Travel: A walk on the wild side

Sometimes all it takes to escape the normal hubbub of my life is a hike in the woods. If I've had the opportunity to tromp around among the trees, listen to the sounds of nature and expend some energy in the process, I feel re-juvenated and ready to face the onslaught of Monday morning. The hikes I enjoy usually involve some body of water - river, lake, waterfall - and preferably are located within an hour or so of my home.

On a recent Indian summer weekend morning, I set out with my husband to do one of our favorite hikes, Wallace Falls. Probably one of the most famous waterfalls in Snohomish County, Wallace Falls is a splendid hike in all sea-sons and ideal for those in reasonably good shape. Actually, the hike to the lower falls is easy and relatively short (1.8 miles one way), but if one desires to go farther and reach the upper falls (2.75 miles one way), the climb is more intense and takes some stamina to complete. Our goal was the upper falls, as we wanted a longer hike that would involve some sweat and effort.

Due to its accessibility from urban areas, Wallace Falls is a popular hike; thus it's best to start out early in order to get a parking space at the trailhead. En route, you pass through the sleepy towns of Sultan and Start Up, off Highway 2, and if you need energy fortification, you can always make a quick stop at the Dutch Cup in Sultan and grab a cuppa java and a muffin to go.

The scenery as you make the drive begins to work its magic. For me, first it's my breathing, which slows down and becomes less shallow and then it's my shoulders, which slowly lower themselves from the viselike position they have held near my ears. I start to unwind from the stress of the week, just knowing that soon I'll be outdoors inhaling nature's fine, fresh air while getting the opportunity to put my dormant muscles to work.

Once at the trailhead, there are maps and information about the various trails within Wallace Falls State Park. The park itself covers a management area of 4,735 acres and features extensive shoreline on the Wallace River, Wallace Lake, Jay Lake, Shaw Lake and the Skykomish River. It's known for its old-growth coniferous forest, fast-moving rivers and streams and some of the most beautiful scenery on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. Within this terrain you have 12 miles of hiking trails, five miles of biking trails and plenty of opportunities to picnic, fish, swim, raft and kayak within the park.

There are two ways to get to the falls. You can hike the Woody Trail or take the old railroad grade; the latter is a longer route and allows cyclists on its path. If you want a real workout, hike to Wal-lace Lake, which is about a 12-mile trek roundtrip. The trailhead to Wallace Lake can be found along the old railroad-grade trail and can be reached from the upper falls on a system of old roads (not recommended for beginner hikers). For a short, easy walk, there's a 1/8-mile self-guided interpretive trail that takes visitors to a scenic overlook of a small waterfall.

My husband and I opted to do the Woody Trail, which follows the course of the Wallace River and has many picturesque places to stop, with benches or boulders to sit on and view the water. After registering our names and paying the parking fee of $5, we set out. For a short stretch, we walked along the railroad grade, which then connects to the Woody Trail and enters a lush, dense forest. Soon, we could see and hear the river; its gentle sound becoming soothing background music as we headed deeper into the woods. Tall, stately Douglas firs and cedar trees dominated the landscape and provided a canopy of needed shade on such a warm day.

We passed woodpeckers noisily at work, stopped to take pictures of giant cauliflower fungi making their home on some logs and reminded ourselves to watch our steps around the gnarly exposed roots of trees that seemed to crop up frequently. We noted that the river was low and predicted that the falls would be less than dramatic, due to the dry summer our area had experienced.

Upon reaching the lower falls viewpoint, at 870 feet elevation, we confirmed our predictions. Although the water seemed but a trickle, it still was a lovely view and a great place to nourish both our bodies and our souls. As we nibbled on trail mix and drank our water, we compared past hikes to the falls when we would practically get soaked from all the spray, sitting at the same spot.

We continued on towards our ultimate destination, the upper falls. This is when the trail begins climbing in earnest and grows steeper with every switchback. My quads began to protest ever so slightly as we progressed; by the time we reached the upper falls at an elevation of 1,700 feet, they were screaming uncle. Once again, the falls lacked their customary thunderous display, but the view of the surrounding valley from the top remained spectacular. We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves and relished the tranquil atmosphere that pervaded.

As we headed back down towards the parking lot, we encountered a number of hikers making their way up the trail. Again we congratulated ourselves on getting an early start.

Ssssssay what!

On our ride home, we passed the Reptile Zoo or Washington Serpen-tarium, as it is officially called, right outside of Monroe. My husband dared me to go in with him to view the reptiles. I met his challenge, and we proceeded to spend the next hour mesmerized by one of the most extensive collections of reptiles in the state.

The brainchild of Scott Peterson, a.k.a. the Reptile Man, the Serpen-tarium is home to venomous snakes (all have been surgically de-venom-ized for safety reasons) such as cobras, copperheads, vipers and rattlesnakes, as well as non-venomized snakes, including pythons, boas and anacondas. You'll also find iguanas and skinks, crocodiles and alligators, large snapping turtles and a variety of invertebrates, such as Madagascar hissing cock-roaches and some very hairy tarantulas.

Peterson, a one-time biology and zoology teacher, opened the Serpen-tarium and went into business for himself as the Reptile Man more than six years ago. He performs with his menagerie of exotic reptiles at fairs, for schools and community groups and at corporate functions. His creatures are all housed at the Serpentarium, which he established as a museum dedicated to educating the public about reptiles.

As visitors make their way around the place, they can read about the species, their natural habitats and dominant characteristics. According to the docents and caretakers who work there, each creature possesses a unique personality. Among them, there's Cranky Frankie, a water moccasin who's permanently grouchy and ill-tempered; Houdini, a leopard tortoise known for his escape tactics; regal and noble Shah, a black cobra; Barna-bus, a playful American alligator; and Rocko, a docile, mellow, endangered Cuban rock iguana.

Watching feeding time at the Serpentarium is always a special treat for visitors, as many of the reptiles are voracious eaters who get quite excited when they realize they're about to be fed. When we viewed this event, Ben, the alligator snapping turtle, splashed mightily in his tank and kept banging his head into the walls in his eagerness to snatch his meal of fish, and Barnabus made quite a ruckus heaving himself out of his pond when he spotted his food. Those brave souls who want to hold one of the snakes or perhaps pet a giant tortoise are en-couraged to do so by the docents, who will gladly bring creatures out of their cages to allow people to obtain a more up-close and personal view.

My husband and I were fascinated throughout our visit to the Ser-pentarium. The experience opened our eyes to these creatures, and we left with a newfound respect and admiration for all reptiles. Between our hike and subsequent visit to this novel museum, we summed up our day as a "walk on the wild side."

[[In-content Ad]]