Me-Kwa-Mooks Park: West Seattle

It was the last day of my visit to Seattle. Younger daughter and I were walking down Beach Drive SW, on our daily exercise walk, looking for something interesting to see or do. She mentioned a park that we would soon be walking past that had some very nice features, and more of an old growth, untouched atmosphere. We decided to venture into Me-Kwa-Mooks Park.

This saying is credited to Chief Sealth, sometimes called Chief Seattle, for whom the city of Seattle is named. The Duwamish people were the original inhabitants of the park.

Me-Kwa-Mooks is an Indian name meaning “shaped like a bear’s head”. If you use your imagination, you might say that about the West Seattle peninsula, especially if you had a map or a good aerial view. The entrance to the park is on the east side of Beach Drive in a small clearing with several picnic tables. The trailhead is identified by a sign and several plaques that are covered with brush and barely legible. Like most other parts of West Seattle coastline, this park is located on uphill slopes that end with a rather steep climb up a bluff. It’s about 20 acres of heavily wooded, undeveloped land.

The trail is narrow and you have to hunt for it.

Undeveloped, perhaps, but there are trails and some evidence of work having been done on them. Someone had been pulling out piles of English ivy, an invasive plant, and there was an irrigation line visible along the path in places. But there was no signage, and some of the trails ended abruptly. Having been there before, younger daughter knew one trail led to another entrance farther down on Beach Drive. She also knew that there was a trail that led to the top of the bluff. That was the one we wanted.

This was a path that suddenly didn’t go anywhere.

The trail to the top, naturally, was the trail that kept going up in switchbacks, becoming steeper and less easily navigated. It eventually went straight up, a dirt path with no natural hand holds or places for feet to rest. But, lo, there was a hose – the flat, cloth covered kind – and it came from somewhere up above and held our weight, so we grabbed it and climbed. And just when the hose no longer followed the path, we saw a rope that finally helped us to the top.

Don’t know why this hose was there but it came in handy…
We could have used a longer rope.
This was our exit point. Wouldn’t your inner child just love to have a creepy hole like this to dive into?

The Wikipedia article about the park states that in 1994 a bunch of 4th and 5th graders from a local school helped make the park. That’s exactly the feel I got from our experience. It was a mythical, magical forest, perfect place for tree forts, treacherous paths, and dangling ropes leading to “who knows where”, a kid’s dream playground.

We made it to the top, mostly because there was no way we were going back down some of the places we had been. It was clearly not everyone’s “walk in the park” and I was a little surprised that it was accessible in this day of lawsuits and litigation. Risk was involved. We had fun, but I’m thinking most people take the other path. Just sayin’…

A Pretty, Long Walk – West Seattle

We didn’t walk very far on Sunday, but we made up for it today. We took Charlie with us. He is a curly haired Wheaton terrier who generally likes to go out for exercise.

Meet Charlie. Also notice the beautiful flowers.

The first hour was a city walk, past houses that face out to Puget Sound. As you might expect, they were on the expensive and extravagant side, but so interesting to look at. Built on the bluff with creative driveways and staircases, and landscaping that had me taking pictures every few minutes. We walked south from Alki and ended up at Lincoln Park. For us it was around 10,000 steps, for Charlie it was considerably more and he was thirsty. We were looking for a water bowl, which can commonly be found around fountains, since so many people are walking their dogs. Charlie found one.

Small gardens with joyous profusion
Gardens that probably have professional caretakers
Sidewalk gardens, purple lavender abounds…
Gardens with random wildflowers

Next we headed east through the park in the direction of California Avenue. It is the main business street that runs down the middle of the West Seattle peninsula. Our only stop was to buy water at a gas station, again sharing with Charlie who was beginning to act a bit tired. Our walk north toward home ended up going through Schmitz Park. It was like entering a different world.

I’ve written something about Schmitz Park every time I’ve visited Esther in Seattle because it has an access right behind her house. I ALWAYS visit this park. I’ve not been anyplace like it and consider it a magical, singular experience. It’s an old growth forest with trails following a large ravine from the top of the bluff, down to lower elevations near Alki and the beach. The trails are not fancy, not paved. There are no signs directing where to go. No railings on the steep portions. Click this link for more visuals of Schmitz Park.

The Hidden Forest

The forest and the ravine insulated us from the noise and heat from the city street. It was shady and dark, with the sounds of water flowing into the central stream. Many parts of the path were wet with cool mud and took some navigating. It must have felt good on Charlie’s paws. And 20 minutes later we were home, having done nearly 20,000 steps total. A good walk, I’d say.

