians amongst the aspens (lots of aspens and rolling hills in this region).  The showers there we great and really hot – yes!  The weather remained clear and we went on a lovely hike in the morning around the rolling pastures.  

That afternoon we arrived at the Sintich RV park after surviving a heck of a squall; rain and wind that lashed us to the point we almost pulled over.  The park was soaked with huge puddles that we hoped we wouldn’t have to park in.  They were covid-obsessed here; the first time masks have been required outside the Navajo nation.  The bathrooms and showers were closed; it was a bit much after having experienced better service in Canada so far.  The Wi-Fi was decent once we activated the Winegard booster, otherwise another RV park could have been a bit nicer; it was mostly long-term inhabitants surrounded by permanent mobile homes.  

We were told this weather is unusual as it’s usually dry, but they have been having a cold spring – oh joy!  But it beats wildfires.  

We stocked up on supplies in Prince George as we were warned things would start getting more sparse and expensive.  We even got haircuts!  We are now looking a bit more civilized.  

I had purchased a beautiful card in Victoria that I scanned and enlarged and is now on our well.  It fits the decor beautifully, is Native American, but is also tragic as it’s about women that have gone missing.  In a sense besides being enamored with the art, the deeper meaning behind it makes it that more profound.  

After a beautiful and uneventful drive up Highway 16 we stopped at the Fort Telkwa RV park that sits along the river. We were greeted by snow capped mountains on our way in – we are assuming this is our first taste of the landscapes we will be experiencing along the Stewart Cassiar Highway that we will be hitting today!  

The views from Fort Telkwa RV Park

May 13 – Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada

After ten days back on the mainland we are embarking on the first leg of our five month trip through Canada to Alaska!  

But first we feverishly finished up the prep on our home of twenty-two years and put it on the market on May 10; it sold in two days well over the asking price!  The rise in interest rates certainly hasn’t entirely dampened buyer’s appetites. 

BigB is now our home for the next five months until we move to France.

We stopped over in Seattle on our way to Canada to have dinner with my brother and sister-in-law whom we had just spent two weeks in Hawaii – and who just happen to live in Redmond – feast or famine!  

The next day we arrived in Vancouver B.C. – I didn’t realize that I had to fill out the government required ArriveCAN COVID-19 verification info for presentation at the border; I had been more concerned with what we could bring across the border,  I hadn’t checked the requirements for COVID-19 until the last minute! Thankfully the Canadians are not only lovely people, but extremely organized and I was able to complete the requirement online a few hours before arrival.  

After overnighting in Vancouver we headed for the Tsawwassen Ferry for our trip to Victoria.  I had booked the ferry tickets a week before-hand as you can’t expect to just show up and get on.  The boys were super excited, especially Bob Jr (our new minion!) as this was his first trip.  The trip over was a lovely sojourn through the surrounding islands. It was 1.5 hours but it went quickly.  

After getting settled in at the Fort Victoria RV Park, we spent the following day drifting around Victoria which is a lovely city; there is definitely an English tea culture here, that, and the English sweets that were in proliferation, really excited Bob.  

We stopped by Chinatown and Fan Tan Alley, enchanting remnants of the Chinese culture that helped build the city, then made our way through downtown to the Empress Hotel and waterfront.

 We discovered these darling water taxis, and though we would have loved to have taken a harbor tour it didn’t fit into our schedule.  Victoria is one of those historic and infinitely walkable cities.  As the day was cold we were glad to drop into the occasional cozy coffee shop for a pick-me-up.  

The real treat was the Butchart Gardens that we had planned for the next day as the weather was expected to be good – and it certainly lived up to the hype!  We spent four delirious hours touring a riot of tulips, rhododendrons, azaleas, cherry blossoms and the rare and amazing blue poppy. 

The rare blue poppy – found here and in Tibet.

There was also a species of tulip I had never seen – it looked more like a peony.

Peony or Tulip?

All of this blooming magnificence on unapologetic display; it was sheer luck that we had planned our trip to this utopia when the Canadian spring was in full swing.

