Record rain and snow makes for wonderful waterfalls: Multnomah Falls in Oregon

This spring not only brought May flowers, but it produced wonderful waterfalls thanks to record rainfall and snowfall across the country, including California, Oregon and Washington.

All of that water makes for roaring waterfalls. It’s amazing to hear the awesome power of Mother Nature as water cascades down a cliff or hits rocks below with a thunderous crash.

The Columbia River Gorge

I recently drove along the stunning 70-mile Historic Columbia River Highway, which is a tourist destination in itself. I decided to check out Multnomah Falls, the most visited natural site in Oregon with some 2.5 million visitors a year.

Historic Columbia River Highway

The Columbia River Gorge is made for waterfall lovers (see map above), with Multnomah Falls being the most famous of several that are free to visit. Multnomah Falls is the nation’s second highest year-round waterfall at 620 feet tall: The upper fall plunges 542 feet and the lower fall plummets 69 feet with a 9-foot elevation drop in between.

Eons ago, lava and mudflows from volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain Range formed the Columba River Gorge. Remnants of these flows can be seen today in the gorge, including the cliff of Multnomah Falls.

Waterfalls are just part of the Columbia River area’s rich history — from American Indians and explorers Lewis and Clark to French Canadian trappers and missionaries. The Oregon Trail ended at The Dalles at the eastern end of the steep gorge, which was impassable.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls is a 45-minute drive east of Portland, Ore., on the stunning Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. It takes about 15 minutes less if you stay on Interstate 84 the whole way.

From I-84, you can see the top part of Multnomah Falls, but it’s worth the 5-minute walk from the parking lot to the base of the falls for a stunning view. Tilt back your head in a vertigo-inducing move to see the clifftop from which the waterfall drops in two tiers. Picturesque Benson Bridge spans the falls in the middle of the two tiers.

Multnomah Falls' upper and lower tiers
Benson Bridge spans the middle of Multnomah Falls’ two tiers: The upper tier is on the left and the lower tier is on the right. (Photos by Sheryl Jean with BeFunky)

Built in 1914, Benson Bridge is named for Simon Benson, a wealthy Portland lumberman who owned the falls in the early 1900s. He gave Multnomah Falls to the City of Portland, which later gave ownership to the U.S. Forest Service.

For a closer view, walk a quarter mile on a paved trail to the 45-foot reinforced-concrete arched bridge 105 feet above the lower Multnomah Falls. As I stood there last month, spray from the falls covered my face.

A U.S. Forest Service ranger told me that Multnomah Falls and other nearby falls were as powerful as she had ever seen them. Unlike many other falls, Multnomah Falls doesn’t dry up in the late summer because it’s fed by an underground spring augmented by spring snowmelt, she said.

If you want to hike further, a steep paved trail leads to a fenced platform above Multnomah Falls. A section of Larch Mountain Trail from Benson Bridge to the top of Multnomah Falls is closed indefinitely because of falling rocks and a dangerous overhang.

Another interesting feature is the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, a Cascadian style stone-and-wood building built in 1925 and designed by Portland, Ore., architect Albert E. Doyle. Today, it houses the U.S. Forest Service Information Center, a restaurant, café and gift shop.

Visitors at Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Visitors vie for the best view of two-tiered Multnomah Falls. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Continue reading for more waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge and a list of the top 10 national parks with splendid waterfalls.

Continue reading Record rain and snow makes for wonderful waterfalls: Multnomah Falls in Oregon

The Point Bonita Lighthouse is worth the trek and the wait

California Journal

Being at the Point Bonita Lighthouse just north of San Francisco is like being at the end of the earth.

In a way, you are. It’s the western edge of the United States.

Point Bonita Lighthouse tunnel
Visitors must walk through this hand-hewn tunnel to reach the Point Bonita Lighthouse. (Sheryl Jean)

The 1885 lighthouse is still used today, so it’s open for only three hours a day three days a week: from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays. Visiting it is like being let in on a secret.

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse, which is on on the Marin Headlands and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The National Park Service provides access to visitors.

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After walking through a tunnel, and a narrow cliff-top path, visitors walk over this suspension bridge to reach the lighthouse. (Sheryl Jean)

Be prepared to walk a half mile to the site, through a rough rock tunnel (open only during visiting hours) and over a suspension bridge to the lighthouse, which sits on a small patch of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean. My National Park guide said it took 3.5 months to dig the tunnel by hand.

You’ll be rewarded with spectacular coastal views and seeing nature at its wildest and windiest best.

