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Posts tagged: tourism

Travel: Ride the Scenic Amtrak Cascades

 

    I paid the $5 taxi fare from my mid-town hotel and walked through Seattle’s King Street Station to the track where the Amtrak Cascades was waiting.

 

    After I stowed my bag overhead I settled into my seat as the rest of the passengers filed on board. There were several other women, each traveling solo like me, a couple of students and a man who immediately opened his laptop, logged onto the free WiFi and went to work. Within minutes the train pulled out of the station. The soft morning light was just filtering through the clouds and the city sparkled as we rolled out of town just before 8 a.m., heading north toward Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

    I’m an unabashed train lover and I have been for as long as I can remember. I admire grand old train stations and I never fail to feel a frisson of pleasure every time I start out on a rail journey. These days, it’s not just the tie to history and romance that draws me. It’s more than the fantasy of all the movies I’ve seen and and stories I’ve read that were built around trains and the people who ride them. My attraction to trains has grown to be much more than that. For one thing, there is none of the stress and hurry-and-wait routine that has become so much a part of flying. It is traveling the way travel was meant to be experienced, with leisure and expectation, in comfort with a wide window to take in the view.  

 

    There are compromises, of course. Without wings, travel takes longer. Sometimes much longer. Trains, like planes, come with the risk of delays. But on a pleasure ride, taking the trip for the experience of all it has to offer—exactly the point of my trip from Seattle to Vancouver, B. C.—it is easy to forget all that. 

 

    Living in a part of the country that boasts long stretches of unspoiled coastline, majestic mountain peaks and every kind of landscape from desert to rainforest, those of us in Washington can become complacent and a bit spoiled. We expect a beautiful view whenever we look out the window. The Amtrak Cascades does not disappoint. 

 

    Rolling through the cities of Edmonds, Everett, Lynwood, Mount Vernon and Bellingham we crossed quietly into Canada.

 

I watched the sun paint the sky as it rose and followed the flight of bald eagles as they launched themselves into the sky and soared over Puget Sound. 

 

    The four-hour trip is the perfect route for an excursion. Arriving at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station it takes only minutes to clear passport control. That leaves plenty of time to explore one of North America’s most European cities. I’d suggest a bite to eat at one of the popular food trucks downtown and a water taxi to Granville Island’s market and boutiques before taking the return train at 5:45.

 

    Thanks to the length of our summer days, it’s possible to spend a few hours in Vancouver and still make it back to Seattle with daylight to spare. And maybe just enough time to stroll down to the waterfront to watch the sun set on another fine day in the Pacific Northwest.

 

For updated information about Amtrak Cascades fares and schedules go to http://www.amtrakcascades.com

 

 

 

    Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge

 

    I’m always quick to tell myself, and anyone who asks, that I don’t have a fear of heights. But then, every time I step out onto a skyscraper observation deck or mountain overlook, or, especially that one time in a hot air balloon over the Nevada desert, I remember, too late, that I do have an extremely robust fear of falling from a great height. 

 

    With that in mind, it took me a few minutes to adjust to the lurching and swaying motion of the Capilano Suspension Bridge beneath my feet. The bridge was reacting to the movement of others who were ahead of me or crossing back from the other side and as I stepped out onto the narrow slice of boardwalk, suspended by cables over a 230-foot chasm carved by the Capilano river, I was a bit unnerved. 

 

    The bridge, first constructed in 1889, is one of British Columbia’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s just minutes from downtown Vancouver but located in a 27-acre forested setting of massive Douglas Fir trees. I was there in December, in the early evening. The weak, wintry, daylight was fading and the colorful holiday “Canyon Lights” were strung across the deep gorge and on all the tall trees on either side of the canyon. It was a beautiful setting but, to be honest, I was only focused on getting to the other side.

 

    Suddenly someone called out and I looked up just in time to see a large bald eagle fly directly beneath the bridge, directly beneath my feet, on its flightpath straight down the canyon. 

 

    I see eagles all the time, they’re not uncommon in my part of the country, but that’s always with my feet on the ground, looking up as the bird soars over me. This time I was was the one looking down, the one with the eagle-eye view. It was an exhilarating feeling. The bird’s white tail feathers stood out against its broad, darker, wings. In that instant I forgot my fear. I let out the breath I’d been holding. I loosened my grip on the cables and turned to follow the eagle until it disappeared around a bend. 

