Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Two Nights in the Columbia River Valley, Oregon…

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After a really great time in the Tri-Cities, Washington the time had come to move on.  We had two open nights available before our reservation in Portland, so we thought we would explore The Dalles and Hood River, Oregon.  Two years ago we remembered this as a wonderful drive and were excited that this time rather than driving straight through, we would linger a couple of days and really explore the area.  There are several state parks scattered all along the drive with first-come-first served sites available and we landed a nice one at Memaloose State Park. 

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After setting up our site we decided to drive over to The Dalles to explore it and rather than driving the freeway, we took the Scenic Highway 30 Byway.  What a great decision that was.  This drive took us higher in elevation offering some really stunning views of the Columbia River at several turnouts.  We could not resist stopping at each turnout because the panorama was just gorgeous.  So what should have been a 15 minute drive over took about three times longer with all our stopping and photographing of the scenery.  By the time we made it to The Dalles, it was Happy Hour so we stopped at Clock Tower Ales Restaurant and Brew Pub.  We enjoyed our cold beers and had we been hungry we certainly would have enjoyed their yummy looking happy hour priced food specials.  Instead we decided we would rather enjoy our dinner with great river and mountain views at our RV site at Memaloose.

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The next morning we were both wanting to take a drive over to Mt. Hood and take a hike if we found a trail to our liking.  We took the “Fruit Loop”, an aptly named route winding past farms and orchards growing peaches, apples, cherries and other treats.   Sharon wanted to stop so we did and saw some delicious offerings.  We left with a bag of several varieties of freshly picked apples.  As we made our way up the mountain we saw several cars parked at a trailhead to Tamawanas Falls.  The map at the trailhead indicated it was a 4 mile hike round trip and we felt this would be perfect.  The hike started out paralleling the road but soon turned into a canyon following a creek all the way up to the Falls.  The Falls were fantastic and the cool mist was a treat on this hot summer day.  After returning from the hike we drove further up the mountain to the Mt Hood Meadows Ski resort.  The resort was closed for the season but had picnic tables outside facing the ski slopes and the top of Mt Hood giving us a perfect place for lunch.  It was great watching the clouds wisp on and off of the mountaintop and to see the sun glinting off the snow.

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After lunch, as we were driving away from the resort we spied another Falls trail.  Umbrella Falls would be only a half mile so off we went! Umbrella Falls was smaller than Tamawanas but was a beautiful cascading falls nonetheless.  As an added bonus we discovered ripe huckleberries begging to be picked all along the trail.  Needless to say, we could not resist taking home some huckleberries. 

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We made our way over to the town of Hood River.  We liked the look of the town so we parked and walked the three main blocks.  Along the way we visited two breweries Full Sail and Double Mountain.  We especially enjoyed Double Mountain where Sharon enjoyed a Carrie Ladd Porter and I a nice IPA.  Back at camp we prepared a yummy dinner for two and then I made a nice campfire, we both voiced how glad we were that we decided to stay the two nights in this beautiful place.  Next stop…..Portland!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wine and Beer Tasting in Washington Wine Country…

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We have been having a blast with our friends Marshall and Debbie here in the Tri-Cities, Washington Area. The other day Debbie invited us to a local establishment called the Grill On Gage where they were hosting the Pelican Brewery (from Oregon) for some beer pairings called their first Tap Takeover. We met up with Debbie,their son and his girlfriend. Once seated we were served three beers: Scottish Style Ale, an IPA and one of their core Ales. They were paired with some wonderful smoked pulled pork tacos, a tasty Gazpacho with shrimp and a very good Caprese Salad with a yummy balsamic reduction. We had a great evening of fun and our table won two of the door prizes including the grand prize of a custom Pelican Growler.