Home again to Esther’s daisy garden

A Ride in a Truck – Seattle

My people in Seattle have an affinity for vintage things – clothing, furniture, Airstreams, and a truck. Yesterday we took a ride in the vintage truck.

Ryan’s Roaring Ranger

Bench seats are kind of a thing of the past, although I’m not sure why. The fun of searching for seat belts, finding the right spot for sitting in the middle (straddling that big lump on the floor), and the comfy lean off the edge of the passenger seat – I kind of miss all that, and it was fun to be reminded. Come to think of it, any vehicle where I can look to the side and see two people in front with me, instead of just one, is kind of special, don’t you think?

Our outing was to an island, which is also kind of exciting. Southward from West Seattle, right below Lincoln Park, is the Vashon Ferry landing where two large ferries go to and fro on a constant schedule. The distance is short and takes only about half an hour, including the loading and offloading of cars, trucks and buses. It was not a particularly busy day so we did not have to wait in line (that happens, and did happen on the way home).

The truck was the chosen vehicle for this trip because there was a task. Our first stop was to re-position the vintage Airstream that Esther and Ryan have on their property. It didn’t take long and I don’t have pictures of this complex, logistical feat of trucking. Suffice it to say that I heard Ryan lovingly commending his truck for doing a good job.

Next, for the daily walk, we drove down Vashon Island to a connecting island park – Maury Island and Maury Beach. It was a lovely place to get close to the water and I totally satisfied my obsession with rocks and driftwood while there. The walking part was not as horizontal as we would have liked so we didn’t get in lots of steps. The beach was entirely smoothed stones with no sharp edges. It might seem that would make comfortable walking, but no. The stones roll out from under your feet with every step. They are fascinating to look at though, and I kept finding favorites.

The water was beautiful and clear. A few people were boating, tubing, swimming, sailing, and thoroughly enjoying the day.
However I was concerned that this one guy kept stalking this woman…

Before heading back to the mainland we had dinner at Casa Bonita Mexican restaurant. So good! I’m even getting hungry now thinking about my leftover fish taco waiting in the fridg.

It was another fine day in Seattle, spent making memories with people I love. I may even have spoke lovingly to the truck myself, for the nice ride, just sayin’…

Walking on the 4th of July – Seattle

More important than what I saw, was the reality of seeing it with other people. We saw this together, and it was part of our relationship building. I love doing things with Esther and Ryan, on their home turf. We are blessed that we all love to walk, and can still do it.

West Seattle is its own little world, a peninsula really, with Elliot Bay on the west and north sides connecting with the Duwamish River on the east. At the coastline there is a highway around the peninsula, on the level with the beaches. This level holds only the highway and beach sidewalks on one side and a row of high rise buildings and homes on the other side. Behind the row of homes is a steep, tree covered bluff. There are homes built into the bluff and some very steep streets giving access to them. Then there is the top level of the peninsula that is high, with magnificent views in all directions. The main part of the town is on the top level and has some very exclusive residential areas.

Today we walked on the beach level around the west and north sides of West Seattle and then climbed up the bluff on a street called Fairmount. The Pacific Northwest rain forest vibe was strong on this upward climb. I was puffing my way up and using the excuse of taking pictures to rest and catch my breath.

Once on the top level we needed nourishment and stopped in for frozen yogurt. Once the brain freeze was wearing off we walked through some of the residential areas to catch views of the beautiful private gardens and Puget Sound. Here is a small part of our 15,000 steps.

The tide was out, exposing a lot of beach. Lots of people were out there looking for ? Ryan said the clam season had started, or maybe they were just looking for beach glass, or taking in that view.
Historic building at risk as high rise condos surround it. Can you imagine laying all those small stones? The door is only a paper picture – I’m not sure what the intent was.
Our climb up the bluff took us under a main road. I always find it a little scary to see understructure and realize how much we depend on it (and how seldom we think about it).
We earned our treat, and after all, it was a holiday.
Homes on the top of the bluff have views like this. Blackberries and blue sky…
Can you imagine having a redwood (I think that’s what it was) in your front yard?
We also found a “hobbit” tree with a secret door.

Seattle – What I Saw Today

Every time I visit Seattle my photo gallery lights up with this kind of color.

And every time, there is something new to do or see. Today it was Jack Block Park.

Jack Block Park consists of 15 acres, on the northeastern shore of West Seattle. It’s part of the Port of Seattle and gave me a chance to see, up close, some of the workings and machinery that I had only seen from afar.