 

    By taking my eyes off the destination, the other side of the canyon at the end of the bridge, I was able to see the remarkable natural beauty that surrounded me; the rough stone walls of the gorge, the dense forest surrounding it, the tumbled rocks at the edge of the river and the way the lights glowed in the misty rain. I was in a beautiful place but I’d almost missed it.

 

    With that, I took my hands off the cables and walked, slowly and deliberately, across the canyon to the other side. Before the light faded, I followed the tree walk, suspended, again, on a path strung along the trunks of a stand of giant fir trees. By the time I crossed the bridge to make my way back, the sky was dark and I could no longer see the canyon below. 

 

    Riding back to the city, watching the taillights of the evening traffic through the rain-splashed windows of the taxi, I decided at that moment that the eagle I’d seen shooting like an arrow through the canyon would be my guide for the coming year; a reminder that sometimes the easiest way to suspend fear is to simply let go, take a deep breath and move on.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Pittsburgh and The Rubber Duck Project

  By coincidence, I arrived in Pittsburgh just about the same time a big yellow duck sailed in. A very big duck. The Rubber Duck Project, created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, has been in Asia, Europe, South America and Australia, but Pittsburgh—beating out bigger cities like San Francisco— was the duck’s first North American stop. During its three-week stay more than 1 million people trekked down to the waterfront to see the 4-story tall, 30-foot wide floating art (Pittsburgh’s version of Hofmann’s duck was specifically sized to fit under the city’s bridges.) They posed for photos—even in the rain—and bought yellow duck souvenirs. They spent time and money in the city.

   This was my first visit to Pittsburgh and it surprised me in many ways. Oh, I knew the city had long ago left its smoky industrial past behind as it climbed out of the crash of the US steel market in the 1970s and 80s. I didn’t expect smokestacks but, to be honest, I think I was expecting a tired urban area with more of the past than the future in it. Shame on me.

   Pittsburgh was built where the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River.  It’s an old city with a lot of history, but unlike so many old river cities whose waterways were long ago given over to industry and transportation and have yet to be reclaimed or are only now moving in that direction, Pittsburgh embraces the water. Spanned by 496 bridges, busy with dinner cruises and Duck Tours (the WWII floating truck variety) the rivers dominate the center of the city. Adjacent to the site of Fort Pitt, is Point State Park an urban waterfront park and trail.  And the two professional sports teams, the Steelers and the Pirates, play in waterside stadiums. Metro Pittsburgh is livable, walkable and the downtown area is vibrant and alive with new construction. The 90 neighborhoods that make up the city are each unique. The food, from the city’s signature sandwiches topped with fries and cole slaw to upscale farm-to-table fare, was delicious. 

   I’m late to the Pittsburgh party. National Geographic Traveler named the city one of the top places to visit in 2012, the Today Show picked it as a top travel destination for 2013, and an internationally known artist, who had his choice of prime ports, picked it as the best place to introduce his floating art installation. I added it to my own short list of places I’d be tempted to pull up stakes and move to.

   Hofman has said the idea behind his big rubber duck is to remind everyone of the simple joys of childhood.  The Rubber Duck Project can’t appear anywhere else for three months and its next stop is a secret, but Pittsburgh, a place built around water and a city with a sense of fun, was the perfect spot to introduce his giant smiling bathtub toy to North America. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Old World Christmas at Elkhart Lake

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


   When Christmas comes to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, it is wrapped in a big white tent and filled with music, food, handmade crafts and the ancient tradition of German Advent markets.

   Osthoff Resort General Manager Lola Roeh spent time in Nuremberg, Germany before returning to Wisconsin and coming to lead the Osthoff. Nuremberg’s famous Christkindlesmarkt left an indelible mark on her imagination and she was determined to bring the tradition to the resort. Fifteen years ago she did just that and now the Old World Christmas Market at the Osthoff Resort has grown to be an important part of the region’s holiday season, catering to those who return each year to add to a collection or simply savor the tastes of an authentic German Christmas by eating schnitzel and red cabbage or sipping Glühwein.

   Some vendors, including the sausage maker who flies in each year to sell authentic Nuremberg sausages—made with his secret recipe— have been with the market since the beginning.

   While shoppers move from booth to booth, Father Christmas parts the crowd, calling out Christmas greetings. Seasonal music fills the big heated tent.

   I had only just walked in when I spotted a booth filled with beautiful handmade paper mache Santa and Father Christmas figures. Each exquisite piece was made in authentic vintage German molds, hand painted and decorated with glass glitter or tiny glass beads. I spent almost half an hour looking at each one, trying to decide which would come home with me. Finally, I chose a petite Father Christmas, ornamented with glass beads and holding a tiny Christmas tree. He was wrapped and packed for the trip home and the little figure was the first decoration I put out when I returned.

