[Wander Washington] Searching for Swimming Holes along the Skykomish

When we first moved up to the Pacific North West a year and a half ago, one of the first things my husband said to me was: “Now, how do we get to those swimming holes?!” Both of us born and raised in California, myself from the Bay Area and him from the High Desert in Southern California – most of our aquatic adventures had been to the beach, or a community pool, or with water balloons in the backyard on a long, hot afternoon. When we lived in Oregon, we lucked out – our new neighborhood friends told us about a stellar iPhone app, aptly titled Oregon Swimming Holes. Now, there are some fantastic applications for Forests in the Pacific North West, as well those for Wildflower, Plant and Fungi Identification – but so far to date, I haven’t seen any remnants of anything similar up here; which initially felt disheartening – but then, we turned it into an adventure; making notes on maps, dropping pins and doing some research.

It wasn’t until weeks later, wrapped in a vibrant conversation with a local that we were slyly informed of where the getting was good. And now that I understand Washington, and Seattle, more and more, I think I know why there isn’t an app that’s easy-peasy, lemon squeazy: they want you to pioneer your own life, to be a maker of your own moments. Washington and Seattle are rich with a strong craft and small business community, and within that – there are strong notions of being able to do for your self, and make it self sustainable. If being told “It rains a lot!” is enough to deter you from either visiting, or moving, you’re probably not going to have a good time; but here’s a hint: it really doesn’t rain a lot! It’s actually beautiful most days, and if you don’t like the weather – just wait thirty minutes. Anyhow, I digress. So, we took their advice – pack up a picnic basket, grab a swimsuit, and take the 2 East; then, enjoy!

So, we took a Summer drive along the winding Skykomish River and let our wanderlust guide us the rest of the way. All along the freeway, there are hidden nooks and crannies where you can hop out of your car, and into the refreshing, roaring waters. Pro Tip: if you’re unsure where to stop, just look at where the other cars along the way are, then plan accordingly and don’t be afraid to double back! I recommend a solid pair of water shoes, as I managed to slice my foot pretty well on the side of a rock – but besides that, my only other piece of advice is to give yourself a whole day and really enjoy marinating in a magical slice of wilderness.

As we gallivanted along our route, a spotted sky gave way into gradients of bright blue, echoing the vibrancy of the lush forest against the rushing Skykomish. It felt like Fern Gully, or even Avatar – and could make you believe that fairy tales were real. Descending down to the waters edge, you could see to the bottom of the river as the water cascaded over, around and even through some of the ancient pieces of rock that were lodged in the river.

Walk in nature and feel the healing power of the trees.” – Anthony William

From Monroe to Gold Bar, Index, Baring, and the town Skykomish – as you head towards Eastern Washington, it feels like there are an infinite amount of places to get lost for a few hours, so that you can rediscover yourself at your core.

Where do you turn to find your next big adventure? Do you ask around, find an app, research in a magazine or just wing it? Let me know in the comments below!

[Wander Washington] A Sensory Experience at SeaTac’s Highline Botanical Garden

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ― Henry David Thoreau

A trip to or from the airport is already excuse enough to look for a reason to stretch your legs, and for those that are plotting a trip to the SeaTac airport are in for quite a treat. Located just a stone’s throw from the airport at under three miles and five minutes, the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden is an extrasensory experience that’s worth immersing yourself in any time of year.

What started as a small one acre garden of private plantings by Elda and Ray Behm, was eventually slated for demolition when the SeaTac airport was slated for expansion; in 1999, the gardens beautifully evolved to sit on over 10 acres of land in a new location, with many of the original plants salvaged and transplanted – including a two acre section to mirror the original garden.

As you enter the Highline SeaTac Garden, you traverse through the Elda Behm Paradise Garden and can walk whimsically along the ebbing stream through the park, catching waterfalls and reflective views along the way as you explore your way through seven unique areas, some even maintained by local groups.

A wonderful adventure in the late Spring and early Summer, the King County Iris Society has a 500 square foot display bed of bearded iris. Not to be outdone, there’s also the Seattle Rose Society’s Celebratory Garden and the Puget Sound Daylily Club’s display garden, each with over a hundred different varieties of flower.

The Sensory Garden is full of wonder and amazement, and dazzles the senses with their unique collection of plants, from a variety of textures and fragrances, to a rain garden and a vine tunnel. Meanwhile, the Shade Garden offers a pleasant repose from the sunshine and features billowing arms of Alders and Madronas, as they shade the pathway in tinges of sepia tone, blowing wistfully in the wind.