By far, my favorite was the not-of-this-earth “Sunken Garden.”  It had been an old quarry that slowly morphed from an oasis of imagination.  It was difficult for me to catch my breath.  We left with our love of gardening ignited, pining for the day we would be settled in France and sinking our fingers and minds into the rich soil of the Dordogne Valley.  

The Sunken Garden of Fantastical Dreams
Garbage Couture

April 27 – The Sea Remembers its Own

This post is about a journey that started over 80 years ago that ferried my father from a remote farm in North Dakota to the tropical paradise island of Oahu as a U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Band Member, Musician 2nd class. Having been deprived of his connection throughout most of my childhood, I have been like a stubborn orphan seeking a familial connection denied me, and through his letters I have joined him on his journey through the tumult of World War II.  I never flinched at the intergenerational trauma because, as a cult survivor, I have developed an unusual taste for the uncomfortable. 

Covid had put a damper on our trip to Hawaii that had originally been planned for 2020, this change of plan allowed me more time to explore what has turned out to be a legacy that has found its final resting place at Pearl Harbor. 

I have spent years, off and on, pulling together his letters, pictures, ancient negatives and periphenalia.  I recently contacted members of the US Navy Pacific Fleet Band to find a suitable home for these precious artifacts that laid dormant in a closet after his death in 1996.  I had the pleasure of connecting with the vibrant and dynamic Lt. Luslaida Barbosa, the Navy Pacific Fleet Bandmaster: She has an impressive resume – she is not only one of the few female US Navy Bandmasters, she is also a woman of color (Puerto Rican) and the only one who moved up the ranks while raising children.  I’m honored to know her and make the aquaintance of such a trailblazer.  

She met us briefly at the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, but as we were boarding the ferry to the memorial our conversation was cut short.  So I asked to meet up with her again the following week. She has also been assisting me with finding a home for my father’s trombone that he played during the war – it is now destined for the Naval School of Music in Little Creek, Virginia. 

She also advised me there was a memorial ceremony at the USS Utah site for a musician from the Enterprise – Lt. Barbosa thought it was related to us – it was simply a fantastical coincidence amongst so many it seems.  

The USS Arizona Memorial

On the ferry, I was accommpanied by boat-load of strangers who were oblivious to my father’s history, feeling a lack of intimacy that I had hoped for as we were shuffled around the memorial for the short time allowed.  The Arizona Memorial isn’t simply a place of rememberance, but an underwater cemetery of the most profound kind; you come here to pay your respects to all those who died a ghastly death as it was sunk with precision by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.  When I contemplate this gargantuan, rusting tomb emitting its black tears, I hope those surrounding me also consider all that happened that day and how a slight turn of events could have changed the course of history for the U.S.  When I look up, the Mighty Mo stands guard in the distance, a sentinel, proud, defiant – unchallenged.  She is all that remains of battleship row – her brethren either submerged or eventually scrapped.  The power of the symbology becomes apparent:  Testimonies to the beginning and the end of one of the most devastating wars in history. #neverforget #neversurrender 

The Mighty Mo

I left with my mental notes to contemplate the wreckage and what my father would have witnessed as the USS Enterprise steamed into the harbor the day after the attack; the sky black with smoke, the massive hulks of mangled ships, the bodies of the unrecovered, flames – layers of carnage that would be forever fused in his mind. If the Enterprise has been moored in the harbor on December 7th, I probably wouldn’t be alive – writing this blog. 

Ten days later, after a lovely respite on the North Shore, my husband and I returned to Honolulu and spent our final day back at Pearl Harbor; our first stop was the USS Missouri – the Mighty Mo.

The scale and power of this battleship gave me perspective on what my father would have experienced during his service on the USS W. Virginia.  The guns must have been as deafening as the emotional toll on its inhabitants.

I’m always in awe at how mankind can accomplish such feats of engineering.  

There is a dent on the side of the Mo where a Kamakaze (aka Divine Wind) clipped the ship with its wing – and miraculously a ship photographer captured the exact moment of the crash.  It was a failed attempt but a fitting scar; these pilots gave their lives by the thousands.  My father wrote of them attacking the USS West Virginia. They did massive damage to the pacific fleet and were a force to be reckoned with.  