   Elkhart Lake is beautiful any time of year but the elegant white structures of the surrounding resorts, including the crown jewel, the big, rambling, historic Osthoff Resort, shine brightest in winter. The summer crowds are gone and the small town becomes a place to escape the hectic pace of the holiday while celebrating the best of the season.


More information:
The Osthoff Resort

Old World Christmas Market


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and  can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Riding the Rails with the Branson Scenic Railway

   When I travel to a new place, one of the first activities I look for is a train ride, especially when the cars or locomotives are vintage workhorses that have been restored and put back in use. There’s no better way to sit back, relax and see the countryside, as well as capture a bit of local history.


    In many places such excursion trains are located at the edge of town, in the rail yards where the engine and passenger cars are stored between trips. But Branson, Missouri, is different.


    The Branson Scenic Railway depot is right in the middle of town. In fact, I could look down on the depot and one of the big engines from my room next door at the Hilton Convention Center. The morning of my ride, all I had to do was walk out the front door of the hotel and straight into the historic 1905 Branson depot.


    Each day, depending on the season, two fully-restored locomotives, Number 98 built in 1951 and Number 99 built in 1962, carry the seven cars, all built between 1939 and 1956, on three to four trips. The excursion train operates on working Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad lines and travels as far north to Galena, Missouri or south to the Barren Fork Trestle in Arkansas.


    Once on board, seating is open so passengers are free to find a spot they like and settle in. The dome cars fill up fast so I bypassed those and picked a seat in a car in the middle of the train, at a small table so I could take notes as I rode.


    Rolling through the beautiful Ozark Mountain foothills in fall is about as pretty a ride as you can imagine. The trees were beautiful. As we rolled along, deer, turkeys and even wild pigs could be seen from the wide windows. The train was full—I understand it almost always is—and most passengers were visiting Branson from all over the country. At one end of the car a group of seniors from Indiana laughed and talked and at the other end a family of four from Texas took photos as we rolled across the tall trestles. It was the kids’ first train ride.


    During the 40-mile roundtrip excursion, a narrator pointed out not-to-be-missed views, gave wildlife alerts and filled us in on the history of the train and the region. The rail line we were riding was built at great cost due to the ruggedness of the landscape and it was the primary reason the town of Branson grew and thrived. The car attendants, most of whom have been with the railway for years, stopped by frequently to chat.


    Branson is known for big shows and glitzy entertainment but, no surprise here, the train trip was my favorite activity. There is nothing contrived or artificial about it.


    So many places raze the old to make way for the new, but Branson went to great lengths to not only preserve its railroad history, but totally reinvigorate a tangible, and still thoroughly enjoyable, link to the past.

More information about the Branson Scenic Railway
    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Roanoke’s O. Winston Link Museum Chronicles the End of America’s Steam Engines

(Photo courtesy O. Winston Link Museum, Roanoke, Virginia)  

   Once you see one of his photographs, you never forget it. Inky darkness is frosted and silvered by pools of light. People and places, most in small towns in rural Virginia, are frozen in the moment. And always, dominating the scene in sometimes startling ways, is the presence of a massive engine, billowing a plume of smoke and steam.


    O. Winston Link was born in Brooklyn, New York, 1914 and like most boys of his time, he had a fascination for the big steam engines that roared down the tracks through small towns and big cities across the United States.  But it wasn’t until after World War II that he found an outlet for that fascination. While on an industrial photography assignment in Staunton, Virginia, Link traveled to Waynesboro to take photos of the Norfolk & Western Railway steam engines, the only railroad still running steam engines at that time. For the next five years he would spend more than $25,000 of his own money and countless hours photographing the trains and the people who worked and relied on them.
    
    Today, the exhibit at the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia perfectly illustrates the power of Link’s single-minded devotion to chronicling the last of the giants.

    When you see the photos, most taken at night and almost all done in black and white, they at first look like moments of photographic good fortune; being in the right place at the right moment to capture a tableau of ordinary life in the mid-1950s. Light casts strange and eerie shadows on the gigantic engines as well as across the land, houses and people in the photos.