Last, but most certainly not least – winding around the grounds, you’ll each my favorite – the historic Seike Japanese Garden.

Originally built in 1961 by the esteemed Shintaro Okada of Hiroshima, the gardens were a dedication to a fallen son; eventually, in 2006, the entire Seike Japanese Garden – from the bridges, hand-candled pines and massive stones, was relocated to the Highline Botanical Garden.

As many parks are across the state and country, the Highline SeaTac Gardens are currently closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic – please do your part, abide. If you’re itching to pay them a visit now, check out their socials – if you’d like to donate to the gardens as a community gesture – head here.

Website | Yelp | Facebook | Trip Advisor

Do you have a favorite, secret garden – or at least one you’re willing to share? Let me know in the comments below!

Tunnel of Vines

[Wander Washington] Chasing Waterfalls on the Snoqualmie River

Catching Reflections in Cle Elum

With the turning of the Seasons here in Washington, Spring is kicking herself into a beautiful full bloom; and as we’re making it through another week of Stay in Place orders in Washington, I know I’m not the only one who is simply itching to get out of her home, back into the great outdoors, and lap up the wonders sprinkled around this fantastic state. Leaving California, one of the big motivators was proximity and access to nature – and let me tell you: up here in the Pacific North West – we’ve got that down.

The last grand adventure that I took, was with my family for my father’s birthday; we took a day to ourselves and gallivanted out of Seattle proper and to the East on Highway 90. Our journey took us along the Snoqualamie River, South of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest into whimsical wonderlands just off of the beaten path; each bit lush with greenery, teaming with fungi, with offerings of waterfalls and scenic views at the end of each and every trail.

Snoqualmie Falls

We kicked off the day with a stop at Snoqualmie Falls, one of Washington’s most fabled tourist attractions. A member of the National Register of Historic Places, Snoqualmie Falls gained most of its notoriety by being prominently featured on the hit series Twin Peaks. The Falls offers a quick walk, descending down through old growth trees and a temperate rain forest and down to the rushing river below.

We visited in the beginning of October, which was lovely with the mix of light wind, succulent sunshine and the tiniest dusting of snow on the mountain ranges nearby. I was told the best seasons to really get the full effect of the Falls are between the end of Autumn and beginning of Spring as the water levels in the area rise.

From there, we headed further East towards North Bend. Under the ever shifting blue skies and shifting autumn leaves, we found ourselves pulling off at almost turnout we could to explore the abundant little nooks and crannies along the way, finally stumbling upon one of my still favorite finds.

As you duck under the canopy of the tree grove and into what feels like Avatar, you’re greeted by colorful fungi and the delightful sound of rushing water.

Inching closer to the sound, you’ll find a narrow trail with spritzes of water tumbling towards your direction. Finally, low and behold – the breathtaking beauty of Franklin Falls. As you descend downwards, closer and closer to the waterfalls – rainbows cascade from the spray and you’re immediately enveloped in a magical mist. There’s simply nothing like it.

After a few moments reveling in the rainbows and raindrops of Franklin Falls, we were off, off and away again, still due East – but this time with a vastly different intention: food. In Ellensburg right off the highway sits the Aardvark Express, a fantastic Korean-Mexican fusion foodtruck boasting some damn fabulous bowls; I highly suggest the Hurry Curry Bowl for any first timers.

With full stomachs and happy hearts, we were back on the road – this time coming home due West, but with just a few more stops to make on the way back.

The first was on the back-end of Snoqualamie Pass in the vastly different landscape of Cle Elum, The Heart of the Cascades. With several hikes and water features, including lakes, the area is the perfect summer spot for camping, recreation and outdoor activities, as well as water sports and boating. Maybe it was the time of year, or just where we decided to take our pit stop – but the landscape started to feel more and more like the desert of Easter Washington than the lush vegetation of the more Western regions.

Finally, last but certainly not least – we took ourselves wandering along the river in Olallie State Park in search of the infamous Twin Falls waterfalls, which contrary to what the name states – actually boast five fantastic falls, serene swimming holes and a cacophony of birds chirping their way through the woods.

Lately, I’ve been reliving my adventures through my photos because of the one two punch of ‘stay in place’ orders and park closures. When this current Coronavirus chas is over, I’m almost positive there will be a flood of people out to all of the parks and open areas – so please, be conscious of your physical distance, and please don’t go out if you’re sick However, if you’re anything like me I know you’re feverishly plotting your next outdoor adventure – where’s the first place you’re planning on visiting once you can? Let me know in the comments below!

