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Astoria 2016 – The First Days…

I needed a trip to get back on the solo travel horse.  It had been while since I had traveled by myself, but my new reality is that I won’t always have someone to travel with, and if I want to keep traveling, I knew I had better get used to doing it by myself again.

I booked a long weekend trip to Astoria, Oregon in November, 2016.  Close enough to drive to, in case I decided I really wanted to come home early.  Far enough away that it wouldn’t be too easy to come home early…

Thursday, November 10, 2016

I headed out mid-morning on Thursday, for the long drive.  Traffic wasn’t too bad and I made it to Astoria about 3 pm, enough time to do just a little touristing before the light faded for the day.  I headed out to Fort Stevens State Park, to walk on the beach and see the Peter Iredale.  I have blogged about the Peter Iredale before, but this trip I had more time to walk along the beach and enjoy the ocean.  The tension of the long car ride melted away as I walked along the beach.  It was too cloudy to catch a beautiful sunset, but it wasn’t raining, and it was warm!  Certainly more than one can typically hope for on a November Northwest day.

I checked into my hotel and discovered it was just a short walk away from the pier where the sea lions like to hang out!  It was dark when I got there that first evening, but I could definitely hear them!  I know some people think they are loud and a nuisance, but I was excited about the idea of waking up to their barks in the morning!

Dinner was at the Rogue Brewery in Astoria.  I walked there from the hotel and parked myself at the bar.  I had the Sriracha Tacos and the Fruit Salad Cider, which is made with Rogue Farms Cherries, Rogue Farms Plums, Apples, Pears, Marionberries, Peaches & Apricots; Pacman Yeast – they pack a lot in there!  I also had a schooner sized Chocolate Stout.  I chatted with some Canadians who were making their way back up north, and got hit on by a drunken guy almost 20 years my junior.  Thankfully, the bartender seemed ready to intervene on that one if needed…

A good night all in all, capped off by hearing the sea lions barking some more on my way back to the hotel.  I left the window open so I could hear them as I drifted off to sleep…

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday I slept in; it was a holiday after all!  After a leisurely morning, I headed out into a beautiful late fall day.  Of course, I made a beeline for the sea lions, to check them out in the daylight!  There were so many of them – I spent awhile watching them and taking pictures.

Then I headed downtown, and poked around in the shops and antique stores.  I had no agenda and nowhere to be and it was glorious!

My late lunch was at T Paul’s Urban Cafe.  I had the Hood River salad – grilled chicken breast served over spring greens w/ fresh Anjou pear, fuji apples, candied walnuts, tomato, bleu cheese crumbles & bleu cheese dressing.  Yum!  I had a beer too – just because!  Why not when you are on vacation!

After lunch, I did some more wandering and ended up finding a little thrift shop that had 2 Howard Pierce geese for my collection for $15.  Score!

I wrapped up my afternoon wandering at the Fort George Brewery.  I have been there once before and the beer is awesome!  I ended up having the Seafood Chowder and 2 Willapa Bay oyster shooters, along with an IPA and a Pekko Pale Ale.  Everything I had was delicious!

The rows of windows at the Fort George Brewery!

 

I also checked out the Albatross & Co., a cocktail bar around the corner.  The drinks were fabulous, and the atmosphere was very eclectic and cool.  I sat on a couch near an electric fireplace – you know the kind with those fake flames.  A great place to end the evening, before heading back to the hotel.

It was a great two days, and I still had two left!

 

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Mount Si Hike

July 21, 2017

With my summer Fridays off of work, I was able to do some hikes with my girlfriend Katie, because she has Fridays off too!  We went south one day and did the Mount Si hike in the Snoqualmie Region, just outside of the town of Snoqualmie.

Mount Si, for the Snoqualmie people, was the body of the moon, fallen to the earth through the trickery of the fox and the blue jay.   It is a spiritual place, with a craggy mountain rising out of the foothills.  For those of you who watch the television show Twin Peaks, Mount Si features prominently in the show, which was filmed in and around the town of Snoqualmie.  The mountain is named for a settler named Josiah Merritt, who had a cabin at the base of the mountain in the late 1800s.

Katie and I headed down early that morning, and took the scenic route down to the mountain – off on the back roads to avoid rush hour freeway traffic.

We arrived just after 8 – we got out our packs and got ready to go.

Mount Si is a tough hike.  It is a steep hike – 8 miles round trip with over 3,100 feet of elevation gain.  Mount Si is considered a training hike for Mount Rainier; if you can summit Mount Si in less than two hours then you are considered to be ready to summit Rainier.  We headed up the mountain, which is basically 4 miles of switchbacks up the mountain.  There are parts that are steeper and parts where the switchbacks are more gentle, but it is all switchbacks, all the time on this route…

 

We took breaks when we needed and encountered several groups of millennials hiking with their phones streaming music into the air.  I don’t think I will ever understand why they want to hike with music blasting out like this.  I prefer to listen to the sound of nature when I am out hiking.

