Texas Gulf Coast – Port Aransas

For spring break this year, we went to Port Aransas, Texas, which is on the barrier island east of Corpus Christi. Fortunately, it was after the big spring break rush, when the normally quiet town of about 3,500 was swamped with over 100,000 partiers. While there were some visitors there at the same time, the beach was never close to crowded and the town was mellow. After spending time there, I concluded that the Gulf Coast of Texas is a great place, though it was not my first choice of destinations.

I’m typically not a beach town kind of person, but I had a good time in Port Aransas. The weather is great, people are friendly and everything is very, very unpretentious. It’s also very affordable. While it’s probably a lot busier during the high seasons, going in the shoulder season (fall and spring break, with the exception of spring break week) is a good way to go. The weather is still great, you have your choice of places to stay, and there’s plenty of space on the beach.

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    Northern California – Ocean Cliffs, Redwoods and Mountains

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    I was fortunate enough to have same extra vacation time from the prior year to burn, so I decided to take a long weekend to do some exploring. Northern California is reasonably close to Portland, so I decided that was the place to go. Being new to the West Coast, this was my first trip to the State of California.

    The largest portion of my time was spent in the redwood forests. Specifically Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park and Redwood National Park, which encompasses National Parkland as well as several California State Parks.

    It’s genuinely hard to capture the scale of the Redwood Trees and the shaded solitude of the forests. The forest is very, very quiet; so much so that if you stop walking and just listen you can hear the white noise of your own eardrums. The canopy of the trees is so large that very little (if any) direct sunlight is able to penetrate to the forest floor. To help complete these feelings of solitude, I was in the forests on weekdays, early in the spring, so I encountered very few people on the trails.

    In fact, I think John Steinbeck captured the mood of the forests better than myself in his book, Travels with Charley:
    ‘The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are ambassadors from another time.’

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    When Saturday rolled around, the campsites at Prairie Creek started to fill up and I moved on. I headed south on 101 to Arcata, then headed east into the Trinity Shasta National Forest. I took my time through that section of my route since I had all day to reach my final destination of the day. There’s lots of space but not many people through this part of California.

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    After spending the night at an inexpensive yet cheerful motel in Weed, I started to make my way home. It was Sunday and I was, sadly, all out of time.

    The full selection of photographs from this trip may be found here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattpettengill/sets/72157629206183282/with/6976921143/

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    Cross-Country Road Trip – Reflection

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  • Spending a week driving across the country is something everyone should do once in their life. It’s something I had thought about for a long time, but didn’t have a reasonable opportunity until I moved from Maine to Oregon. One learns much about the landscape of the country and its people.

    For anyone who does do this, for whatever reason, I highly recommend getting off the interstate highways for as much of the trip as possible. This is where the uniqueness of any given region is most apparent. Stay in the small towns and pop into the local bar after dinner. Talk to a local or just people-watch; you will learn something new and interesting, I guarantee. We planned extra time in our trip for this explicit purpose.

    Our trip was at times brilliant, scenic, exhausting, and enlightening. Despite several long days of driving (the longest day being about 14 hours), I never found it to be tedious.

    I hope that someday I’ll be able to do a road trip like this again, but with a more open schedule and without all my personal belongings packed in the car.

    The full set of selected pictures from the trip are here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattpettengill/sets/72157627694540710/with/6157566767/

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    Maine to Oregon – Final Route

    We finalized our route this afternoon.

    Highlights will include:

    • Badlands National Park
    • Devil’s Tower
    • Yellowstone
    • Western Montana
    • Winding through the Clearwater National Forest
    • Columbia River Gorge


    View Directions to 4948 Southwest Barbur Boulevard, Portland, OR in a larger map

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    Maritime Canada Road Trip – Fundy Bay, PEI, and Nova Scotia

    Here’s a quick summary of my road trip through Maritime Canada. More photographs from the trip can be found here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattpettengill/sets/72157626929049671/

    Day 1: Home to Fundy Bay National Park – It was nice in Maine, but was starting to shower when we crossed the boarder at St. Stephen, NB. Sadly, we had to set up our tent in wind and light showers. We almost got a hotel room, but toughed it out instead. It really wasn’t that bad.

    Day 2: Exploring Fundy Bay NP – There was a nice little town (Alma) within walking distance from our camp site, so we strolled down there for some coffee after a campsite breakfast. Spent the rest of the day exploring some of the park highlights:
    Haring Cove
    Matthew’s Head
    Wolfe Point

    The fog was in and out all day but it made for some great scenery. We experienced showers, sun, and fog in a 30-minute period. We also got to witness the massive Fundy Bay tides.
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    A Winter Morning in NYC

    When I was in NYC in February it unexpectedly snowed one night. It was a wet and heavy snow that stuck to everything. I did quite a few things down there, but them memory of walking around Harlem and Central Park after the storm is a memory that stands out. That and watching a taping of the Colbert Report.

    Below are some pictures I took. Pictures of snow storms look great in black and white.

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  • Back when Suzette had been a desperate hanger-on to the fringes of polite society, nobody to bring her out for the first season but an aunt as shabby-genteel as herself. The idea of being with people, of having to do any more talking that night (even small-talking), made me feel sick in my stomach.
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    More Pictures from this trip can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattpettengill/sets/72157626402065492/

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    Cross Country Skiing in Acadia National Park

    Most people who’ve experienced Acadia National Park have done so in the summer, during the peak of Maine’s tourist season.  Nearly half of Acadia’s 2.5 million annual visitors arrive in the months of July and August. But there are still opportunities for recreation in the wintertime in the form of cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Acadia’s carriage roads are open for these activities, and many of them are groomed. The Park Loop Road is also available.