It has an unusual entry point, one that is easy to pass by and wonder about but doesn’t necessarily beg you to come in and explore. I saw a lot of comments on the website that indicated people being surprised at the treasure they found when finally visiting this park. I had viewed the waterfront many times from the West Seattle bridge (which by the way is now closed to traffic and that’s another story). Colorful shipping containers, huge yellow and orange dinosaur-like cranes, and heavy machinery always gave it such an industrial look. The park softens all that with its walkways, greenery and its beautiful view of the city across the water.

Don’t they look kind of like dinosaurs (brontosaurus type)? Use your imagination.

I looked up the history of the park, which is interesting. It was formerly a wood treatment plant and ship building facility. The land was contaminated with creosote and had to be dredged, capped and restored before the port could open it as a park in 2011. The Port of Seattle maintains several parks besides this one and they have a 100% organic policy – no invasive species, and all trimmings and clippings are composted or used as mulch. For a long time this park was called Terminal 5 Park but is now Jack Block Park, named after a former Port Commissioner. Maps have a section of the park called Joe Block Park, and I haven’t been able to discover why. Who is Joe Block?

There is a gradually climbing path up to an observation point with a great view of downtown Seattle buildings and the Space Needle. Looking down at the shoreline, there were many birds, natural driftwood and rock decor and the beautiful, clean appearing water of Elliot Bay. It’s a great place to watch waterfront activity and ships coming into port. A great find.

View of Downtown Seattle from observation tower

“Up North” at Nelson Lake

6-15-2019

Nelson Lake has a large island in the middle. The dam is on the left side of the picture near where the highway jogs.

We went exploring today. It’s becoming necessary to spend as much time as possible away from the house due to what seems to be an electrical sensitivity that Dennis has developed. He wanted to go north. We went to Nelson Lake.

Nelson Lake was formed when the Totogatic River was dammed, way back when my father was a child. He told stories of how he and his dad cut trees and hauled them out of the river valley before it was flooded. When I look at the land around Nelson Lake I realize what the water covered up as it rose – forest, rock, probably a few farmsteads. The hilly terrain formed a lot of inlets and coves, a very irregular coastline, and a lot of places for fish to hide and breed. It is well known for good fishing.

We drove up S.H. 27 to Dam Road (I love that road sign) and turned in to a rather busy boat landing. Trucks and trailers were pulling boats in and out of the water – pontoon boats, jet skis and fishing boats. We spent some time on the dock talking with people then headed back to our truck where Dennis took a nap. Windows were open, soft breeze, and the real surprise, no mosquitoes.

Right in front of the parking area was the dam. A couple families with kids and fishing poles came and went, along with their strings of panfish. The dam itself is old enough to have been at risk a couple of years ago when the lake was extra high and flooding. It was reinforced and held. A lot of people were worried about it then.

Leaving the boat landing we tried to drive around the lake on the north side. Because of the crazy shoreline, there really isn’t a road that follows along the lake. There are quite a few small lodges, resorts and camping places tucked in here and there but every road we tried turned out to be a dead end eventually.

We traced our route back to the other side of the dam where we took County T along the south side of Nelson Lake and the north side of nearby Smith Lake. We stopped at Etcheyson Park, another small picnic area and boat ramp on Smith Lake. A couple teens were actually floating around in the water on tubes. It’s the middle of June here but that doesn’t mean the water is warm in any of these lakes. Last week we had a morning of 36 degrees, and a couple weeks ago there was snow falling. A cold summer so far, but very refreshing, if you’re used to June in Florida, like we are.

I’m impulsive and suddenly pizza sounded like a good supper choice. I thought of it mostly because of the many times I had passed the Outback Bar and Pizza sign on S.H. 77, only a few miles away. I had read in the local newspaper about the new owners keeping a super good and sort of secret recipe for pizza sauce. It was good! The place is small but the bar was lined with four or five couples who were really into some sports event on the tv’s. We opted for a table outside in the quiet where we could watch the trees and birds. The owner and her dog waited on our table. The dog didn’t actually do anything but she was well behaved.

The day had turned cool and cloudy and I thought to myself that it was a typical day “up north” in many ways. It’s hard to say exactly what is different up here, but I think it has to do with the preponderance of cold weather days. It creates a different landscape, with forests of a certain kind, marshes, wild looking rivers, many lakes, and much more untouched nature than in other parts of our country.

