Alaskan RED

A lifelong Alaskan learning about the world one backroad at a time


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Four Nights In Tofino

When I first read a magazine piece on Tofino, I knew I had to go there. Big beaches to walk, good food, a casual atmosphere, fishing, and surfing if you have more balance and coordination than I do.  Occasionally, Tofino would rise to the top of my list after seeing another article or a mention from a friend.

Then two years ago, we had a housesit on Vancouver Island and a stretch of good weather. I looked up the distance from the house in Parksville and decided that if we got an early start, we could go out and back in one day; a sort of recon mission for a future trip. So we loaded up our petsit charge, a lovely springer spaniel, put on our beach walking shoes, grabbed drinks and snacks and headed Vancouver Island Housesit January2015 (316).jpgout.

What followed was a five hour round trip on some narrow, twisty roads through beautiful forest, a five mile walk on a beach that seemed to go on forever, and a great lunch overlooking the town and water.

As I drove us back, hubby and pup both sound asleep, I vowed to come back when we could spend more time.

Fast forward to this January and the opportunity to return to Vancouver Island to care for the springer wonderdog came around. This time, we planned for an extra bit of time at the end of the sit to make a run to Tofino. I had read much about the Wickaninnish Inn over the years and had thought to spoil ourselves with a couple nights there but found it closes in January for annual cleaning and maintenance. There are many other options for lodging in Tofino, from budget to luxury, but I couldn’t pass up a Rewards member deal at the Best Western Tin Wis Resort so I booked two nights.

The drive out to Tofino runs through Port Alberni and along Sproat Lake, then becomes narrower as it cuts through the rainforest before dumping you out at the coast. It is a 2.5 hour drive on a good day and our day just that, sunny and temperate. As we went, I marked a few places I wanted to pull over for photos on our way back. Once at the coast, a left turn will take you into Ucluelet and a right turn will take you to Tofino, taking you through the Pacific Rim park and passing many beaches along the way.

We found the Tin Wis, a native phrase for “calm waters”, without too much trouble. It sits right on Mackenzie Beach and is more of a motel style in that the “hallways” are open to the elements facing the parking.  This also means every room faces the beach. We snagged a room on the second floor, which had us carrying our suitcases up two flights of stairs as there is no elevator, but also gave us an elevated view of the beach from our balcony.

After settling in, we drove into Tofino for lunch. It’s a short 2-3 mile drive. A recommendation from a bartender in Vancouver sent us to the Wolf and the Fog. They have a smallish bar area downstairs for lunch and a larger restaurant upstairs for dinner. Hubby ordered the burger and a brew on tap.  I had a shrimp po-boy with big prawns lightly battered and stuffed in a roll with amazing Asian-inspired slaw.

I washed it down with one of their specialty cocktails, a Cedar Sour made with cedar-infused rye.  It was quite unique with a definite woody flavor that left a bit of a tannic dryness in my mouth.

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After lunch, we strolled through town, poking into the shops carrying trinkets, clothes suited to the area, and of course, surfing equipment.

Needing more steps to walk off the lunch, we headed back to the hotel, changed into our beach shoes, and walked out on Mackenzie Beach. It’s a nice curved. sandy beach, small by Tofino standards but big anywhere else.

We walked from end to end, exploring the tide pools in the rocks at either end.

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Back in the hotel, we decided that dinner wasn’t in the cards after our big lunch so we spent the evening enjoying the sunset and a glass of wine on our balcony.

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The next morning, we decided breakfast would be a good idea before we set out for the day. The restaurant at the hotel is nicely appointed and it has a sunroom/patio area that looked to be quite nice for summertime use. The food was basic but done well and the service was decent. Then it was off to the beach – but which one? We chose Long Beach where we had walked two years before. And it is long – stretching off into the distance in either direction from the parking area. We walked and walked and finally decided we should turn back while we still had the energy for the return trip.

Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and decided to head to The Schooner for dinner. We 20150128_121614.jpghad been here for lunch on our first trip and it also came recommended by the Vancouver bartender. It’s upstairs and has a lovely view of the Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. We started with a sampler of oysters – classic Rockafeller, Robatta with miso, ginger and lime, and my favorite, Nami Nori, which are fried and finished with honey wasabi mayo and tobiko. Then we shared Halibut Bawden Bay stuffed with shrimp, crab and brie. Good thing we split the meal!

