Use technology to make travel easier

passport travel document tips help adviceTravelling is either a treat or a chore, depending on your perspective. Whichever way you look at it, you can make it easier on yourself by taking a few seconds, and using technology, to keep yourself organized. Our travel hacks will also help you if your documents or other important info is lost or stolen.

Travel Tips- Snap and save documents to the cloud

It’s just a fact of life that when we travel things get forgotten or misplaced. Make replacing things like a lost passport or ID easier by taking a photo of it with your smartphone and uploading it to the cloud. Even if your phone goes missing you’ll still be able to download what you need. Same goes for plane tickets, boarding passes, reservation codes and hotel info.

Travel Tips – Make a digital itinerary

Keep names, addresses and attraction info (even directions or map snaps) at your fingertips by putting it all in one place on your phone (then back it too up to the cloud). This is particularly helpful in places where you don’t want to worry about roaming charges but there’s no Wi-Fi.

Travel Tips –Download directions

maps download google maps offline use how toGoogle maps has a great feature that will allow you to search, download and save directions to your phone or device, even if you’re not connected. This can be a lifesaver and a time saver. Here’s how to do it.

Travel Tips – No need to pack a flashlight

Most phones today have flashlight functions, but if yours doesn’t, download one of many free flashlight apps. Having some light can help you find a dropped pen on a dark plane, or help you navigate the sticky lock on your Airbnb rental.

Travel Tips –Verify your rental car

Before you get in and drive away, snap photos of all sides of your rental car, as well as the rental agreement (including the emergency roadside help number) as well as the license plate number. That way no one can claim you did damage when you didn’t. Having the license number on hand can make parking or hotel valet easier too. You can also snap a photo of you parking spot if you’re prone to forgetting, or you’re in an unfamiliar area.

Travel Tips –Use your phone as a diary or log book

Yes, it takes photographs and video but today’s smartphones are also perfect places to create and save a digital scrapbook. Snap pictures of new favourite beer, wine or local liquour labels, record menus, and take notes or even use voice dictation to save your thoughts.

If you’re taking a tour with multiple stops or a ‘city-a-day’ itinerary, it’s also handy to take snaps of your hotel and room number, or the hotel’s business card, in case you forget.

There are any number of ways you can use technology to make travel easier and safer.  Post yours in comments below, or read some top Packing Tips from our friends at ContinentalDrifters.ca 

Smart keyless travel lock – Locksmart by Dog & Bone

Travel locks get a bad rap; either they’re too puny to be protective, or they’re easy to pick. Or perhaps you’re the type that is always misplacing the key or forgetting the combination, while you’re a million miles from home.

Smart travel lock uses no keys, no combinations

A solution is digital locks. I’ve written previously about smart, cell phone-controlled padlocks by Dog and Bone. They’re easy to use and work well. Continue reading “Smart keyless travel lock – Locksmart by Dog & Bone”

Smart mirror is robot concierge for hotels

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Panasonic + IBM’s smart mirror – your digital concierge.

At the world technology show CES 2017 today, Panasonic and IBM have introduced a product that will help travelers make the most of an unfamiliar city.

Smart mirror is digital concierge

Built into hotel room mirrors (which are essentially transformed into large touch screen computer terminals), this smart mirror concept is basically a robot concierge which provides words and pictures on the mirror to help you navigate news, weather, messages and more. The Panasonic Digital Concierge, as it’s been called, applies IBM’s ‘Watson’ computing power to a digital mirror designed specifically for hotels and other hospitality industry customers.

Mirror, mirror on the wall….

Need restaurant recommendations? The mirror can help you. Want to know what time you’ll need to leave for a meeting? Ask the mirror. You talk, it helps.

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonicSmart mirror specially made for hotel industry

“Panasonic has identified a need for this and several other kinds of connected solutions in the hospitality industry,” said Yasuji Enokido, president of Panasonic Corporation’s AVC Networks Company.  “Working with IBM, we plan to further implement our connected solutions vision while making use of Watson intelligence to provide end-users with more natural cognitive functionality as well as richer feature sets.”

While some guests may prefer the personal touch of a face-to-face interaction, others like the privacy of accessing information from the comfort of the hotel room. While there’s no mention of cameras inside the device, I can see some folks being weirded out by such a technologically connected device presiding over the room when they’re walking around naked.