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    While typical winters in Maine’s include plenty of snow, the climate along the immediate coastline is slightly warmer. A storm that brings a foot of snow 20 miles inland from the coastline can often mean a mix of rain, snow, and sleet to the immediate coastline; not the best base fore skiing. This means that timing for a cross country ski trip in Acadia is  very important. You will want to pay close attention to the weather forecast for the area and arrive within a few days of a snow storm. January and February are probably the best bets for snowy conditions, but December and March are not out of the question either (again, it’s about Mother Nature’s timing).

    Beth and I happened to catch a great weekend in January. A decent storm had dropped almost a foot of fresh snow and it was cold enough along the coast that it didn’t mix with rain or sleet. This on top of the crusty base that was already present made for ideal cross country ski conditions.
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    Backpacking in Idaho: Along the Selway River

    This summer I participated in a backpacking trip in the Nez Perce National Forest along the Selway River. Beth’s Grandmother and her siblings had grown up in the wilderness at Selway Lodge, and her Mother (Elna) had spent several summers working in the Nez Perce wilderness. Her uncle had also spend the better part of 40 years as a hunting guide there as well. Needless to say, there is a history for the family in the area. I was very happy to be invited on this trip, which included Beth, her mother and father (Otto), and myself.

    Monday morning we woke at sunrise, around 4:30. After a quick, light breakfast we piled into Beth’s Grandmother’s car and took the 45 minute drive to the trail-head. When we arrived around 6:00, it was still very cool and damp out. It was an excellent time to be hiking so we wasted no time getting started. By 9:00 we had gone about 5 miles and had discarded our warm layers and pants legs; it was warming quickly. Before we even stopped for lunch, we had already reached the spot where we originally intented to camp. It was good that we were making quick time on the first day, because the next two days were forcasted to have temperatures reaching into the 90′s.

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    The trail was relatively flat, with very few difficult areas. The river was high and we saw a small group of rafters floating down the river, loaded with what appeared to be scientific equipment. It was amazing how clear the water was. In calm spots you could easily see to the bottom, even in deep and narrow areas. The sky was perfectly clear, and the day was warm. We stopped often for water, and made a stop for lunch around 1:00. By that time we had traveled over 12 miles. Again, we were making very good time for the first day. We chose our camping spot for the evening (another 5 miles down the trail) and after our break continued on.

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    Costa Rica Days 8 and 9: Travel Back to Sans Jose and Return to the USA

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    1-29-10: Today we traveled back to San Jose in preparation for our departure home. We woke up early (5:30) to catch the Direct Bus back to San Jose. This was much less expensive than the van service we took on the way in. The bus ride from Montezuma to San Jose only cost about $12.

    The first bus picked us up around 6:30 at the bus stop in the village, then took us to the ferry terminal near Paquera. This trip took well over an hour because the bus made several stops along the way to pick up additional passengers. The roads, as mentioned before, were also not very good. At the ferry terminal, the bus dropped us off and we all walked on the ferry to Puntarenas. This ferry was smaller than the one we had taken in, but the ride took about the same amount of time (one hour). After departing the ferry on the Puntarenas side, we boarded a larger, nicer bus. It had air conditioning, but no bathroom (I did not drink any water during the bus trip). The final leg of the bus ride back to San Jose took about 2 and a half hours, and we arrived at the Coca Cola bus station in down-town San Jose around 1:30.

    The Coca Cola bus station is a very busy place, and in a bad part of town. However, if you’re aware of what’s going on around you and keep an eye on your things, you shouldn’t have any problems. We walked about 8 blocks back to the Best Western (a cab would have been too complicated with 7 people). The rest of the afternoon we relaxed at the hotel drinking water and beer, and eating food (we didn’t eat anything but a few snacks the entire day.) Everyone went to bed pretty early because we all had early flight in the morning, and needed extra time to get through security.

    1-30-10: This was officially the last day in Costa Rica. It was a very early day; we got up at 4:30 to get the 5:00 shuttle to the airport. After arriving at the airport we paid or $26 exit fee and made our way through security; this took about an hour and a half. Then we boarded the plan, and made our way to Miami. We had a 4 hour layover in Miami, but about half of that time was spent getting in through customs, then back in through security. We met a really nice and interesting guy at the Sam Adams pub near our departing terminal; he bough us a beer and told us some interesting stories about his travels around the world doing development work.
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    Costa Rica Day 8: Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve

    Today was our day for Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, Costa Rica’s first nature reserve. Beth and I got up around 7:00, quickly had some coffee, and went down to town to catch the bus to the Reserve. After a 15 minute bus ride, we got off the bus in the village of Cabuya (the town right next to the Reserve) to get some breakfast, then purchased some snacks for lunch. We walked down the main road through town to the Reserve gatehouse.

    It was $10 to get into the park, paid at the gatehouse. The walk into the beach took about an hour and half, along a forest trail. It was a very scenic walk, but very hot. We passed by a couple brooks, went up and down some steep hills, and saw lots of trees and other flora. The beach was very pretty, but not very good for swimming. There were lots of small rocks on the beach and the waves were very powerful. I got a couple bruises on my legs from rocks being tossed into my legs by the waves. It was quite windy, so it’s quite possible the swimming would have been better on a calmer day. Needless to say, I only stayed in for a few minutes to cool off.
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