Photo Gallery: California Superbloom

“Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue.”  ― John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

I've been fortunate to get drenched by Yosemite's Bridal Veil Falls in springtime, snake through the Grand Canyon while it was in full bloom and hike through the Maroon Bells when the aspens burst into golden fire in October.

But I've never planned hiking trips around peak wildflower blooms or fall colors, because nature gets to decide precisely when it puts on a show.

So I when I headed out to Los Angeles on a work trip last week, I was elated to discover that I'd stumbled into a rare "Superbloom" in southern California, courtesy of an unusually wet winter. Some desert spots in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park hadn't "seen water in 10, 15, 20 years," according to Park Ranger Steve Bier.

Enjoy my photo gallery of wildflowers exploding in early March in the Mojave Desert, Anza-Borrego, Walker Canyon and Wildwood Park.

© 2017 Susan J. Demas

Photo Gallery: Celebrating the National Parks Service Centennial on the Appalachian Trail

I haven't hiked the Appalachian Trail since 2010, when I did a few legs of it in the Great Smoky Mountains and the Delaware Water Gap.

But I couldn't pick a better place to trek on the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service than the AT, which snakes through Shenandoah National Park. The kids (and I) enjoyed a break from meetings in sweltering Washington, D.C., for a couple of days.

G'day from Australia ...

Susan J. Demas/MacKenzie Falls

Susan J. Demas/MacKenzie Falls

Sorry I haven't posted much (although I will have a new column on the Democratic National Convention for Dome Magazine on Friday). But I'm on a 40th birthday trip across Australia, which has been a nice break from the political grind. I'll have more soon, including Aussies' take on our very unique election.

Photo Gallery: The Porcupine Mountains and Lake Superior

ONTONAGON –– It takes eight hours to reach this outpost of the western Upper Peninsula from Michigan's Capitol –– or roughly the same time to travel to the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.

I made the trek to see how the race for Michigan's open 1st Congressional seat was developing. But I couldn't resist the urge to do a little hiking. Here are some of the gems from my trip:

 

 

Susan J. Demas: Hitting the trail, a Mother's Day tradition

Susan J. Demas, Pinckney Recreation Area, May 2016

Susan J. Demas, Pinckney Recreation Area, May 2016

Mother's Day is usually just another day for me. 

Due to a quirk in the calendar, I usually don't see my daughter until the evening (ah, divorce). And my stepson is with his own mother, as he should be.

There are Christmases, Thanksgivings and Easters when my whole family isn't together. It's hard for relatives to keep track and they inevitably ask where the other child is, followed up by some well-meaning, but painful commentary on the family court system. 

What I've learned from all this is that any holiday is just a day. It can be celebrated at another time, without losing any whimsy or meaning for the kids. As for Mother's Day, I really don't need any special day acknowledging that I'm a parent. It's a choice I made and I'd make it a thousand times over. Symbolism is overrated.

So for the past several years, I've come up with my own tradition, which I think beats runny eggs and cold coffee in bed.

Susan J. Demas, May 2016

Susan J. Demas, May 2016

I take a Mother's Day hike by myself. Sometimes I've planned a weekend trip and muddy my boots for 12 miles. Other times I'll only venture out for a couple of hours closer to home. 

I almost didn't hit the trail yesterday. I'd already been to the gym earlier and I plenty of work on my plate. Mother's Day also isn't quite as lonely since I've remarried.

But I decided not to overthink it (a persistent habit) and headed to a familiar haven, the Pinckney Recreation Area. For the first mile, I was somewhat grumpy, as I don't hike as much as I used to, and it takes longer to find my rhythm. It happened somewhat gradually, as I trudged past blossoming black oak trees and patches of wildflowers mixed in with dandelions.

At mile three, I unexpectedly had a breakthrough on a piece I've been working on for months. That's one of the reasons why I find hiking so addictive. It allows me to approach my problems and writing in a different way.

Mother's Day is often about giving ourselves permission to do something for ourselves –– reading a book, getting a manicure, enjoying a meal cooked by someone else.

For me, it's about letting myself enjoy a few moments of stillness in the forest, where I can finally hear myself think.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Letting the green sand beach go

Susan J. Demas, Waikoloa, April 2016

Susan J. Demas, Waikoloa, April 2016

It was almost three in the afternoon. I exhaled a little too noisily as we hit another stoplight.

I could tell that in a matter of minutes, Kona's moody blue sky would start to open up. And we still had at least an hour and half left on our drive to Papakōlea, Hawaii's famed green sand beach.

