All posts by Elliott

Elliott lives on a tidal river in coastal Georgia, loves to fly, writes a bit, works in healthcare for the federal government, and is system administrator for the swiftpassage webs.

Moran State Park: Season’s End

The wished for endgame to our summer-into-autumn on Orcas Island has happened: This morning we found a buyer for The Clipper motor home, and will turn over the keys in TWO DAYS. This was fairly sudden. We didn’t really expect to find a buyer, but Craig’s List and the posters we displayed here and there have been more effective than we expected. I’ve fielded some ten inquiries, and shown the camper three times in just a week.

endgame2 Yesterday morning, I had a nice chat with a young woman who said to expect a call from her mom later on, and, indeed, her mother rang me up and we chatted for almost an hour about the features and finer points of The Clipper. She rode out this morning from the mainland on the earliest ferry, with daughter and grandson in tow, and graciously listened to my pitch.  Fifteen minutes after that, she put down a deposit on a fair price, and said they’d come back for it on Monday. Pow, just like that! So now we are cheerfully eating everything in the fridge, and thankful that I thought to pick up packing cartons the last time we visited the grocery store.

endgame3The road home will take us into Oregon so Ann can visit her sisters, then on into California and Nevada. We expect to see a friend or two passing through Arizona, and will make our way to Plactidas, New Mexico to return our borrowed station wagon. With luck and good weather, we hope to spend a day seeing friends at a Balloon Rallye near Albuquerque. And then it will be time to pack the Comanche, and begin the flight across the south to make our way home to Georgia.

It’s been an amazing time, hiking and serving other hikers here at Moran State Park. I’m very grateful to the Friends of Moran for the chance to do all this, and to Ann for finding the opportunity, as well as encouraging me to jump on board.

Hiking Turtleback Mountain Preserve-Orcas Island

After a truly wet and chilly week bracketing Labor Day Weekend, the sun returned to Orcas Island, much as it has been throughout August. The rains were sufficient for Moran State Park to remove the campfire ban, but the season here is now largely over, and the number of campers but a fraction of last month’s count. Cabin fever had me itching for a hike.

turtle06On a day trip to Deer Harbor, I’d noticed the trail heads, north and south, for Turtleback Mountain Preserve. This block of wilderness, although somewhat smaller than Moran, is its equal for hiking beauty. The preserve boundaries encompass Ship Peak and Turtlehead mountains, with well groomed trails ascending from the south end trail head past vista after I was hiking with our friend, Darlene, one of the summer volunteers, and also one of the ice cream “wenches” at the Moran Park’s ‘Sugar Shack’.

turtle02Turtleback is less well known than Moran, and even in peak season will give one a very quiet experience in the wild, with much less hiking “traffic” than the Moran trails carry. Climbing up the South and West Overlook trails, I was surprised to find madrona trees of much greater girth than you typically see on the shorelines of Orcas Island, and at an elevation much higher. The overlooks encompassed the full length of West Sound, dotted with sails and ferries.

turtle01We stopped at Ship Peak for a rest and a spot of lunch. At this point, one crosses a ridge ascending Turtleback, and the views overlook the populated interior of Orcas Island, with a patchwork of farms, hayfields, orchards, forests and vineyards extending all the way to East Sound and North Beach. It’s very different than most of the vistas seen hiking at Moran State Park, which reveal only forest lands extending to the eastern water passages, the mainland, and Vancouver Island.

turtle05Had we gotten underway earlier in the day, Darlene and I would have turned west above Ship Peak, and made the climb up to Turtlehead mountain, but the days were getting shorter, and our exit plan from the park entailed walking down to the NORTH trail head, and hitchhiking back to the car, parked at the south end. I didn’t want to be thumbing a ride too close to sunset, so we turned east at the branch leading up the highest mountain at the preserve.turtle03

Even so, there are two overlooks with wonderful vistas along the north trail, Waldron Overlook and North Valley Overlook, followed by a steep descent to the trail head.

I informed Darlene that my secret superpower is hitchhiking, stuck out my thumb, and the very first car stopped and gave us a ride all the way back to the south end trail head. Our chauffeur was a lovely lady, the proprietor of the Blue Heron B&B, with a sweet old Labrador retriever. She went out of her way to deliver us to our car, and we shared a fun conversation as we rode.

Turtleback Mountain Preserve, although less well known, is one of Orcas Island many splendid treasures, and must be seen.

