16 December 2002

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s been chilly and often snowy in the last two weeks, so for the first time in quite a few years, we almost have enough snow on the ground to snowshoe before Christmas. This would be convenient because Eileen has developed a painful bone spur on one heel, and so has a couple of months off from running, but she could probably snowshoe, at least in fresh, soft, cushioning snow. In the meantime, it’s the stationary bike for her. I’m still doing 21 miles every week, although it is hard to fit in at this time of year, with it getting dark so early, and the streets are often icy.

Not much has changed here. Eileen is still volunteering weekly at The Nature Conservancy, gardening, mounting specimens, typing all our natural history records into the computer, running the house, and doing nearly all the packing for, and recovery from, our numerous camping trips. Kodak is still struggling but may emerge in reasonable shape if the economy ever recovers. With the publication of my book (Handbook of Image Quality: Characterization and Prediction) in March and the virtual completion of the cleanup work from the 7-year project I led, this year I began leading a small project in an entirely new area, medical imaging. It’s been quite interesting and a nice change. It’s too early to have much of an idea how the book will do, but I think it came out very nicely, and I have seen a favorable review that will be published in a journal early in 2003. Three of my colleagues and I gave an all-day course based on the book at a conference in Portland, Ore. this spring, and there seemed to be quite a bit of interest in the material. This year I also wrote two draft international standards on measurement of image quality, which, if all goes well, could be official ISO standards sometime in 2004.

This year Eileen and I discovered the array of courses on audio and video available from The Teaching Company (http://www.teach12.com) and have worked through courses on the civil war (Eileen) and classical music (both of us) so far. They have been of excellent quality and make my 20-minute commute fly by. The courses seem to go on sale on a sort of rotating basis, and sometimes you can get courses on audio tape for as little as a couple of dollars per lecture hour. I especially liked listening to a 27-hour course on Beethoven’s symphonies, and learning about my other favorite composer, Tchaikovsky, in a shorter course. Eileen will soon be starting a course on anthropology.

After our Montana trip last fall, where the days were glorious but the nights so windy and cold that we usually just crawled into the back of the van at dusk and did not even try to cook, we realized that many of our trips in recent years have been rather difficult camping, and it might be nice to be more comfortable, especially as we spend an average of about 75 nights per year camping. The van has been a very nice camping vehicle in many ways, but there is not even room to sit completely upright on the bed, so it is not comfortable if you have to spend much time in it doing anything other than sleeping. Also, we have not been sanguine about taking it on back roads since the airbags deployed a few years ago without obvious cause while we were driving on a bumpy road. We had always figured we would get a camper when we retired, but the above considerations led us to start doing research on the possibilities late last year. The result: this July we became the proud owners of a beautiful new pickup camper!

We wanted a camper that was a capable four-wheel drive so that we could travel and camp in remote areas, as we have done on many of our past trips. Unlike snowbirds, who only drive their vehicles a few times per year to shift localities with the seasons, fuel economy could not be neglected completely. With 30-35 years of possible use, health permitting, and the anticipated accumulated miles of travel, especially after retirement (14 years hence, if I stay with Kodak), it was clear that multiple drive trains and engines would be involved. Consequently, a modular unit, in which the motor vehicle and camper were separate, was strongly desired (a really well-made camper, properly cared for, can survive several decades, and so can greatly outlast a motor vehicle). This set of requirements led us to focus our attention on pickup campers, in which the camping unit rests in the bed of a full-sized pickup truck, and, with a day’s professional work, can be transferred to a different truck.

One unique design particularly attracted our attention: the Alaskan brand campers feature a hydraulic roof that raises when camping to make a normally sized unit, but lowers for travel for greatly improved handling in terms of center of gravity, wind resistance, gas mileage, and required clearance. Although a few other brands have similar designs, all others use canvas walls that expand when the roof is raised; however, the canvas provides poor insulation and requires frequent maintenance and replacement. The Alaskan campers are entirely hard-sided; they are designed like boxes having lids with tall sides, so that, as the lid is raised, the sides continue to overlap, allowing the overall height to be nearly doubled. This design seemed perfect for our needs, and we quickly decided that this was the camper for us.

