Meet the Pack ~ International Wolf Center, Ely, MN

Advice from a Wolf ~ Trust your instincts.  Be at home in nature.  Keep your den clean. Stand fur what you believe.  Howl with your friends.  Be a leader.  Pack life with good memories.  ~  Ilan Shamir

Wolves – a most controversial subject, across the ages and around the globe.  And why not, as we were raised to fear this highly intelligent creature, as far back as medieval times.  They have become associated with what we instinctively fear – the dark, light of a full moon in the deep, dark forest, lonely howls.

Image credit - Wikipedia
Image credit – Wikipedia

The tale of Little Red Riding Hood, a book many had read to them in their childhood, dates back to the 1700’s, originally published by French author Charles Perrault.  Although the storyline has changed over the years, passed from French, to German, to English hands, one thing has remained constant, the big bad wolf.  

The legend of the werewolf has swirled around since Ancient Greek times, 9th to 6th century BC.  Although each country has its own theory on how one shape-shifts from man to beast, folklore abounds.

Spanning the globe there have been many reports of wolf attacks on humans, with India seeming to have one of the largest problems with this issue today.  The fact remains, however, that the primary food source for this canine is ungulates – horses, cattle, deer, bison, elk.  Experts believe that wolf attacks against humans are the result of a diseased animal, human habituation, a defensive measure when provoked, or when a food supply is not readily available.  Otherwise, the wolf tends to fear man, particularly in North America.

Yellowstone wolf

Our love affair with wolves was born several years ago in Yellowstone National Park, where Terry had the good fortune to assist the wolf biologists in some of their public education seminars.  He was immediately enthralled with the various packs within the park and shared much of what he learned with me.  There was nothing more thrilling back then than to stand with the wolf watchers on a crisp, clear Yellowstone winter morn, watching this magnificent, resourceful wild animal.  Terry was blessed to see them interact as a family unit at the den and watch an entire pack celebrate a successful hunt, their yips and howls reverberating in the cold dawn.  Speak to a rancher surrounding Yellowstone lands and his perspective takes on a whole different light.  Loss of his livelihood, his livestock, is most likely foremost in mind, as well it would be.

The International Wolf Center was the reason for our side trip to Ely, MN.  Their mission is clear, to “educate the public by offering the most up-to-date, accurate wolf information possible”.  They envision a world where wolves co-exist peacefully with humans.  The programs presented at the center by their interns are informative and passionately presented.  The ambassadors at the wolf center are playful, mesmerizing, beautiful.  So without further adieu, let’s meet the pack!

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Six year old Aidan, 136 pounds, is the “alpha male”.  Much more elusive than his mates, he seemed to carry an air about him that clearly spoke of his status in the pack.

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Denali, also six years old, 134 pounds, loved to ham it up for the photographers, often coming to the window for photo ops.   His and Aidan’s lineage goes back to that of the Yellowstone wolves.

Two-year old Boltz, weighing in at 112 pounds, was relaxed when his older siblings weren’t present, but clearly knew his place in the pack when they arrived on the scene.

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Little Luna, two years old and the only female in the pack, is a slim 91 pounds, but we were told she can hold her own when food is presented, often times taking more than her share.  She and Boltz are of the Great Plains sub-species.

If you find yourself near Ely, regardless of your opinion on this beautiful creature, the International Wolf Center is a fascinating place to visit.  Yes, the wolf’s place among humans is a very controversial topic, but I wonder, if we humans cannot embrace tolerance, will we ultimately lose a piece of the wild places?   And speaking of wild places, throw a kayak into the Boundary Waters while you are there.  We did, and loved it!

Impending storm over the boundary waters
Impending storm over the boundary waters
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The Nature Coast ~ Cedar Key

There is a place on Florida’s Nature Coast where time seems to stand still and the winds even seem to quiet themselves, leaving a hush over land and water as the sun dips below the horizon.

At this moment, all seems right with the world.
At this moment, all seems right with the world.

Welcome to the sleepy little fishing village of Cedar Key, laid back natural beauty, tranquility at its finest.  No, we haven’t had the best weather every day since we arrived, but the vibe here helps you forget all that as you line up with others, camera in hand, waiting for the big show.

This eclectic little village of ~ 700 residents sits three miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, occupying 2.1 square miles, of which only 0.97 square miles is land. Aerial views of Cedar Key give you a great perspective on just how many channels and bayous occupy the watery part of this island.   Whether you are a birder, love to delve into local history, are intrigued by interesting little boutique shops, your passion is to cast a line into the water, or you are a foodie, you can get your fix in Cedar Key.  It is no wonder this small island, large on personality, was designated one of the Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel Magazine in 2011.

When I look back over the past week, I realize that as much as Cedar Key has to offer, we have done relatively little, preferring instead to set aside our watches, get into the rhythm of “island time” and spend our days visiting with new-found friends, a couple we have followed for some time (no, not stalking, just blog following) and a new blogger.