The slow unveiling of my father’s history is like the maze of a great battleship, you can easily get lost in the corridors, trip, bang your head on the low ceilings, bump into the narrow passage ways.  You pass the fortified and impregnable bulk heads thinking there is no way out, then you stumble across the engine room, the crew quarters and the mess hall.  You contemplate the inception of massive turrets that hold the outer world at bay. Then you some how find your way out of the darkness into the museum level and the #neverforget history of the ship itself.

When you emerge, back on deck, you face the Arizona Memorial, the three immortal gun turrets saluting all those who perished and praising the grit of all those who survived.  

I’m now standing still in the spot where the Japanese surrendered on September 2nd, 1945 that ended the war.  I welled up a bit as my father was so close to being at that very spot:  It would have been his final performance for the Navy. He decided to return home instead; he had survived too many conflicts and whatever twists of fate, while so many of his comrades perished – the toll of war left him devoid of any further adventure. I wonder in hindsight if he wished he had been part of such a significant, historical event.  

After our mesmerizing tour of the Mighty Mo, we went to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to meet up with Lt. Barbosa at the Pacific Fleet Band base. It turned out Bob could not join me, as he did not have his passport and is a dual citizen.  It was such a disappointment but you don’t argue with the Navy. 

She took me through the building that had been housing the fleet bands since the 1940’s.  I imagined my father walked these halls at some point.  There are no longer bands assigned to ships so this is now the hub that holds all their offices, where they rehearse for events; I met so many of the young band members in their fatigues – their respectability was refreshing and their fascination with my father’s history utterly endearing. 

Lt. Barbosa kindly drove me back to the visitor center to meet back up with Bob. Bidding my farewell, I realized I had done the right thing to cement my father’s legacy for future generations. So many I talk to, do not know what to do with their old letters and artifacts from wars gone past:   All I did was contact and see who could help me – the result has been beyond what I could have ever anticipated.  

We visited the WW II Aviation Museum, rode in a simulator, observed the relics of planes and bullet holes, and wandered through the hangers made familiar by Hollywood movies – but what happened here was far from Hollywood.

The Pearl Harbor Memorial not-so-gently reminds us of what we must never forget.  People visit in droves and I hope they internalize the sacrifices and suffering that too many endured for our freedoms.  These are not trite words, the Greatest Generation was born of tragedy and resiliency.  It’s ok to exceed your comfort zone as they did.

I have felt both empowered and desolate – not like those who lost loved ones to the war – but to a memory I never had the chance to fully understand.  I understand better now.  Having had no scattering of ashes, I instead decided to have a burial at sea, submerging his memory into the harbor itself where his time capsule rests like a pearl, in peace amongst the ghosts of his comrades.  The glass of the capsule will remain but the cap will eventually rust – the sand will drift and the photo will deteriorate.  It may surface someday as beach glass – beach glass of a special kind that maybe will transfer its magic to an aspiring sailor or musician.  Or if it surfaces intact there is a message there for anyone who will listen.  

As the spirit world has suggested, perhaps it’s as much closure for him as it is for me.  

RIP W.A Bender – you have now come full circle; the glass did not shatter, like the delicate resiliency of a human life, but it will meet its fate, as all things do, as the seal turns to rust.  Ashes and dust have no place here and disappear with the wind, but the sea, in its mighty wisdom….will always remember its own. 

April 26 Birthday Hawaiian Style

Today is my birthday and we are heading back to Honolulu after ten fabulous days on the North Shore of Oahu.  I can’t think of a better way to spend it than here on this beautiful island with family. 

We had a “High Surf Advisory” Sunday and here that means one thing – surfing!  We headed out to a lovely lagoon next to Shark’s Cove located just up from the “Pipeline.” 

The tide was seriously surging and it turned out to be a beautiful day; the rain decided to hold off while we spent hours snorkeling, soaking up the vibes and watching the mesmerizing surf.

The fish action was great and they acted as if we didn’t exist – I was literally swimming through large pools of them.

