Saturday, June 30, 2012

Astoria Oregon and Beyond…

Astoria BridgeMt St HelensWe left Shady Firs RV Park and the Cascade Mountains and headed west on state road 12. We started dropping in elevation as we headed toward Fort Stevens State Park where we will stay for a week.  On to Interstate 5 we went south till we got to Kelso and took state road 30 west along the Columbia River. The most exciting part of the trip was traveling across the Kelso bridge into  Oregon as there was a lot of construction near and on the bridge. Once across we pulled out along an overlook where the views of the Columbia River, Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens were awesome on this rare sunny day along the northwest coastal area.

Wreck of the Peter IredaleFort Stevens State Park is the northern most point in Oregon on the Clatsop Spit. This park features historic sites and has more camping spaces than any state park we have ever been in. Oregon State Parks seem to have fewer rules than any other state’s park we have been to as well. They even allow public consumption of alcohol which we have never seen before. We are in loop N and there are a mixture of sites with full hookups and those with only water/electrical. Since we are here through July 4th the park filled up by today with only a few sites remaining.

Astoria Column It has been typical of weather in June here as we have seen drizzle to light rain for the past few days. We managed to squeeze in a bike ride to the Wreck of the Peter Iredale on the beach in the park, watched some people fishing and bringing in some nice trout, and toured the town of Astoria. We are waiting for tomorrow for a promised break in the weather to take a drive to Tillamook and visit the stacks off of Cannon Beach.

A couple of highlights in Astoria were the Astoria Column and a visit to one of the microbreweries. The Astoria Column is just north of the historic town of Astoria and the park features a column with historic murals painted around it. The main feature is the 164 step staircase that leads to the top of the column. Tiring to say the least but upon reaching the top, the panoramic views of the Columbia River and surrounding coastal mountains is breathtaking even on a cloudy day as we experienced.

view from Astoria Column One reason we came here was to visit Christina a friend of ours from Texas who moved here. She came to get her PhD here and returned to head up a seafood lab for Oregon State University. We met her at her lab and toured her facility where we can all thank people like Christina for making our seafood safer to eat. After she got off work we met her at the Wet Dog Saloon for a sampling of their microbrews.

Christina is a recent widow after her husband, and one of my very good friends, passed away not long ago. We reminisced over a few stories of Big Benny and Sharon and Christinashared a few laughs over stories from the past. The beers at the Wet Dog café and brewery were all very good but Sharon settled for a nice Pilsner called Lincoln Lager and after sampling the IPA’s I chose the Bitter Bitch Imperial IPA which was wonderful and very hoppy. We look forward to visiting more with our friend and exploring in and around the town of Astoria.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Traveling through the Cascades Mountains…

Mount Rainier NP Grey Jay

Randle WA 009Before leaving Claar Cellars, Debbie came by to say goodbye, give us hugs and exchange email addresses.  How sweet was that?   We then proceeded North on Interstate 82 to Yakima.  Yakima looked like a really interesting town yet we decided to charge ahead on State Road 12.  We began a gradual climb which escalated to quite a climb!  Abbey labored a little but got us up the mountains just fine.

PenstomonsJust outside Randle, Washington we pulled into Shady Firs RV park.  It is aptly named as we are nestled amongst some large, shady fir trees.  And at less than $14.00 a night including 50 amp, water and cable, we like it a lot!  Not to mention we are the only guests in the park.

Rain was in the forecast for the next two days, but we decided not to let it dampen our plans.  Monday we headed toward Mount St Helens where we encountered a really beautiful stretch of old growth forest with firs and trees with enormous girths.  As we walked among these giants, Sharon mentioned she felt rather like a Hobbit.  Unfortunately further down Forest Road 25 a bridge Randle WA Barhad washed out thereby forcing road closure.  We stopped at a clear cut which reminded us of the devastation caused by the eruption of Mt. St Helens yet all around us the greenery emerging reminded us life goes on.  We even picked a few wild flowers to brighten the motor home and stopped at the Big Bottom Bar and Grill in Randle to reflect on our day over a couple of frosty mugs.