We had gotten a late start, well, just about every morning, which isn't what I'm used to. The last time I was in Hawaii, my then-nine-year-old daughter and I did a whirlwind, three-island camping tour. Our days usually started no later than six with some oatmeal I made on our propane stove (much to her chagrin). When I camp on my own, I've been known to hike out at four or five a.m., just to enjoy the stillness of the morning mountain air.

But my husband wanted to relax. He's a political consultant, already immersed in a crazy campaign season. Who could blame him? There were plenty of beaches and trails just minutes from our Waikoloa condo that I could venture off to on my own.

I insisted that we trek to Papakōlea, however, even though I'd seen it last time in all its weird, mustard-green glory. Because when would Joe see something like that again? He agreed, even though in the first five minutes, we passed by three lovely beaches he noted we could relax at.

Susan J. Demas, Hiking down to Papakōlea, July 2012

Susan J. Demas, Hiking down to Papakōlea, July 2012

But here's the truth. I've always been obsessed with seeing all I can see. Once when I was on fifteen-hour flight to Tel Aviv, the pilot announced we were passing over Paris. I actually felt myself wince that we wouldn't be stopping in the City of Lights (which were all lit up), even thought I'd been there twice before.

So after flying halfway across the Pacific, Papakōlea was now just a couple hours away. How could we not go?

I watched the raindrops start to plop on the windshield. The sun would start to melt away in just three hours. I knew we'd be hopelessly rushed. If we kept going, it would more be to tell ourselves we did it than to really take the beach in. And I knew we'd have better luck with weather in perpetually sunny Waikoloa.

"Do you want to just hit a beach closer to home?" I asked.

Joe didn't even try to hide his relief. We ended up spending the next few hours at Waialea further north. He read in a shady corner while I body surfed. As we watched the yellow-burst sunset together, I realized that sometimes, it's okay to just let go.

Susan J. Demas: A 'terrifying' wildfire season shows it's time to address climate change

Logan's Pass at Glacier National Park as area wildfires began to subside. (Susan J. Demas)

Logan's Pass at Glacier National Park as area wildfires began to subside. (Susan J. Demas)

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — Much of the American West has been on fire this summer, but some people will deny this has to do with climate change.

When I touched down last week in Spokane, Washington, I couldn't see the city skyline through the haze. The smoke was omnipresent in northern Idaho, where the rusty sky looked like something out of an apocalyptic sci-fi movie, and western Montana, where the usually cobalt Flathead Lake was a dingy gray.

More than 8 million acres have burned this year, which the Washington Post notes is "larger than the state of Maryland." This could be the worst fire season in U.S. history, thanks to Alaska's "terrifying" conflagrations.

There's a huge financial cost to homeowners and business owners. And the U.S. Forest Service will spend more than half its budget fighting blazes. When the fire level is extreme, that's more than $100 million per week.

In the libertarian-ish west, firefighters are still hailed as heroes. But even as government employees fought to save lives and homes, Rand Paul was scoring political points at a Spokane rally. The Republican presidential hopeful bizarrely claimed western states would be better off without the heavy hand of the federal government.

Read more.

Susan J. Demas: Escaping the phony 'War on Christmas' in London

LONDON -- If you're going to spend time anywhere in the run-up to Christmas, I'd highly recommend jolly old England.

OK, so my brother's backpacking trip on Kalalau Trail in Kauai also sounds pretty sweet, if you're into 80-degree weather, technicolor mountains and hidden waterfalls.

Actually, let's face it. My brother is a genius.

But London is a city perfect for pale, nerdy history buffs like my husband and me, as we meandered through Churchill's bunker and eyed Chaucer's original "Canterbury Tales."

And as native Midwesterners, the blustery, gray 50-degree days practically felt like a tropical paradise. It certainly trumped last year's Christmas polar vortex/ice storm tour de force which left some Michiganders without power for a week.

Read more.

Susan J. Demas: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz declares new war against America's national parks

(Susan J. Demas)

(Susan J. Demas)

"The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom." -- Teddy Roosevelt

There's nothing more American than hitting the road for a trip to Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.

As I was hiking through the snow-dotted 20 lakes basin on the edge of Yosemite last week, I felt far more patriotic than I did listening to endless fireworks experiments over the July 4th weekend.

There's a wildness to America. You can feel it peering into the pastel hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, hearing the Pacific Ocean's waves thunder at Point Reyes or driving on Glacier's impossibly narrow Going-to-the-Sun Road.

But if you venture off the road, trekking even a few miles in the mountains, through the desert or along the rivers, you lose the crowds. And you can feel the stillness, the splendor and maybe hearken back to an untamed time in America's past.

I never feel freer than hiking all day and setting up camp miles away from any human beings. I try not to disturb the land and no one disturbs me.

Read more.