To top off our stay, we dined at Haleiwa Joe’s overlooking the harbor; nothing beats an authentic Mai Tai, tropical breezes and good company. It seems that cocktail mixers like to be more creative though I prefer to stick with the standards indigenous to the Island’s to include Pina Colada’s and the infamous Volcano.  

We bid farewell to my brother and sister-in-law, the local turtles who kept us thoroughly entertained, and headed back to Honolulu by way of Kaneohe.

My father had been stationed at the Kaneohe Air Base after the bombing of Pearl Harbor for a short while before he was redeployed to the mainland. The scenery was astounding – lush with valleys of jungles and skyrocketing escarpments that screamed tropical exotic. It’s no wonder so many movies are filmed here. I can imagine that during my father’s day it must have been utterly unspoiled.

We decided to drop into Kualoa Ranch where they filmed Jurassic Park. We skipped the tour but enjoyed the kitsch all the same.

Note the sunglasses

As it was my birthday we needed to top off the day with an authentic Pina Colada and we really scored at the “Lava Tube” in Honolulu where they serve them in pineapples!

My Pina Colada fix!

What a great a way to top of a memorable birthday with some Hawaiian flare!

April 15 E Ala E – A Hawaiian Rebirth

After making it back home to Portland, Oregon we had to hit the deck running as we needed to pack up the house for our eventual move to France and…we were leaving for Hawaii to join family in Oahu on the 14th; this trip had been cancelled two years prior due to Covid, and since then I had spent time scanning my father’s WWII letters from his service in the Pacific.  This will turn out to be a seminal experience as we will be meeting with the Pacific Fleet Band Master as part of our tour of the Arizona Memorial.  My father served as a Musician 2nd Class (eventually 1st Class) in the Navy aboard the Enterprise and W. Virginia and his letters ranging from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay captured a rare glimpse into the life of a musician during the war.  

When we arrived back in Portland it of course decided to snow!  The movers were coming the next day and we prayed the weather would clear, not just with the packing and moving, but making it to the airport for our flight. 

I’ve had far worse stressors in my life, but still, it was a lot and we both started to blow out some brain cells with all the details.  

Thankfully, we made it to the plane without incident, worn and a bit shattered from the last few days, convinced we forgot to bring necessary items only to find them shoved here and there in our luggage.  

Upon arrival I took a deep breath instead of a sigh of relief; I wanted to inhale the islands themselves.  We were greeted by the trade winds scented with plumeria as we explored the legendary Royal Hawaiian Resort, then we soaked our feet in the tropical blue surf of Waikiki Beach. Much has changed since my father sunbathed in front of this princess-pink landmark; it sits there defiant amongst the modern high rises – its place in history never to be questioned. And shopping mall laden Honolulu is no longer the quaint meandering village it was back in the 1940’s as described in his letters – more to come on this later after we meet with the US Navy Pacific Fleet Bandmaster on the 20th at Pearl Harbor; this subject deserves a special place in my blog.  

We dined at the Mai Tai Bar and I had the Vic’s 44 cocktail – a throwback to the Trader Vic’s Tiki Lounge that was founded back before the war.  I still have my father’s certificate.  Trader Vic’s is now all over the world except here in Honolulu which really escapes me as to why that is. The “International Market” is mostly box stores with a few galleries thrown in.

Give me some authentic Hawaiian crafts please!!!

After passing out from a long day we woke up at 4:00 a.m. —— just couldn’t get back to sleep. 

We decided to attend the Hiuwai Morning Ritual on the Royal Hawaiian Beachfront that started at 5:45 a.m. 

We were met by Kehaulani Kam, the Director of Cultural Services for the Marriott team in Hawaii, who introduced us to a traditional Hawaiian sunrise ritual that involved chants and baptizing ourselves in the ocean.  We weren’t prepared to swim but I decided to chuck formalities and go in mostly clothed.  This ritual involves the concept of rebirthing through the healing waters of Waikiki – which means “spouting fresh waters.”  The waters from the interior meld with the ocean creating an alchemy worshipped by the Hawaiians.  

What a great way to start our adventure as we are essentially going through a rebirth on this new chapter in our lives.  