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonic

“IBM Watson gets to truly know the individual and provides highly personalized experiences and recommendations,” said Bruce Anderson, Global Managing Director, IBM Electronics Industry.  “Together with Panasonic we are bringing the power of cognitive to the hospitality industry to introduce a new level of customer service and Coming soofurther brand loyalty.”

The Panasonic Concierge is on display at CES 2017. There’s no indication of where or when you might find it in a hotel any time soon.

Christmas traffic; technology of when to avoid the road

It’s not your imagination; Christmas traffic gets crazy.  And there’s data to prove it. Waze, the guys who make the super cool traffic and navigation app, have released some info about when are the best and worst times to drive around some of the places that see a flood of vehicles around the holidays.

Is Christmas Traffic the worst?

How’d they do it? Waze analyzed Canadian user data from December 24, 2015 and flagged the busiest times for drivers and the worst periods for traffic. All of this lays out what times you should avoid certain destinations.   Continue reading “Christmas traffic; technology of when to avoid the road”

Virtual reality for real people -Reviewing Google Daydream View

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If you think virtual reality is for kids, hipsters and gamers, think again. Virtual reality is about to come to the masses thanks to Google’s inexpensive and easy to use Daydream View headset that has just launched.

What is Daydream View?

Daydream View is Google’s virtual reality (VR) headset.  It’s essentially a pair of goggles that fits over your head to immerse you in a virtual world.  It pairs with a hand-held controller that can be used as a wand, a baseball bat, or any object you might need in your new virtual world. The headset itself is not powered or electrified in any way, so it’s completely cord-free. The viewing images come from your phone.

How does Daydream work?

The video picture is supplied by Google’s Pixel or Pixel XL phones, or using another smartphone device that supports the Daydream app; you slide the phone into the front of the headset, close the flap and secure it with the elastic loop.

The app splits the content in two so it can be viewed by each eye individually; it kind of looks like one of those old Viewmaster toys. Once inside the headset, your brain registers the individual views as one big image. As you turn your head, the image follows you.

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The controller acts as a pointer or a guide that allows you to access menus, play games and to carry out movement or motion in conjunction with what’s happening in your virtual space. There’s a touchpad on the controller which lets you swipe and scroll or click, an app-access button to help navigate, and a ‘Home’ button which lets you re-centre your cursor if things get spun around.

Audio
Audio is supplied by your phone’s external speaker, and during my testing was plenty loud enough.  The device can also be used with headphones for a fully immersive audio-video experience.

Do I need Google’s Pixel phone?

img_6264Not necessarily.  But the Pixel or Pixel XL are optimized and built to work with the headset. Google says any “daydream-ready phone” can work, so basically as long as your phone manufacturer supports the Daydream app, you’re in.

Getting set up with Google Daydream View

Check out my Unboxing video (in which I RE-box the Daydream kit) to see firsthand exactly what’s in the package; basically a set of goggles (comes in a white, gray and a rust colour), and a controller.

You’ll need to have a phone separately.  Once you’ve downloaded and launched the Daydream app you’re basically ready to dive in. Slip the phone into the headset with the screen facing you, clip it in, and then adjust the headset so it’s tight but comfortable.

What happens when you enter Daydream Home?

Daydream 'Home"
Daydream ‘Home”

The app will set you down in ‘Daydream Home’ a forested, cartoony virtual world where you’ll learn how to interact with your environment.

You’ll be guided through using your controller, how to move around, and you’ll get a taste of what you can watch, see and do.daydream-world-2 daydream-street-view

the Home world, you can access Google Streetview maps to explore popular landmarks, like the Taj Mahal. You can watch YouTube videos, check out a VR movie, or view your Google Photos collection.

What kinds of things can ordinary people do with Virtual Reality?

Tour a home for sale or check out a vacation property
Buying a new home in a city across the country? Hoping to book a sweet suite in Spain next summer? Virtual tours are just one way real people are using VR to get educated about holiday destinations, and purchases. Take a virtual tour a condo complex under construction to help decide it it’s got the right feel for you – way more immersive and helpful than staring at 2 dimensional floor plans!daydream-view

Use Daydream view to take a virtual tour of that charming AirBnB rental or to swoop through the lobby of a local hotel.

