Friday, May 11, 2007

Oregon Caves

On Sunday Kimbal and I had a nice breakfast with the other guests at the B&B. I enjoyed the intellectual and liberal conversation we had: all about alternative fuels and flying. Oh yeah, and here's a not so great picture of our awesome room at the B&B:

After breakfast we headed down 199 to the Oregon Caves National Monument. We did the caves tour, which was interesting, but not super exciting. In some places the cave was really small (Kimbal was nearly crawling), but other “rooms” were huge, with cathedral ceilings and beautiful rock formations. Back on the surface I watched a deer family move through the woods, a momma with her two twins. They appeared to move very deliberately, each step appeared cautious, but with definite purpose. I guess you have to use caution when you are potential prey to cougars, yikes! I try to use caution too, who's to say the cougar wouldn't want me for dinner, but I certainly don't let it stop me from enjoying the beautiful forests!

After leaving the monument, we headed south to California. An hour or so down the road, we rounded a bend and we were suddenly in redwood country! Pre-historic mammoth trees right on the side of the highway! We settled in for the night at the Mill Creek campground among some fallen redwood trees (it’s a second growth area). It was by far the best camp site that we have stayed in thus far. I'll let Kimbal tell you all about the redwoods in our next blog entry.

Sunday: Crater Lake

On Saturday, Kimbal and I drove up to Crater Lake and did a little snowshoeing. First seeing the crater took my breath away and I felt fear or maybe awe at the immense size of the crater, I mean that used to be one huge volcano. It must have been something when it blew up! It is really an awesome display of the earth’s power. There is a road all the way around the rim of the crater, but most of the road is still covered in feet of snow, and only about a mile of the road was plowed and open to the public. Once we couldn’t go any further in our car, we put on our snowshoes and plodded another mile along the rim of the crater. We had to be careful to stay behind the tree line at the edge of the crater because in many places the snow overhangs the land. The lake was just beautiful down below, so crystal clear with a variety of blues, depending on the depth of the water. We didn’t go too far along the crater because Kimbal was still getting over his cold and, unfortunately, I was just starting to get sick. Sick or not, it was still a great visit to our first national park of the trip.

After leaving the crater we visiting a few nice spots along the upper Rogue River: a gorge with big rapids and a spot along the river where the water actually disappears underground in a lava tube for a short stretch. We watched some kayakers do the class 4 rapids downstream from the lava tube: they made it look easy!

We ended our day in the town of Ashland, a great town! We had a yummy dinner and stayed at a nice B&B in a totally awesome room. The bedroom was lined with high, short windows that let in a lot of light, but maintained some privacy and the shower had solar tube skylights. – way cool. Since I wasn’t feeling great, we crashed early, but if we ever make it back there again we’re definitely going to the Shakespeare Festival.

Saturday: Over Bear Peak

Kimbal and I woke relatively early on Saturday and went for a 6 mile hike to the peak of humbug mountain and back. It was a very nice hike, but there was little to no view at the top - might be why they call it "Humbug". The best part of the hike was that we had the trail to ourselves! The trail was actually closed because of many downed trees, but we were able to scramble over them pretty easily, and from the looks of things, many other people had done the same thing.

After we finished the hike we drove south along the coast until we reached Gold Beach and the Rouge River, at which point we took a left and headed east along the river. At first, we were on a nice country road. Then, we were on worn out country roads. And then, we were on a narrow one lane, twisty road that lead us up over a mountain pass, called Bear Peak. It felt like we were really out there in the wild (minus the car)! I was a bit nervous about the steep drop offs, tight turns, and absence of road signs, but we made it through a-ok. At the top there was even snow on the road! We got some great pictures at the peak:

After returning to civilization, we hopped on Rt. 62 and headed towards Crater Lake. We ended up spending the night at a nice inn in the town of Prospect. The coolest part about the inn was the small town people watching: many of the towns people were eating dinner at the inn. Their teenage kids kept running in and out to get permission to take part in the evening activities at the town school - donkey basketball. I just can't imagine what it would be like to live in a town with just one small school for k-12!

Friday on the Oregon Coast

On Friday I let Kimbal sleep late, so he could kick his cold, while I relaxed at the camp site and read my book. Once Kimbal was up we went for a hike over the dunes to the beach. Actually, it was a hike around a small lake (in which we saw salamanders the night before), through the woods, over the dunes, and to the beach. There were big waves at the beach, a couple of surfers, and some rock jetties that sheltered some kind of aquaculture, oh yeah, and this sign:

Once we got back to camp, we packed up and headed south on 101 yet again. We stopped at a really cool candy shop in Bandon called Cranberry Sweets. You could sample most of their chocolates and jelly candies (which we did). Everything was really yummy-especially the dark chocolate mint creams. We left with a couple of goodies. I mean, we couldn't sample nearly everything and then walk out the of store empty handed! We also stopped at the beach in Port Orford and went for a walk to stretch our legs along the beautiful coast. As usual, we took lots of pictures:

We then stopped for the night at the Humbug state park campground. Another relaxing, beautiful day on the Oregon coast.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Thursday on the Oregon Coast

Thursday Becca and I awoke happy, dry and warm despite several rain showers that passed throughout the night. That was a relief – we hadn’t ever camped in rain the in that tent before, but it did well. We hit the road fairly early, and headed south for another cold, wet and beautiful day. After a little ways, we started to get into dune country as you can see here:

At around lunch time we pulled into the Oregon Coast Aquarium and shoved all the little school kids out of the way so we could be in the first row when they fed the sea lions and sea otters. That’s what they get for being so short. Here is a cool picture of a puffin from the aquarium, the otters and octopus were the best part, but the pictures didn’t turn out:

After the aquarium, I was feeling like I always do after I go to aquariums or zoos – a little conflicted. Good aquariums (which this one was) usually have rescued animals on display that couldn’t survive in the wild, and in reasonably sized enclosures. The problem is that they are still enclosures, and the smarter animals know it. The less cognizant animals, horseshoe crabs in this case, just keep going around and around in their cages trying to go someplace and never get there. I always get the impression that their lives are empty, even by horseshoe crab standards.
Our next stop was the Sea Lion Caves to see some of the animals in their natural habitat. Not only did it not smell nearly as bad as I thought it would, it was much cooler also. We rode an elevator down about 200-ft through the cliff, and came to a fenced-in viewing area (we were in the cage this time).

Much better to see nature doing its own thing.

After the sea lion caves, we headed south again to our campground for the night at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, cooked some dinner, went for a short walk, and hit the sack.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Day One on the Oregon Coast

We left Portland Wednesday morning, and headed northwest to Astoria, OR through some pretty descent rain squalls that would follow us around for the next couple of days. Leaving town, I did the same thing I do every time I gas up in Oregon – I start to go for the pump, and when some random guy starts to open my gas cap for me, I say aloud: “Oh yeah, I’m in Oregon!”, and then find the closest person who will listen to me and tell them that they don’t let you pump your own gas in New Jersey either.

Anyway, it was a typical cold, wet, beautiful spring day in western Oregon. When we got to Astoria, we went up the Astoria Column. Damn it was windy up there, and doubly cold, wet, and beautiful. The pictures and Becca’s expression says it all.

Heading south on the coast, we stopped and gawked at just about every chance we got, and we got plenty of chances. The ocean is amazing here, and there are wetlands and tidal estuaries winding in among mountains, islands, and farmland. My favorite though is the rough, gnarly coast and watching the waves break as they come into shore. Here are a few pictures:

Eventually we found our way down to Tillamook, and as I promised, we visited the creamery. Becca and I walked up a flight of steps to the observation area, and when we got to the top, we both had the same thought, and Becca blurted it out before I had a chance: “Holy cow, that’s a lot of cheese!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

We took the self guided tour, and got down to the real business of taste-testing. We split a waffle cone of pistachio-pecan ice cream, and got a few cups of yogurt as well as a block of extra sharp cheddar cheese for the road. Yum.

We rolled into our campground at Cape Lookout at about 6:30pm with enough time to cook and eat dinner, and stroll the 150-ft to the beach and watch the sun set over the ocean. Not a bad day.

Resting in Portland

Tuesday we had a nice, relaxing day in Portland running errands. Man, what a cool city! We were staying in pretty much the middle of downtown, and all the trains within downtown are free! We cruised around some, I got a backpack, Becca went to the ENORMOUS book store: Powell’s Books, I got a new cell phone to replace the one that found its way into the washing machine (BTW, that means I lost all my contacts, so please give me a call so that I will have your number again…) and we had a nice dinner on the Willamette River watching the dragon boats practice.

Leaving Leavenworth

When Becca and I left Leavenworth and Dave & Diana behind on Monday morning, I was feeling a little under the weather. We headed south to Portland on a scenic route that Dave suggested. It took us through some amazing river-carved valleys, beautiful rolling green hillsides (that will probably be rolling brown hillsides in a month or two); through Ellensburg, Yakima, and down to Goldendale and the mighty Columbia River.

We’ve been along the Columbia before on some sailing trips, although that was farther west than where we met up with it this time, and much more lush. Where we entered the gorge, it was desert, and we drove along the Washington shore with the river on the left. After about 2 hours of heading downstream, we got to Stevenson, WA where we crossed over to the Oregon side via “The Bridge of the Gods”, and continued a couple more miles to the Bonneville Dam where we checked out the spillway and fish passage systems. Alas, not too many fish going upstream through the fish ladder while we were there. There were however several seals dining on the fish going downstream through the spillway. For those of you not privy to the goings-on in the northwest salmon restoration scene, the government is spending big bucks to put in fish passage systems around all the big dams (on which Becca happens to be an expert!) only to have the seals hanging out at the base of the dam gobbling up all the fish. They’ve been trying the last few years to get rid of the seals by more and more extreme methods: they’ve caught them and trucked them down the coast, they’ve shot rubber bullets at them, they’ve even detonated underwater explosives near the dams so that the seals wouldn’t want to stick around but food is just too strong of a motivating factor – I can relate. Now they want permission to violate the marine mammal protection act and shoot up to 70 seals a year, this time with real bullets. What a mess. Seals up the Columbia are nothing new though – I guess when Lewis & Clark came to town on their cross-country adventure, they saw the seals a couple hundred miles upstream of the Bonneville Dam dining on fish then also. The only thing new is the dam.

We rolled into Portland at about 5pm on Monday night, had a mellow dinner and I sacked out early so that I could hopefully kick the cold. Meanwhile, Becca posted the first official installment of this wonderful Blog you’re reading.