    But Link, who studied engineering before going on to become a professional photographer after World War II, and who was a skilled craftsman in his own right, was more than just a man with a camera. Nothing in his photographs was left to chance. He captured larger images by rigging a line of cameras to fire at exactly the same moment and then stitching together the photos.The people were placed, the composition worked out as elaborately as the lighting that illuminated the scene.


    “You can't move the sun, and you can't move the tracks, so you have to do something else to better light the engines,” Link said. He chose to take his photographs at night and controlled every aspect of the photos. Through his lens and his genius with lighting, wiring dozens of bulbs to fire at exactly the right moment, replacing lanterns in the hands of railroad men even lamps in nearby homes, he conjured exactly what he wanted to see. And, ultimately, what he wanted us to see.


    When the last steam engine ran in 1960, Link photographed it from behind a couple standing on the front porch of their home. It was the end of an era and the end of his project.


    At the time no one was interested in photos of steam engines. That was yesterday’s technology. Photos, when he could sell one, went for next to nothing. He did better selling high-quality recordings of steam engines and whistles and it wasn’t until the 1980s that Link got the recognition he deserved.

    Today, strolling through the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, next to the Virginia Museum of Transportation, studying the images he produced you are drawn into the scene, compelled to look closer for the tiniest details of the composition.


    Link painted with light on photographic paper creating stark, indelible, dramatic images of mechanical dinosaurs rolling and belching clouds of steam on their way to extinction. To stand and look at his work is like being taken along on that historic ride.



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com




  

Travel: Back to Memphis

   Some places belong to our deepest memories. They are the source of the sights and sounds and experiences that define us, that make us the into people we become. Because I was born in the Southeast, less than a day’s drive from Great Smoky Mountain National Park, a place my family particularly loved, Tennessee became that kind of touchstone for me. As a child I camped along Deep Creek, explored Pigeon Forge and Cade’s Cove and looked out the window, staring into the clouds, lost in my thoughts as we drove the winding roads.   

    When I was a teenager my friends and I drove to Nashville for the weekend and we walked to Ernest Tubb’s Music Store to hear the musicians who gathered there late at night to play for the fun of it.

    One fall day when I was in my 20s, I took a single seat on a day-long excursion train to Chattanooga and started talking to a tall man who was there with a couple of friends. We spent the rest of the day together and in a few years we were back again, this time with our children.

    So when I had a chance to return to Memphis recently, a place I hadn’t been since we moved to the Northwest more than a decade ago, I didn’t think twice. The first day, not long after checking into The Peabody Hotel, the grand hotel that has been the heart and center of the city for almost 100 years, I walked down to the lobby to join the crowd around the fountain and the ducks swimming in it. If you don’t know, The Peabody is famous for its ducks. What started as a practical joke has become a treasured tradition and each morning they march single-file down a red carpet to spend the next few hours swimming in the hotel lobby before marching back to the elevator at in the late afternoon.

    The ducks always play to a crowd. Young children were gathered along the red carpet, anxious to have a front-row seat for the duck parade, and I realized my own children must have been about that age when we brought them to Memphis to see this particular show. I thought back on that day, wondering at the speed with which time grabs so many little moments and sweeps them into the corners of our minds, to sit there until we stumble on them again if we’re lucky.
    

   The woman standing beside me told me she comes to the city and to the hotel at least once a year. “I’m like one of these ducks,” she said, laughing and taking a sip of her cocktail. “I keep marching back.”

    After the ducks marched past me and into the elevator that would take them to their rooftop “plantation” I joined a tour of the building offered by an employee.  As he led us from one beautiful room to another he talked about growing up in Memphis and how the hotel has been a vital part of the community for most of its history. And for most of his personal history.
   

    “That’s the thing about this place,” he said, looking around him. “Everywhere you look you see a scene from your past.”

    For the next few days, as I explored a part of the country that used to be so much a part of me,  I said the same thing again and again.

    Memphis is a vibrant city. The music never stops on Beale Street. The food is spicy and delicious. I sat down to a plate of ribs at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous and could have spent hours just looking at the memorabilia  on the walls. I joined the crowd at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken and savored every bite. I toured Graceland and stood in front of the microphone at the old Sun Records studio. I walked through Soulsville, The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and listened to the music that was the soundtrack of my youth. And, just as it has forever, the river kept rolling.

    That’s the thing about Memphis, I guess. It was full of the familiar but it held so many new experiences I didn't get around to everything I wanted to do and see.  I should have told the woman in the Peabody lobby to save me a place next year.

       

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
       

    
  

The Year of the Goo Goo Cluster

The Goo Goo Cluster is 100 years old this month.