Visit Museums, see masterpieces, learn science
Virtual reality devices like Daydream View can also allow you to re-immerse yourself in your vacation experience.  Start by using Google’s Pixel phone to take 360 degree photos of your cottage, downtown San Francisco, or the pyramids, then play them back over Daydream View. You’re instantly back there, and it’s not as though you’re looking at someone else’s anonymous snaps; with Pixel phone and Daydream View, you can look down at your own feet, or even see your spouse or family posing in the picture.

Watch TV
You can also use virtual reality to tour museum exhibits, learn about the biology of undersea mammals while watching them swim around you, or even to watch videos on YouTube. Content makers like HBO, Hulu NBA and Netflix are all also launching VR content this winter.img_6705

My experience with Google Daydream

First off let me say that while I love technology and gadgets, I’m not a gamer, and haven’t been one of those people who’s been overly excited about virtual reality. So it was with a bit of detachment I unpacked the Daydream kit, readied it and strapped it on.

I’ll say the system was very easy to set up; it’s as simple as launching an app and putting the phone in the goggles.img_6687

Once I was transported to the virtual world and kind of got my bearings, I was impressed. While the home world is animated, it’s actually a great place to begin; it’s obvious you’re in a virtual world, so there’s no weird, “what’s real? what’s fake?” acclimatization.

Google Daydream view wearing size
They look big and awkward in this angle, but they’re light & comfortable.

Using the cursor I was able to go through the turorial; learning how to re-centre the cursor, getting a taste of how to see my way around.  It only took a couple minutes for me to get my vision adjusted and used to the  inside of the goggles.

There were a couple of different experiences I was able to have during testing; some animated worlds, but also real street view and photo visualizations.

I found I was able to see pixels or stippling more in the animated worlds than with photos and more realistic content, but only if I was looking for it. It’s easy enough to take your focus off the details and focus on the bigger virtual picture.

Using other virtual reality headsets, I felt like they were bulky, heavy and uncomfortable. With Daydream View, the goggles were light, soft and comfortable.  The biggest issue was there was a bit of a gap at the bottom of the goggles. I was able to remedy it somewhat by tightening the strap, but then I had the strap as tight as it would go and it still could have been tighter to hold it more securely to my face. In the end, I was just able to focus past the gap and the slight light bleed.

Overall, I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this virtual reality experience with Google Daydream View. It’s easy, the quality was good, the headset is comfortable, and the virtual worlds I was able to explore were really well done and immersive. If you’re looking to get started with virtual reality,  $79 USD is a great entry point.

Check out Google Daydream here.

 

 

Reviewing ASUS Pocket Projector

ASUS Zenbeam E1 2As technology continues shrinking, new categories of home entertainment are also finding ways to make smaller and smaller components. Take home theatre projectors, for instance. They used to require a suitcase and a weight belt to cart them around, but that’s changing with the introduction of pico or pocket projectors from several manufacturers.

ASUS is one of the first to make a consumer-ready mini projector for home theatre or business/portable use.

I had a chance to test and review the ASUS ZenBeam E1 Pocket Projector (coming soon to Best Buy) over several weeks in my home.

What’s a Pico/pocket projector?

Pico projectors are tiny battery powered projectors that are portable. They are often connected to streaming devices, mobile devices, laptops, or other home entertainment components.

They’ve actually been around for several years, but thanks to their costs coming down, they are gaining popularity and familiarity among home theatre enthusiasts.

Getting Started with the ZenBeam E1

It was not easy to learn how to use this device. The small Quick Start Guide provides no help in how to use the device itself, aside from getting it plugged in. The buttons on the back of the projector are not labelled very intuitively, so it’s hard to know what does what.

The Quick Start guide lists Asus.com/support as the place to download e-manuals, but after spending 15 minutes searching the site and Google, I still didn’t have a manual in hand. Frustrating. Similarly, a social media inquiry went unanswered.

The full review of the ASUS ZenBeam E1 was done for Best Buy Canada. Please click here to read the full review. Or watch the video version below. Don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel if you like video and technology/gadgets!

3 amazing volcanic parks in the Pacific Northwest

Parks are more than picnic tables and trees. America is fortunate to have several amazing places where the word ‘park’ just doesn’t do enough to describe the eye candy you’ll find.  The US is home to several preserves with a truly interesting volcanic and geologic pedigree.

The sights you see at volcanic National Parks and Monuments include towering triangular cinder cones, crumbly piles of lava stretching across expansive fields, and even bubbling mudpots and boiling water. I took a two week roadtrip recently through many of these parks and can’t get over all there is to see and do.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

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The leading edge of the lava field.