Tuesday it was off to Mt. Rainier National Park packing our picnic lunch since the weather forecast showed a window of opportunity.  The scenery was amazing Mount Rainier NP WA   Mount Rainier NP WA 023

along the drive and once into the park it was even more lush.  The winding road revealed the craggy mountain spires lathered in snow and glaciers shrouded in Mount Rainier NP WA 024low lying clouds.  Our lunch stop was at a point facing Mount Rainier but it was completely covered in clouds.  To our delight as we gazed at the mountain the clouds kept drifting thus revealing peeks of the mountain.  Because we were there so long gazing and eating we were able to put the pieces of the puzzle together thus exposing the entire mountain in its enormity and grandeur.

Mount Rainier NP WA Christine FallsI have seen a lot of mountains in my life but none as imposing as this.  After lunch we continued to Paradise Point and the Visitor Center enjoying the exhibits and movie.  As we started back home we stopped to see several of the picturesque waterfalls. Then the forecasted rain began to fall but we planned an indoor meal of spinach cheese manicotti so it could rain all it wanted. 

Today we are headed to Ft Stevens State Park where we will stay for a week.  We look forward to visiting another friend and exploring the town of Astoria.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wineries in the Yakima Valley, Washington…

Terra Blanca vineyards tasting room

wine tasting with Debbie and SharonOne thing we had to do while staying at Hood Park in Burbank, Washington was to go visit some vineyards and wineries. A drive up Interstate 82 from Richland to Yakima will have you driving through some of the most highly concentrated wine country in western Washington. With over 80 wineries on this stretch of road there is no doubt you will find one that makes a blend that appeals to your palate.

During our last few days in the Tri-Cities Debbie took us to a couple of nice wineries near West Richland. First was the Kiona Winery where the lady that served us was very entertaining and the various wines we tried were all pretty good. We primarily like like reds and before we left we had to buy one made from the Lemberger grape. It was a wine we had never tried before yet found to be quite exceptional.

John,Sharon, Marshall and DebbieNext up was a winery that was drop dead gorgeous and is often rented out for $10,000 and up for weddings. Great views are seen from the tasting room of the well manicured and smartly appointed grounds framed by the rolling desert hills in the background. Terra Blanca vineyards has some pricey wines but in our opinion their reds were not as good as those we had at Kiona. However, they had a white Vognier that was exceptionally crisp and smoooooth… We drink mostly red so to find a white we both liked was great. We bought two bottles, one to share with our friends Marshall and Debbie on the patio of their tasting room and one for a later date.

Yakima Valley vineyardsBefore we knew it the days had passed and we were to leave on Sunday morning. We bid farewell to our great friends and were amazed at how easily we were able to reconnect on so many levels. Had a great sunset our last night in the park and we left before our noon checkout to drive only 70 miles up Interstate 82. We are staying at a Harvest Host Winery in the Yakima Valley near Zillah,Washington. Claar Cellars Winery is a small mom and pop winery of German heritage that welcomed us to camp behind their tasting room.

Zillah Washington wineriesA small and cozy tasting room gave us the opportunity to take our time tasting since we were the only ones visiting the tasting room. Debbie, our server of small samples of wine, was lively, energetic and full of stimulating conversation about the history of wines, the history of the area, and made many suggestions of other places to see while here. We enjoyed her company so much we spent nearly two hours visiting with her and sampling wines.

Zillah Washington - Claar WineryAll of the Claar Cellar wines were pretty darned good and they even had a few nice whites. Their 10 year port (I am not a big fan of ports) was not too sweet and when served in a small dark chocolate cup we decided it would make for a real nice after dinner treat. We selected a nice Merlot to take with us back to the motorhome. Tomorrow we head to Randle, Washington for a few days and unfortunately rain is in the forecast. We apparently didn’t stay long enough in the desert for the typical highs to settle in at the northwest. Then it is off to Astoria, Oregon for a week…

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Having fun in the Tri-Cities of Washington…

Sacajawea Heritage Trail bridge abstract

Cool Desert Nights Sacajawea Heritage TrailWow we have had such a blast with our friends Debbie and Marshall. We  have known them  both since even before we were married while in high school.  So we have had a lot of catching up to do. We laughed and visited and looked at old pictures, some of which had yellowed over time. As great as it has been to see all the really neat places in the USA it really pales in comparison to all the people we have had a chance to reconnect with. How lucky we are to have been able to retire early and enjoy this stage of our lives!