View from Point Bonita
This is the view looking North from the lighthouse. (Sheryl Jean)

How it works

The 1885 lighthouse was the third one built on the West Coast to help lead ships through dangerous water and thick fog. The original lighthouse was 300 feet above sea level, but fog often obscured the light. It moved to Point Bonita in 1877.

The Point Bonita Lighthouse can shine its beam 18 miles across the ocean in clear conditions using a Fresnel lens, which is based on ground glass prisms arranged in rings around a light source.

In dense fog, sound is used. First, there was a cannon, then a fog bell and a steam siren. Today, an electric fog horn emits two blasts every 30 seconds.

To reach the Point Bonita, visitors must to drive up and down a narrow, steep, twisting road through the Marin Headlands. Parking is limited. A free Marin Headlands Shuttle operates on weekends through September along Bunker Road, Field Road and Fort Baker, stopping at the lighthouse.

Point Bonita
Point Bonita (Google Maps)

Mount Umunhum in Silicon Valley offers stunning vistas

California Journal

If you don’t equate California’s Silicon Valley with nature, then you’ll be in for quite a surprise at Mount Umunhum, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s newest open spaces.

The 3,486-foot summit provides stunning panoramic views (see my photo above) of San Jose, Santa Clara Valley and the Bay Area’s three other highest peaks — Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais to the North and Mount Hamilton (the tallest) in the South Bay. It was a clear day, so I also could see San Pablo Bay to the North and the Pacific Ocean to the West.

Map of Mount Umunhum in San Jose
Mount Umunhum is in Santa Clara County, just south of San Jose. (Google Maps)

The Mount Umunhum (the ‘h’ is silent) summit and trails just opened to the public six months ago, but they’re already popular with Sunday drivers, hikers and bicyclists. Mountain bikers are allowed on most of the trails and you’ll see road bikers on the steep and winding, 12-mile paved road to the summit.

I didn’t know anything about Mount Umunhum, but learned that it’s steeped in history.

Originally, the Ohlone Indian tribe inhabited the area.  The name “umunhum” comes from the Ohlone word for hummingbird. At the summit, a Ceremonial Circle honors the site’s American Indian heritage.

Mount Umunhum also was part of California’s first legal mining claim — the nearby New Almaden Quicksilver mine.

From 1957 to 1980, the summit was home to the Almaden Air Force Station. The early warning radar station was one of 23 in California and hundreds across the nation during the Cold War era. The radar tower still stands at the summit, but it’s closed.

Mount Umunhum radar tower
The old Almaden Air Force Station radar tower at the summit is closed. (Sheryl Jean)

You can download an audio tour app to your smartphone to learn about the site’s history.

The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District bought the 36-acre site in 1986 and received $3.2 million in federal funds to help clean it up. The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council and the California Coastal Conservancy also provided funds, and helped develop and restore trails.

Today, 3.7 miles of trails from the Bald mountain parking lot to the summit traverse stately, moss-covered Coast Live Oak trees (see photo below), Foothill Pine, Mountain Mahogany, Manzanita and Madrone. On a recent walk there, I could smell the spicy sent of California Bay trees.

Watch out for poison oak.

Moss-covered Coast Live Oak tree
Moss-covered Coast Live Oak trees dotting the 3.7 miles of trails at Mount Umunhum provide welcome color. (Sheryl Jean)

What is a bothy?

bothy (pronounced both-ee) — A small hut or cottage in the wilderness that’s usually unlocked and open for anyone to use for free.

You might have wondered what that is after recent news headlines featured a family rescued by the “Hogwarts Express” steam train of Harry Potter movies after they were stranded at a remote bothy in the Scottish Highlands.

The Scottish Bothy Bible book

Jon and Helen Cluett and their four children were staying at the Essan bothy on Loch (Lake) Eilt, about 130 miles northwest of Glasgow. After their canoe was swept away by a swollen river, the Cluetts called the police, which arranged for the train to pick them up, according to a BBC news report.

A bothy — also called a byre, or cowshed — is a rustic place to rest tired feet or sleep, sheltered from the wind and rain that pummels much of Scotland. The Mountain Bothies Association maintains about 100 of these basic shelters in remote areas across Great Britain.

For Americans, bothies are similar to the Appalachian Mountain Club huts available for rests or overnight lodging along part of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail.

Similarly in Scotland, it’s popular to sleep or rest at bothies along multi-day walks and hikes. Each bothy differs slightly, but they usually do not have water or a toilet. Most bothies have a fireplace or stove, but no fuel; some have a sleeping platform or a table.

Doune bothy, Scotland, GoogleMaps
The location of Doune bothy, or byre, where I rested tired feet. (GoogleMaps)

A new book, The Scottish Bothy Bible, reveals the location of 80 bothies across the country’s boggy, forested and mountainous terrain.