The Alaskan camper has an interesting history. It was designed especially for use by the workers building the Alaskan Highway, who were working under very cold conditions, and had to drive their pickups on sections of the roadbed before they were graded and surfaced. The campers were first sold in the early 1950s by Don Hall, the man who developed the design, and he and his wife continued to oversee the manufacture of the units through the late 1980s, when the business was sold to the Wheat family, who still make and sell them today. Although only about 50 hand-assembled units are made per year, there are still used units available that were made in the 1960s, attesting to their excellent construction and endurance. The units are built in Washington state, about halfway between Seattle and Portland, Ore.

We decided that if we were going to travel to Washington state to get the camper, we should take a month-long camping trip with the unit in the local area so that we could stop by the factory if any problems arose. A particularly enchanting aspect of the Pacific Northwest is the display of alpine and subalpine wildflowers in July and August in the montane areas, so we decided to get our camper in early July, about 7 months after putting down a deposit on it. The wait was difficult but no doubt built character. We had to decide whether to take delivery of the pickup in Washington state and fly out, or purchase it in New York state and drive it out. We decided on the latter so that we would have time to test out and modify the truck before embarking on the trip, and also so we could bring along all the desired gear for our month-long trip, which would be harder to do if we flew. This arrangement worked out well.

We had to buy a pickup truck with the necessary payload capacity for the 1900-pound camper unit. This required a long-bed 3/4-ton pickup with extra heavy-duty suspension. Apparently many pickups with campers are underspecified and handle poorly. We were gratified in July to watch as the camper was lowered into the pickup bed and see the suspension dip only an inch or two from the weight of the camper. The driving characteristics of the pickup were unaffected by the camper as far as we could tell; for example, the cruise control would keep the vehicle at interstate speeds even over mountain passes without difficulty. The gas mileage dropped only by the amount expected from the increased mass, indicating relatively little increase in drag (final mileage with the camper was about 11 mpg, which is reasonable for the 7500 pound combination when loaded).

We settled on a Chevy Silverado with an extended cab (with backward-swinging rear doors), giving us a backseat with good storage room and access for items normally needed during the day, rather than at night. We finalized all the specifications in December and ordered the pickup in March. It arrived in late April, giving me a couple months to get used to driving something so large. It was something like transitioning from a canoe to a barge. Eileen opted not to drive it much until we hit the highways in July. With the camper in place, which reaches to the end of the lowered tailgate, the total unit is 22 feet long. With the roof lowered, the clearance is 8 feet (without the canoe).

You can get a pretty good idea what our unit looks like by checking out the web-site http://www.alaskancamper.net/index2.html and clicking on “What’s New” and then “A Little More Information on the Ten Foot Alaskan”. It has a stove, oven, double sink, refrigerator-freezer, furnace, toilet, couch-bed, folding dining table, and a nearly queen-sized bed extending over the pickup cab, as well as lots of storage and counter space. With the help of a folding ladder, we can store our canoe on the roof. The camper batteries charge off the truck alternator, so as long as we drive for a few hours every few days we do not need an electrical hookup (from a fully charged condition we can go about 5 days without needing any recharging). With two large and two small screened windows and two screened circulation fans, it is remarkably comfortable in hot weather even without air conditioning. Showers are pretty impractical in most pickup campers, because they use up lots of space (both the stall and hot water heater), and there is no place for all the moisture to go. This unit has an outside “shower”, which is like those detachable nozzles on a hose that you see in some motels. The interior is beautifully finished with hand-crafted woodwork and it is very cozy and comfortable. It’s truly a pleasure to camp in it!