This amazing park, located in the northeastern corner of California is filled with amazing features.  Start your visit at the charmingly rustic wood and stone cottage that doubles as a visitor centre and get some hints about what to do from a ranger.  While you’re there, you can see archival photographs of an eruption captured in progress, back when taking photographs was a labourious minutes-long process, and check out the tiny outbuilding that houses an old seismograph.

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Can you spot the tiny people climbing the cone?

There are several short hikes and walks where you can check out mountain lakes or more dynamic geological features, but be warned; some of the roads are closed well into June due to snow. One of the big lures here, Bumpass Hell, features “boiling springs and mud pots, hissing steam vents, and roaring fumaroles,” according to tourism California. However snow on the trail to this spot meant it was strictly off limits to tourists the week  I visited.

Instead, we made due with another breathtaking climb.  One of the highlights of this park where I spent a day was hiking through pine forest, paralleling a massive lava field and some painted hills, to climb a volcanic cinder cone, then get down into the inside of the crater.

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This is what the inside of a volcano looks like!

This hike is a long time going up, and a quick ride down.  The trek begins with a walk in shifting volcanic sand, deeply scattered through a tall, wide, and thus bakingly hot pine forest. While it’s just a 4 mile hike, it’ll take you at least a couple hours.  That’s mainly because the forest walk amounts to a beach or dune hike thanks to the soft sand, and because once you start to climb the cone, the black and rocky sand is doubly deep and for every step you take upwards, you slide back half a step.

Once at the top the views are stunning; snow-capped mountains in the distance, rippled hills at the base that look as if they’ve been dotted with pastel colours from an artists palette, plus a craggy charcoal rockfall of lava scattered like jagged marbles as far as the eye can see.

If you want to camp in this park, be warned that even in slower months like June, it’s booked solid during the week.

Another easily accessible site to see is Sulphur Works. Located right off the side of the road, with a parking lot carved out nearby, is a bubbling mud pit and steaming fumaroles. The mud and water mixture tumbles through the mountain valley, and falls under the road as it meanders towards oblivion.

You’ll know you found the right spot when the steamy scent of hot sulphur, not unlike rotten eggs, wafts through the vehicle and assails your nostrils. You can park and walk over to the big mud pot, which is more active in the spring, thanks to lots of runoff.

Newbury National Volcanic  Monument

img_3624-1You’re unlikely to find this park in a lot of the guidebooks.  While this volcanic park takes up a lot of real estate, it flies under the radar, but it’s definitely worth the trip. Located just off US highway 97 in the Deschutes National Forest just south of Bend Oregon, this park is minutes from a major city but feels like a world away.

The park has a visitor center which butts up against a large cinder cone with a winding pathway travellers can stroll.  It’s a good climb, with beautiful views from the top. But the best experience I had was miles away from the crowds.  We asked a ranger for a great off-the-grid (but still vehicle accessible) campsite, and were rewarded with a spot just feet from the remnants of a massive ancient lava flow.

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That’s not a hill; we’re camped at the base of a massive lava fall.

Several miles from the visitor center, up an unmarked dirt road, and in the thick forest, we found a large clearing; the site of an old logging camp, according to the ranger.  Steps from where the trees thinned to form a circle, was a massive wall of haphazardly piled rocks. This was the leading edge of the ‘Newbury Flow’, a massive lava flow that cooled and crumbled even as it was pushed forward, leaving now heaps of crumbled sponge-toffee-looking black rocks. It made quite the spectacular backdrop for our remote camp.

We hiked a couple of times to the top of the pile, which is probably 2-5 storeys tall in various places, and the rocks are loose and sharp. But the views from the top are spectacular; you can only see charcoal coloured lava rock all the way to the horizon. Gnarled trees cling to whatever small dustings of soil have gathered in the pockets in the rock, but otherwise vegetation is nearly non existent across the flow, making it look like an otherworldly landscape.

The Newbury park’s big attraction is a giant lava tube cave, the Lava River Cave, which is one of the longest in the world.  It’s a good couple hours to hike it, so we passed.  But for cavers, it’s a big draw. We did, however, make time to hike the short rocky trail called Big Obsidian Flow. Obsidian is a shiny black rock that’s essentially volcanic glass. (As a hobby silversmith and jeweler, I geeked out on the geology of this, and loved seeing massive obsidian boulders in their natural habitat)

The climb up some steel stairs is easy enough, and the short loop trail has some plaques to help you understand what you’re seeing. Seeing what looks like giant chunks of black diamonds glinting in the sun is surreal.  While it’s tempting, taking souvenirs is verbotten.