We have tracked down Cherie and Chris of Technomadiawho are wintering in Cedar Key.  We arranged a meet-up, got a tour of their funky vintage bus (very cool), met lizard-stalking Kiki the cat, and shared a few glasses of wine.  They are as awesome as they seem online and amazingly tech-savvy.  Terry and I have learned much from them through their blog and are always so grateful to those who share so much with RVers like ourselves who still feel like novices.

Chris, Cherie, me, & Terry in the Technomadia vintage bus.
Chris, Cherie, me, & Terry in the Technomadia vintage bus.

During a casual get-together at a local bar we also met Jim and Barb of Bounding the Borders, and immediately felt a connection.  We were fortunate enough to meet them again the next day for a fun-filled afternoon of kayaking.

Jim & Barb "Bounding the Borders"
Jim & Barb “Bounding the Borders”

Whether you kick back and relax like we have or like to be on the go, here are just a few ways to soak in the ambiance of Cedar Key:

1)  Taste the local fare

Tony’s Seafood Restaurant, awarded the coveted title of World Champions three years in a row for their clam chowder, was a place we had to try, and we had to admit it was pretty darn special.  Cedar Key is the top farm-raised clam producing community in the country so we knew we were getting some seriously fresh seafood.

We had a tip that Kona Joe’s Island Cafe  was a great place for breakfast and it did not disappoint.  New Jersey transplants, Joe, the front man, and his wife Edie, serve up yummy casual fare, like crab quiche and shrimp and grits, and the coffee is great!  Joe is big on personality and is eager to help make your stay in Cedar Key the best possible.

Kona Joe's
Kona Joe’s

2)  Kayak the boundary waters

If you like to kayak, Cedar Key is the perfect place for you, being 54% water but watch out for those oyster beds.  They can easily slice through an inflatable and have been known to do damage to hard-sided kayaks as well.   The tide tables are most important as you do not want to get stranded in the mud and silt for hours during low tide.  And getting out of your boat during low tide, we were told, can find you in mud and silt up to your waist!

While inflating our kayak for an afternoon paddle to Atsena Otie Key, we spotted Jim and Barb lining up a kayak with a local company.  We launched and began our 3/4 mile paddle across the channel, to what was the original site of Cedar Key until a hurricane sent residents over to the present-day site.   The weather was perfect, the water like glass.  We had a great day scouting the shore for shells, exploring the old cemetery and finding a mysterious hatch in the forest.  A few glasses of wine shared later that evening rounded out a very enjoyable day.

3)  Swim with the manatees

Several companies offer opportunities to see and swim with the manatees.  We had heard so much about Crystal River and Three Sisters Spring, where manatees love to congregate in the 72-degree waters.  We chose Crystal River Watersports and Captain Sam was very informative.  Beyond that he knew just where to take us for an up-close experience.  We had a private tour besides, being the only two there at 7am.  Unfortunately the Three Sisters Spring was closed due to the colder weather this part of Florida has experienced. Officials do not want we two-legged creatures to disturb the 100-150 manatees crowded into the spring, pushing them out into the colder waters where they are at risk of hypothermia.  The waters where we swam were not as clear but the experience was just as awesome, with us getting nose-to-nose (literally) with these docile creatures.  Captain Sam took us down to the boundary of the springs afterwards so we could see just how many manatees were hanging out.

4)  Catch a sunset

We found the best place to watch the spectacular light show at dusk was from the docks behind the Low-Key Hideaway Motel & RV Resort, owned by Pat and Cindy Bonish.  We stayed at the Cedar Key RV Resort a few miles down the road but we would definitely try to stay here when back in Cedar Key.  With  only three sites available, it is a funky little place and the Low-Key Tiki Bar seems to be the place in town to go for that perfect island sunset experience, and Pat makes a mean margarita.

Our exploration of Florida continues tomorrow as we head for Clearwater to meet up with friends.  We are taking away some awesome memories of this little gem sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico, with its laid back island vibe.  We will be back! 🙂

A Day Made for Ocean Kayaking

The serenity of a sunrise
The serenity of a sunrise

It all started when I stepped out the door and inhaled. The early morning colors and the crisp, cool ocean air seemed to imbue my senses, wrapping me gently in blue and golden hues.  The stately palm trees sensed it too, a warm sunny 75° day unfolding.

Sun's peaceful reflection
Sun’s peaceful reflection

We have been anticipating this day for the past few weeks, when we would launch our kayak out into the ocean and paddle to the kelp beds.  We had to wait until the surf was fairly flat and this day the gods were smiling on us as the ocean looked to be as serene as an alpine lake.  The surfers were none too thrilled I’m sure, but they have had plenty of opportunity to catch some big waves with all the high surf warnings we’ve had around here lately.

For the past few weeks, standing atop the bluffs, we have seen several whales spouting from beyond the kelp beds and we were hoping to see some up close from the water.  Dolphins have teased us with their surfing skills as well, joining in right alongside the other boarders.

What is it about floating on the water that can soothe even the most restless part of me?  The sight of the paddle dipping into the water as we propel ourselves forward,  sun’s shimmering rays dancing on the water’s edge, pelicans soaring just above the water’s surface…simply divine.