Voyeurs Much? – Redux: One Solution

Not long ago I posted about the shabby and inconsiderate behavior of a few of the visitors to Mt. Constitution. We call them voyeurs

Binoculars!? REALLY?!! Sheesh!
Binoculars!? REALLY?!! Sheesh!

because of  their tendency to ignore the  privacy boundaries we’ve erected around the summit host campsite.

Two very good  friends from the world of full-time RVing got in touch after reading that post, and offered to send us some wonderful screening material that had served them well for years. While it won’t prevent dweebs from stolling all around our rig,

Like privacy glass when it's in place. Wow!
Like privacy glass when it’s in place. Wow!

it will at the very least, prevent them from seeing through our windshield.

Less glare, and clear viewing.

The stuff is called RV-QuickShades , and it arrived today. It is a UV protective fabric that reduces heat and sunlight damage inside the rig, while blocking visibility from outside. Yet, it permits clear viewing from inside our rolling home, looking out.

Of course, we will still have people milling beyond the signs and saw-horses we’ve deployed asking for a patch to call our own for our weeks here at Mt. Constitution, but our dear friend, Kendra, had a good suggestion for THAT problem. I can’t wait to try it:

$7/100 ft roll, at Amazon, and free shipping with Prime.


Hiking in Moran State Park: #7, Mt. Pickett and Off Trail

Yesterday’s hike was a 1200 foot descent from Mt. Constitution (elevation 2409 feet MSL), and thence a slow 700 foot ascent through old growth forest, climbing back up to the peak of Mt. Pickett (Elevation ~1750 feet MSL).

The eastern lobe of Twin Lakes bathed in sunshine. Happy newts abound there.

The Twin Lakes trail has become very familiar, with its initial rocky switch backs, crumbly with gravel sliding under our feet like ball-bearings. The footing, thankfully, improves for most of the climb down, but is steep enough to make your knees complain unless one shortens one’s stride quite a bit.

We added a stone to the cairn atop Mt. Pickett.
A fragment of an old “whiskey” jug led us to a geodetic marker…

At the lakes, we turned to Mt. Pickett, and made our way up through the old growth forest. The plan was then to do the loop around the south arch, a long wooded loop that would have us returning by Mountain Lake, but we changed the plan when I spotted surveyors’ tape marking a new trail that turned east and north. It was exciting to explore this untraveled part of the park, not knowing exactly why it was marked, or where it was taking us. It led down the back side of Mt. Pickett, toward the shoreline, but ended suddenly below the last ridge lying between us and a very steep descent to the water.

We were at the last of the orange tape markers, when I noticed a black, shiny feature perched atop a fallen log about 20 feet to the right of the trail’s end. I climbed under some limbs, and on reaching it, discovered it was a fragment of a black, earthen jug, with spout and handle still intact. It was next to a geodetic marker, much lower to the ground and harder to see.

A close-up of the marker.
A close-up of the marker.

It was obviously placed there to make it easier to find the geodetic marker. The pink ribbons marking the trail went no further, and we concluded that it had been blazed to take a surveyor’s party back to that marker when needful.

With no further marked path to guide us, the obvious choice was to turn back, but we decided to climb that last ridge to see if there were any views out to the water. The ridge was steep, but with sound footing in soft mosses, and we were amply rewarded

The eastern vista to Mt. Baker. Nice spot!
The eastern vista to Mt. Baker. Nice spot!

for our effort with a beautiful picnic site overlooking Barnes, Clark and Lummi Islands and the channels between them. It was time for lunch!

After sandwiches, trail mix and water, we retraced our steps, and returning to the geodetic marker, I placed an animal skull we’d found on top of it, to note our passing. skullmarkerThe return trek was even more exciting, in that we decided to take a short cut off-trail over a ridge to intersect the road north and west of Mt. Pickett. This saved a repeat of the climb all the way to the top of that mountain, sparing energy for the climb back up Mt. Constitution.

We circled the eastern lake at Twin Lakes, to be able to say that we did, and Ann checked that off her list. Turning uphill, we made our slow way retracing the switch backs, back up to our camper. The 1200 foot Twin Lakes ascent (actually ANY ascent back up here) is a real cardiac workout. After a cup of soup, and with a book in hand, I conked out for about two hours.

I described our hike the next day to a young park ranger who became passionate about the terrain we had explored. It is an area of old growth and bluffs overlooking a part of the park that he would like to see opened. If a trail could be improved there, it could make accessible a small piece of shoreline which Moran State Park has retained on the Rosario strait facing Barnes Island.