Anyone who grew up in the South or has spent any time in Nashville (and that includes the airport) will recognize the distinctive package featuring a piece of candy with a big bite missing. The Goo Goo Cluster is everywhere.

Created in October, 1912, by Howell Campbell and the Standard Candy Company, the chocolate, caramel, marshmallow and peanut patty has become a Southern food icon. During the Great Depression Goo Goos were advertised as “A Nourishing Lunch for a Nickel” and the South's favorite candy has appeared in a number of movies, including The Nutty Professor and Charlie's War.
Today, the factory cranks out 20,000 Goo Goo Clusters an hour.

I loved Goo Goos when I was a kid and I always bring home a box when I'm in Nashville or anywhere close.

I'm flying out of Roanoke, Virginia later today. I think I'll keep my eye out for a chocolately souvenir. I mean, after all, I'm going to have to get something for lunch.

Travel: Celebrating the Seasons at Elkhart Lake

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

   Just today, the rattle of someone pulling a boat and trailer, bouncing over the patched pavement of the street in front of my house, was a familiar and significant sound. I know it well.  And I know what it means. When neighbors start bringing home the boats and campers, when outdoor toys are put away so that winter tools and gear can take their place, I know we’ve really reached the end of Summer at the Lake season.

   Every place I’ve ever lived has claimed bragging rights for being the lake-loving mecca. But the truth is, wherever there is a lake to get away to, and most states have plenty of them, people will get there. Cabins become family heirlooms, passed down and cherished, and a unique culture—peculiar to that particular place—grows and evolves.

   I’ve been thinking about this since I spent Labor Day weekend in Wisconsin exploring historic Elkhart Lake. First settled in the 1860s, Elkhart Lake boomed in the 1870s when the Milwaukee and Northern Railroad added a stop at the downtown depot. At its peak, more than 2,000 visitors arrived each week, pouring into the sprawling resorts that built up at the edge of the lake. By 1894, Elkhart Lake was a true village.
Today Siebken’s Resort, the Osthoff Resort and the towering Victorian Village are all built on the bones of those earlier hotels and summer resorts.

   Late one afternoon we climbed onto a pontoon boat and circled the scenic glacial lake as our guide filled us in on the unique history of the community.

   The beautiful spring-fed, rock-lined, glacial lake covers almost 300 acres. Just over 120 feet deep at its deepest point, Elkhart Lake is ringed by Wisconsin forest. Most of the homes and summer cottages have remained in families for generations. While its history is uniquely American—Speakeasys, road races and summer stock theater—there is a quaint European vibe that reflects the German heritage of early developers.

   I’m sure Elkhart Lake is a great place at the height of summer, but I was glad to be there at that particular moment. Labor Day marks the unofficial end of lake season in most places. But that only means the summer crowds go away. The lake never closes. And, of course, neither do the resorts that surround it. By visiting in September, I was able to appreciate the beauty without the bustle of the busiest time of year.

   As we circled the lake, passing vintage cottages, picturesque boathouses and an occasional rambling mansion tucked behind the trees, I could see that the seasonal cabins were being swept and cleaned and closed. Boats were back in the small boathouses that perched over the water’s edge.  Thoughts were turning to autumn bonfires and, soon enough, ice skates and snow shoes.

   That is my favorite time at any lake. Sure, summer is fun, but there is something special about the silence of other months. When it’s possible to have the sunrise and sunset to yourself, with enough quiet time to think and reflect. Soon enough, the snow will fall, then melt. The birds will fly away and then return. And before we know it the summer at the lake will start all over again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Bear Encounter: Down and dirty travel on the Wilderness Explorer

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


    When we signed on for a small-ship journey along Alaska’s Inside Passage, we were promised the opposite of a traditional cruise. We were promised an un-cruise, to be specific. Instead of a leisurely sail past some of the most beautiful scenery on the continent, instead of endless buffets and variety shows, we would venture up secluded coves and into narrow fjords and channels thick with Humpback whales. We would paddle kayaks around icebergs, near glaciers and along pristine shorelines. We would step off the boat and into the real Alaska.


    InnerSea Discoveries promised me we would get our feet dirty.


    On the first full day of the voyage, a dozen or so of us stepped into a skiff and rode to the shore for a hike. Walking along the coast at the mouth of a small stream, we listened as our guide talked about the likelihood of seeing bears (this was a favorite fishing spot) and his words were still hanging in the air when the first Grizzly ambled, as if on cue, into sight.


