Genesis of the trip

In February 2011, we took a trip down to California, to spend a pleasant week in the sun. Lynda's sister Karen and husband Dan had just bought a place in Palm Desert—about 4 hours drive inland from Los Angeles.

This year, we succumbed to the lure and joined the thousands of Canadian "snowbirds" who flee south to get a break from the Canadian winter. This time we rented a condo for the month of February from a friend of Karen and Dan's. We also decided to drive the car down so that we'd be mobile when we were down there and be able to take a bigger load of supplies, so the trip down and back is part of the account.


Heading out

We had planned to leave Tuesday (Jan 29th), estimating a 3 day drive down. However, on Monday we were ready early and suddenly realized that we'd be stretched to make the 2250 km drive in 3 days. So we bundled all our stuff into the car (and there was a lot of it since we didn't have to worry about checked baggage) and took off Monday afternoon just before 5pm.

It was drizzling when we left but we hit heavy rain in Seattle and it stuck with us through to Lacey, WA, which we made by about 10pm that evening, pleased that we'd got a 326 km jump on our trip. The heavy rain makes for ugly driving. The I5 highway South is yer regular highway but some lane in some lanes, the truck traffic had forged ruts that fill with water in rain, and the occasional skate at 120 kph is entertaining. The reception desk at the hotel then told us that they were hearing that huge dumps of snow were expected over the next few days in the passes. I've driven that highway in a snowstorm about 15 years ago, we weren't looking forward to that!

We took off early the next morning, hoping to make it at least to Medford in Oregon and get through one range of mountains. But the stress was unnecessary. The rain stuck with us through the hills at the bottom of Washington State, began to thin out as we continued on down through Oregon. So we kept going and the roads were dry as we climbed the 4,000 foot passes between Oregon and California, although there was deep snow by the side of the road by Mount Ashland. We drove into Redding, California in the evening under clear skies and balmy weather after about 9.5 hours on the road. Suddenly we're in a city with Palm Trees!

We finally bought what they call a GPS unit here (and a SatNav in Europe). over here) just before we left and after some early struggles are getting to like it. Of course it is no damn use at all on a highway like I5 ("follow the marked route for 654 km") but it is a real boon when you're search for directions to hotels as you approach a destination.

The drive down I5 is very scenic in parts and very dull in others. Washington is generally very pretty before and after the "city" section: Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia. The rain and the recorded book (Martin Cruz, Stalin's Ghost) detracts a bit of our ability to appreciate the scenery. Oregon is surprisingly flat and pastoral in the Northern half and then very picturesque as it gets hilly and then mountainous in the South. There is plenty of wildlife to be seen. We saw coyote, deer, a lot of Red Tailed Hawks and the occasional Bald Eagle, as well as a couple of hawks that I didn't recognize. California


Day 3 (Day 1 in Palm Desert)

If Karen hadn't phoned us at 8 am we might still be asleep, but the sunlight glaring in through the windows was an an additional encouragement to an earlier cup of coffee than we might have had otherwise. The fridge was bare so we felt obliged to wander 5o m over to the cafe in the resort tennis club, have an omelet and watch the unhurried matches on the courts below.

Later in the day, we managed to find the Cross, a hike we did last time we were here. Here are some pictures from our first day here.

Our home for the next month

View from the balcony (babbling water sound not included)

View towards the gate

View from The Cross


Getting our exercise

We're on an excercise roll here. Hiked The Cross two days in a row (only about 500' elevation gain and maybe 3km total distance—about an hour up and down) and then yesterday hiked The Wilderness Trail out in the Living Desert.

The Living Desert is a pay-to-enter small zoo, supposedly providing education about the area althoughthe giraffes and leopards are a bit of an anomaly.