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We have been having a blast with our friends Marshall and Debbie here in the Tri-Cities, Washington Area. The other day Debbie invited us to a local establishment called the Grill On Gage where they were hosting the Pelican Brewery (from Oregon) for some beer pairings called their first Tap Takeover. We met up with Debbie,their son and his girlfriend. Once seated we were served three beers: Scottish Style Ale, an IPA and one of their core Ales. They were paired with some wonderful smoked pulled pork tacos, a tasty Gazpacho with shrimp and a very good Caprese Salad with a yummy balsamic reduction. We had a great evening of fun and our table won two of the door prizes including the grand prize of a custom Pelican Growler.

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The next day we headed west to the town of Prosser, a nice town along the Yakima River. The Indians who once resided here called the area "Tap tut", meaning rapids, but this town is now known for its more than 11,000 acres of vineyards and their associated wineries. Here we visited several wineries concentrated in an area called Horse Heaven Hills but the one winery that stood out to me was the Coyote Canyon Winery. Most wineries we visit will have one or two wines that will appeal to me but this winery had the best wines from top to bottom. I prefer reds but even their whites were quite tasty…And of course, we had to purchase a bottle to take home with us.

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We stopped for lunch and a beer at Whistran Brewery (after all I am more a “beer snob” that a “wine snob” <insert grin>). The crafted beers here were mostly average but they had some really funny captions on their shirts. After lunch we stopped at another winery for a tasting, then we stopped at the Horse Heaven Saloon that abuts the Horse Heaven Brewery where we sampled some of their beers as well. Pretty decent stouts here and a fun place to have a meal with a brew when visiting this town.

imageOur last day we went with Marshall and Debbie over to Walla Walla. Walla Walla may be best known for its sweet onions but it is known more recently for its wine as there are over 100 wineries around Walla Walla.  We visited  a few wineries  with my favorite in this area being Waterbrook Winery, especially their Cabernet’s and Syrah’s, just east of town.

Debbie and Marshall had signed up to take a wine making class so while they were in class Sharon and I walked all around town and over to Whitman College. This is a private liberal arts college which started out as a seminary and has become one of the top liberal arts schools in the USA (recently ranked 41st by U.S. News and World Report). We thought it was a nice campus with quite a lot of public outdoor art all around it. We feel it is just another reason we love walking around campuses… even if we don’t always fully appreciate the artist's best intentions.

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We met back up with Debbie and Marshall at the Red Monkey Lounge for dinner and beverages. They run a really nice happy hour where many of their appetizers were only $6.00 so we had most of them and just shared. It was a fun place indeed! We loved our time visiting with our friends from way back to our days in high school and college days.  We all had a fun, fun, time, time in Walla Walla…

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Did I mention that we also spent an evening at their house and enjoyed their pool and the fur babies. We especially fell in love once again with the dog Archie who is a surfing dood… or is that dog. We will head west from here for a few days in the Columbia River valley before moving over to Portland for a stay of nearly three weeks. We are really looking forward to revisiting Portland!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Some Days you Need a Burger and a Beer…

Tri Cities and Wine Tasting 004We left the Spokane and Coeur D’Alene area to head west into the southwestern corner of Washington. I don’t much like driving on the interstates but in Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington there is so much less traffic on them that it almost provides for a pleasant drive. As we drove west into Washington the big Ponderosa Pines began to give way to open hilly grasslands known as Palouse Prairie. The rolling hills are actually remnant silt dunes formed during the ice ages and were historically covered in wheatgrass and fescues but are now mostly dry land farmed in wheat and legumes.

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We stopped to fill up with diesel at a Love’s and after all these years fulltiming we decided it was finally time to get a Love’s reward card so we won’t have to go inside in the future to have the truck island pump turned on. Once the Love’s card is activated it will turn the pump on and then we can fill, pull up out of the way and go inside to pay… much easier.

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As we neared the Tri-Cities area we headed east out of Pasco and pulled into Hood Park, a Corp of Engineers park, which sits right on the banks of the Snake River. This park only offers 50 amp service without sewer and without water (water is available to fill your tank). We stayed here once before two years ago and is a great park for visiting this area. From here we will be heading to Portland for about a three week stay that will take us through the end of summer and the last of its holidays, Labor Day.