Well, I did ramble on about the camper, but you will understand that it has been a major preoccupation for the last year. I’ll now turn to our travels and field work for the year. In late January I took an unexpected trip on short notice to San Jose, Calif. in connection with the ISO standards work, and managed to escape for half a day during the meetings to see the breeding elephant seals in Año Nuevo State Park. A full day on Saturday before flying back was spent in Big Basin State Park, taking a marvelous 11.5-mile circuit hike through the redwoods and past ochre-colored cascades. The most interesting plant species was spectacular flowering adder’s-tongue, a purple-striped lily; I also saw huge examples of pacific yew, which was temporarily threatened before the anti-cancer agent taxol could be made synthetically.

Starting in late April, we worked on censusing the plants of three state parks, Fair Haven Beach, Chimney Bluffs, and Fillmore Glen, for the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP). Each state has a NHP, which were initiated by The Nature Conservancy but now are separate entities. Chimney Bluffs is on the shore of Lake Ontario, and it has striking 150-foot high formations caused by erosion of a drumlin (a hill-shaped glacial deposit) by wave action from the lake. It has a nice display of spring wildflowers, including trilliums .with normally white petals strikingly marked with green stripes. Fair Haven Beach, with a nice variety of habitats and also on the lakeshore, yielded a single clump of a plant endangered in New York State, bushy cinquefoil, which grows only on sand beaches. Fillmore Glen is a classic Finger Lakes gorge with waterfalls, wet limestone cliffs, and rich streamside flats. Although there is a good trail system in this park, there is also a long stretch of remote creek bottom and on days when we bush-whacked through here we would see no people at all. In total, we spent 14 days in these parks and found about 215 species in Fillmore Glen, 205 species in Fair Haven, and 140 species in Chimney Bluffs. We collected a bit over 250 specimens, so Eileen has been busy mounting them and I will have my work cut out for me identifying them this winter. Near Fillmore Glen, we visited the newly opened Nature Conservancy preserve at Malloryville, where we saw the globally uncommon spreading globeflower, a beautiful pale yellow member of the buttercup family that grows in wet areas. We were also fortunate enough to see this same species at the other end of its range in a subalpine meadow later in the year.

The International Science and Engineering Fair was in Louisville, Kentucky this year, as it was five years ago, because another city defaulted and a last-minute substitute was needed. We did not mind the repetition of locality, because we had such a fun trip there last time, with the fine assortment of southern wildflowers and the beautiful camping. Our trip itinerary was much the same this year as five years ago but we had two weeks instead of one, so it was a more leisurely trip. The first three days were spent in Mammoth Caves National Park. A 9-mile hike in the Good Spring area passed through several botanically interesting places, where we saw species such as green dragon, an elegant relative of the jack-in-the-pulpit; and monument plant, a 6-foot tall relative of gentians. There were numbers of turkeys along the roadsides early in the morning, including some males in the full strutting display, which is quite a spectacle.

After judging at the science fair, we headed east to Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary in Millville, KY, where we found the handsome large-leaved waterleaf, our last species in this genus in the northeast. Three days in Daniel Boone National Forest in the scenic Red River area yielded cross vine, with large, tubular, orange flowers, and a new orchid, mauve sleekwort (also called large twayblade). The high point of these few days was hiking in Natural Bridge State Resort Park, with marvelous sandstone and limestone formations in close proximity, and fantastic displays of a stunning deep blue fern-leaved phacelia that covered many of the large limestone boulders. Next, we headed south for about four hours to Cumberland Falls State Park, where a 6-mile hiking loop produced a number of occurrences of mountain spleenwort, a small fern mostly restricted to cracks in sandstone, and beautiful displays of snowy starburst flowers against dark, wet rocks, these belonging to a sandstone-specializing meadow rue of restricted distribution (Thalictrum clavatum).