However, we saw all this last time we were here and this time we just raced through it to get tothe wilderness trail that leads out into the desert proper beyond.According to the map this was only a 3.5 mile (5.6km) trail so we thought we'd be back in an hour and half but the going up the gully leading up to "Mount" Eisenhower (it's only 1,000 feet above sea level—about 750 feet climb for us) was slow. Came across the corpse of what looked to be a Prairie Falconbut we couldn't figure out what animal might have killed it.

Great views from the top...that don't come out quite so well in the photos but it wasa slightly overcast day.The chief interest of this hike is the numberand variety of birds that inhabit the area just outsidethe zoo. Last time we were here we saw dozensof hummingbirds and some varietyjustat dusk. Not so many of those this timebut saw this Loggerhead Shrike sitting at the top of his bush as well as a half adozen othernew birds that I haven't managed to identify yet.The most bizarre is the brilliant orange bird shown below that I think must have escaped from the zoo.

We are now members of the zoo so can return any time for free. Expect to take Karen and Dan out on this one again and do some more birdwatching! This morning we're planning to do the Bump and Grind hike.

More later.

Lynda and the view

 More view La Quinta below

Mr Lizzard out in his yard

Loggerhead Shrike posing

Orange (perhaps an escapee from the zoo) and blue (Western Blue Jay?)


Day what? Relaxation

For two people who areinterested in swanning about in nature it is alarming how many gadgets we have become dependent on. In the apartment, Lynda has her Mac and I have my Toshiba set up in the front room so that we can each discourse with the world in our different ways. We use them to deposit our e-transferred rent cheque from the tenants and to get cute pictures from Dez and Blake of our adorable grandchild. We connect to that outer world via wifi thanks to the cable—one of a tange behind the TV. The TV is, of course a large 46" presence in the room; it has its own remote, as does the PVR that brings us the limited 40 odd channels that we get. However, since there's no much on there (apart from the Super Bowl, which was more entertaining than usual) we are watching Downton Abbey on a DVD player that we had to borrow from Dan; it too has its remote.Further afield, our new $20 cellphone has its own User Guide as does the goPhone technology that it brings us. And of course, we have our new Garmin satnav (a device which, as I'm discovering, fully embraces the definition of the term idiot savant).

But so much for our evenings.

Lynda spent yesterday at the outlet malls north of here. Apparently there are over 115 stores in the mall and Lyn was disappointed that she only managed to hit an estimated 80 of them. To be fair she does score big time at these places, getting $100 items for $15. I spent the day finding out where in the resort we can get rid of our garbage (out at the end of the garages) and fixing a few cabinets that wouldn't close.

It was a relaxing day for us. Tomorrow a friend of Karen's is taking us on a big hike (2,000 feet up and about 5 miles). We'll hike the Cross this morning and perhaps I'll hit the Living Desert later on to watch birds.


Erm...Thursday I think

...because we hiked the "Over the top" trail yesterday and that was Wednesday.

Excellent hike; organized by Karen, led by Jerry; 6 of us altogether. Baking hot, partly because we started out at 11 am and hiked the middle of the day. The route followed the trail to the Cross (about 1km up and 500' elevation gain) and continuing up to the peak behind (1900' el gain and about 10 km round trip). Had lunch at the top with fabulous views in all directions. I see that I didn't take any photos of the golf course below us: the lush emerald green carpet of grass painted onto the brown dry desert all around. Of course that's what this whole valley is like but as this reaches up into the gulleys running down to the peaks it is quite a stark contrast.

Forgive me for not captioning the photos below; I've just had one fight with this feature and eventually had to abandon the post and start again.

We've bought bikes—or rather Lynda bought them, at (I hear hissing) Walmart. But apparently $100 deal was great so we did it.


My goodness! Rain!