A sail craft moored at Obstruction Pass campgrounds.
A sail craft moored at Obstruction Pass campgrounds.

He would like to see that become a rustic campground for backpackers, with marine access too, similar to the rustic campgrounds at Obstruction Pass State Park, a small marine-use sister park managed by the staff here at Moran State Park.

I’d like to see his vision made real too.

Voyeurs much?

This post is a shout-out to others living as nomads, especially any of you who have done the volunteer park host, docent, or light house “keeper” thing:

So, I glanced up the other day to see a guy with binoculars six feet in front of our motor home, smiling like a jack-o-lantern, and gazing in our front windscreen with his field glasses!

How do you deal with the curiosity of the public near your home? Ok, it’s a camp site, but home is home…is where you hang your hat… and where the heart is…AND, HEY, YOU! THIS IS WHERE I LIVE!! BEAT IT!!!!!

From the very first day here, some visitors to Mt. Constitution have had a tendency to wander all around our camp site, which is the one and only hook-up here. It’s a no-camping, day-use only part of the park, and we’ve got a little sign out there that reads, ‘SUMMIT HOSTS – ANN & ELLIOTT’.  There are also saw-horses, and a polite sign which reads, ‘PLEASE DON’T BLOCK RV SITE’.  Most people do “get it” that, “Hey, that must be a residency”, and they respect the boundary.

But for a certain kind of person, every boundary is a challenge to their special entitlement to violate it. The first few times these dweebs would really raise my hackles, but with the passing days here, I’m considerably more relaxed about it, if no less disgusted by these creeps. I’ve learned to see the humor in their absurd conceit. If I have “the drop” on them, it’s kind of fun to suddenly pop into view.  Like ambush journalist Mike Wallace barging into the corrupt politician’s office, bang! There I am, all alligator smiles, asking, “Are you lost? Can I be of assistance?”.

In fairness, sometimes they really are just disoriented, and in dire need of the restroom. Those people I cheerfully help and guide along.  But the voyeurs will blanch with shame: They’ve been caught peeping in your windows, and they know… that you know… what they were really up to…AND what they are. It’s kind of wonderful to see them stammer, “Uh, no, … good-bye.”  And off they slink!

Well played, Elliott… well played!  😀

Notes from Orcas Island: Geronimo!

This little journey to Orcas Island, and experimenting with unemployment, early retirement, call it what you will, started without much planning. To say that the sudden decision to take three months of unpaid leave from my career was spontaneous is a major understatement. One minute, I was blithely puttering around the house, the next I was searching Craig’s List for a cheap motor home in the Pacific Northwest. How do these changes happen? Or perhaps better to ask, “Why?”.

We have met a number of people who live and travel full time over the past several years, and that life holds a certain allure for me. Many of these modern gypsies are in retirement, but not all. The young people who work and travel constantly are the most interesting of them. When it’s time to retire, it’s easy to think of selling the “farm” and hitting the road, but for younger people the point is that “farms” never held any appeal in the first place. Nomads don’t imagine that they should ever cling to one permanent home, but feel at home as they travel. They are “permanent transients”, to borrow Edward Albee’s phrase from ‘The Zoo Story’, but joyously so. They do bond and form communities, both with people fixed in space, but also with other nomads with whom they crisscross paths over and again.  They’ve acquired skills that allow them to earn and be productive where ever they are.

My work is doctoring people’s eyes, and as such hasn’t lent itself to wandering off so.  I did have earlier careers where frequent travel might have been the normal mode. I might have become an actor, or remained in the military, but those paths didn’t stick. Now I’m very close to setting the clinical work aside. bungieWould I want to live constantly in 90+ square feet, caring for the vehicle and its “life support” systems, and thinking ahead to the next port of call, the next vista? Maybe…  maybe not.

But whatever I learn, it will be from having sampled the nomad’s life for a time. It needed a leap from safety. A bungie-jump, if you will.


Whale watching in the San Juan Islands

This was on Ann’s bucket list for our adventure as summit hosts here on Orcas Island. I was encouraging her to go, but hanging back for my own part at the expense. Then we found a hefty online discount for a tour boat out of North Beach, conveniently close to East Sound  just below Moran State Park.DSC_7854 It was such a good discount that we were a bit leery, but Outer Island Expeditions proved to be very capable, with fast comfortable boats and enthusiastic, well informed guides.