    The bear was young, probably a yearling on his own for the first season. Wading into water that was alive with leaping and splashing salmon, he seemed bewildered, not sure where to turn or pounce next.  Finally, at a disadvantage, he gave up and, aware but not particularly interested in us, followed the stream up to a short waterfall. Then, as we watched, a second young bear stepped out of the trees.
    This was already much more than I’d ever expected.


    The two bears eyed one another as they got closer and closer, finally meeting nose to nose in the middle of the stream. Then, while we stood silent and breathless, they rose on their hind legs and came together in a slow and powerful embrace. We soon realized they weren’t really fighting, but rather playing at fighting; wrestling, wrapping their arms about one another, throwing arcs of water droplets high in the air with each move.


     For almost half an hour the two bears splashed and hugged and tussled and nipped at one another’s ears and shaggy fur. We couldn’t tell if they were siblings who’d stumbled onto one another at a familiar spot or teenagers still somewhere between flirting and playing, but we knew that what we were seeing was an extraordinary experience.


     I didn’t blink, pressing the shutter again and again, trying to capture the amazing performance going on in front of me.


    Finally, as the two bears stopped playing and finally, just like kids who’d dawdled over their chores, got about the business of foraging and feeding, we walked carefully back to the waiting skiff. As we moved away from the shore, finally far enough away to find our voices, everyone began to talk at once. We were the fortunate ones and we celebrated it. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Just thinking about it now gives me chills. The moment was splendid and wild and real.


    The captain had already heard about our adventure and was there to meet us as the skiff pulled back up to the side of the Wilderness Explorer. She reached out to each of us as we came aboard.


    One foot on the deck, the other still on the small raft, I looked down at my boots and I had to smile. They were caked with the gritty, sandy, glacial soil so unique to Alaska. My mind and my camera were full of images and my feet were dirty, just as I’d been promised.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Flying Deep Into Kaua’i

   The helicopter lifted carrying six strangers, all of us tourists from across the United States. Our pilot, Gary, turned immediately toward the center of the island and within minutes, the bright Kaua’i coastline was lost in the dense vegetation.


    I’d already skirted the coast by road and onboard a catamaran, but with as much as 80 percent of Kaua’i accessible only by air, I needed this flight to truly see it all.


    The oldest of the Hawaiian islands, Kaua’i is in some ways still the most natural. The sprawling sugar cane fields are gone, replaced by a nascent coffee industry, and there are still long stretches of coastline that are undeveloped, lush and private.


    This is the Hawaii of my imagination, the landscape I’d hoped to see.


    We flew over the razor-sharp edges of volcanic ridges and through clouds that misted the windshield before we broke through to clear blue skies once again.


    The pilot banked smoothly to the right and we descended to the foot of the the sheer drop of the waterfall featured in the movie Jurassic Park. The only way to access the waterfall is by helicopter and when the blades stopped turning we walked the short trail to take photos splashed with water drops thrown from the falls.


    Back in the air we flew into valleys, crossed the breathtaking chasm of the red rock Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and then chased the breathtaking Na Pali Coast, banking in and out of hidden valleys between the vertical peaks. After a while I noticed we’d all put down our cameras and surrendered to the experience, overwhelmed by the views from every angle.


    The radio crackled in my ear and the pilot announced we were going to be the fortunate ones. Then he turned in the direction of the Wai’ale’ale Crater, the heart and center of Kaua’i. The clouds had moved on and we descended into the broken mouth of the crater.


   Where before we’d looked down on mountaintops and waves with a god’s-eye view, now we circled and banked like a mechanical bird riding a current of air, surrounded by the evidence of the violence of the island’s birth.  Waterfalls plunged over the vertical walls, ribbons of pure water undulating in the breeze, and plants and trees clung to every surface. I’d been warned about the effect of the crater and had shrugged off the idea of being moved to tears by such a thing. But within its walls, like so many before, I felt the power. Who were we to drop in uninvited to such a sacred space?


    Slowly we circled, taking it all in. Each of us still and silent, the music in our headsets providing a soundtrack that only emphasized the grandeur. I put down my camera again, wanting nothing between me and the beauty of the monument to the raw force of nature.


    When we flew up and out, cresting the edge, I leaned out looking over my shoulder, straining for one more look, half expecting the crater to lower a veil of clouds and in that way disappear from view, suggesting that the mystical place I’d just experienced had never really been there at all.    

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance journalist based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country.

CAM is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com


    

  

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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