A monstrous wind sprang up yesterday evening, rattling the windows and bending the trees outside yet it remained sunny. However today we actually had rain! Still windy this morning and cooler when Lyn went off to her mahjong session with Karen, so I wandered over to a local store by myself to see if I could replace my tattered runners. It was dark over the distant mountains but sunny here when I went into the store. When I came out, I thought I'd head over to have a coffee at the local Starbucks. Fortunately something made me glance overhead and I suddenly realized that there were very dark and threatening clouds now right above. So I undertook a sprightly walk back to the resort to avoid getting drenched in what looked to be a brewing thunderstorm. Fortunately only a very genteel rain fell and the rest of the week is supposed to be mid seventies and unending sunshine. Hard to put up with.

Have seen and heard a lovely variety of birds here (more heard than seen as usual). Did I mention that a Roadrunner ran across the road in front of us just a block or so away the other day? Also a flock of Bluebirds appeared while we were hiking.

We tried our bikes out yesterday for the first time. Rode over to a presentation at the Living Desert—about 20 minutes from here—which we have now joined for the year so we get in to these things free. Very entertaining: a succession of (bird) predators flew in from stage right—a Red Tailed Hawk, a Golden Eagle, an African Falcon (which entertained us by taking off to land on a nearby hilltop and had to be lured back into the show with a morsel of some kind) and a Horned Owl. I wandered off while Lyn was seeing to other things and spotted a group of 4 California Quail trotting about in some bushes and a small weird looking squirrel showed up as well.

The bikes were fine but the saddles left something to be desired. Will go out again when the bruises on my bum are less sore.


A walk in the park

Chilly 60 F yesterday but we have learned to bear it. Went over to the Santa Rosa San Jacinto Monument and did the Randall Henderson trail. At about 5k and 400 ft elevation gain, it was not much more than a local nature trail (including signposted points of interest along the trail), but educational (pamphlet provided). We passed a closed protected area where Bighorn Sheep are often sighted.

Next to the centre there is an area where they feed birds and we saw quite a variety, including an American Kestrel (which was probably more interested in those feeding at the feeder than the food) that cruised overhead as we headed out.

Looking back at the hike up. Hwy 74 visible at the
base of the distant hills. The Santa Rosa centre
just around the corner (next to the highway)
on the right.

Creosote Bush in foreground. The hill on the right
is supposedly where the Bighorns hang out


Indian Canyons

Karen put us on to the Ironwood Hiking group, so we phoned them up and they invited us to join them on the hike to Fern Canyon. We joined the group of 20 odd at 7:15 am in the parking lot of the Ironwood Club (needed to have our name on a list in order to get in the gates). Then carpooled to Indian Canyons, which is just to the left of Palm Springs (I know you'll be looking this up).

Another lovely walk. We start from the parking lot just above the river bed that gives rise to the name, head down through the palms, cross the river and head up through Fern Canyon. The "ferns" turned out to the uninformed individual (me) to be little more than small sproutings of green on the canyon wall in places, not quite as interesting as the massive palms lining the sandy bottom of the canyon.

From here we headed up along a sandy stream bed and eventually reached a point for excellent views over both the canyons below and the heights above, with a chilly wind coming at us on the high points from the snowy peaks in the distance. We then circled back for a mile-long walk back along Palm Canyon. Our group leader showed us the natural geothermal (warm) springs emerging in a couple of places that actually gave rise to the name Palm Springs (now a large metropolis some distance away). Our hike was about 10 km and about 1,000 feet up and down for the day. We were back in Palm Desert just after noon after an excellent day.

Very nice group, although I did find out in the course of one conversation that the Golf Membership at Ironwood—which most of our group had—would cost one about $100,000 a year in addition to one's (probably comparable) obligations for owning property there.