For more information on the trails mentioned, peep the links below:

Snoqualmie Falls: Website | All Trails

Franklin Falls: All Trails

Cle Elum: All Trails

Olallie State Park, Twin Falls: All Trails

[Seattle Sights] Get Your Fill of Wonder in Woodland Park Zoo’s Butterfly Garden

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.Maya Angelou

Nestled soundly and sweetly against Green Lake and taking over half of Woodland Park sits the fantastic Woodland Park Zoo. Open year round, the Zoo itself is truly equal parts nature park and equal parts animal conservation with 92 acres of grounds to cover and 10 distinct areas to whimsically wander between. The first time I visited, we tried our damnedest to see it all (in true Fire Sign fashion), but quickly realized it was preventing us from really enjoying each section in it’s entirety. So, upon our return I swiftly ushered us over to Molbak’s fabulous Butterfly Garden and am still infinitely glad that I did.

Able to exist in a menagerie of different habitats, butterflies are considered an indicator species that give us a litmus test on the health and quality of our ecosystems. Around the globe, there are over 17,000 species – with approximately 750 of them around the United States.

Featuring over 500 variations and 15 different species of butterflies, Molbak’s Butterfly Garden boasts butterflies from all stages of development in a fantastically floral arena, from chrysalises to their mature form. And wrapping all around the garden are the most wonderful and aromatic plants and flowers, from the Egyptian Star-cluster, Sea Holly, Daisies and more. For a look into all of the unique variations they have, check out this cute little cheat sheet for the identification of flora, fauna and ‘flies from the Zoo.

Pro Tip: take some extra notes from the plant identification, because everything within the Garden was planted specifically to engage and attract the butterflies buzzing around – which means as you plant more of these flowers around your place, you should see an uproar of butterflies! My personal favorites include but are in no way limited to the Spicebush and Pipevine Swallowtails, American Ladies and the Zebra Longwing (above) and the Monarch Butterfly (to the right)

For more garden inspo, right after you exit the Butterfly area, take a meandering moment in Pollinator Patio to take in all the ways to encourage pollinators in your own yard!

Still fairly new to the city, the Zoo has easily become one of my favorite places to visit and I’m proud to say that we are now not only members of the Seattle Aquarium, but members of the Woodland Park Zoo! Within two visits, your membership will pay for itself, not to mention get you additional perks including discounts in the restaurants as well as the general store.

Become a Woodland Zoo Member here!

With so much to see and enjoy, it makes more sense to not try and jam it all in with one session – not to mention, the animals aren’t all out at the same times, so there’s a good chance that even if you try and visit certain exhibits, you won’t get to see all the animals on one day anyways. That happened to us with the Jaguar – the first time, she was asleep; but on trip two, we had a wonderful experience!

For more on the Woodland Park Zoo and their esteemed Butterfly Garden, visit their website and socials; or if you’re in the area, stop by for a visit – I promise you, it’s worth it.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

[Seattle Sights] Wildlife and Wanderlust in Union Bay

All good things are wild, and free.

Thoreau, Walden

Hiding around every corner of Seattle, from the coastline into the heart of the city in all directions are glorious amounts of open, public green space. The Trust for Public Land ranked Seattle as the 11th best city for parks, and fourth on the West Coast – and I wholeheartedly agree. Boasting over 485 natural areas and parks – and growing, city parks come in at around 6,400 acres, with a whopping 96% of Seattle residents able to walk to a local park in ten minutes or less.


Befit with sports fields swimming pools, marshes, rivers and beaches, BBQ pits, boat launches, a plethora of winding paths and a menagerie of wildlife, the local lore at the parks just keeps me coming back for more, and more. With a new sense of childlike wonder and amazement since moving up to Seattle in February, I’ve made it a goal to explore and enjoy as many of the open spaces as possible; and I can’t wait to share my favorites with y’all – of course!

Just a hop, skip and a little run from our home, the University of Washington sits in pristine location – and features multiple parks on site, each with a stellar view of Mt. Rainer and the waterfront. From the North East, you’ll first meet Yesler Swamp which is managed by the Center for Urban Horticulture. Back at the turn of the last century, the area used to be known as the Yesler Sawmill, until it was bought by the University. After the sawmill burnt down in the 1920’s, the area went unchanged for almost seventy years until a graduate student project revitalized the area and turned it back into a nature preserve.