Farther southwest, we camped at Alum Landing Road on the South Fork of the Cumberland River, where there were a good variety of songbirds singing on territory, including cerulean and Kentucky warblers, which are characteristic of rich woodlands. But we had very few migrant songbirds on the trip; perhaps migration was a bit early this year. Also at this location we had the bizarre pinkroot (spigelia), with its flaming red, tubular flowers. Nearby we visited Yahoo Falls, which turned out to be the most exciting stop of the whole trip. Yahoo Falls is produced from a ten-foot wide stream plunging over a sandstone lip and dropping sheer for 113 feet in an exquisite curtain. It is extremely photogenic, and because of the way sandstone weathers, behind the falls the lip is undercut at about a 45 degree angle, so you can walk behind the falls without even getting wet. The echoes are bizarre in this inverted amphitheater (widest at the bottom) and it is rather disorienting. While walking under/behind the falls, I noticed a crack in the sandstone filled with small ferns, which I assumed would be more mountain spleenwort, but they looked a little too large as we walked up to them. Up close I noticed the translucent appearance and realized that this must be a species I had never hoped to actually see: filmy fern. A check of the unique spore-producing structures under a magnifier confirmed the identification. These plants are restricted to acidic rocks in southern Appalachia and adjacent regions and usually grow in caves or under waterfalls, where they survive the low light levels by virtue of being only one cell thick, so that every cell has direct access to the ambient light.

On the way home we stopped for a couple of nights in Breaks Interstate Park, on the Virginia-Kentucky border, where we found Swainson’s warbler in three locations. This scarce species is more characteristic of southern cypress swamps with understories of bamboo-like cane and other rich southeastern woodlands, but a seemingly somewhat isolated population persists in small numbers in rhododendron thickets high in the mountains, north to West Virginia, an entirely different habitat. One has to wonder whether this could be a distinct subspecies. Another highlight there was ringneck snake with its fancy orange collar. The trip finished after an excursion to Charlottesville to see my brother Chris, who was very ill with hepatitis. He has fortunately made an excellent recovery in the months since then.

Our trip to Washington state to get the camper, which chronologically belongs here, is described at the end of this letter because of the length of the account.

Several days during the field season were spent tracking down rare plants for the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP). To give you some idea what this activity is like, I'll describe one such search that exemplifies some of the challenges of the work. The NYNHP had received a report of a pawpaw grove about an hour west of Rochester. Pawpaw is a small tree with an edible fruit, and the species is threatened in the state, occurring only on Staten Island and near the western Lake Ontario shoreline. It is possible that some of these occurrences arose from Native Americans intentionally planting the trees for their fruit. This tree has beautiful large leaves like a magnolia, which make it easy to identify. The report stated the trees were found in a brushy forest along a particular creek, southwest of a conifer plantation. This seemed straightforward, but when we arrived at the creek, there were no conifers in sight. After some consideration, it seemed possible that the creek was misidentified in the report, so we checked a mile farther west on the same road, where the topographic map indicated another intermittent creek. When we arrived there a dense stand of conifers was visible, which looked good, but all the land was conspicuously posted against trespassing. We drove to the nearest house and asked about the land. The house owner did not know who owned it but agreed that we could walk on his property to try to get nearer to the area with the pawpaws. The trick here is that it is legal to traverse private land if it is not posted along the route of access. Many people put up No Trespassing signs along public roads but not on their other property boundaries. (Another trick we had used earlier in the day at another location was to walk in a creek that we could argue was a navigable waterway and so in the public domain.)

After a bushwhack of a good part of a mile through the conifers, we came to a remnant of a stone wall that appeared to mark the property boundary, and finding no posted signs, proceeded in what we thought was the direction of the pawpaws, based on global positioning system (GPS) readings, topographic maps, and guesswork. We reached a dry creek and I advised Eileen that this habitat looked reasonable and that we should start watching for pawpaws. I had nearly completed one entire footstep when Eileen announced that she had found one, a tiny sapling. After several hours of work, we finally had confirmation that we were in the right place. In a few yards we came around a bend in the creek, and there before us was a splendid grove of over one-hundred pawpaws! Many trees were of good size and bore the vaguely banana-like fruits. The huge, drooping leaves gave the grove an ethereal quality, and the way the grove was wrapped by an oxbow of the creek was very picturesque. We counted every tree, estimated its size, noted presence of fruit, measured latitude and longitude accurately enough that the next investigator could simply walk up to this grove using a GPS, identified nearby plant species, and filled out a bunch of paperwork for NYNHP, describing the occurrence in great detail. The combination of detective work, orienteering, habitat analysis, and searching for plants make tracking down these leads a lot of fun.