Crater Lake National Park

img_3682It’s a massive tourist draw for a reason; Crater Lake National Park may look like a puddle on a map, but the massive sky-high volcanic lake cupped in the Oregon Cascades mountains will have you feeling like you’ve climbed to the top of the world.

The highway is frustratingly slow, clogged with vehicles, RVs and cyclists.  Make peace with that quickly, since your traffic situation won’t improve the entire time you’re in the park. The snowfall remnants along the road are impressive; the drifts and piles tower meters overhead, a testament to just how much snow falls here each winter. (In the Lodge overlooking the crater there are archival photos that show it’s not unusual for the lodge to be entirely buried in the winter, with the roof barely visible.)

In June when I was in the park, much of the road that circumnavigates the crater was shut down because it hasn’t been cleared.  As with the other parks in this list, if it’s important to see certain sites or features, you’ll want to make sure they’ll be accessible when you plan to visit. That’ll likely be July and August, but you will need to compete with the higher volumes of tourists then. We were able to drive about half the road, and had beautiful vistas from several viewpoints along the rim. The photo opps here are stunning.

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet, but for many years before it could be properly plumbed, it was thought to be bottomless. The water is pristine and blue, but don’t get the idea you can dip a toe in it’s glacial coldness; sheer cliffs with a jagged drop mean visitors can’t get close to the water easily.

“Crater Lake rests in the belly of a dormant volcano,” says nps.gov, “The volcano once stood 12,000 feet tall, but it collapsed after a major eruption 7,700 years ago. Later eruptions formed Wizard Island, a cinder cone that rises from the water. The park has an abundance of fascinating volcanic features, including a second rocky island, the Phantom Ship.”

You’ll need a warm coat to spend any time up here even in summer. My best advice is to plan to get here early, and make peace with fighting the hordes through the afternoon, and really take time to enjoy all this volcanic park has to offer. If you don’t have a reservation months in advance, don’t even think you’ll get a camp spot near the crater.

Bonus Park: Craters of the Moon National Monument

I’ve previously written about another amazing volcanic park, Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.  It’s a staggering landscape, and a mind-bending visit.  Read more about it here.

Have I missed checking out a volcanic National Park that you really enjoyed? Let me know in comments below or on Twitter @ ErinLYYC.

Volcanos, National Parks & world-class cities – a 16-day camping road trip

map trip

85 hours in a vehicle isn’t everyone’s idea of a great vacation.  I spent 15 days driving from Calgary to San Francisco this summer and saw some amazing sights, several national parks and forests, climbed a volcano, ate amazing food in San Fran, hung out with hipsters and saw some baseball. Plus we survived having the sprinklers turned on at our campsite in a local city campground in Washington, and saw stars and the milky way in a night sky devoid of and light bleed from big cities.

Watch the blog for stories about some of these amazing places and experiences over the next weeks; there are some stunningly beautiful, fascinating and interesting places across the US northwest and Canada.

A smarter workstation: iRizer makes working on the go more comfortable

img_2789You know when an invention is so smart, so simple, you wonder, ‘why didn’t I think of that’?

That was the first thing I thought of when the new iRizer by Matias arrived in its slim and sleek box.  I unboxed the lightweight laptop stand, which is made of matte black plastic, and latched the two pieces together in about 3 seconds and I was ready to use it.

This stand has several slots where the pieces can be slid together, allowing the stand to hold  your laptop at various angles for comfortable typing and better viewing.

iRizer – Light & Portable

If you travel a lot, and work on a plane, hotel desks, or awkward tables, you know how uncomfortable it can be to hunch over your laptop, using claw-hands to try to peck out your emails and documents. But carrying around something to help you has, until now, been just added bulk, space and weight.img_2803

Not any more.  The iRizer stand comes in two flat pieces which slip easily into a small fabric envelope, and will fit in even the slimmest of laptop bags (the stand measures just  0.55″ or 14mm thick ).

Adjustable comfort for your work space

While the iRizer stand is perfect for travel, it’s also great for a home office, which is where I tested mine.