Brown pelican skimming the surface
Brown pelican skimming the surface

We managed to get the kayak into the water and beyond the break  without swamping the boat, a good first step.  Pointing our boat west we headed out, hopeful for new discoveries.  Looking down into the depths, we watched huge schools of silver fish dart to and fro, as tiny white jellyfish gently floated by. Seals lazily glided through the beds, looking for their next snack, but keeping a wary eye on us all the while.

We found friends Bill and Lisa out on the water, enjoying this sun-kissed day balanced upon their paddleboards.  They shared with us some of their great finds – moon jellies, zebra fish and leopard sharks, unfortunately none of which we saw, but a couple of surprises still awaited us before day’s end.

Lisa, looking like a beautiful blonde mermaid
Lisa, looking like a beautiful blonde mermaid
Bill enjoying a picture-perfect day on the water
Bill enjoying a picture-perfect day on the water

Just when we were about to call it a day, we spotted a pod of five dolphins.  Our best efforts at closing the distance between us and them were not good enough, as they toyed with us, managing to stay far enough away to avoid a photo. Suddenly we felt something glide beneath our kayak and a curious dolphin broke the water’s surface.  I clicked away in the hopes of getting at least one usable photo.  Sometimes luck is all one needs!

A lovely acrobatic dolphin
A lovely acrobatic dolphin

We couldn’t think of a better way to end our day, except maybe to see a whale or two, but that wasn’t happening.  Time to head back in, which can be the tricky part when in a kayak, particularly for a couple of novices.  If you don’t catch the wave at the right angle, you can end up getting pulled sideways and flip.  We took a deep breath, prepared for the wave coming our way, and proudly rode it into shore.  A most excellent way to end the day!

Two blissfully happy kayakers
Two blissfully happy kayakers

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Hike, Bike, Kayak ~ Eugene’s Triple Treat

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.  ~  John Muir

historic covered bridge
Currin Bridge – built in 1925. Only Lane County bridge with white portals and red siding.

If you are an RVer, by definition you are probably a nature lover, and we are no exception.  We feel blessed to be able to have these experiences and are finding Eugene to be a city that shares our passions – hiking, biking, and kayaking.

Eugene, city of ~156,200 residents and home to the University of Oregon, is known for biking, running/jogging, rafting, and kayaking.

biking
Row River Trail

We read that biking is so popular here that in 2009 the League of American Bicyclists named Eugene one of the top 10 “gold-level” cities because of its “remarkable commitment to bicycling” and in 2010 was cited the 5th most bike-friendly city in America by Bicycling magazine.  Eugene is definitely being added to our come-back-again list.

Thanks to a tip from RV buddies Nina and Paul of Wheeling It, we hiked the Ridgeline Trail to the summit of Spencer Butte, an in-town hike on the city’s south side.

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Spencer Butte summit

This 5.5 mile round-trip hike is fairly easy for the first 5 miles, with the last 0.5 miles a moderate scramble over rocks to the summit.  The views overlooking the city are quite nice and it’s a great place to share a picnic.  As we headed down I overheard a woman telling her young son about how rattlesnakes in the area like to sun themselves on the summit’s rocks.   It wasn’t more than 15 minutes later but what should I find right in front of me but a Northern Pacific rattlesnake. Since I wasn’t about to get close enough to grab a photo and he was just as anxious to get away from us, here is what he looked like. Terry and I agreed that we hadn’t really thought much about rattlesnakes since leaving Arizona but hey, why wouldn’t they want to hang out in a cool city like Eugene?

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Dorena Lake

We managed to squeeze in another great bike ride, this time on the Row River Trail.  Although technically in a suburb of Eugene, Cottage Grove, it is an easy 20 mile drive to some great biking action.  If you choose to make the loop around Dorena Lake, you could be happily spinning for 34 miles .  We stopped at the 20 mile mark and enjoyed a picnic lunch along the lake instead.  This trail is nicely paved and takes you past not only the lake but great meadows, horse properties, and historic covered bridges – a fabulous way to spend a day!

Mosby Bridge – built in 1920

The McKenzie River flows beside the Armitage County Park where we are staying and was a very convenient and lovely river to kayak.   The put-in point we opted for was 8 miles upstream from us.  Class I and a few Class II rapids mark this stretch of the McKenzie, just enough to keep you on your toes, a gentle reminder to pay attention to hidden boulders, fallen trees, and swirling eddies.  We had a blast but with the swift current, our fun ended too soon.  Next time we would opt for another put-in point which would extend the journey another 15 miles and add several more Class II rapids we are told.

McKenzie River put-in point
kayaking
Mama and her ducklings

If exercising is not your thing, Eugene has a plethora of offerings.  They are also known for their arts program so there is something here for everyone.

Luscious, mouth-watering wild blackberries

If you just want to chill and enjoy the fruits of summer, grab a basket and step outdoors.  There are wild blackberry bushes everywhere (and I do mean everywhere) just now starting to ripen.  August and September are the months and these luscious berries can be found growing along country roads, bike paths, rivers, and even in the Interstate 5 median!

Our time in Eugene has sadly come to an end.  With the biking, hiking, and kayaking available here, outdoor fun awaits right outside your door.  We are headed back to the coast for what is sure to be another grand adventure.

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