Although it seemed to me like I could have been 4 or 5 o’clock, it was actually 7 p.m. when we left. It is now almost 9 and the sun is still not down, another feature of “up north” life. And the sun will be up again tomorrow around 5 a.m. so I’m going to quit now and get some sleep.

Zigzag

the letter Z

Distances in the Grand Canyon are described in various ways by those who have hiked them frequently. There are straight line miles, “as the crow flies” miles, and the miles spent zigging and zagging, as Colin Fletcher called it.  From “The Man Who Walked Through Time”,

“Cross-country on foot, miles are always misleading: the hours are what count. In the Canyon, miles become virtually meaningless. From start to finish of my journey I would cover, in a straight line, only forty-three. The river mileage came to one hundred and four. When I ran the map measurer from one end to the other of my proposed route, carefully following each winding contour, it registered just two hundred. But I felt sure, and Harvey Butchart greed, that I would walk at least four hundred miles as the foot slogs. And there were times when I would be lucky to travel half a mile in an hour.”

Another word, switchback, is often used to describe hiking trails and roads that go up or down steep hills. The trail will go in one direction up the hill, turn 180 degrees and continue uphill in the opposite direction, and repeat until the hill is climbed. The main purpose of this zigzag process is to protect the hill, and the trail from erosion. It is also a way of controlling the grade for ease of hiking, although it makes the distance considerably longer.

Almost every place I’ve hiked has been in hilly or mountainous terrain. Often there are switchbacks and there will also be signs to stay on the trail and not take shortcuts. Shortcuts that go straight down the hill will get worn down and become a path for rainwater to follow, producing erosion and eventually the trail will be ruined. It’s tempting at times but I’ve learned not to take those shortcuts.

The descent into the canyon includes so much vertical distance in such a short space that there will be a lot of zigzagging, especially on the South Kaibab. The picture below is of a section of the Bright Angel Trail, the upper left corner and lower right corner have a lot of visible switchbacks. Looking at this picture makes me think this is going to be a long, grueling climb. What fun! I can’t wait. The word zigzag is interesting because of the z’s which sort of mimic the shape of a switchback. 

portion of Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon
Switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail (most visible at top left and bottom right)
photo from canstock.com by Kelly Vandellen

We are at the end of the alphabet once again. The A to Z is a valuable writing experience for me, but more than that, it is a joy to meet others in this online blogging community. I am always amazed at the creativity, the sharing of comments and encouragement, the friendship extended, and the way it is all shared through the written word. Thank you to everyone who read and commented, and to the organizers of the A to Z. It has become my April habit.

South Kaibab Trail

We are on the homestretch of the A to Z this week with only eight letters to go. As in hiking, this final stretch is going to be challenging since I no longer have posts written ahead and am getting tired (and would rather enjoy spring outside than do writing inside). It feels like uphill all the way…

The South Kaibab Trail is the one my hike will start on – they call it a corridor trail, meaning that it is one of two or three that is regularly patrolled and maintained. It is part of the Arizona Trail system going all the way from Mexico to Utah.

After our first day of having our gear checked over and learning about the area we will walk through, I’m guessing we will meet early at Bright Angel Lodge and take the first shuttle bus of the day to the trailhead. It’s a ways away from Grand Canyon Village and there is no parking there for private vehicles. We will start our descent of 4,700 feet over the next seven miles. We will meet mules and other hikers on the trail. There are a couple restrooms on the way, but no water sources until we reach the bottom of the canyon. About the only shade will be from the canyon walls. The grade will be as steep as 22% at the final section and there will be many switchbacks. Doesn’t that sound like fun? But wait, it’s worth it.

There just aren’t a lot of ways to go down these amazing cliffs.  The South Kaibab was supposedly built to foil Cameron who had started charging $1 per person to use the Bright Angel Trail. It is steeper and shorter but has some of the most amazing views available.

  • One of them is .9 miles on the way and is called Ooh-Aah Point, because that is what most people say when they get there. I’m going to try to say something more original. It’s a good distance for a casual day hike.
  • Next is Cedar Ridge at 1.5 miles, another good point for day hikers to turn around.
  • Followed by Skeleton Point at 3 miles, where there is reportedly a 360 degree view of the canyon, and the first view of the river.
  • Followed by Tip Off at 4.6 miles where the steepest section of switchbacks starts, taking us down to the Black Suspension Bridge, Bright Angel Camp and Phantom Ranch. 

Although it is described as knee jarring, it is all downhill, right? I think I can do it.

The river – there it is!

Reservations

Even as I was typing the R word, I realized several applications of the word to my study of the Grand Canyon and my upcoming hike. 