The swamp is full of critters, including plenty of ducks, geese, egrets, blue herons and even beavers!

Winding across the walkways and into the heart of campus, you’ll get dumped out at the Center for Urban Horticulture’s Soset Garden and Fragrance Garden; and yes, it is indeed a delectable smell!

University of Washington, Center for Urban Horticulture

If you’re willing to take the path less traveled, there are some neat graduate projects standing in the woods – you’ll just have to go out on a limb and find them! My favorite is this little stained glass booth, perfect for meditation or journaling in the midst of the woods.

And now, you’re well on your way into Union Bay on a variety of different foot and bike paths. From there, you’ll get a fantastic view of Mt. Rainer and Bellevue, not to mention the UW Football Stadium and Lake Washington. The paths are lined with native plants, and as Spring keeps making headway – there have been so many more blooms, including these wild roses which are abundant with all sorts of bees.

As I dive deeper into nature and wildlife photography, I’ve been depending more on my telephoto lens, and believe you me – animal are fucking difficult to capture, let alone for a crisp snap.

It’s curated my patience, knowing that I will definitely not get the photo I want in one shot; it’s made me slow down and listen to the sounds of the world, which happen to be an excellent giveaway if you’re tracking down an animals. With the beaver above: if I hadn’t heard branches crash into the water, I would have never known he was around. Lastly, it’s inspired me to grow, mentally, emotionally and physically – to carry around a Canon 6D and four lenses at all times, to know when to use which lens and which settings to find quickly. I have an infinite amount of respect for others in the same field.

Last but certainly not least, for all the ornithophiles out there; these photos are for the birds! How many can you identify for yourselves?

Falcon chased by a smaller bird
Hummingbird
Song Sparrow
Blue Heron + Duck
Red Winged Blackbird

Do you have any tips or tricks to getting stellar nature photography? Is there one centralized location near you that you can literally find all the flora, fauna and furry friends? Let me know in the comments below!

For more on Union Bay and Yesler Swamp, peep these links:

Yesler Swamp | Union Bay Natural Area
University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture

[Wander Washington] Bounding Through Bellevue Botanical Garden

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Moving up to Seattle, one thing that I wasn’t prepared for is the mammoth amount of biodiversity that the entire state has to offer. On a Macro Level, Washington State has an incredibly unique and diverse ecological footprint. The West Coast oscillates between a Mediterranean Climate over the Summer and a blustery, Marine West Coast Climate over the Winter. Nestled on the top North West corner, the Olympic National Forest is home to 4 distinct rain forests, the Hoh, Queets, Bobchiel and Quinault; the Hoh Rain Forest ranks as one of the largest temperate rain forests in the United States, let alone the North West. On the flip side of the Cascade Mountains, which act as a rainshadow, Eastern Washington boasts a vast high desert featuring a dry, arid climate that includes the Juniper Dunes Wilderness and Channeled Scablands, both carved out of land that acted as a flood basin during the last Ice Age until multiple cataclysmic floods washed through the region. All things this girl is excited to explore!

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Dropping into a micro level, Seattle proper is an oceanic seaport city that sits comfortably between Elliot Bay, Lake Washington and the Puget Sound which provide some sanctity from extreme heat and cold, while the geoclimate features a wonderful range of local flora and fauna. Moving at the end of the Winter Season means that we’re prepping for the glorious weeks of Spring then Summer, and you best believe this California Kitten is ready to frolic in the succulent sunshine. But, rain, shine or clouds – every second I can, I’ve been exploring nooks and crannies of the area with a sense of childlike wonder and amazement: the weather has ensured everything is lush and lavish, with parks on literally every corner. Not to mention, the myriad of bays, cuts, rivers, sounds and lakes give way to infinite amounts of waterway views. Every day, you could explore a new partition of the area – and lookup parks, or gardens, and find you’re surrounded by enough to have to make a game time decision; and that’s exactly how we happened upon the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

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Just a hop, skip and a jump over the freeway from Seattle proper by bridge sits an urban oasis sprawling over 53 acres of gorgeous landscaping; complete with both restored and natural wetlands and woodlands, alongside expertly cultivated and curated gardens. We came across it quite by accident and in the middle of Winter, the landscape gave way to vibrant flowers, and buds just itching for the right amount of sunlight to get their bloom on; and I can’t wait to visit again on purpose and revel in the flowers’ maturation.