In the late summer and fall we spent several weekends canoeing, once in our Moose River Plains plant study area in the Adirondacks, another time in the St. Regis Ponds area of the northwest Adirondacks, and once on the Black River, which divides the Tug Hill Plateau on the west from the Adirondacks on the east. The St. Regis trip, with 34 miles of canoeing in 3 days, was good preparation for a trip the first week of October to the east side of Algonquin Provincial Park, during which we canoed about 63 miles, with 17 miles one long day (including lots of portaging). The fall color was extremely late this year and the east side of Algonquin is mostly pine, but there was a little color by the end of our trip. On our traditional tamarack trip to the Moose River Plains around October 20, the maples, normally bare, were still quite good, and the tamaracks were just starting to turn yellow. What a strange fall! Most of the flora and fauna we saw on these trips was like that we have reported in letters other years, so I will not dwell on them, but highlights were several black-backed woodpeckers; a snapping turtle swimming under our canoe; a brown water snake on the surface of a pond, just a couple feet from the canoe; and moose, including one during rut calling at dawn, and a cow and calf in the Adirondacks, where they are still very uncommon.

Over Thanksgiving we visited Eileen's folks in El Paso and took a one-week trip to southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico, during which we visited some locations that we had missed on earlier trips. We operated from Benson, Arizona for the first half of the trip. The first morning we were up well before dawn to look for two rare bird species that had been seen consistently in the Patagonia area for a number of weeks. A bonus of the early hour was superb views in the telescope of Venus, which was just a sliver, like a crescent moon (Venus is closer to the sun than the earth and so shows distinct phases, just like the moon). We spent most of the day at Patagonia Lake State Park looking for the pair of black-capped gnatcatchers being seen there, but had no luck, just like every other time I have looked for this mega-rarity. However, the trail was beautiful and excellent birding, so it was enjoyable nonetheless. During mid-day, when bird activity was low, we searched for and finally found a male ruddy ground dove in Patagonia. This nifty Mexican visitor has been found in small but increasing numbers in fall and winter from southern California to south Texas in the last 15 years or so, but this was the first time we had seen one.

On the second day we visited Kartchner Caverns, a living cave system discovered in the 1980s and quickly protected as a state park, in part thanks to The Nature Conservancy. The discoverers of the caverns as well as the property owners were meticulous about avoiding damage (by always using the same trails) and contamination (e.g., changing clothing to avoid carrying mud from one room to another) of the caverns, and the state was equally careful, so the caves are in essentially pristine condition. Temperature and humidity are monitored and there is compensation for the moisture removed by visitors (whose clothing absorbs it). Double doors prevent unnecessary perturbation of the environmental conditions. The walkway through the caverns is like a trough and is flushed out with the local aquifer's water each night. The formations, many of which are wet and still growing, are world-class, and there is no other public site like it in the country. After the underground tour, we did some hiking through beautiful country with a nice array of desert plants and birds, such as sandpaper bush, rufous-crowned sparrow and a close adult golden eagle fly-by. It was the density of ocotillo and Schott's agave (indicating limestone) that led the original discoverers to the one-foot diameter opening that was the only connection between the underground caverns and the surface. On the way home we visited a stand of red-berry juniper, the last species of juniper I had not seen in the US and Canada. This leaves me only 3 of 98 native North American conifers left to see; Eileen has an additional 3 species, but she should catch up to me next year.