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After setting up we planned to meet up with our friends who were supposed to be at a gathering.  However, after the fairly long day, setting up camp, including filling with water, we were tired and told them we were just going to go to a brewery for a beer.to unwind. We went to the Ice Harbor Brewery in Kennewick about 5 miles away and as we sat at the bar the bartender told us it was buy one get one free for any hamburger on the menu. So we ordered up a beer and burger and settled in to enjoy our surroundings.

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While awaiting our order I got a text from our friends Debbie and Marshall who decided they would forgo their weekly gathering after they found out we were at the Ice Harbor Brewery they decided to meet up with us for a beer and a burger too! Debbie and Marshall are dear friends we first met in San Antonio, Texas while we were in high school and later we were next door neighbors as we both attended Texas A&M University. What fun it is to reconnect with such good friends and it is funny as it seems like it was only yesterday that we all hung out together. It seems like we picked right up where we left off. We know we will truly enjoy their company during our stay here in the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco and Kennewick)  area of Washington.  Even better, they shared that they have decided to buy an RV to begin traveling in the near future.  Exciting news for sure!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Day trip to Spokane, WA…

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Since we were near the town of Spokane Washington while camping at Liberty Lake Regional Park we decided to make a road trip west to see what it had to offer. We read about about a cool park in the downtown area so we made our way over to Riverfront Park. This 100 acre park is located along the Spokane River right in the middle of downtown Spokane. Created for Expo 1974 this park has something for everyone including an IMAX, a skating rink, a cool clock tower and even a nice sized carousel. The centennial trail also runs through the park which is the same bicycle trail we camped beside in Cataldo, Idaho.

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The park is adjacent to both the upper and lower Spokane Falls and even offered a sky ride over the falls if we were so inclined. Instead we parked in a spot that's free on Sundays. I should mention that we always try to visit bigger cities on Sundays since the parking is usually free and the traffic is often very light. Also it is nice to see people out and about enjoying the day instead of dressed in their business suits rushing to and fro..

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We walked all around the park taking in its attractions and enjoyed looking over the Spokane Falls even though they are dammed in order to provide hydroelectric power for the cities residents. We even spotted a small group of marmots near the falls grazing on the grass and laying sprawled out on the shaded ground in order to cool off. It was entertaining watching these interesting critters.. It was a pretty hot day as the temperatures reached into the mid 90’s and after walking around we decided it best to seek out a nice brewery for a cold refreshing beverage. . 

Before heading over to the brewery we ventured over to the University of Gonzaga to walk the campus. A private Roman Catholic school with yet another connection to our last stay in Cataldo, Idaho as Father Cataldo, an Italian born priest, founded the school in 1887 primarily to serve local Native American children.. Gonzaga, now nationally recognized for its academics, is attended by nearly 8,000 students and is well known for several of its academic disciplines. We felt it was a nice campus but not overly attractive. We did notice they are building a new student center which should be a really nice facility.

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Afterward we made our way to River City Brewing and cooled down with some nice beverages. We used a Groupon allowing us each to sample four beers and after finding the one we liked, it included us each a pint. Sharon enjoyed an English Pale Ale while I went for the mid-bitters India Pale Ale. All the beers we sampled were very good with the exception of a Vanilla Stout which we felt simply had too much vanilla flavoring to be enjoyed…

Today is moving day as we head west to the Tri-Cities area where we plan to settle in a nice COE park and visit with our long lost friends, Marshall and Debbie, from college back in the mid 1970’s…

