An introductory helicopter flight training lesson can be a fun way to take an aerial tour of the south Seattle area while at the same time having quite an interactive and educational experience. I previously took a helicopter tour of Seattle as well, which was more extensive and better on the sightseeing. Yet flying around with the controls in your own hands definitely adds a different spin o’ the rotor.

The lessons are actually fairly simple and only 20-30 minutes long before taking off. Given how complicated it is to operate a helicopter, the introduction is aimed toward the very basics and the flight instructor has his hands on a directly connected special cyclic stick. He’s ready to take over at any time.

For the intro lesson, we just concentrated on the cyclic (stick between the legs) and not on the collective (stick that is raised and lowered to the side of the pilot) or the anti-torque pedals. The cyclic enabled me to control the helicopters orientation and elevation as we flew.

We left from Boeing Field in south Seattle and headed south along the I-5 corridor before swinging in an arc east and then heading back on a route parallel but easterly of I-5. This route is apparently a well used route for flight instruction and helps keep overlapping student traffic to a minimum. The instructor pilot took off and landed, while I controlled the helicopter on the main route at about 900 foot elevation.

The most surprising part was how extremely sensitive the cyclic is to inputs. Literally 1/8 inch movements of the cyclic made a difference in the flight path. So I rested my hand on my knee and made very gradual inputs. One time while counteracting against a wind gust I just about turned the helicopter sideways, but the instructor helped avoid that scenario!

Fun stuff that is both educational and a great sightseeing experience.

Helicopters Northwest Seattle helicopter flight training lesson

Robinson R-22 flight instruction helicopter



Seattle helicopter flight training lesson cockpit Helicopters Northwest

Helicopter cockpit showing center cyclic that in connected across to both instructor and student



Links:
Helicopters Northwest
Principles of Helicopter Flight

Directions

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The Methow Valley is a beautiful part of Washington, on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains where forest-lined rivers, trail networks, and western tourist towns all mix for a fun getaway.

We stayed at the Alpine Wilderness log cabin in Mazama. The cabin is well laid out and conveniently located, though it has the creakiest floors on planet Earth. From there, after some good meals and huge water fights with squirt guns, the Methow Valley beckoned.

Cutthroat Lake Trail meanders up a picturesque valley formed by sheer mountain cliffs on both sides. It is within Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Along the way, rough hewn log bridges crisscross Cutthroat Creek as it steadily descends. The trail ends at a massive amphitheater of rock that surrounds Cutthroat Lake itself, as clouds rise over the snow-laden passes above.

Back in rural civilization, Mazama’s “downtown” is formed by the Mazama General Store, an outdoor gear store, and that’s just about it. Everywhere else is river, private homes, and forested trail systems. The Mazama General Store has a good selection of goodies for those in need of something besides a granola bar.

Twisp has an artistic bent, as can be seen at the Twisp Farmers Market and the walking studio tour available. Restaurants and tourist shops also fill the central core for several blocks in each direction. Check out the B&B with a publicly accessible sculpture garden, TwispWorks communal art space, local theater, Methow Valley Interpretive Center for history, Cinnamon Twisps at the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery, and other fun destinations.

Winthrop is a “created” western town. It has the feel of a wild west town, and does have a lot of history in the area, although the main promenade is artificially created to have its historical appearance. The riverfront shops, restaurants, and snack shacks provide an easy day of touristy walking around. The Shafer Museum, on the hill above town, is especially interesting. It has many authentic pieces of machinery that sit around outside of old buildings while period lifestyle antiques sit inside restored historical residences, all congregated together into a historical stuff lover’s dream.

The Methow Valley offers many outdoors activities across many seasons, including hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, rafting, and fly fishing. The hanging out is fun too.

Cutthroat Creek along Cutthroat Lake Trail in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Cutthroat Creek along Cutthroat Lake Trail in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest



Hiking Cutthroat Lake Trail Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Hiking Cutthroat Lake Trail



Hiking Cutthroat Lake Trail in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest avalanche area

Hiking Cutthroat Lake Trail in avalanche area



Surrounding mountain views along Cutthroat Lake Trail in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Surrounding mountain views along Cutthroat Lake Trail



Cutthroat Lake Trail log bridge in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Cutthroat Lake Trail log bridge



Cutthroat Lake Trail in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Washington

Cutthroat Lake



Methow River near Mazama

Methow River near Mazama



Methow River suspension bridge near Mazama

Methow River suspension bridge near Mazama



Shafer Museum Winthrop

Shafer Museum in Winthrop



Shafer Museum in Winthrop

Shafer Museum outdoor mining displays



Links:
Methow Valley
Mazama
Twisp
Winthrop
Cutthroat Lake
Shafer Museum

Directions

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Cruising the San Juan Islands in any kind of marine conveyance is fun. Gunkholing around on a nice sized, comfortable powerboat can be particularly fun. We chartered a boat from Anacortes, cruised through the islands to end up at Jones Island, then on to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island, cruised around some more before going to Stuart Island, and ended up at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Plenty of beautiful sites, wildlife, on-island hiking, and off-island hanging out.