Hogs and Dogs, Richland WA Marshall and Debbie invited us out to meet their “Tuesday Empty Nester Crew” with whom they meet for weekly dinners. It was a real treat to meet their friends and we appreciated their letting us invade their weeklyHogs and Dogs meeting. We had a great time and dinner was grand, especially the Ninkase Pale Ale. On Wednesday we met again at a really neat little tavern called the Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery where we had their wood fired pizza and I had their crafted International Proton Pale Ale… Yummy it was… as was the second one. It was really fun to once again hang out with our dear friends.

Marmot on Bike TrailWednesday morning Sharon and I decided to bike part of the Sacagawea Heritage Trail that spans from Pasco Washington to Richland. The 27 mile paved hike/bike trail meanders along the Columbia River and crosses several bridges over the river. We chose to do an 11 mile loop that involved crossing two tall bridges (another first for Sharon). From the highest point the drop to the water looked way, way, down there!  This was an excellent biking trail that offered great views of the Columbia River, a light house, and of course the two bridges. I even spotted a marmot scurrying along the rip rap.

Hogs and Dogs Bat BikeAs it neared the weekend we attended a few festivals. Thursday night it was out on the town as we visited the Hogs and Dogs Festival where there were hundreds of motorcycles parked in lines for all to admire. Everything from dirt bikes to Harley’s to custom chopped bikes were on display. Even batman’s bike was there…Fun times were had by all and the dogs were pretty darn good as well.

Friday was yet another festival as we went to theHogs and Dogs, Cool Paint Job Cool Desert Nights, a three-day classic car and street rod event. Checking out all the old cars was fun and some of them were very neatly restored while others were left in their natural classic skins. Many nice 40’s and 50’s models and fun to see many of the cars that were “hot” during our teen years. A little rain shower in the desert dampened the car parade a bit but we it surely did not stop us from thoroughly enjoying the show.

Lots of things to do here in the Tri Cities and did I mention that there are many vineyards and wineries in the area too…

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Traveling to Tri-Cities Washington…

Northeastern Oregon

We left Cove Palisades State Park by 10:00 am and snaked our way out of the canyon over to the town of Metolius, Oregon where we filled up with diesel. Why Metolius? Because my gas buddy applet on my droid said it would be the cheapest diesel on our entire 220 mile drive. I love Oregon since it is one of two states we have traveled where they will fill your tank for you.

In Metolius we picked up state route 97 and headed north through the rolling high desert hills of northeastern Oregon. Nary a tree in sight during much of our drive  as the hills there get less than 10 inches of rain on average. Not enough for trees but good enough for a healthy crop of sage brush. It was pretty much the same landscape until we got near Green Valley where agriculture spread into the lowlands. As we approached the Columbia River near The Dales we noticed Cherry and Apple orchards as well as one of my favorite crops – grapes! Wine Country!

Lake Billy Chinook

Into a new state we went but we decided to avoid Interstate 84 and opted for Washington’s State Road 14. Great choice as there was little traffic and the scenery was wonderful. Add the fact there were no truckers buzzing by at 75 mph, it made the drive was very peaceful until we hit Interstate 82. North on I-82 and eventually we were in the Tri-Cities of Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. We headed for Hood Park on Lake Sacajawea, a COE park.

Tri Cities BridgeEleven dollars per night for 50 amp service… no water no sewer hookups however. Hard to find something in the area as there are two big festivals in town this weekend. We also found out it is cherry picking season and the migrant population of cherry pickers are taking up many of the campsites available including many here at Hood Park.