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Back in 1981, a couple by the name of Cal and Harriet Shorts deeded over seven acres of land, as well as their home, to the city of Bellevue in hopes of creating an arboretum and public park in the heart of the city. A little over three years later, the Jewett family were inspired to create a Botanical Garden on the property; with the city, and the Shorts, approval, the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society was launched to create the Garden itself, while the city added ten additional acres to the already blossoming landscape. Fast forward to 1989, and Bellevue managed to incorporate 19 more acres of land surrounding the Shorts estate – bringing the acreage up to 36; and finally, in 2006, the Botanical Gardens reached their current 56 acres with assistance of the city.

Now one of Bellevue’s most popular destinations, the Botanical Gardens has a menagerie of habitats, from woodlands and meadows, to natural wetlands and gorgeous display gardens, like the Japanese inspired Yao Garden, the Lost Meadow Trail and fuchsia, dahlia and rock gardens. With ample space to stroll, and lose yourself in this delicious slice of nature.

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This garden is such a hidden gem, that even though we were there to gallivant through it on a Sunday, it felt like we were the only ones there; it was glorious! What are your favorite hidden gems in your city?

For more on the Bellevue Botanical Garden, head to their social channels or simply pay them a visit – I promise, it’s a worthy afternoon and you will not be disappointed.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Yelp | Instagram

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[Local Lore] Wild and Free at the William L. Finley Wildlife Refuge

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Tucked deep in the heart of Corvallis sits a whimsical wildlife habitat; a home to many seasonal creatures as they make their semi-annual migratory routes. Created back in 1964, the William L Finley National Wildlife Refuge is a preserved natural land area in the Oregon’s greater Willamette Valley and is notorious for the flocks of dusky Canada geese that frequent the landscape. Unlike typical Canadian geese, their dusky cousins nest and mate along the Copper River Delta in Alaska over the Summer and visit the vast acreage of wetlands of the Finley Wildlife Refuge during the colder, Winter months.

One of the last intact wet prairies in the area, the refuge was a reaction to the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 which diminished the available natural land for dusky Canadian geese. Fast forward almost forty years and in 2006 the Snag Boat Bend Unit was acquired as a partition of the reserve, adding almost 350 acres of unique, historic habitat to the already sprawling 5,300 acres of wetlands covered by the Finley Reserve.

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Beyond the dusky Canadian goose, the William L Finley Wildlife Refuge also plays homebase for a variety of flora, fauna and fowl throughout the year with a handful of habitat regions on site, ranging from wet prairies on the East End to sprawling wetlands off of Muddy Creek, or to the upland Oregon white oak savannas and forests. On any given day, you could run into a menagerie of birds and waterfowl from migratory raptors like the rough-legged hawk to turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, golden and bald eagles, to great horned owls and geese, great blue herons, wood ducks and swans, woodpecker colonies and meadowlarks; not to mention the herds of Roosevelt Elk, blacktailed deer, coyotes and bobcats, alongside pond turtles, red legged frogs and the endangered yet recently re-introduced Fender’s blue butterfly.

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For a full spectrum of the Refuge, I highly suggest returning throughout the year. Even though Winter is wonderful to observe the migratory patterns of waterfowl, November marks the beginning of ‘Sanctuary Season’ which closes off the interior or the park for resting animals; the season end on April 1st, and all interior trails are opened once again.

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Whether you’re hiking, cycling or simply just observing the world at large, the refuge boasts a menagerie of looping trails and rolling hills throughout the grounds, offering over a handful unique hiking paths that cover over a dozen miles of land. For those looking to stay lazy, fret not – there’s an auto tour route with ample roads for roaming. Posted every now and again, you’ll find neat tidbits and educational facts on the nature and ancient nurture of the area.

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Originally, the land was settled by the Kalapuya tribe – a conglomeration of thirteen related tribal groups speaking three distinct languages among themselves; each tribal group inhabited a specific area along and around the Willamette River. With the volcanic Cascade Mountains nearby, tribes around the river effectively fashioned obsidian  arrowheads and spears; if you look hard enough, you can still find obsidian artifacts and minerals in the area to this day – including in the grounds of the Wildlife Refuge. On the other end of history, is the Willamette Valley segment of the Applegate Trail, first used in the 1840’s – it’s a more southerly trail than the Oregon Trail sauntered through by European Settlers.

For more on the William L Finley Wildlife Refuge, head to their social channels – or simply go pay them a wonderful visit; I promise, it’s worth it!

What are your favorite spots to observe the wistful, wonderous wildlife in your town? Let me know in the comments below!

Website | Friends of the WLF Refuge | Facebook | Twitter

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