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Liberty Park, Washington…

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imageWhen I first began looking for a park in the Spokane, Washington area I wanted to find one about midway between Spokane and Coeur D’Alene. I also wanted it to be a state park if possible so we could enjoy the scenery. The only one I could find that met all my wants was one of the largest county parks in the State of Washington, Liberty Lake Regional Park. However, I couldn’t find one single review on it. I even went to RVillage.com and could not find any information there either. In fact I had to request they add the park since it wasn't in their system. This over 3,500 acre park simply had no information at all…

Well, I decided we should try it anyway since it seemed to be the perfect site. I drove the roads as well as I could with our weak internet signal using Google Earth. The road looked tight but doable however I couldn’t drive in Google Earth past the entrance. So we left Cataldo, Idaho and made our way into the state of Washington where Liberty Lake Park is located. As we turned off the highway we entered a small commercial district and then drove into a neighborhood with skinny streets.  There were a few low branches causing us to take the middle of the road in order to avoid them.

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After leaving the neighborhood the road narrowed a bit more making it a major challenge had we happened to encounter another vehicle as big as we were. Fortunately we didn’t… When we finally made it to the entrance, we could see the only way in for us was through the exit .  Sharon jumped out to get the OK from the gate attendant and now is where it got interesting. The road into the campground is a narrow single lane dirt road with no way another vehicle of any size could get by. About a quarter mile or so we found the park and noticed a lot of low hanging branches.

We did manage with only a few of the fir trees wiping the dust off the top of our rig and managed to nestle up against the side of a big fir tree and park in our downhill sloped site. After leveling, our front tires were well off the ground (about 7 inches), something I usually avoid but just couldn’t here. Sooo after all the adventure we are in a nice park in the hills near a lake with a trailhead 50 feet from our front door. I am not sure we would return to this park due to the drive in but we will certainly enjoy it while we are here.

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Taking full advantage of the trailhead nearby we spent the next day taking a 8.5 mile loop called the Liberty Loop. It's mostly well cared for trail with the exception of small stretches of steep climbs or some steep downhill parts. The feature on this trail is a waterfall but we were warned by the camp host that there would be not a lot of water at this time due to the dry conditions. We noticed lots of very large fir and western red cedar on this trail and although the waterfall was merely a trickle cascading over a few rocks (not even worthy of a picture) the hike was indeed a good one overall.

While here we hope to explore more of Coeur D’Alene and of course Spokane, Washington…

Friday, August 8, 2014

Goodbye Montana… Hello Coeur D’Alene ID…

imageAll good things must come to an end and so did our stay in Montana… We did enjoy one more day of huckleberry picking  and one last visit with our new friends Liz, Auggie and Bear. The next day we said our goodbyes to Liz and pulled out of her place (see her blog for photos of our departure) and began our westward trek. Several hours later and some 175 or so miles we pulled into our site in Idaho at Kahnderosa River Campground.

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Kahnderosa River Campground is on the Coeur D’Alene River and our site facing the river provided a very scenic viewpoint. The biggest drawback to this park is its proximity to the highway but you can’t have everything now can you? We also had a power issue at our site twice was resolved by plugging our power into the unoccupied site next to us. The next morning our power was restored and all was as it should be.

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Being adjacent to the Centennial Trail was one of the big draws to stropping here but with the daytime temperatures hitting the 90’s we didn’t plan to bike on the trail. We did do a drive around the area and took a nice dirt road into the mountains along a scenic creek. We had hoped to spot a moose but didn't.  However the drive was pleasant and the scenic creek made up for it. We found the Mission Restaurant known for Huckleberry Milkshakes but when we found out it had a bar inside we opted to sample a few cold beers instead. We chatted with a couple of jovial guys just off work from the sawmill in town. Apparently the sawmill has been their family owned business since 1918...nice, interesting fellows.

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Our last day in Cataldo, Idaho we decided to head into the town of Coeur D’Alene. We ad found a hike near “The Resort” that took us alongside the bank of Lake Coeur D’Alene and then to the top of Tubbs Hill. One thing we noticed was how much drier this area is as compared to where we were staying in Montana… the fire danger here is extremely high!