A Few days

My goodness! Missed a few days there. Must be the constant activity. So let me see:

  • My birthday Wednesday (13th). I think we hiked the Bump and Grind again some time during the day; then drove over to Palm Springs to have dinner at a vegan restaurant (excellent) and to see "Suds", a musical, in the Palm Springs Museum Auditorium (spirited).
  • I went out at 7:30 am Thursday, over to the Living Desert park to do some birdwatching. Excellent! Experts there very helpful pointing out the common species as well as explaining what wasn't around yet, hence eliminating some confusion about identification. Here's my list for the morning:
    1. Phainopepla
    2. Costa's Hummingbird
    3. Black-crowned Night Heron
    4. Raven
    5. Verdin
    6. Northern Mockingbird
    7. Abert's Towhee
    8. Yellow-rumped Warbler
    9. House Finch
    10. Western Bluebird
    11. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
    12. Gambel's Quail
    13. Roadrunner
    14. Summer Tanager
    15. Great Horned Owl
    16. Ash-throated Flycatcher
    17. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

    Colors indicate some unusual sightings—especially the Great Horned Owl. Was just sitting facing us head on 30' up in a Palm. The fleecy I was wearing as welcome protection from the cold at 7:30 was far too hot by 9am.

  • Thursday evening we were invited over for dinner with Dan and Karen and another two couples.

    Art Smith Trail

  • Friday: Lynda and I did the Cross hike, then Lyn went her Mahjong class with Karen and I walked over town to a local bookstore and browsed. On the way back stumbled across a rally of ancient cars cruising the local main street, some great old vehicles on view.

Which brings us to today! Up early again and headed to the Santa Rosa monument up highway 74 (10 mins from here) for a guided hike up the Art Smith Trail. Good group of about 10 of us. Very nice trail, headed up about 1000' to a series of oases with our excellent guide to explain to us all about the plants and local history. Lynda and I headed up further (about another mile and 400' climb) to see the other oases. About 10-12K round trip at a guess.

The group near the top

Looking down on Coachella Valley from about 1000' up.
San Andreas fault runs in front of distant range. (I know. All
these look the same in the photos but honest, they are
all different when you're here)

Oases 3 and 4 in middle-top. 

Heading back down from the top. Destination in
the distance below.


Cat Canyon and Palm Canyon

Oi Veh,another multiplicity of days have gone by without blogging. So many things to do; so little time.

Monday: did our hiking jaunt with the Ironwood hiking group. This hike was a local one: parked by some houses just over the road from where we are and, to skirt crossing a private lot and earning the ire of the owner again (apparently this happened last year), we jockeyed our way down a path, dropped into a very pretty ravine with an unexpected stream running down the middle...which turned out to be the run-off of the watering from a golf course that we hiked back up to! Went around the edge of the golf course, up into the hills, climbing about 700 feet to get the now usual views of Palm Desert below, before dropping over a ridge and down into Cat Canyon. About 6km.

Tuesday: wanted to save ourselves for Wednesday (see next) so thought we'd take it easy...but completely blew that. The plan was to cycle over to La Quinta to see the village. Well, we got to La Quinta (cycling along the golf-cart paths that run past the series of private resorts along Hwy 111) and thought the "village" would be just down Washington Street. It was down Washington Street...about 5 miles down, doubling the length of our planned journey—about 20 miles all told for the day. And for a destination, a bit disappointing. It may be an older part of town but not the quaint village we were expecting. Ended up having coffee in Starbucks because we couldn't find a better place. Got back into Palm Desert just as storm "Q" was coming over the top of the peaks in front ahead of us and were luckily home before the wind picked up. The rain set in that evening...

Wednesday: ... so we weren't sure what the situation would be like next morning for our (already paid-for) guided hike in Palm Canyon (Indian Canyons in Palm Springs). It looked a little blustery and stormy still but not raining and no word of cancellation from the organizers so we headed out at 8am. The peaks all around were covered in a thin layer of snow and it still looked unsettled overhead. We found our guide waiting for us in Palm Springs and it began to clear up. Turned out to be a great day and one of our best hikes so far this trip. Up the East Fork of the Palm Canyon hike, to see the petroglyph in a grove of palms at the lunch/turnaround point. Elevation gain of about 1500' (they claim 2,000' but it didn't seem to be that much) and round trip of about 7km. Must have been a dozen (Costa's) hummingbirds at the feeders by the trading posts.