Jones Island consists entirely of a 188 acre state marine camping park, including floating dock, moorage buoys, and marine-accessible campsites with drinking water and pit toilets. A hiking trail goes across the lower middle “saddle” of the island and around its west side for great San Juan Island views.

San Juan Island is the most populated and developed of the San Juan Islands. Roche Harbor has a picturesque resort, gardens, historical lime kilns, restaurants, and a terrific 19 acre outdoor sculpture park run by the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. Friday Harbor is more developed and commercialized, but with good amenities and the state ferry dock.

Stuart Island also includes a state park accessible via docks on two bays, but most of the island is privately owned. Walking around the single main dirt road of Stuart Island reveals the school house that educated children for many decades but just recently closed (only two children in the entire final school across all grades). You can walk right into the open doors of the unattended small library. Venturing further will go to a historic cemetery that includes short biographies of all the people in the cemetery, including their connection to the island. A few farms and residences are sprinkled further along the roads, ending up at the bluff of Lover’s Leap and the open grounds of Turn Point Lighthouse.

Get on up to the San Juans!

Charter powerboat from Anacortes heading into San Juan Islands

Heading into the San Juan Islands from Anacortes



Jones Island State Park boat mooring dock San Juan Islands

At Jones Island State Park mooring dock



Jones Island State Park boat mooring dock beach San Juan Islands

Beach and forest of Jones Island



Sunset tree trail around Jones Island San Juan Islands

Sunset from waterfront trail around Jones Island



Jones Island trail around shoreline in San Juan Islands

Hanging out to watch the sunset from Jones Island



Jones Island State Park sunset view from shoreline trail in San Juan Islands

Sunset from Jones Island in San Juan Islands



San Juan Island Roche Harbor Resort marina McMillin's Dining Room garden

Roche Harbor Resort, McMillin’s Dining Room, and garden on San Juan Island



Roche Harbor Resort marina San Juan Island

Roche Harbor Resort marina on San Juan Island



Roche Harbor Sculpture Park San Juan Islands Museum of Art metal tree

Roche Harbor Sculpture Park metal tree



Roche Harbor Sculpture Park San Juan Islands mirror on easel

Roche Harbor Sculpture Park mirror on easel



Stuart Island Turn Point Lighthouse port-a-potty interior

Stuart Island port-a-potty with flowers, hat rack, drapes, and artwork



Turn Point Lightouse walkway Stuart Island San Juan Islands

Turn Point Lighthouse on Stuart Island, view from lightkeeper’s house



Turn Point Lightouse keeper's house porch view Stuart Island San Juan Islands

Turn Point Lighthouse keeper’s porch view on Stuart Island



Turn Point Lightouse view from Lover's Leap Stuart Island San Juan Islands

View from Lover’s Leap to sunset and Turn Point Lighthouse on Stuart Island



Links:
Crown Yacht Charters
Jones Island State Park
San Juan Island
Roche Harbor Resort
Stuart Island
San Juan Islands

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What a fun way to explore Seattle’s urban Lake Union: by renting a comfortable electric power boat and cruising around. The Electric Boat Company rents 21 foot Duffy boats in 2-4 hour time blocks. The boats accommodate up to 10 people, have a center table for food and drinks, storage, and roll-up side flap windows to keep out weather if needed. Since they are electric, the boats are quiet and easy to handle. We explored the many floating home communities of Lake Union, checked out marinas with yachts, and cruised by the businesses and parks that also line the lake. Afterwards, a tasty meal at lakeside Duke’s Chowder House rounded out the experience. Recommended!

Seattle Lake Union electric boat rental cruise

Electric boat rental cruise on Seattle’s Lake Union



Links:
The Electric Boat Company
Lake Union
Electric Boats: The Handbook of Clean, Quiet Boating

Directions

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Cloud Mountain Retreat Center is a non-sectarian Buddhist meditation getaway located in rural Washington between Seattle and Portland. The center encompasses 15 forested acres and extends its walking meditation into surrounding state owned lands plus a hike onto land owned by a collaborative neighbor. There are many different styles and levels of retreats available, all supported by a small permanent staff plus invited teachers. Participants come from all over.