On a recent trip to Scotland, Doune bothy on the northeast shore of Loch Lomond in the Central Highlands (see photo at top) was a welcome respite after a tough stretch of a 17-mile hike on a rainy day. My traveling companion and I shared the one-room stone cottage with a fireplace, table and sleeping platform with three men from Germany.  Four other people stopped by as we were leaving.

The Bothy Code simply requests that users respect the shelter, other visitors, the surroundings, agreements with private estates and restrictions on numbers.

Global Entry may speed up for some international travelers

International travelers now may find it faster to get a Global Entry membership — at least for some international travelers passing through the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and a few other locations.

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Global Entry applicants must use this kiosk at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at the San Francisco International Airport to complete the process. (Sheryl Jean)

As of this month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is letting people who’ve completed the first part of the Global Entry application process proceed to an interview without an appointment at one of five airports, including SFO. Until now, travelers often waited several months for an interview.

Last year, I blogged about my experience waiting seven months for a Global Entry interview at SFO.

The five airports with the Enrollment on Arrival program are among the busiest Global Entry enrollment areas. In addition to SFO, the four other airports are: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas; George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston; and Vancouver International Airport in Canada. The CBP plans to expand the program to more airports.

CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Global Entry application volume has increased steadily over the last several years. A five-year membership costs $100.

Over 4 million Global Entry members use automated kiosks to bypass the traditional customs inspection process at 53 U.S. airports and 15 other sites, speeding up the international arrivals process. Members also get expedited airport security screening through TSA PreCheck.

Here’s what you do to become a Global Entry member:

  1. U.S. citizens, U.S nationals, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of certain countries must apply online through the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES).
  2. If you pass a background check and receive conditional approval, you must make an appointment for an in-person interview with a CBP officer at one of over 100 Global Entry Enrollment Centers or follow the new Enrollment on Arrival program.
  3. You must provide identification and biometrics during the interview.
  4. After final approval, you receive a Global Entry number. A Global Entry card arrives via mail a few weeks later.

Who is that cardboard man at New Zealand’s two biggest glaciers? Ask mom.

My new hat made by Nolly Martini. (Martin Melendy)

At New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier, a park ranger provides an update on daily conditions and safety tips.

The life-size image is a cardboard cut-out, but the ranger is real. His mother told me so.

I met Nolly Martini when I visited her Willows Crafts shop in Harihari, a tiny hamlet about 40 miles north of Franz Josef on New Zealand’s South Island.

I was attracted to the hand-knitted hats and scarves, and she told me that she makes many of them from wool and Samoyed dog hair. She also sells crafts made by other local residents.

As I paid for a colorful hat made by Martini, she told me that her son posed for the cardboard cut-out when he worked for the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The proud mother pulled out photographs of Mark Martini standing next to his cardboard double. (The DOC confirmed it.)

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A visitor walks through a lush rainforest on the Te Ara a Waiau trail. (Sheryl Jean)

Sure enough, Mark Martini’s image greets me when I arrive at Franz Josef Glacier later that day. (See photo at top.) The DOC told me that his image also graces the nearby Fox Glacier.

Tourism is one of New Zealand’s main economic engines. The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are among the country’s biggest tourist attractions, with about 1 million visitors a year.

Continue reading Who is that cardboard man at New Zealand’s two biggest glaciers? Ask mom.

Killer views from New Zealand’s Bealey Spur Track are worth the climb

Today’s rain did not keep me from hiking the fantastic Bealey Spur Track near Arthur’s Pass on the New Zealand’s South Island.

It was pouring rain five hours ago, when I blogged about finding a silver lining in rain while traveling, and it’s raining again. But in between, I made the most of a few mostly rain-free, sunny hours.

The nearly 4-mile (four to six hours round trip) trail, which is mostly uphill, traverses mossy beech forests, tussocks and lots of mud today. (See photo below.) You can climb a nearly 5,100-foot hill for another 1.5 hours, but I didn’t have time for that given my afternoon start.

Once you climb out of the forest, the ridge line and top of the ridge provide jaw-dropping, panoramic views of Mount Bealey, Avalanche Peak, Mount Rolleston, Mount Aicken and other peaks, which range from over 6,000 feet to  nearly 7,500 feet, as well as the Waimakariri Valley. (See photo at top.)

Mud on the Bealey Spur Track on Nov. 3, 2016.

As a bonus I got to peek at the baches (a cabin in New Zealand) lining the private road where the hike starts. Some were rustic shacks, while others had been renovated into modern ski chalets.

Opportunity allowed me to jump ahead on my New Zealand blog posts to the South Island, but I’m not done with the North Island yet. Stay tuned!