So why we did we come to the Tri-Cities? Not for the festivals… we came to visit two dear friends that we have known since high school. We have had a lot of fun with Marshall and Debbie although we hadn’t seen them for a long, long time. We had gone to college together where we were neighbors in a mobile home park. We often joke about the fact that we have come full circle from living in a trailer house then to now living in a motorhome… but times are much, much different. So we are off to spend more time with our friends…

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tam-a-lau Trail at Cove Pallisades…

The Island at Lake Billy Chinook

Lake Billy ChinookOne of the things we most wanted to do while visiting Cove Palisades State Park in Oregon was to hike the Tam-a-lau Trail. This 6 to 7 mile trail starts in the Palisades Campground where we stayed and climbs the 600 plus feet up and out of the canyon leaving Billy Chinook Lake behind.

The day we chose to hike the trail was a perfect day as temperatures were in the low eighties and there was a nice gentle floating mountains at Tam-a-lau Trailbreeze. The weekenders’ boats were dotting the lake and the squeals of the kids could be heard everywhere… everywhere that is except on the Tam-a-lau Trail.

The trail was in pretty good shape as there were occasional timbers that acted as steps in the steeper parts of the trail where there was a lot of loose rock. The trail climbed relentlessly as we were lifted out of the canyon and closer to its rim above. Rock wrens zipped from the top of one rock to small arch at Tam-a-lau Trailanother as if warning us of the perils of the canyon. The trail had a few spots that had loose gravel and narrowed while  perched on the edge of a steep drop off. But soon the trail flattened and the rock wrens gave way to the violet green swallows darting through the canyon drafts.

The view from above of the snow capped peaks was impressive but none more than the photogenic Mount Jefferson. The trail continued along the canyon edge with wonderful views of the lake below. The highlight of trail was at the mid point where we sat and enjoyed a Mount Jeffersonlunch while gazing from atop the canyon down below at the spectacular view of the “island” as it is called. This piece of rim rock stands alone in the center of the water giving it the look of an island when looking down at it from the sky.

The hike down was a bit trickier that Bald Eaglethe hike up but that is true of most steep hikes. Satisfied, we completed our descent with yet another highlight for the day as we spotted a bald eagle on the precipice of a tower of rocks… yes I had a pretty nice Father’s day on the trail.

Tuesday was moving day as we left Cove Palisades and made our way back across the skinny bridge and out of the canyon on our way to Richland, Washington to visit friends. Our home for the next several days will be Hood Park, a COE park on the Columbia River in Burbank Washington.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cove Palisades State Park, OR…

Collier State Park bridge

Collier State Park falls and roadThe drive from Culver, Oregon to Cove Palisades State Park seemed innocuous until I saw the sign for 7% grades. It was then apparent we were going to drop off the edge of the earth as Cove Palisades State Park was nearly a 1000 feet lower than where we had been. With our engine brake working furiously we began the decent toward Lake Billy Chinook. Signage in the park was mostly absent and since we had reserved a site in loop B we were looking for signage that said loop B. There were no such signs so we finally pulled over and talked with a ranger only to find out that the campground we reserved was another five miles away.

Collier State Park geological featuresThe drive along the narrow roads with sheer drop-offs down to lake Billy Chinook was almost too much for Sharon. Then we came to a very narrow bridge and we were both glad that no other cars were on it as it would have been extremely tight to fit another, even a smart car! We finally located our site and noticed it nearly impossible to get into so we were reassigned to the much more accommodating emergency spot where we now are parked in.

Collier State ParkWe like the park as we have full hookups however there is one major problem. Both Verizon phone and internet signals are very weak. I even had to dummy down my droid from the normal 4G setting to allow it to use CDMA networks or my Thunderbolt wouldn’t have gotten any signal. Odd that none of the reviews we read mentioned weak Verizon service. Well, at least the geology here is impressive!

Back to the fun… We took a day trip over to Bend, OR for some Trader Joe’s shopping and then made our way over to Sisters, OR as we had heard about a Wine and Brew Festival. Traffic in and around Bend was not very pleasant and as a result we didn’t spend much time there but the quaint town of Sisters was more our cup of tea.