After the safety briefing, we were divided into two groups, and boarded onto some VERY fast boats. We were on our way, streaking north into Canadian waters. Our sister craft was smaller, lighter, and a bit faster, and took off ahead of us. Our craft had a larger group, and better shelter from the elements, which we greatly appreciated on the return run, chasing the sunset.DSC_7994

We saw many, many orcas whales in the island channels, but also some lovely lighthouses, and a number of interesting ships. A Canadian destroyer was working its way south past us, as well as several British Columbia ferries. DSC_7878The whale watching traffic kept a respectful distance from the pods of orcas, and their good manners were monitored by a Canadian wildlife Mountie. Our group was a delightful set of people, with the occasional exception of one lady who kept nagging our captain to “get closer”. With good grace, he explained that we were as close as was healthy for the whales, and to avoid a $10,000 fine. DSC_7870 Eventually she gave it a rest, and we got back to tracking parallel to the whales as they fed and played very close to the rocky shorelines.

The straits between these islands were close, and heavily trafficked, and at one point a pair of huge ferries appeared to be on a collision course. DSC_7939 They slipped past each other with perfect grace, giving us a spectacular show. I imagined that the din of their engines was a constant annoyance to the whales. Another close encounter yieldedDSC_7982 a great photo of a beautiful sailboat passing on our left.

However, the whales were first and foremost the main attraction.  Here are the best shots I was able to bring home, using a borrowed Nikon D-80 and a 70-200 mm zoom telescopic lens. (The camera body belongs to our neighbor Lori. Thanks, Lori, for making these pictures happen!)



We had a considerable distance to travel as the sun got low, but our guides took the time to stop as they spotted sea lions swimming in the channel, and enjoying a late sunbath on some rock outcroppings ashore. DSC_8020The sunset was becoming spectacular, and the light it cast on a number of retired island light houses was splendid. DSC_8052We passed by the Patos Island light house, which was the last manned lighthouse in the United States when it was automated in 1974. DSC_8053We’ve heard that it is still occupied by volunteer hosts who provide tours in season. 🙂

It was time to make tracks for our harbor at North Sound, and the guides sped south with the sun dancing with the wake. Ann gamely rode in the stern for the view, DSC_8039with the wind and spray, and so did I for most of the ride. DSC_8036The light shifted from golden to blood red as the boat throttled back into the no-wake zone leading into the channel at Smugglers’ Bay.

It was a perfect outing. We were so pleased with the cheerful professionalism of the guides, and the company of our boat-mates. A bit chilled, but happy with the day, we went looking for dinner.


Zen and the Art of Living Small

Zen mastery is achieved through alert meditation, and sometimes aided by a sharp whack from the teacher’s Keisaku.


When the student becomes drowsy or loses concentration the teacher will remedy the inattention with a flat stick, judiciously applied, called the Keisaku.

Living in “miniature”,  as we do in this small motor home also requires alert concentration. There is a meditative quiet in sharing quarters so closely. Ann and I sit at our respective sides of the dining “desk”, writing or reading, with only the whir of computer fans and the tapping of our keyboards stirring the air.

There can be a balletic grace in coordinating our movements about this space. The thoughtful shift of a foot or knee, a willowy bending or side-slip when passing in the aisle, with a whispered brushing of buttocks, and dinner gets prepared, the groceries find their way into the pantry, a buzzing fly is dispatched, they laundry gets folded, and the day unfolds just so.

However, lose one’s concentration, become distracted and forgetful proceeding in HASTE,  and we will quickly be schooled by our  Zen teacher with a sharp rap to the head, knee, or toe. The motor home itself is both  Master and Keisaku.

Our good friends, Chris and Cherie , once wrote about the difficulties of living and travelling in another small motor home, aptly named by Winnebago “The Le’Sharo”. lesharoThey were amused to find its name described the Fulani tribal custom, SHARO, of whacking errant students with a stick to improve their performance.

Would it surprise you, dear reader, to learn that the Le’Sharo they were driving is our OTHER rv?  I am here to report that this American Clipper is continuing the tradition. Zen-Garden-smThe knots on my head are proof of it. However, I like to think of them as  small pebbles in the expanding Zen garden of my quiet and more concentrated mind, living small, atop a mountain.

East Sound Fly-In at ORS: A stroll among my tribe

Orcas Island’s airport (ORS) hosts an annual fly-in every August, hosted by EAA Chapter 937.  Ann and I visited yesterday evening. These island airports are busy with smaller aircraft, as  package carriers (UPS, FedEx) fly parcels in at ORS using single engine Cessna Caravans . The largest plane I’ve seen was a Lear jet.