Day 3 found us looking for the gnatcatcher again, this time successfully! It was my 699th native bird species in North America north of Mexico. I got number 700 in December, sitting in my lazy-boy, reading that the American Ornithologist's Union had re-split tufted titmouse into its original two species, a rather anti-climactic way to reach my last major North American milestone. Eileen got five life birds this year (including a sharp-tailed sandpiper here in Rochester in October), bringing her total to 661. In the afternoon we hiked up French Joe Canyon, where rufous-capped warblers, a Mexican rarity, apparently bred this year, although they had not been seen in over a month. The canyon was lovely with superb riparian habitat and cliffs. A large flock of band-tailed pigeons and alligator-bark juniper were fun to see.

The next day we started looping slowly back eastward. We drove to 8200 feet elevation on Mt. Graham in snow, and saw montane species such as Chihuahua pine, silver-leaf oak, arbutus, and an alder (A. oblongifolia) that was new to us. At our picnic lunch stop at lower elevation, Eileen found javelina (peccary) tracks in a sandy wash. After lunch and stopping at our motel in Safford, Arizona, we drove to the east end of Aravaipa canyon, an incredible riparian habitat with gigantic sycamores and poplars, and towering cliffs. We added this to our list of locations to which we must return when we have several days to hike and camp, and at a better time of year for birding. Like on every other evening of the trip, we gathered for a game of anagrams (remotely like scrabble) before crashing for the night.

Much of Thanksgiving day was spent driving back roads to Silver City, New Mexico. We collected fire opals and volcanic rocks on the Black Hills scenic byway, and found the taxonomically enigmatic one-needled form of the edible piñon pine. We were able to collect some secondary copper minerals (chrysocolla, malachite, and azurite) near the country's largest copper mine at Morenci. The poplars and willows in the Gila Box Riparian area provided a colorful picnic spot with their golden fall foliage. We stopped and watched a couple of bulls undergoing a territorial dispute close to the road; but no clear victor emerged while we were there. That evening we ate breakfast at a café in place of Thanksgiving dinner; it was much better than most of the meals we have eaten when traveling on this holiday.

The next day was spent at the Gila Cliff Dwellings, which you can walk right through, unlike many native American ruins; they were fascinating. The country drained by the Gila River is exceptionally scenic, and this is another area to which we will return. We had several large flocks of piñon jays, and despite the date and low temperature, briefly but beautifully singing Townsend's solitaires and canyon wrens. On the trip back to El Paso the next day we took a route along the Mexico border and saw hundreds of sandhill cranes and had terrific looks at a prairie falcon in the telescope. In El Paso over the next couple of days we made up for missing Thanksgiving dinner and caught up with the rest of the family, Paul, Rob, and Mahrla.

We'll be spending Christmas in Charlottesville to see my family. Next year our big vacation will be a 7-week camping trip to southern and central California in May and June, to which we look forward with great anticipation!


Camper Trip: Washington and British Columbia

We left for Chehalis Washington, a 2880-mile trip, on the Fourth of July. The drive took 4 days, with a brief stop in the south unit of Roosevelt National Park, a good camping and hiking location two long days from Rochester. We had packed in a tarp in the pickup bed all the gear we would need that would not fit in the extended cab. Because we did not have our usual complement of camping gear, which would not be needed in the camper, we planned on staying in motels on the way out, but we could not resist a night in Roosevelt. We slept in a one-man pup tent that we brought to mark a campsite as occupied when we were gone for a day. It was pretty claustrophobic and was coated with condensed moisture in the morning. But we had a coyote call at night and a nice dawn chorus of birds, including a lovely lazuli bunting. The third night in western Montana we got a cabin right on the Clark Fork and had great birding in the morning while we ate breakfast, including fine views of violet-green swallows. On the fourth day, when traffic on I-90 came to a halt in central Washington state from returning Fourth of July traffic, we instead headed south and caught Rte. 12 through the mountains to the coast. Leaving the desert, this route passes by interesting basalt formations, beautiful rivers, attractive oak-savanna areas, and nice coniferous forests, providing a fine cross-section of the state. We hit our only bad rain of the trip out on this route, but our gear in the bed stayed dry.