Sisters Wine and Brew Festival tokensEntrance into the Wine and Brew Festival was free and then you could purchase 10 tokens for $10.00 to “trade” for tastings and samples of the elixirs provided. We wandered around a bit seeing what liquids were being offered and as we did we noticed that the sample sizes offered here in Oregon were much, much smaller than those we were used to in Texas. Ten tokens might get you a small glass of wine if you used them entirely for wine samples. Not a problem though since the samples of Brews being offered were nicely sized. We sampled a few and then settled for a couple of glasses of beer from Ninkasi Brewing Company Sisters Wine and Brew Festival out of Eugene Oregon. I liked their Total Domination IPA and Sharon preferred Conservation Ale.

Despite the shortcomings of our Verizon signal we are enjoying our stay here at Cove Palisades. We will leave tomorrow and head for a Corps of Engineer park near Richland Washington called Hood Park where we will stay for 6 days and then we can finally head for the coast as it will be July and there’ll be more welcoming weather!!!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Finding Places to Stay and moving on…

On the road to Crater Lake

Our last few days in Collier State Park meant one more trip back to Crater Lake, several more hikes along Spring Creek, another visit to the Railroad Museum and few stray hikes here and there. This park had been a nice place to be for our five days and would have been a good place to stay longer as there is plenty to do in and around the park.

Ponderosa Pine flowering   Stone fly and self portrait

So in this entry I thought I would share what I do when searching for places to stay. The most important thing to me is to find a place that is close to something great to do. What do I consider as something great to do? We must be close to a major attraction, great hiking, interesting city, great wildlife observing or have other “must see or do” places in the vicinity. Here is a list of what we consider when we pick a site:

  1. Logging Museum and Crater Lake 035Location, location, location
  2. A driving distances less than 50 miles one way to visit several places to see
  3. We prefer COE parks, state parks, county park over private parks but will stay in any if rule number one and two prevail
  4. It must be close to our budget (we try to average $25.00 per night or less for the year)
  5. It must have mostly favorable ratings on RV Park Reviews

Crystal CreekEverything else is really negotiable. We would prefer to have full hookups, 50 amp service, on site laundry facilities, ample hiking within the park and of course fabulous neighbors. However, there are no perfect campsites and most are simply average.

One of the first things I do when searching for place to camp along our selected route is to locate the closest parks to what we want to see first and then eliminate them based upon the rules. Once I narrow it down to one or two I search the web with the keywords of the “park’s name” and the word “blogspot” to see if other Jim Jeanette and Sharonbloggers might have stayed at the park and written a blog about it. If they have great things to say about it then I usually contact them and ask about their stay or places that they recommend we see or do while at the park. This resulted in us getting a tip about going to see the birthplace of Spring Creek. What a great tip that was!  How cool it was to be able to see water bubbling up from beneath the surface giving rise to Spring Creek!

When we selected Collier State Park I found a blogger who writes exclusively about the Cascades area Barn on the way to Crater Lake of Oregon in a blog called Cascade Ramblings. After contacting Jim he told me that he and his wife Jeanette were actually going to be at the park a few days after we got there. So we were able to meet the two of them and they shared many great tips with us including routes to take toward the coast.  The even invited us to stop by their home base when we are in that area. At the end of the visit we shared a sighting of a new bird for our life lists – the Black-backed Woodpecker. Jim got a nice photo of the mother bird feeding one of her young after we had found their nesting tree. An added bonus to our search for campsites yielded this encounter with a really nice couple!

Birthplace of Crystal CreekSpeaking of meeting people, we also visited the Klamath Fish Hatchery since Sharon had never been to one before. After we walked around and completed our self guided tour a fellow walked out to say hello… He introduced himself as Richard Maly and as it turns out he and I went to college together… Wow! What a small world we live in!

Well we left Collier State Park and drove about 150 miles north to Cove Palisades State Park where we are now. Here for five days we plan to relax, do a little hiking and explore this part of Oregon…