Bob and I came out soaked and refreshed by the experience, glad to have immersed ourselves in this lovely tradition.  Kehaulani had explained the importance of their ancestors and carrying on these traditions – to never allow their heritage to disappear.  I let her know about my father’s legacy including the vintage photographs of Waikiki and sunbathing in front of the Royal Hawaiian and she was excited to know more. 

W.A Bender in front of the Royal Hawaiian – 1940
Waikiki Beach before and after – from in front of the Royal Hawaiian

As it turns out, I made this unexpected connection during this rebirthing ritual, resulting in my father’s legacy being introduced as part of the Royal Hawaiian historical collection that is destined for the display case in the lower lobby of the hotel!!!!!  

She was so excited to see what I had and to read his letters from his time in the Navy.  This is an ongoing development that I will continue to blog about – and I can’t wrap my head around the significance of what has emerged since our arrival. 

Despite the swarm of people and the overwhelming commercialism surrounding the resorts, when my feet touch these sands, I feel that I am cocooned in a special place and time – even though I share it, I cannot adequately interpret what the spirits are playing at.  I am grateful that I have been swept onto these shores, to convey this oceanic history and solidify my father’s legacy, that like this hotel, has withstood the test of time. 

E Ala E in Hawaiian means “Awaken

April 9 Oregon Coast

We headed back to Santa Rosa to mooch-dock and visit our friend Peter; the weather was glorious and dry and we shared some fabulous dinners together.  

Bob had purchased a couple of bicycles from him to be packed and shipped back to Portland and it turned out the boxes were bigger than anticipated – along with the costs, so we shipped one back and have managed to wedge the other one into the RV.  Fortunately it’s just for a few nights.  

Managing the physics

We made a pit stop on our way to the Oregon Coast at the Founder’s Grove in the Redwood National Forest. What a great tea time we had – it was so rejuvenating revisiting this place and tree bathing amongst these magnificent giants once again. #spoiled.

We finally arrived at the Turtle Rock RV Resort in Gold Beach and its stunning coastline – it was a long day of driving and being buffeted by the wind so instead of fixing dinner we dove into the local Mexican restaurant for a margarita and some nice chow.  Heck, it was Friday night! 

I enjoyed the chorus of frogs that lulled me to sleep.  The weather was clear but really windy in the morning and we struggled a bit with our beach walk (literally getting a sand facial) and decided to pack up for less windy climes. 

Our next destination was Heceta Beach RV Resort outside of Florence, Oregon.  This area has special meaning to me as generations of my family and friends have met up at nearby Mercer Lake over the 4th of July; many have passed on and it is time to bid a final farewell to this unspoiled paradise.  The resort had held out for so long but recently sold to a developer – it will not be the same.

Such is the sad passing of things.  

We stopped and strolled through our regular haunts in old-town Florence and picked up a few tokens – thankful for the beautiful weather; a fitting farewell.  

Reflecting back on the last seven weeks I cannot choose a favorite place because they are all so magnificent in their own distinct way. While we had a challenges with the weather, and the added stresses inherent to being in an RV during freezing weather, I have to confess that the beauty of snowfall made up for it. And we had all the gear to manage any conditions mother nature threw at us.

I’ve pulled together some impromptu highlights that made this trip even more memorable:

❤️Dim Sum in Chinatown, San Francisco

❤️Sunset Happy Hour at White Sands National Park 

❤️Elevenses at Mirror Lake in the shadow of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park 

❤️Barbecuing amongst the orange blossoms outside Bakersfield 

❤️Snow in the Grand Canyon 

❤️Impromptu balcony lunch at the Creekside Cafe in Sedona with a fabulous view of the surrounding buttes while they played “Stairway to Heaven” in the background – a perfect storm of pleasure 

❤️Meeting up with National Geographic photographer Nevada Wier in Santa Fe at the Obscura Gallery – I hope to join her on a photo tour someday

❤️Getting a tour of a traditional Navajo hogan at Canyon de Chelly 

❤️Enjoying a peaceful sunrise breakfast at the Needles Overlook in Canyonlands Rim Recreation area 

❤️The zen of Windwhistle Campground

❤️Watching the sunrise over Monument Valley after the snowfall 

❤️Tea time at the Founders Grove, Redwoods National Park 

❤️❤️The hospitality of the Navajo Nation….