My set up is not ideal; my chair is too low and the table too high, but I’ve just dealt with the discomfort. When the test model of the iRizer arrived, I was finally able to adjust my laptop to put the screen in front of my eyes, which was instantly much less stressful on my neck. Typing on the keyboard was still possible at the 20° angle, if a bit hard to get used to.  That was when I added a portable keyboard (which incidentally you can also get from Matias) and instantly my work area was transformed.

How Matias iRizer Works

The iRizer’s two plastic panels slide together; one piece slides into special notches in the second piece; four different openings allow you to angle your laptop 20°, 30°, 40°, or 50°. The stand feels solid and durable, but does allow some flexibility when typing. The stand also has the ability for its front edge to sit off the edge of the desk or table, further giving you options and angles to work at.

The iRizer also acts to cool your laptop; by lifting it from the work surface, air is allowed to circulate, keeping things from overheating. The stand can even work with your iPad or tablet too, meaning it’s ultra-versatile.

iRizer is recommended for use with a separate keyboard and/or mouse, but will work great on its own too.

Why lift your laptop?

Do you really need to raise your laptop? Ergonomics experts say yes.

“Unlike desktop computers, you cannot adjust the monitor and keyboard independently,” notes a University of Western Ontario article on proper laptop ergonomics. “Adjusting the keyboard to elbow height encourages neck bending when viewing the screen.  While, raising the monitor to eye level and accommodating eye height will position the arms awkwardly.”

The solution is to lift the monitor using a stand like the iRizer, while adding an external keyboard for additional flexibility when configuring your set up. This allows you to adjust both your screen’s eye-level, and to maneuver the keyboard for less strain on the wrists.

Testing the  iRizer Laptop Stand

My first tests were at my regular work desk as I noted above.  I found the stand made the most difference for me with respect to the screen’s viewing angle.

One thing I wasn’t used to was the slight bounce, or ‘give’ the stand had.  It was most noticeable while typing, and though it was a new sensation, it wasn’t unpleasant. This is also easily dealt with by using the recommended external keyboard.

Next I moved to the coffee table; a much lower surface. Normally I wouldn’t dream of working at the coffee table because of the discomfort, but the iRizer made it manageable.  I was able to type comfortably, sitting straight up and keeping my wrists level across my knees.  I also noticed that the stand had significantly less bounce to it if I dropped the front edge of the stand off the front of the coffee table.  As far as I’m concerned this is a great option for working at a low table; at home, or in a hotel room or lobby.

Bonus MiniRizer with your iRizer Laptop Stand!img_2792

A nice surprise in the box was the bonus miniRizer for my phone.  The credit card-sized holder works as a stand for your smartphone or even for business cards. I found it super handy for keeping my phone in view, and will be packing it on my next trip so I can easily watch TV on my phone next time I’m on an airplane.

Overall – The iRizer by Matias

While initially I wasn’t sure ow useful or helpful I’d find a laptop stand, I’m a convert now.  The iRizer does help me get better angles for both the screen and the keyboard, depending on my work environment du jour. I like how lightweight and portable the stand is, and how its many ways to configure the stand provide lots of options for getting a comfortable work space.  I also fell in love with the miniRizer, and it now resides on my desk as a place where I can keep an eye on my smartphone screen for incoming messages. One final plus that warms my heart; Matias, makers of the iRizer, are Canadian.  I love featuring great Canadian technology whenever I can so knowing such a solid invention is made by fellow Canucks makes me happy.

The iRizer is available HERE.

 

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This post is sponsored by Matias Corp. They did not request prior approval over this review.

 

Amazing Places: A Vanished Waterfall, and a Hidden Waterfall in Washington

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Palouse Falls, WA. Can you spot the people in the photo, for scale?

It was once the largest waterfall, ever in the world, but today it’s a massive dry cliff. Dry Falls Washington is just one of the amazing sights we visited on a roadtrip through Washington state.

The other very cool hidden place is Palouse Falls, a well-hidden gem in the middle of nowhere that stuns when you finally find it.

 Dry Falls, WA

Dry Falls, WA. Photos copyright Erin Lawrence.
Dry Falls, WA. Photos copyright Erin Lawrence.

It was once the largest waterfall ever to have existed on earth, but unless you’ve stumbled accidentally across its now-dusty shoulders, you’ll likely never have heard of it.  Dry Falls Washington is a massive three-miles-wide ridge of sheer 400-foot tall cliffs that centuries ago would have been the edge of the world. Dry Falls would have been Goliath to Niagara Falls’ David, since Ontario’s pride is just a mile wide  and only drops 165 feet.