On any given summer weekend, you can find fly-in campers at this airfield, with tents pitched next to their aircraft in the grass tie-down area. The field is very hospitable to the backpack flyers, and has provided a restroom with a hot shower (donation encouraged). It’s charming to see one or two of these planes tied down with a colorful nylon tent pitched under the wing.

Camping year ’round is very laid back for a general aviation airport, but ORS goes one better: A few of the aircraft owners have set up their hangars as ad hoc get-away “cabins”, with the means to fix a meal, or comfortably pass a night in.

It’s a busy airport in its own right, but the annual Fly-In fills the field up with numerous beautiful and some rare birds, as well as an enthusiastic crowd of pilots and co-pilots. Tents are everywhere, and confabs of flyers gabbing in circles of folding canvas camp chairs in-between them. Four guys from an EAA chapter east of Tacoma sat in the midst of their Vans home-built project planes (three RV-4s and an RV-10), sharing salsa with tequila shots. korsflyin-small  I traded jokes with them, and was offered a shot in turn (cheerfully declined), and bite of salsa (peppery and piquant). Strolling with Ann among the gathered pilots, it occurred to me that these people were one of my natural social tribes. I could understand and appreciate the eavesdropped conversations, and could comfortably join in on many of them.

A barbecue buffet was offered for a very reasonable donation in one of the open house hangars, and we feasted on cheese burgers, sides and salad. orcashangarWe hunkered down with paper plates piled high, sharing our table with a old flyer from San Juan Island . He spoke of learning to fly between these islands 50 years ago, landing and taking off from pastures more often than from runways.

All in all, I’m very glad we chanced upon the annual Fly-In for its first evening. We lucked into a warm and gracious meal among strangers who, through the common interest of planes and flying,  weren’t really strangers at all.



Day trippers! Friday Harbor

A Mission At Dawn

Yesterday, Ann and I set out on a special mission, its purpose one of compassion. We were determined to bring about a happy reunion, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

Orcas Island is one of the San Juan Islands, the largest of which are served by a state-sponsored inter-island ferry service which is free to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. It’s popular to hop the ferry over to the other islands to see their unique sights, and savor their special ambiances. All well and good for tourists, but we were not tourists! (Ok, we WERE tourists, but, hey, it’s called MULTI-TASKING!)

jobUp before dawn, and with but coffee for our breakfast, we drove down the summit, re-securing the night gate  behind us.  We made our way to the ferry at West Sound, where  the Orcas Hotel provided round two of coffee, with a side of muffin. Incidentally, the grill and tap room at the Orcas Hotel is just wonderful, with an old jukebox sporting a bronze plaque dedicating it to some previous managers of the hotel. The place looks like a proper Fawlty Towers sort of B&B, but without Basil Fawlty to gum up the works. The ferry arrived, and off we went, sufficiently caffeinated, into the rising sun, gliding across the inlets and channels of the San Juans.

DSC_7739At Friday Harbor, our mission was to find Cammille, who was waiting at (according to my memory of it) some vaguely nautical sounding coffee shop. I asked several people where to find ‘The Salty Dog’.  She was awaiting us seated, just where she should be, in a place called ‘The Crow’s Nest’.  (Ok, that worked! ) Next up: The Joyful Reunion…DSC_7796

The Joyful Reunion

“Are you Cammille?”, I asked.

“Yes, are you Mr. Walsh?”, said Cammille, a hopeful light in her once sad eyes.

“I am! This is Ann, and here…”, I said, “…is your wallet!”, producing the once lost object with a flourish.

Cammille had dropped her wallet at the summit of Mt. Constitution the previous day while biking up there on a day trip from San Juan Island. A kind and honest soul had turned it in to us unmolested, and we had located Cammille by searching the internet. LinkedIn yielded a business name, which in turn helped us to obtain Cammille’s cell number, and our rendezvous was thus established. It seemed like a great excuse to day trip to Friday Harbor. Ann and I smiled, mission accomplished, and prepared to take our leave, but Cammille wouldn’t hear of it, and offered to drive us around San Juan, and show us the sights. “Delighted to!,” said we.

Cammille and Ann
Cammille and Ann

Cammille’s stories about working, biking and vacationing on San Juan were even better that the amazing coastal trails she hiked with us. A northern Californian, she had been living there for the past few months doing body work for a spa. Time would eventually take her back to California, but in the meantime she was enjoying the beauty of these islands. Here’s a small gallery of the sights we saw yesterday:

DSC_7811 DSC_7821 DSC_7822


Such an amazing place we’re living in, and with such wonderful people!