The next morning, we headed into Ucluelet, about 35 miles from Tofino. Much of it is built on black rock so there aren’t beaches to walk but I was more interested in the Amphritite lighthouse and its section of the Wild Pacific Trail. It did not disappoint. The lighthouse is a short downhill walk from the parking area and the trail perches on the rocks above beautiful blue green ocean.

The walk is pretty flat with just a little up and down, mostly dirt, and has several places to stop for a break or a picture.  We could have walked much more on the Wild Pacific Trail but we had some other things to explore.

      

Back in Uke, as Ucluelet is known, we stopped by Pina, a print shop that specializes in Pacific Northwest inspired designs. We had stopped in their boutique in Tofino and admired the designs but when the gal there said we could have them custom made at the Uke store for the same price, we knew we must stop there. Soon we were leaving with our first souvenirs – two hooded sweatshirts (we wear a lot of hoodies in Alaska) with designs on the front and sleeves that we’d chosen from books of many. Not only did we have a memento of our trip but these became our new “dress hoodies”, a concept from Alaska where you have a hoodie or two that are worthy of a casual evening out.

We had to check out Wickaninnish Beach on our way back.   It’s a bit of a drive in from the highway which ends in several parking areas.  A short walk through the trees brings you to a relatively steep beach popular with surfers.

Even in January, they are donning wetsuits in the parking lot.  We were fortunate to catch several of them showing off their skills.  Wickanninish Beach Surfers (29)

We also saw a pair of eagles on the sand and upon further investigation, found they were making a meal of a dead seal that had washed up.

Dead critters aside, this is a big beach with plenty of room to walk.  There is also Kwistis Visitor Centre at the south end of the beach but we spent too long on the beach and missed it.  Next time!

We arrived home just in time for sunset on Mackenzie Beach – best observed with a glass of wine in hand as we had discovered on our first night here.

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Are you surprised that we headed out to the beach again the next day?  This time we headed to Incinerator Rock at the north end of Long Beach. We walked north and the beach curved around a point and we were able to check out the tidepools around a little “island” on the way.  It was definitely the quieter end of the beach.

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Back at the parking area, we watched others climb up Incinerator Rock for a picture.  Then we zipped back towards town so we could get lunch at the last of our recommended spots.  Tacofino has their original taco truck (they are also in Vancouver and Victoria) at back of a complex that includes Chocolate Tofino and Wildside Grill.  Hubby got a huge basket of ling cod and chips from Wildside and I got fish tacos  and a bowl of tortilla soup for us to share from Tacofino – both excellent choices that we enjoyed at the outdoor tables next to Tacofino.  Of course before we left, we had to grab some chocolates at Chocolate Tofino and promise ourselves we’d make it back for their gelato.  (Sadly, we never did as they close quite early so weren’t open when the dessert craving hit)

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For our final night’s dinner, we headed to Long Beach Lodge.  This resort consists of individual cabins lining the road to the lodge which sits above a small but popular surfing beach.  The lodge is beautiful – very open, northwest decor, with a nice view.  The bartender did a great job at making gin fizzes (a rare find these days) and then we shared our way through the menu.  We started with Venison Carpaccio – smoked venison & foraged salad with cherries & local Tofino coffee oil.  Then we shared a 22-day aged rib eye that was cooked to perfection and finished with a giant French macaron for dessert. It was the perfect ending to a fabulous trip.

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As you can tell, we had extended our stay by a couple of days since we were having so much beach and foodie fun but we decided would leave Friday and drive into Victoria for the weekend.  We awoke to muffled surf sounds and looking out the window, saw that a couple inches of snow had fallen.

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It was coming down hard but we had reservations in town and we are, after all, Alaskans with a 4WD truck so we packed up and checked out.  By this time, there were 5-6 inches and still coming down.  The desk clerk said she’d seen the RCMP Mountie rig in the ditch that morning and urged me to take coffee and snacks for the long drive.  And it was long – 5.5 hours long – with the first 3.5 hours at 25-35 miles an hour as we wended our way along that narrow road with 4-12 inches of wet snow packing into ice.  Needless to say, those spots I marked for pictures were passed by.  It was a relief to turn our keys over to the valet at the Magnolia Hotel with instructions to park the truck for three days.

As we settled in, the memory of the long drive fading in the glow of the fireplace, we looked back at our little runaway to the outer coast.  Tofino and Ucluelet are small places but their backyard is huge and we have enough things left undone that I can imagine a return trip is likely in the cards!

 

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National Park Tour Part Two – Yosemite

I remember some years ago when I took the opportunity to drive through the redwoods in Northern California, a park employee recommended Yosemite as the premiere California park destination. I’ve always remembered that and so it made the short list of required stops for this road trip.