On Day 5 we showed up at the camper factory at 7:15 a.m. It was fascinating; we were free to wander anywhere, and see units in various stages of construction, helping us to understand how the camper was manufactured. It is entirely manual work and it takes about half a dozen people a week to build one. The pride taken in the work was evident throughout the operation. We were on our way at 3:30 p.m. We made stops for a late lunch, at Camper's World to purchase many needed RV items, and at a supermarket to buy two weeks worth of food. It was about 10:00 p.m. when we finally pulled into a forest service campground in the mountains near Skykomish and picked a site right on a river at some rapids, drowning out any road noise that might otherwise have reached us (many western campgrounds in the mountains are in narrow valleys and so are of necessity very close to the highway). The next day we spent in camp working on repacking, organizing, installing equipment, etc. During a reading break Eileen had a family of adorable chestnut-backed chickadees feeding at eye level close by, a marvelous experience (usually these are treetop birds).

On the next day, Day 7, we hiked 7 miles with 1600 feet of elevation gain to Lake Serene, which was largely ice-filled and was surrounded by a snowy cirque. We saw the largest yellow cedars we had ever encountered here, with massive ghostly pale trunks. We started our trip plant list and identified about 50 species on the hike, including beautiful white-flowered trilliums just emerging from the edges of the melting snow. On Day 8, we did a shorter hike to Trout L., and had a memorable encounter with a deer mouse. This is normally a nocturnal species, but we watched one forage along the trail for about 20 minutes from as little as a couple of feet away! In the afternoon we drove to the Snoqualmie area, our base for our next two days, stopping in Leavenworth for more shopping and some terrific pizza.

Days 9 and 10 were spent doing moderate hikes to Lodge and Source Lakes, where we found Barrow's goldeneyes and Vaux's swifts on their breeding grounds, and added a number of subalpine wildflowers, such as bleeding hearts and avalanche lilies, to our list. On Day 11 we descended back into the low country and visited Robinson Canyon near Ellensburg, where in the dry ponderosa pine forests Eileen finally saw a stunning crimson and green Lewis' woodpecker at close range, one of the five or so easiest life birds she had left to see in the U.S. and Canada, The canyon bottom was great birding, and a white-headed woodpecker on the drive out was a bonus. We camped in a remote area with no facilities and only one other site occupied; it was quite idyllic. Here we saw chickaree (a western analog of red squirrel) at the eastern edge of its range. Day 12 was spent mostly in transit to Mt. Rainier, but we made many interesting short stops along the way for wildflowers and did a little more shopping (we kept a running list of things that would be good to have in the camper, and stopped to look for the items on the list whenever we passed a convenient store). Our remote campsite at the end of a four-wheel-drive road had a superb view of the mountains and we were serenaded by hermit thrushes at dusk.

Days 13 and 14 were spent hiking from Sunrise on the east side of Rainier National Park. This area has some of the best alpine wildflowers in the continent and we saw so many new species that we just walked along carrying the plant guides in our hands because it wasn't even worth putting them away in our packs. The Frozen Lake area was the best for flowers that we saw during the whole trip; the deep purple Cusick's speedwell and alpine Jacob's-ladder were favorites of the day. At lunch the first day we found one of our two main target mammals, the cascade ground squirrel, a new species for us that is closely related to the more familiar golden-mantled ground squirrel. Eileen enjoyed feeding them; in fact, they climbed all over us to get at our food. Hearing and seeing blue grouse giving their deep hooting call was a treat. We also saw pocket gopher diggings along the trail to Shadow L.

On Day 15 we traversed Mt. Rainier National Park on our way to the Olympic Peninsula. We were pleased to finally see good stands of noble fir (a tree we had only seen in small numbers and sizes before) near Paradise, where we also had the stunning magenta and yellow flowers of shooting stars. We did more food shopping, and made another stop at Camping World, after which we were finally fairly well equipped. It was really rather like moving into a house from an apartment; there are so many new things you need!

