Who are you?

Susan in Stockholm with a well-deserved ice cream cone (raspberry licorice with salt)

There are so many ways to think about that question, but this time I am asking it literally to myself. I have been Marsha at the bungalow for quite a few years, but Marsha is not real. She has been a writing alter-ego that I cherish and enjoy. When I started adding my real name, Susan, to my comments in other blogs, it had a nice ring of truth.

As Susan – who else? – I am beginning a blog devoted to walks at home and around the world. I hope you all will join me at Onesmallwalk.com.

It’s simple – click here, then look at the top right of the webpage and click on ‘follow’ (I think a ‘follow’ button also hovers on the bottom of the page.) Of course, you can also click the link above.

For the first several walks, I will link the two blogs, and you can – almost – always find me at Restless Jo’s Monday Walks.

So if you see comments in your blogs from a Susan who sounds familiar, it might be because Marsha has become a real girl – Susan@onesmallwalk. See you around!

apr5 007
made for walking



apr5 007
made for walking

You practice-packed and repacked last week. You printed out and saved to your phone or e-pad all your travel information. Your passports and health screening is up-to-date.

Sadie – we’d take her if we could

You made sure your neighbors knew you’d be gone. You made arrangements for pets, gave loved ones your itinerary.

The refrigerator has been culled, the bread box is empty. The patio plants will survive on their own, you hope.

The time is here. Lift-off. Sail-away. Engine warmed-up. Doors closed. All those elements of a vacation’s beginning announce new steps in your journey. It’s a delicious feast of anticipation. What will the next adventure hold? Perhaps Norway, Sweden and Finland, and maybe some more.

IMG_3028Just don’t forget to stash away -somewhere safe in the travel gear – the most important stuff.

Black Hill of Morro Bay

Black Hill from the dunes near our house


She rises 663 feet from the sea-level town of Morro Bay and is the second to the last of the Nine Sisters, a series of volcanic plugs in the Santa Lucia Range of Central California. The last of the Nine Sisters is Morro Rock, which is a scenic photo shoot from the crest of Black Hill. The rock on this easy climb is 20 million years old, making the hike for this 62 year old a seemingly very small matter.

She is an unimposing piece of rock, compared to others that are within eyesight. Morro Rock, the iconic photo op for residents and tourists, and Hollister Peak, the gorgeous ragged outcropping just south of us, are both much more eye-catching. But you can walk up neither of those landmarks. Morro Rock is off-limits to all, Hollister Peak is a hike, not a walk. Black Hill invites everyone to scale its easier heights.

We start from a small parking lot about half-way up the hill. You can walk from the nearby campground or the golf course at the bottom of the hill, but there are controlled burns today, and so we end up at the parking stop. It’s the official trail-head, so why not?

This urban, small town climb is not a crowded trail, but we pass several groups and three or four single walkers on our way up and down the hill. It is a really unimpressive beginning, starting at the end of a golf course and looking like a child’s climb up a tiny hillside. It is an easy climb on a well-tended trail, but the scenes along the way

are only the first course to the main dish: the peak, and a peek into the area around. On clear days, people climb Black Hill to spot whales in the distance, but today we have a lovely cloud layer, so we get cool weather but short views.

West, we see the Pacific Ocean and south, the near-by town of Los Osos. We also see the cage of the oyster company in the bay – looking like they are on their lunch break – , and the road to San Luis Obispo winding through the salt marsh.

North, we see the town of Morro Bay, Morro Rock, farmlands and Highway 1 – the Pacific Coast Highway.

IMG_1326It takes us less than an hour for the entire trip, even with the leisurely pace. Thank goodness for urban parks that seem rustic and bring the natural world up close. One last view to that 20 million year-old hill side that makes me contemplate how young I should feel.


Super Bloom

The famous desert gold wildflower.

I was so excited about our last-minute reservation at Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley that I nearly emailed the hotel a thank you when I received our reservation confirmation. How did I get a room five days in advance when it appeared that everything had been taken for months? I have no idea, but I’ll not second-guess a chance to see the super bloom that appears in the desert once a decade.

A native Californian, I’d never been to Death Valley, a confession I make with shame. How can I visit remote and beautiful places around the world when I haven’t been to my own? The desert’s winter bloom is something I have wanted to see for such a long time, it had started to be one of those phrases I swore I would never say – “Someday, I’d like to see Death Valley in the winter” – I either do things or I don’t, but I generally do not make wish lists.

I have been close to the lowest place on the North American Continent. At 282 feet below sea level at the lowest spot, it is a place to avoid in the heat of the summer. Right now, Mid-March, the forecast is 85 degrees F (30 degrees C.) Summer temperatures are often well over 100 F (38 C.) With only two inches of rain most years, it is also quite dry.

looking west just outside Death Valley’s border toward Mt. Whitney – California’s highest point

I had visited the eastern side of the Sierra Range several times, skirting around the road to Death Valley and speeding past the turn-offs that would have taken me to the place that is the single-greatest inspiration for horror films according to Stanley, who keeps track of such things. But this year’s blooms are said to be remarkable, and once in ten years is something I shouldn’t put off. I decide the 6-hour drive to Death Valley, and the 6-hour drive home is worth the one-night visit, and worth the threat of horror-movie scripts brought to life. As a last-minute traveler, I don’t get much choice.