Went to see the movie 'Quartet' tonight and the local flicks. Enjoyed it.

Palm Canyon. Regrettably the photo
hides the green and shrinks the
palms so they are barely visible
in the centre of the picture,
all the way up this canyon

Vegetation, heading down. Palm Springs
below, barely visible at edge of photo just
above the heads of the hikers (us)

Costa's hummingbirds (I count 6 at least)


Notes on this and that

Hmm. Just reread the last blog to see where we were and promise to avoid using the word "excellent" today.

Lyn and I did the Eisenhower hike with Karen yesterday (other participants wimped out). Started out at 8am from the trailhead and were back into the Living Desert by 10:05. Very nice hike: chilly starting out but we were warm on the return. There was a woman showing a female American Kestrel (handfed since being found as a chick and now dependent on the zoo). I was surprised at how small it was—not much bigger than an American Robin but still able to chow down on the birds at a feeder.

Thought I'd muse today on some general experiences of being here in California. I've already passed comment on the drivers and haven't had any reason to change my mind. Most are good and very polite but the occasional driver here is downright mad (or possibly drunk: the dent in the resort wall being evidence of the latter).

In general here, people seem exceptionally careful with one another. If, as a pedestrian, I step off the pavement at an intersection, an approaching car will stop 10 feet back from the stop line and the driver will wave me across. I'm not sure whether this is because the chances are high down here that I am carrying a weapon and giving any kind of offence could be hazardous to one's well-being or whether there is a genuine desire to please. And don't forget that most of the people in these cars around here at least are millionaires...or perhaps even really rich, and such people aren't known for their timidity.

On that topic, this is an area that reeks of wealth. From the hikes that we go on, you look down on a chequer-board pattern of golf courses as far as the eye can see. On our bike ride down 111 the other day, we passed one after another: the lush grass and gardens in front of each solid wall tended by an army of people cutting the grass, cleaning up the (literally) tons of fruit falling off the fruit trees in front, or simply sweeping. There is no sign of a run-down or derelict district and the one person asking for spare change outside a McDonald's a week ago was the only sign of any sort of poverty. There are walls in front of these resorts but a child could climb them so there's clearly a reliance on an absence of any threat anywhere in the vicinity. I can only think that there must be a kind of invisible wall around this region; one that makes it clear to anyone with the wrong intentions thatthey aren't welcome here.

On a street 50 meters from a line of stores that include Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Apple (it's jammed) and other high enders, there's a gun store advertising shotguns and revolvers in the window. Just up the street from there is a US Army recruiting office. It doesn't seem busy. I'm just wondering if they misread the market here.

But that's another thing. We rub shoulders with another stratum of society down here. Larry Ellison (owner of Oracle, a software company only slightly smaller than IBM), Orlando (of Orlando and Dawn) and a whole host of other "notables" live next door to at least one person we know and yet everyone—both richer and poorer—seem to muddle about in the same social milieu. Name-dropping seems to be a large part of many conversations. Is it because the millionaires create an atmosphere of social equality deliberately so that they feel at ease being on a hail-fellow-well-met terms with the billionaires? Or is it really a demonstration of that classless society that the US aspires to?Since we have not met and have hardly seen a non-white person in said social milieu since we've been here (except for the largely Spanish population of maids, restaurant clerks and gardeners who attend to us) it isn't a complete ideal it would seem but...

Gayness is largely absent...or invisible...too.Like skin-color variety it isn't someone that one notices until one has reason to stop and check...as in, we have met people who seem to be letting us know that they could be but in a let's-keep-this between-us kind of way.

American flags are everywhere, displayed in gardens, the backs of trucks, in stores and one President's Birthday, lining the streets. Here again, the explanation could be that there are so many Canadians down here (who, to my dismay, seem to have a tendency to clump together) that those few real US citizens feel obliged to signal whose territory this really is. But nah, I think it is just a US thing. Sure we Canadians hang out the maple leaf here and there but not with quite the same sense of defiance...or what is the word?