The next three days were spent on Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. On our previous visit to this location we had been fogged out and had missed a key target mammal, the Olympic marmot, which lives only in these mountains. This year the weather was perfect and we saw many of them. The wildflowers here were superb; this location and Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia probably tied for second place behind Mt. Rainier. The highlight of the first day, a reconnaissance by vehicle, was a female spruce grouse of the Franklin's race, a new subspecies for us. One day we did a 7-mile hike from Obstruction Point down to Grand L., famous for its very steep 2000-foot ascent on the return tip. There were magnificent stands of mountain heather (cassiope) in bloom, and other favorites were douglasia and partridge foot (luetkia). The other day we took a hike of similar length but with only 600 feet of elevation gain, which seemed a piece of cake by comparison. At the summit we had a close encounter with a marmot at our lunch spot, which overlooked Vancouver Island across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

On Day 19 we took a ferry across to Vancouver I., seeing harbor porpoises but few birds. We arrived at Pacific Rim National Park late in the day and struggled to find a campsite in this chronically overcrowded area. The story was the same the next three nights on the island, with a not insignificant effort each night to find a legal place to park, and no two nights spent in the same place. The days were better, though, with many marvelous short walks through rainforests to secluded beaches, and a trip into the fascinating Shorepine Bog, where the unusual Douglas' gentian was in flower. Bald eagles and northwestern crows were everywhere. One day we spent sea kayaking, our first chance to try out a tandem (two-person) kayak, which was very fun. Another day we took a whale-watching boat trip, and the gray whales were feeding in such shallow water that their flukes stayed above the water continuously, looking like large shark fins! We had many nice views of marbled murrelets on that trip as well.

On Day 23 we left Vancouver I. for mainland British Columbia; it took most of the day to reach Manning Provincial Park, which is right across the border from North Cascades National Park in the U.S., where we would finish our touring. It was a relief to be able to get a campsite without much difficulty. The next day we hiked in four places, Lightning Lake, Rein Orchid Trail, Beaver Pond Trail, and Blackwell Park. The latter alpine location had many wildflowers, including a white form of a normally flagrantly magenta Indian paintbrush (Castilleja parviflora), which we had seen at Mt. Rainier. We also had long looks at a drumming three-toed woodpecker. Day 25 was mostly spent in transit to North Cascades National Park, with some birding in the Okanogan Valley along the way. The next day we had our first and only day of bad weather on the entire trip, a cold rain, which cancelled a planned hike to Cascade Pass on the west side of the park. However, Cascade River Road to the trailhead, where we waited several hours hoping for improvement in the weather, was very beautiful near the end, and we were thrilled to watch black swifts foraging against a backdrop of a snow-covered cirque just below the level of fog. It should be noted that this road is the only one that actually enters the park proper; the land along the main road that most people assume is part of the national park is actually a recreation area. This is an important point if you are keeping a list of national parks you have visited; North Cascades was our 41st of 53 in the U.S.

On Day 27 we took the superb Heather Pass Trail to Lake Ann and beyond, where we were treated to fine views, groves of alpine larch, numerous sightings of adorable pikas (relatives of rabbits that look like hamsters and live in alpine talus), and great looks at slate-colored fox sparrows. On our last day of touring we drove up Slate Peak, the highest point accessible by vehicle in Washington state, at about 7200 feet elevation. We found several new plants here on the dry east side of the mountains, bringing our total to 275 species for the trip, an excellent total. The four-day drive home was uneventful, although we did have a nice long view of a pair of moose right out the truck window one morning. In total, the 32-day trip covered 7730 miles, which, excluding the 8 days crossing the country both ways, came to an average of about 80 miles per day while touring, a fairly leisurely pace. It was a delight, after seven months of anticipation, to finally be traveling in the new camper, which was a dream. We look forward to many future trips in it!