Reservations #1

As I began reading “A River Running West” the life of John Wesley Powell, I found interesting stories of how the Midwest was settled and the Native Americans living there were forced west. They did not share the concept of land ownership that European settlers had, and eventually found themselves limited by government treaties to reservations. Most of the land surrounding the Grand Canyon is reservation land for various Native American tribes.  John Wesley Powell had very strong opinions about this and also a strong respect for and interest in Indian culture. When he later became influential in exploring and surveying in the western states, he was responsible for putting the Grand Canyon on the map and that is one of his big accomplishments.

I’m pretty sure the Indians didn’t always get a fair shake as this country was settled. I feel bad about that and I think John Wesley Powell did too.

Reservations #2

The other kind of reservation I need to mention is the kind you need for many of the special things in Grand Canyon National Park.  Visitors to the park number around 5.5 million each year. There are long lines of traffic, especially on holidays and other times when people vacation. Because there is limited parking space in the park there are services in nearby towns that include a shuttle bus ride to the park. Flagstaff, Sedona, Tusayan and other nearby towns also have numerous guided tours (do you want to ride in a pink jeep? they have it), helicopter tours, whitewater river rafting and other excursions.

There are five holidays when admission to the park is free. Otherwise, you must have a pass ranging in cost from $35 for a vehicle and all riders to $20 for an individual. All those passes are good for seven days. There are special passes for year long admission, for military families, seniors.  Trip planning suggestions and admission information for all kinds of park passes can be found here www.thecanyon.com/fees or at https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm 

Going into the canyon for more than a day requires a backcountry permit, no matter where you intend to camp. For the preservation of the canyon, the number of people allowed to go in is limited. We missed one whole year because we didn’t apply early enough. The reason we are able to go on this trip is because my brother joined the National Park Conservancy, and got immediate notice when the trips opened for application.

Most of the visitors arriving for a day take one of the bus rides along the rim or hike part way down one of the major trails and back. These ways of viewing the canyon only require a park pass, not any special permits and offer a good taste of the canyon’s beauty, but if you need a hotel for your stay, you had better make a reservation.

Reservations #3

Lastly, on the topic of reservations, are the reservations I have myself about doing this hiking trip. I wonder whether my knees are going to last, whether I’ll get by with little sleep, if I’m strong enough physically and mentally. So, I have them, but my reservations are not going to keep me from going ahead, just sayin’…

Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch is an exclusive place that I have been hearing about for years and have always wanted to visit. Exclusive it is, because there is a quota on how many people can get reservations there or in the campground in a season. There are no other places to stay in the canyon, except for hikers who have back country permits to pitch a tent elsewhere. There is a lottery reservation system and it has a 13 month advance timing. If you are randomly chosen and your requested dates fit open accommodations, you get to stay. If not, you start over.  This one of the reasons why only 1% of the millions of visitors to the canyon in a year will get to stay at Phantom Ranch.

The ranch is at the bottom of the canyon at the intersection of the Bright Angel Trail, the Kaibab Trail North and South, and the Colorado River. The buildings were designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (what happens when your parents can’t decide what to name you) and built in the early days of tourism to the canyon. They are really beautiful stone and timber buildings that almost disappear into the surroundings. When the designs were approved the plan was to name the buildings Roosevelt Chalets but Ms. Colter said “not if you want to use my design”. She had already named it Phantom Ranch and that’s what it stayed. The rich and famous rode mules down the trail and stayed there, sometimes for weeks. There are cabins housing from 2 to 10 people, and 2 dormitories for males and 2 dormitories for females. Dorms have five bunk beds each and a common shower and restroom.

Meals are served at the Ranch by reservation also. They are rather expensive but that is understandable when you realize that almost everything that comes and goes to the ranch has to do it by mule. Breakfast goes for about $24 and the early seating is at 5:30 am. If you like to sleep in you can catch the late seating at 6:30 am (hmm…). My food will be carried in my pack to the campground by mule so I have no reservations for a meal at the canteen, but I may stop in to buy a postcard or a drink while I’m there.

Bright Angel Campground where I will be tenting for two nights is only a short walk from Phantom Ranch. On this “in between” day we will be doing some day hiking along the river and some side canyons. I’ve heard this is supposed to keep us from getting stiff and sore before the hike back up to the rim again. We’ll see.

Approach to Phantom Ranch

The Park Service has a lovely video of Phantom Ranch and detailed instructions for the lottery reservation system at http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/phantom-ranch/

Photos from canstock.com