On our way south from an overnight in Alturas in northeast California, we came over a hill and got a surprise – Mono Lake with its white edges and tufas spread out below us. We stopped at the visitor center for a closer look and enjoyed the exhibits explaining how tufas are formed including a replica that was made to be touched. Tufas are created when underground spring water containing calcium leaches up and mixes with lake water containing carbonate and forms crystals which build hills over time.

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After exploring the lake, we decide to stay in Lee Vining, a small town whose claim to fame is that they are the gateway to Yosemite and has hotel prices to prove it. The Lakeview Motel is clean and convenient but only the upper section has a view of Mono Lake from several miles away.  As its late in the season, some of the shops and restaurants are closed but we found a diner dinner and hit our pillows early.

After a walk for coffee in the morning, we begin the drive, climbing up to 9949 feet at the entrance to the park – Tioga Pass.  From there we drive into what turns out to be our favorite part, the rocky upper portion of the park with gnarled trees growing out of bare rock, smooth flows of rock topped with random boulders, and beautiful Tenaya Lake.

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We continue on and drop down yet another twisty winding road to Yosemite Valley where we can look up at El Capitan and see Half Dome from the bottom.  It is pretty with a lovely creek running through boulders, but it is busy even on an offseason weekday so we don’t stop for our planned picnic here.  Instead, we climb back out of the valley and choose to return the way we came rather than drive out to the south through Mariposa or out the west entrance.  It is just as beautiful in reverse and we take time to check out a couple of campgrounds in anticipation of our next visit before stopping at Tenaya Lake for a picnic and a bit of wading. (It wasn’t that cold, honest!)  I’ve been itching to climb the rocks and we finally stop at one turnout where clambering over the rocks affords us a beautiful view of the valley.

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All the way back out of the park, we talk about what we want to do during our next visit.


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National Park Tour Part One – Crater Lake

While we were driving through Oregon, we decided to drive through the south side of the Columbia Gorge and up through the Deschutes River valley. This twisting winding drive down one side of the river and up the other would have been really fun in a sports car! Returning to the river for some rafting and fishing are definitely on our list. We dropped down into Bend Oregon and passed through quickly, hoping to stop at the Lava Beds National Monument at sunset but we were greeted with locked gates – closed for the season. So on we went, hoping to find somewhere to stay along the road before the turn off to Crater Lake but nothing really presented itself – again, several things were closed for the season. On we went to Klamath Falls where we checked into a Shiloh just off the highway.

Up early the next morning, we drove back to the turnoff towards the Lake and crossed wide flats of cow country and a couple small settlements that included some small cottage type lodging options – wish we’d taken the chance to drive in here the night before. On we went towards the mountain in the distance until we finally left the flats and started driving up into the pine forest. We stopped to take a picture of a river canyon and were amazed by both the chill in the air and the pine scent it carried. Onward and upward and we came to the visitor center where we bought a National Park Passport and put the first stamp in it. Then came our first decision – do we drive the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. As the driver and photographer, I chose – counterclockwise so the morning sun would be behind us as we looked at the lake.

We stopped early on to walk up to a viewpoint and found that the elevation does take its toll on a couple of sea level dwellers – the air felt thin – but the view was well worth it and the forest was so peaceful.  While the star is the lake, the trees are equally amazing in their own ancient, twisted way.P1050550~2[1]

The view from the first overlook is a rock formation called Phantom Ship – it is possible to see it from other viewpoints as well so you really get a see its different sides.

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Back in the truck, we found the road to be very twisting, narrow and some areas of sheer dropoffs on the side,  but the views were well worth it. There are many viewpoints to see the incredible color of the lake and a few places to picnic, though none have a view of the lake.  However, there is only one place to get to the water and it is supposed to be a very steep dusty trail – we were going to try it but it was the only truly busy area outside of the the visitors centers so we skipped it.

At another viewpoint, you can see the crater wall and a rock formation called the Castle – it is a completely different color as the wall it perches on and reminds me of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.

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While we were there, this little chipmunk came out to visit.  He was obviously used to people and seemed ready to run up my pant leg looking for a handout.  When I had nothing to offer, he ran up on the sign and posed for this perspective shot.

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Back down the mountain, we stopped again to look over the river canyon and some interesting formations in the walls of the canyon – hollow spires of soil that looked like fairy temples.  We did not see those on the way up, pointing out that driving both directions around the lake would also have been a good idea.  I think a return trip will be on our list.

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