One expects to experience a certain Republicanism around this much wealth but it isn't glaringly apparent. I've overheard quiet mutterings expressing both liberal (grumbles about the lack of attention to water and energy conservation) and redneck sentiments (a sneer about the "myth" of global warming), but loud pronouncements for either side. There's perhaps a silent agreement that while we're golfing, hiking, playing tennis (and anyway we're retired and almost dead) let's keep that stuff off the table.


Lynda's birthday

Sunday, as you all know, was Lynda's birthday and this year she opted for an all-day affair. We started off with breakfast at around 8am at Keedy's. Where many old-style American Diners today have been gussied up and made to look like they did in the 50's, at Keedy's they have simply never bothered to update it since the '50's, making it au courant at low cost.When we arrived, the place was jammed (and it opens at 5:30am). However, we managed to get a table by following other clear examples of hovering near anyone who has a bill in one hand and money in the other, and when they stood up we sat down. The menu was old fashioned and when the food arrived, it too had been prepared in a style that was faithful to the 50's: terrible. My cheese omelette had a couple of thin squares of processed cheese tossed casually on an omelette that had those brown, plastic edges you get when you cook eggs too long.

But the place had good atmosphere and was worth seeing so we weren't displeased. Lyn then went to church and when she returned an hour or so later, we headed out for lunch in Palm Springs. Palm Springs was really hopping: there were tourists everywhere. The main drag is very Spanish. We had a quick lunch outside at a Mexican restaurant, and then dropped in on a local exhibit of Cahuila Indian culture as a pre-amble for the hike we were planning to do later on Indian land. The hike was a guided tour that started at 2pm and we didn't have time to fit in a visit to the art museum so headed straight over...or rather in a zig-zag, as we eventually had to stop and ask where the Tahquitz Canyon hike started from as we couldn't find any signs to it (and the website gave us the wrong directions).

But the hike was wonderful. Relatively short—perhaps 2 hours in total with the guide stringing it out for all he was worth. But it is a beautiful area and the pictures (when we manage to download them from the camera when we get back), will be impressive.

Added sighting of a Black Phoebe and a crowd of White-throated Swifts.

Today we hiked the Lost Palms trail in Joshua Tree National Park. A group of perhaps 12 of us squeezed into two vehicles and left the Living Desert centre at about 8:15am for the drive to Joshua Tree along Highway 10. We were there at the visitors centre about an hour later and after the usual washroom breaks, were in the parking lot 15 minutes later and quickly out on the trail. We had brilliant sunshine but it was freezing cold, partly because we were at 3,000 feet and partly because it has been cool lately anyway. We headed out across the desert, following the well-marked trail to Lost Palms—supposed to be a 3.1, 3.7, 3.4 mile trek depending on which reference you used. I had been expecting a more or less flat hike but it turned out to be a steady but gradual rise for two miles and then a slow and then rapid descent (which we had to climb on the way back!). Our guide, Joe, stopped frequently to exercise his admitted tendency to expostulate on the flowers, the rocks and whatever else drifted through his mind. Very entertaining. You can't hike these days without technology and Sylvia's iPhone app occasionally chimed in on Joe's mini-lectures to let us all know how long we had been going and how far.

Absolutely splendid hike: lots of the usual desert plants, but few birds. Had lunch at the Palms; back in Palm Desert by about 4ish (two hours overdue according to our handout).


All good things come to an end

We're off tomorrow, heading back but more to report.

Yesterday, at Karen's suggestion, we hiked a short loop in Whitewater Canyon. Picked up Karen at 9:20am and met the rest of the group (of about 10 of us) at Starbucks before hitting the road. It's about a 40 minute drive from Palm Desert to the preserve (isn't that a jam?) as they call it and we gathered in the parking lot and headed out on the trail at about 10:30. The big attraction for us was that part of the hike today was on the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Nephew Ryley did a few years back and we wanted to have our picture taken on it even if we only walked about a mile of it!