The views over the top and into the desert below are spectacular, and very few places I’ve ever been have made me feel so small.  Especially when you realize you can get down to the bottom and look up, pondering the absolutely unimaginable volumes of water that would have been crashing and roiling over top.

This basalt chasm was left high and dry thousands of years ago as the last of several Ice Age floods swept through the Grand Coulee.   The US Parks Service explains the formation this way: “One especially large lake, covering a portion of northwest Montana, played an important role in the formation of Dry Falls. As this lake grew in size, it eventually broke through the ice dam, unleashing a tremendous volume of water to rush across northern Idaho and into Eastern Washington. Catastrophic floods raced across the southward-dipping plateau a number of times, etching the coulees or ravines that characterize this region, now known as the Channeled Scablands.

The view from the bottom of the falls at Dry Falls.
The view from the bottom of the falls at Dry Falls.

“Dry Falls is the skeleton of the greatest waterfalls in geologic history. It is 3.5 miles wide, with a drop of more than 400 feet. By comparison, Niagara, one mile wide with a drop of only 165 feet, would be dwarfed by Dry Falls.”

This natural marvel is just a 10 hour road trip from Calgary, and is so worth the visit. However since it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere approximately 2 hours’ drive from Spokane, it’s largely unknown and there’s no fighting tourists for a photo.

 

The massive swoop of where the wide waterfalls would have been. Only small pools of water remain.
The massive swoop of where the wide waterfalls would have been. Only small pools of water remain.

Palouse Falls, WA

20140702-080656-29216837.jpgTucked below the horizon, across miles of rolling spearmint hills of winter wheat, is a hidden gem; a giant waterfall, spilling millions of litres of water over a sheer stepped cliff. This is no ordinary waterfall. Carved by decades of erosion, the 198-foot tall waterfall is tucked well below level ground, and it drops even further into a vast gorge and tumbles into a swirling river.

It’s the kind of natural wonder you’d never find if you were just driving by. Even its name, Palouse Falls, after the river that feeds it, just seems ordinary; Hidden Canyon Falls would be more appropriate, but I digress.

The falls are located off a secondary highway about 2 hours’ drive from Spokane, and the nearest towns are one-horse affairs with populations that would have a hard time forming a basketball team. A short winding road leads you from extremely flat, dry scrub and grassland, down to a small parking lot, and a short path takes you the rest of the way. The roar of the falls finds you before you find it, and the first glimpse is spectacular. The falls are tall and wide, and clearly very powerful. What makes them so breathtaking is how deeply they’ve carved their way through the rocky landscape. A column of rock lines the area above the falls like castle spires, and the weathered stone winds down in layer-cake lines to become softly rounded.

River valley above the falls.
River valley above the falls.

The area used to be called Aput Aput, but was renamed to honour the local Palouse indian tribe. Legend has it four giant brothers, were hunting a mythical creature called Big Beaver. According to the Palouse Falls State park website, they “speared the great creature five times. Each time Big Beaver was wounded, he gouged the canyon walls, causing the river to bend and change. The fifth time he was speared, he fought the brothers valiantly and tore out a huge canyon. The river tumbled over a cliff at this point to become Palouse Falls. The jagged canyon walls show the deep marks of Big Beaver’s claws.” The geological explanation is a little more subdued; “The exposed walls of the river channel are columnar basalt, the basalt is layered from different flows some as much as 100 feet thick,” explains the SCC Geology website  “You can actually see 200 feet of columnar basalt (that castle spire formation I mentioned) exposed at Palouse Falls.”

We found a path around the back of the falls that leads down to river level and is a gorgeous, albeit steep hike. At the bottom is a set of small falls and rapids that winds its way behind the rocks, before bursting out into the canyon even further below. We followed the river backwards though an impressive and steeply walled canyon that looked like it would be a great swimming spot. The water was invitingly warm on a hot day, but we passed on swimming the unfamiliar waters. Up and out of the river bed, we hiked up to an even higher viewpoint for a look way down into the canyon and Palouse Falls. It’s a spectacular sight worth the detour.

Flat grassland leading to the steep gorge where Palouse Falls is.
Flat grassland leading to the steep gorge where Palouse Falls is.
Campground at Palouse Falls State Park.  Just 10 spaces!
Campground at Palouse Falls State Park. Just 10 spaces!