Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Any Portland in the Storm

After roughing it down the coast from Alaska, it is time for a little urban pampering.  Thus we make a diversion to Portland Oregon for a week, and rent an efficiency in the Kern neighborhood.  The efficiency is lovely, and placed in a wonderful area to walk, and near busses to take us daily into new areas.  It is wonderful to have a bed that is not eight inches off the floor, have ample hot water for showers, clean, and where we keep our food in a refrigerator that makes ice, rather than a box that we put ice in to keep our food cold. 

And we had a TV with which to see the end of the Olympics (although there is not much more on worth seeing) and Wi-Fi.  Ah, I think it is called civilization.

Portland is quite the town - we found an outdoor dance festival, an outdoor Shakepearean production, an outdoor food and wine festival - all quite good.  We visited the Rose garden all a blooming, the Chinese garden, and the Japanese garden.  We enjoyed two movies at brew pub theatres, we tried multitudes of local brew .... and of course Ron couldn't leave without a VooDoo donut.  He had the Old Dirty Bastard one.  Seemed quite happy as he ate it thoroughly from end to end, not a crumb wasted.

It is quite a green city, very bicycle oriented, mass transportation is good - and more tattoos per square body part  than I've seen anywhere that I can remember.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hot Out There? Head For The Slopes

With one day's recovery upon leaving Mt Rainier (a hot shower, dinner at a local brew pub, and restocking of our ice chest) we arrived at our next campsite now in view of Mt Hood. While a few thousand feet lower than Mt Rainier, Mt Hood sports a year-round ski slope (snow boards welcome) which continues to be groomed daily, and accessible via chair lift.

In stark contrast to the mountain our new residence, Trillium Lake Campground, was populated by dozens of canoes, kayaks, and inflatable tubes. A short 70 miles uphill from Portland, the lake served as the perfect country getaway during this 90 degree season. Wish we had an inner tube! Make a note for next trip.

Unlike Mt Rainier, flora on Mt Hood is fairly sparse, rock scree covering most of the mountain not already groomed for skiing. Still, once arriving up the first chairlift  we hiked laterally across the scree and snow and ice patches on a quiet walk to vistas across the distant valleys.

And naturally, a local brew never being far behind, we stopped in at the Timberline lodge's (prominantely situated at the slopes winter base) Blue Ox bar for an Ice Axe IPA.  Named for Paul Bunyon's blue ox 'Babe, the bar anchors the lower level of this 1930s lodge built by the 'CCC boys'.  As the story was told, the CCC arrived to set up their camp at Trillium meadows, later to be dammed to create Trillium Lake. All materials for construction of the lodge were locally sourced - this was the Depression era and pre-war buildup. The lodge's massive stone foundation came from volcanic rocks off the mountain itself, and the towering columns of the lodge's post and beam construction were hauled from forest in the valley below.

Hikes in the Mt Hood area took us up various trails for mountain vistas, waterfalls and lakes. Fortunately, mosquitoe populations have mostly subsided, unfortunately so have nearly all wildlife sightings. Where have all the deer, elk, moose and orcas gone to?

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mt. Rainier - Snow On The Mountain with the Sub-Alpine A Bloomin'

The mountain looms, taller and higher as we approach. Snow, and lots of it. We found our campsite in a dense forest of tall trees, no sunlight to worry here, unfortunately that brings sunset ever earlier. In fact, sunset has crept up earlier and earlier on us as we sauntered south since leaving Alaska. Altho, this does bring some comfort knowing that it does turn dark at some time during the night.

Hiking Mt Rainier, for those not venturing to the summit, varies from lower valley walks in the mountains shadows or more commonly an uphill walk up steep trails into snow line for magnificent views of the valleys below and ranges across the horizon. Meadows of wildflowers, views of glaciers, glacier rivers flowing - the hikes produced ever more beauty.  Being early August, last winter's snows still linger in patches just above the visitor center and lodge, steadily increasing with altitude. Solid snow fields takeover at about 8000' and with the air being a bit thinner with each passing map contour the hiking gts slower, and slower.

On a solo day for Ron trails leading to Camp Muir at just above 10,000' appeared enticing.  With snowshoes afixed and sun shining brightly across the snow fields, the way forward was progressively slower with breathing stops at increasing frequency.  With views spectacular,the first few hours, clouds began to roll in by early afternoon, leaving some concern of impending white-out.  Sans sleeping bag and overnight provisions, not too mention a scheduled reunion with Karen at the visitor center, a quick decent below cloud cover was accommodated in short order. Another day for a summit experience,  perhaps.