The canyon had an astounding amount of green—more than we've seen in all the time we've been here and much greener than the very brown Lost Palms trail the day before. There was also a surprising amount of water coming down the valley; it fed a pond that actually had ducks in it.

We struck out at brisk pace—pushed by the competitors in the group—and were on the PCT within half a mile having our pictures taken. From there it was a sharpish climb up a hillside of about 500 feet, and then, unhappily as we were all hoping for a longer day, a quick turn back around the loop and home. We were back at the ranger station in an hour and half but it had been a great day.

A few birds: saw a Red-winged Blackbird and a few Juncos; a Ring-necked Duck, and heard that there were Nuttall's Woodpeckers about but couldn't see them.

Us on the PCT (that's a PCT marker)

Looking up Whitewater Canyon, the PCT below

We're all packed now. We'll be off on our return drive tomorrow morning around 10am: first night in Bakersfield (about 6 hours from here); second in Redding (about 7 hours the next day); then to Medford where we'll take in a Shakespeare play at nearby Ashland. Then on to Seattle and a visit with Danielle. Home on the 4th of March. 



We're back in Vancouver now and adjusting to the weather here. Thankfully it was sunny when we got here (only a little rain through Oregon on the way back) and has not been too bad since we've been back so we've had a soft landing.

The trip back was not bad. We made it to Bakersfield on our first day in under 4 hours—quicker than we had thought it would be—and it turned out to be our worst hotel so we'll re-think our stops next time. Redding was a longer run, up through the dull, farming/industrial flatland to Sacramento where it became more hilly and interesting. The timing there worked well because it got us into Medford by 11ish the next day—over the 4300 feet elevation of Siskiyou Pass—and we were able to get into Ashland (20 minutes away) by noon. We bought our Shakespeare festival tickets for that night then took a very good walk through Lithia Park and up the hillsides behind. Lyn shopped in Ashland (was disappointed) while I drove the 20 minutes back to Medford to do a few things at the hotel and then came back in for dinner. "King Lear" was an excellent production but a long one, so it was midnight before we got to bed at the hotel.

And then up early the next day because we wanted to get to Seattle early enough to spend time with Danielle. This too was a varied leg: very picturesque down to Roseburg and then dull through the rest of Oregon, a bit better through the hillsof southern Washington and then dreadful traffic the rest of the way up to Seattle.

Nice evening with Danielle, exploring the nooks and crannies of Seattle's outer burbs, looking for real estate in her range. Good dinner out and then crashed in the guest bedroom of her sumptuous apartment courtesy of Microsoft. Next day Danielle had to work but we met her for lunch and she showed us around a part of Microsoft's campus-like complex in Redmond (10 minutes walk from Danielle's apartment). The fact that Microsoft owns all of a small town here is extraordinary enough and the facilities are amazing. As we walked through the administrative building, someone behind me remarked that it looked like an airport concourse. The cafeteria is a succession of high-end food outlets and it was packed. You could eat every meal there for a week and not repeat your choices. They run a private network of shuttle buses and cars to run employees from one building to another (Danielle's actual place of work is about 15 mins away). Apparently Google and HP have opened facilities nearby, so the competition for geeks is fierce. I was half-expecting to see 90% nerds under 30 but of course this is as much a business as anything and there were people of all ages and callings, and even a few suits.

But then back on the road. The trip to Vancouver is only a couple of hours so we were home by about 4. A bit tired after 5 days on the road but glad to get back. We thought the cats might have gone wild while we were away as Dean isn't in the house nearly as much as we are. But they seemed relieved to see us and are back to what they think of as normal after a few days.

It's us who are taking time to adjust. I went snowshoeing yesterday but had to bail out early because it was too wet. Bit of a change from the 25C and sunshine every day that we left.