The restaurant at Stovepipe Wells has posters of all the many movies filmed there on its walls. Stanley was quite impressed.

Stanley is coming along. He has watched all the pertinent horror films, so for motivation I promised him some restaurant visits, and tried to lie about the hours in the car. But he is quite familiar with the territory, having supervised parolees in the area once upon a time. I dazzle him with promises of breakfast buffets, and hope his memory won’t kick in until it’s too late. Food, after all, is a better motivator than memory.

It takes us longer than six hours to get to the valley floor. The ride has been interesting, but we are eager to get out and walk. We explore Mosaic Canyon, a marble-sided canyon so narrow at one point I can touch both sides. Stanley tries to convince me to climb up a slick shoot to the next level in the walk, then slips down (safely) himself. We decide I better scoot up seated, pushing with my legs. I make it, but barely. I feel a couple rain drops, look at the sky that suddenly fills with massive dark clouds, thunder heads and wind. Up a narrow canyon in the desert during a rain storm seems to be one of those things people shouldn’t do. I convince Stanley that we’ve gone far enough, and as the darkening clouds gather, we head back, using the slick marble as slides. I think about the name of this place: Death Valley. We hike up the nearby Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in the midst of a windstorm.

Having been greeted by canyons, sand dunes, a surprise rain shower, then a rainbow, then an enormous dark-clouded storm, I’m already wondering what on earth the wildflowers will be like tomorrow. I know the delicate beauty of the desert, having lived in El Paso before. I understand the enormous effort of the desert to sprout anything at all from seed, so I moderate my expectations. I know it won’t be lush rolling hills, like at home, but I wonder what I will see on my first visit to Death Valley’s winter bloom. I haven’t yet seen any wild flowers – just a spectacular greeting of unexpected events and scenes. Because of the rain and lingering cloudy skies, there won’t be stars out tonight, so I will have to wait for tomorrow for more of what Death Valley offers.

I needn’t have lowered my expectations. We wake up early and drive to Mud Canyon, get out and walk around a pristine array of wild flowers just waking up to the sun. We continue on to Furnace Creek and along the way, see the fields of flowers that are so rare in the desert. They lift up out of sand, gravel and volcanic rock, all unfriendly hosts to flowers.

Our visit is so short, but we fit in everything I had hoped we’d do. On the way out, early on a Saturday afternoon, we pass hundreds of cars coming into the valley to have their turn at this remarkable gift of the desert.

So the story about how this place is named isn’t, as Stanley would have you believe, because of the many horror films filmed here or even the ones based on stories that occurred here. It comes from the relief of several travelers in the 1800’s who got a bit lost in the cleft between two very high mountain ranges. When finally they found an escape through one mountain pass, they turned back for a last look on the valley that had kept them prisoner in the heat of the summer. One said ‘Finally, we are out of that valley of death.” But none in their party had died.

We drive to this place in comfort, stay in a pleasant hotel, and can only imagine the terror of being stuck in a place that reaches 132 degrees F in the summer. For us, no horror stories and no death march. Just some fun surprises and fragile desert bloom.

Planning Mishaps, continued: What Happened to Spain?

Pasto, Colombia
1978 Pasto, Colombia

When we had begun traveling as a couple waaaaay back in our twenties, we were happily living in South America, learning Spanish and planning one day to visit Spain. Stanley’s maternal grandparents grew up there. His mother had cousins there. Spain had always been the one place we wanted to go. But we simply didn’t.

Nearly forty years later, our Spanish is no longer fluent, we’ve lost contact with cousins and wonder how we could have neglected that glorious country for so long. Poor Spain. It kept getting put off as other, more immediate locales replaced it. How did this happen? I hadn’t a clue and needed to make good on this long-lost promise. We had better hurry before our language skills disappeared completely, like our ability to make good decisions.

We needed to get to Spain. But Stanley wanted to visit the Baltics. Costs, preferences, time: travel planning can be a bit like finger-painting – it’s messy and you never know how it’s going to turn out. I have figured a way to do everything we wanted, but it might just be a bit of tangled finger-painting on a broad canvas of travel.

2016 will be the year of dual transatlantic cruises as I finally found a way to avoid the costs of expensive one-way airfare: ignore the one-way ticket, buy the usual round trip and go twice to Europe from the west coast of the USA. Take an extra vacation as a way of avoiding high costs in the first vacation? You may ask if that’s really a good idea. I refer you back to the implication in the paragraph above – perhaps we are not making good decisions at all. We’ll see. Here’s how the planning went:

The one-way transatlantic cruise to the Baltics was reserved for April. I knew I could avoid an expensive one-way return airfare by purchasing round trips. The round trips would take us back to Europe sometime within a six-month period. I found another even cheaper and much shorter transatlantic cruise back to the states in October. Voila! A trip to Spain emerged between the second stage of the round-trip airfare and the second transatlantic cruise.

We will be making good on a promise that we made nearly 40 years ago. We can postpone building our view deck, as we have been for two years already, save wildly between now and then, and all should stay within the new, improved travel budget for 2016. 2017 might suffer a bit (a lot), but there’s no worry in that until next year.

there's always compromise
there’s always compromise

Good decision? We’ll see. Next year, we’ll spend 40 days on cruise ship travel, 40 days on land travel. For someone who swore never to cruise again after the first one, it’s a bold choice. But perhaps a nice way to celebrate a 40th anniversary all year long.