The hike was a nice one that is also popular with young kids out of school who like to dive from the rocks into the clear waters of the lake below. Once the trail started heading up to Tubbs Hill the people thinned out until we were the only ones. It appeared the heat had everyone else nearer the water .  As we pushed on we were beginning to think we should have stayed near the water as well. Once we summited we hoped to have some nice views of the lake but we actually had better views down lower where there were fewer trees in the way. A nice enjoyable hike nonetheless…

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After the hike we strolled the "World's Largest Floating Boardwalk" surrounding the resort and enjoyed watching the sailboats, jet skiers and sea planes landing. We also enjoyed looking at several yachts for sale parked along the boardwalk. Afterward we strolled into town noticing most of the tourists were in swimsuits since there are also two large beaches and a couple of city parks along the lake.  It was a happy bustling town full of vacationers.

The next morning we packed up and left and drove the short distance of 50 miles to our next spot at Liberty Lake Campground, a park I choice for its location despite not finding any reviews on it. Hopefully a decision we wouldn’t regret…

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our Last Glacier NP Hike to Virginia Falls…

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Since we were able to extend our stay at Liz’s in the Bigfork, Montana area we just had to go to Glacier National Park one last time. There was one hike we wanted to do but when we drove by the trailhead the first time there was road construction which really limited parking. Luckily although there was still construction on that area of the Road to the Sun we found one vacant spot to park at the trailhead.

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The hike to Virginia Falls is a shorter hike of only 3.6 miles and minimal elevation gain but this hike not only took us to  Virginia Falls but a couple of other falls including St. Mary’s falls. We began at the trailhead to St. Mary Falls and began to trek through the forest where the thimbleberries were thick and ripe so we munched on a few berries as we hiked.

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Surrounded by mountain peaks of 8000 and 9,000 feet we were treated to scenic views at every turn.. At about a half mile we could see the St. Mary River and about that time we could also hear the roar of water crashing ahead. Shortly thereafter we reached the first of the falls on this trail, St. Mary Falls, one really spectacular waterfall that drops about 35 feet. It was atypical as water shoots out from several different directions but the two near the top were the most spectacular. We decided to stop at St. Mary’s falls to enjoy the lunch we packed while watching the stunning milky blue waters swirling beneath the falls.

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From St. Mary Falls we began hiking alongside Virginia Creek where we encountered a couple of smaller waterfalls and rapids as the water tumbled downhill.Stopping at times to admire these smaller falls and clear waters of Virginia Creek we also enjoyed seeing lots of colorful rocks lining the shore and beneath the rushing water. A larger falls cascading down the slope was just ahead and we have heard that this one is often mistaken for Virginia Falls.  It must be true as fewer people were on the trail past this point…

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We continued on and passed even more beautiful water features but then once again the crashing sound water was up ahead and we had reached the base of Virginia Falls. It is a more classic waterfall and it was mesmerizing to watch the water cascade down the hillside. This falls drops straight down some 50 feet or so and we could feel a rush of cold mist and cool air from the crashing waters. These falls are really nice so we sat and enjoyed them for 30 minutes or more. We used much of the time playing with our new cell phones as it was finally time to get rid of our our old models. The camera on the Galaxy S5’s is loaded with features we were experimenting with. We really love the panorama  feature so we played with that feature a lot while there admiring the falls…

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We also spotted a large group dippers,commonly called water ouzels, playing on a log extending out into the water. I think it may have been a mother and some of her fledglings as some of them were quite clumsy and kept slipping off the log into the water.

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The hike back from Virginia Falls seemed quick and we were once again driving through Logan Pass where stopped one more time to find the Big Horned Sheep which we spotted about half way up a mountainside resting. As we drove through the remainder of the park we bid our farewells to McDonald Lake and to Glacier National Park.  We agreed that this is place we will most certainly love to visit again in the future…