The grounds are very peaceful and quiet, providing a terrific match for the center’s intent. Dirt paths meander through the forest, connecting the main lodge, meditation hall, and various styles of lodging. Exploring around yields small but interesting finds: a reflection pond, shrines with offerings, semi-formal gardens, forest vistas, observant wildlife, covered bridge over a running stream, and more.

This particular silent meditation retreat was focused on relaxing the mind and learning basic Buddhist meditation principles, as a personal follow-up to my earlier silent meditation retreat (non-Buddhist) where I focused more on general relaxation and life priorities. I found this one more challenging since I like to relax but think ahead, while “active thinking” effectively is not encouraged in a Buddhist meditation context. It is instead about not thinking and not planning, and instead just being nothing more than present.

Silent retreats are unusual for most people. After initial introductions, communal dinner, and instructions, everyone shuts off their mobile phones and is not supposed to speak at all for the next few days (except the instructor speaks). Communication and questions to the instructor can be written on paper and left in a box. Not speaking is surprisingly freeing. There are no “pressures” to be sociable, think outwardly, or think about what other people think. Instead, participants are given shared permission to ignore everyone else and just move inward in a simple way.

Meals are silent, which some people have difficulty with. Sitting across the table from someone for a half hour and not being able to talk is foreign to most. Even passing by others on a path is more of a heads-down experience than an acknowledgement of the other person.

This retreat was a bit less formal than most Buddhist silent meditation retreats. In the instructor’s words, she wanted everyone to feel comfortable and not be bound by the “rules” that more advanced retreats generally assume. That was a good thing. She would provide class sessions throughout the day at pre-scheduled times, with every session preceded by the sound of a loud gong-like bell reverberating through the forest. Some sessions focused on concepts and how-to, while others were more oriented to application of the practice.

Time between sessions in the meditation hall were open-ended for all students. Participants scattered, depending upon interest and what moved them. Some went back to their rooms, though journaling was not encouraged. Others stayed in the meditation hall, while most went for walking meditations through the forested trails and gardens.

At the end of the retreat, a closing ceremony occurred and participants were gradually brought back into their more normal pace and interaction with life. The instructor said that some people even need time for re-adjusting to the relatively faster pace of driving and talking. Otherwise the outside regular world can briefly be disorienting or overwhelming to them.

A Buddhist silent meditation retreat is both relaxing and challenging, if done right and depending upon your personality. It is a unique experience that most people never come close to experiencing since it is so far removed from rat race culture.

Cloud Mountain Retreat pond reflection Buddhist silent meditation retreat

Reflection pond at Cloud Mountain Retreat



Cloud Mountain Retreat shrine offerings Buddhist silent meditation retreat

Shrine with offerings at Cloud Mountain Retreat



Cloud Mountain Retreat forest pond Buddhist silent meditation retreat

Forest pond at Cloud Mountain Retreat



Cloud Mountain Retreat water fountains gardens Buddhist silent meditation retreat

Fountains among the gardens



Cloud Mountain Retreat forest hiking walking trails Buddhist silent meditation retreat

Forest walking paths



Cloud Mountain Retreat forest hiking walking trails covered bridge stream Buddhist silent meditation retreat

Hiking to a privately owned covered bridge over a stream



Links:
Cloud Mountain Retreat Center
Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat

Directions

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In downtown Asheville North Carolina, appropriately positioned directly across the street from the historic Flatiron Building is a large metal sculpture of a… flat iron. Perhaps you can rub your clothes up against it to get out wrinkles. The sculpture was created by local Asheville sculptor Reed Todd, and is based on old clothing irons used in the Asheville Laundry a hundred years ago. It is frequently used as a picture posing location or a place for street singers to use as an acoustic backdrop.

Laundry clothes flat iron sculpture Asheville North Carolina

Flat Iron sculpture in Asheville



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The Biltmore Estate is a monument to over the top opulence. Interesting from a historical perspective, grand in its scope, beautiful in environment, and the product of a son who was given a lot of money and wanted to outdo his siblings and everyone else with that money. The extensive grounds are open for wandering by foot or car, and different areas of the main home are accessible via different types of specialized tours. Wandering the walking paths around the home reveal ornate formal gardens, open pastures, forest, and a man made pond. The grounds extend much further still, going to a more recently developed winery, inn, restaurants, and more.

Biltmore Estate lawn

Entry lawn of Biltmore Estate



Biltmore Estate gargoyles and stonework

Gargoyles and stonework at Biltmore Estate



Biltmore Estate Italian Garden

Italian Garden at Biltmore Estate



Biltmore Estate Bass Pond Boat House

The Boat House on Bass Pond at Biltmore Estate



Biltmore Estate Bass Pond outflow waterfall

Outflow waterfall from Bass Pond


Links:
Biltmore Estate
Asheville North Carolina area things to do
A Guide to Biltmore Estate

Directions

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