I couldn’t have asked for a better overall experience and feel so blessed to have made the decision to embark on this adventure.

We arrive back in Portland after seven weeks on the road:  We are packing our house up for international shipping for our eventual relocation to France – and then we will sell in May.  

Our trip to Hawaii that was disrupted by the pandemic was rescheduled for April, so we will enjoy a couple of weeks being spoiled by tropical trade winds and hanging with my brother and sister-in-law on the North Shore of Oahu.  We will be visiting the Arizona Memorial in honor of my father’s memory who served on the Enterprise when Pearl Harbor was bombed and am hoping to catch up with the Pacific Navy Fleet Bandmaster to connect the past with the present.  It should prove to be an interesting blog considering his history during WWII.  

Next stop Honolulu!

April 5 Yosemite National Park

It didn’t really register to me that it was spring until we got to Bakersfield and saw various bulbs and even roses blooming.  Add the orange blossoms and I felt like we discovered a slice of paradise after being plagued by snow, hail and high deserts devoid of blossoms.  

We accidentally took the long route to get to Yosemite though it turned out to be quite beautiful with farmlands with blooming flowers and green fields.  As we gained elevation there was the welcome site of pine trees, mostly Ponderosa pines. When you are from the Pacific Northwest, making the transition back to the “green belt” is a welcoming event.  I was in need of some serious tree bathing.  

The rock here is like a seafoam colored granite with some sparkly bits that was quite beautiful.  The roads were hairpin with little or no gaurdrails, though the views made up for it.   The alpine lupines were blooming and there were occasional fields of wildflowers sprayed across the meadows. 

After a while, we lost signal thinking it would pick up again as we approached the park.  Civilization was starting to emerge so it was quite surprising when we got to the Lake Yosemite RV Park, while quite popular, was devoid of any signal.  We were fortunately blessed with lovely weather and a spot on the river, though the park was quite crowded and somewhat noisy and you had to pay for wifi.

We had several deer sightings and almost ran into Bambi on our way out of the RV Park.  All around Yosemite the deer tend to wander onto the roads.

Upon entering Yosemite we had expected more of a “slow reveal” of the wonders of the park.  Instead we came face-to-face with El Capitan – trying to reconcile what we were looking at…then the realization came.  The sheer scale of it emerging from the valley floor is incomparable to anything else we have witnessed.  Then came Horsetail Falls and all of its thundering glory.  The surrounding cliffs are like a supporting cast save for Half Dome that demands its own audience.  

As we were pretty early, and even then the park was getting busy, we snagged a parking spot at one of the campground trailheads.  Thankfully BigB is only 24 feet, anything bigger would have had a hard time.  Some of the roads into the trail heads has serious pot holes, not something you would expect in a major park such as this.  We trekked a couple of miles to Mirror Lake and were blessed with a gorgeous view down the valley with the monoliths reflecting in the water.  We stopped for a snack and to contemplate the scenery.  

Mirror Lake

The day was getting warmer than we had anticipated and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was hard to imagine it had snowed about a week before and the weather can be touch and go in April.  We wandered around the now packed visitor center, wondering what it must be like in the height of summer.  We are so fortunate to be doing this now as the National Parks are starting to require reservations and shuttle service to manage the increasing crowds.  

We left the park via “Tunnel View,” even though the parking was limited we managed to squeeze BigB into a couple of spaces – we were only going to be there for a little while. 

The name does not even begin to describe the sheer scale of what you are witnessing – this particular view is the one made famous by Ansel Adams; his renditions are magical though you need to see it in person – there are no substitutes for the real thing (sorry Ansel but I’m sure you understand).  You don’t embrace this view, it embraces you as if to say “thank you for preserving me – this is how I give back to those who will protect me for generations to come.”

The immensity of this gesture subdues you into a heavenly state of awe.  

Tunnel View