A couple of lower valley hikes filled in the remainder of our four day camp below Mt. Rainier. Great vistas, clear skies and moderate tems made this visit a midsummer joy. 

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sleeping in Seattle

After a short drive, and a shorter ferry ride, we arrived for two days of r&r in Seattle.  And we quickly found our way to Pikes Place Market, where we bought a wonderful lunch of nibbles - calamari salad, salmon, crackers and fresh Washington cherries.  Mmm mmm good!  And for those of you who read our Kodiak blog - we found a store that carried products from Pickled Willy's - and promptly bought our favorite - pickled king crab. 

For those of you who don't know Pike's Place Market - it is on water's edge - 9 acres, four floors down from street level - of all and any type of stores including fish, fresh fruit, flowers, veggies, art work, and all  things that you never knew you needed or wanted.  Plenty of hawkers around, and lots of buskers.  It definitley deserves two days of wandering around.

We were able to take the tram from our hotel, and enjoyed parking the car for the two days.  We also enjoyed (more Karen than Ron) having our own bathroom, with a shower with lots of hot water, and easy to find in the middle of the night. 

Rejuvenated and clean, we were ready to hit the road again, and continue our life living in our tent, and out of the back of our car.

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Reality - Five miles that way ----->

Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula are many parks in one - amazing meadows full of wildflowers, mountain vistas,  a rain forest,  and a marine wilderness with a 5 mile split to an historic lighthouse.  Oh, and did I mention it had local fresh caught salmon.

Although we only had five days there, we did our best to cover as much of the area that we could - starting with the mountain vistas and wild flowers. 
The views of Mount Olympus, the blue and white wild foxglove, the magenta painted brush, and purple fireweed flowers, created a continual backdrop of color.  Even though it was the end of July, we had parts of our paths blocked with snow.   We saw the Olympus marmot sunning on rocks.  The Olympus marmot is unique - with a silvery coat rather than the tones of brown.

Entering the rain forest, we were surrounded with ferns, moss, massive Douglas firs and Sitka spruce. We learned about nurse logs - trees that have died, now on the ground, that nurses new trees and forest greens.  Trees grow on top, and the roots lie on either side of the log, until the log finally disappates. 

And heading along the shore, we were treated to an  ocean delight with our walk to, 'serenity', the lighthouse at the end of the spit.  Truly a sky to sea experience.  There we encountered the cairn logs - Ron added his own cairn to the log.

Covering the heights of Mt. Olympus (7980 feet) to the sea level of the Pacific Ocean, the diversity of environments made each day feel like we were at a new place. 

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Victor, Victoria

The Provincial capital for the BC - and what a beautiful city on Vancouver Island.  Eagles, great blue herons, ravens, orcas, buskers, tourists by the busload, and all the tour activities you might have time for.

Our stay on Vancouver Island was our next car camping stop, five days on the south east coast just ten miles or so from Victoria, fifteen minutes across farm roads to Buchart Gardens, and never too, too far from wine tasting.  And as we soon realized, our five days would barely be long enough to see parts of the island's southeastern tip, foresaking the majority of the island for a future venture. Vancouver Island being the largest Pacific island east of New Zealand.

Buchart Gardens were a color extravaganza, in bloom to the max, with crowds of tourists freshly off the hourly ferrys from Vancouver. An easy day tour for those short on time. Throw in a few hours in downtown Victoria, also abloom, a quick pub meal, and its a full day return to Vancouver well before midnight.

Victoria is a treat for anyone having previously been to the UK. Downtown consists of many well restored and maintained hotels and buildings of late 19th century British colonial vintage. Most of those buildings today catering more to the touring crowd's needs for good pub foods, local brews, and lots of trinket shopping.  A harbour centerpiece is the Empress Hotel, a major European grand hotel, sitting just diagonally across the marina from the British Columbia Parliament. And not to miss statues of Queen Victoria at appropriate intervals across the city. A yummy Indian buffet was feasted upon at the Empress for Sunday's dinner.  Yumm. 

As per every tourist destination, getting your 'activities' scheduled is most important.  So, between sitting in on performances throughout the weekend's busker festival, off to find Orca we needed to go. But which of the hundreds of whale watching tour boats?  Everyone boasting 'we're #1 on Trip Advisor, 'we're #1 on Yelp' , 'we track the most whales across the fleet', or 'we're the smoothest ride at sea'.  Well the choice was easy, prior reviews on the BC Wale Watch tour group's site told us that Captain Rick was a 'whale whisperer'. Decision set, we booked, and Orcas we found. Wow!

A quick five days and ferry time once again, this time heading further south again, Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. Yeah! Back to the USA we go!

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