Early on, Katie and I came upon a leucistic slug – it was white!  That was far more fascinating than it might have been had we not needed at rest break! But honestly, I think it might have been the high point of Katie’s day.  She was pretty excited about that slug…

At the top of the mountain, Mount Si is a collection of boulders and rock faces – lots of climbers like to climb to the actual summit here.  We weren’t going to do that, because it is a technical climb, but enjoyed seeing it still up above us.  We did scramble around and among boulders to go see close up where the technical climb begins.

 

A Gray Jay on Mount Si

 

 

Katie and Me!

Mount Si also has a fun draw.  Now, I know I will get in trouble with some of you for this, and I hope you will be able to forgive me…  I never do this.  Katie and I fed the birds…  (hangs head in shame, but only a little…) The Gray Jays there would swoop down to grab a peanut or dried cranberry from the palm of your hand!  Surprisingly, they are very gentle.  I have to admit it was pretty fun.  And the photos I got were absolutely priceless.

Yes, these are unedited…

 

We hung out at the top and ate our lunch of nuts, granola bars and fruit, and checked out the views of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range.  It was stunning!  Certainly worth the pain of the uphill hike!

For obvious reasons, the hike back down was faster and easier, and when we got to the bottom we were more than ready for a trip to Snoqualmie Brewery for a late lunch and a pint.  I had the Muffaletta sandwich (which while not very traditional was delicious!) and the Copperhead American Pale Ale, and got myself a pint glass to take home.

On the way home, Katie and I did a quick stop at Snoqualmie Falls.  We checked out the falls, which at 268 feet tall is the 6th highest waterfall in Washington State.  It has two powerhouses generating power for Puget Sound Energy; one is actually buried underground!  Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge that is located at the top of the falls, were both also featured in Twin Peaks, giving Katie a Twin Peaks trifecta for the day.

It was a great day!

Monte Cristo Hike

July 15, 2017

In July, I went on another hike I’d never done before, an 8 mile round-trip hike over a relatively flat route to a gold and silver mining site.  The ghost town of Monte Cristo.

Between 1890 and 1907, Monte Cristo experienced a huge boom, growing to over 1,000 people at its peak, with 13 active mines and 211 active mining claims.  It was the first mine site on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range.  John D. Rockefeller took an interest in the site and for a period of time Frederick Trump, grandfather of President Trump, operated a boom-town hotel and brothel there.

At first the town and the mines were profitable, but over-estimates of the ground’s ore potential and frequent floods took their toll.  Most of the ore was near the surface; it was rarely profitable to go more than 500 feet down below the surface.  The river also flooded several times, requiring expensive repairs to the road and the railroad line in order to keep the ore flowing out to the smelter.

After mining operations ceased in 1907, for several decades there were attempts to keep the town going as a resort destination, with only limited success.  The county road to Monte Cristo was flooded in 1980 and not rebuilt, and the only remaining business, a lodge, burned down in 1983.  Monte Cristo is a ghost town today. A few original buildings and relics remain, as well as several more cabins from the various resort town efforts. The forests have grown back, so it is tough to imagine the bare hillsides with tramways and men bringing ore down from the steep mountains.

The route follows most of the old route taken by the miners over a century ago.  Floods over the years have washed out the road alongside the South Fork of the Sauk River.  The hike starts at the Barlow Pass trailhead on the North Cascades – Mountain Loop Highway and travels along the road for about 4 miles. You have to cross over the river on a large fallen tree at one point, but it is wide and flat enough that it doesn’t feel treacherous.

A view of the mountains on the hike in

There is a slight incline the entire way, with a total elevation gain of 700 feet to a final elevation of 2,800 feet.  The scenery is stunning, with the shallow river showing its rocky bed, and the craggy mountains above.  The 8 miles are pretty easy miles as long as you can handle the distance.

A Wiggin’s Lily at Monte Cristo

Once in the town it was fun to just wander around, seeing the old cabins and reading the signs showing where other buildings used to be.  There has been some remediation done in the area, in order to clean up the heavy metals that still exist in the mine tailings.  There is still a lot more work to be done, so they recommend you don’t drink the water there, or at a minimum filter it.

There is a pack-in campsite; it looks like a fun place to stay the night and explore the town.  I wonder if there are ghosts!

West 2016: Grand Teton Tidbits

The Chapel of the Sacred Heart is located within the boundaries of the park at the south end of Jackson Lake.  It was originally built in 1937 outside of the park, but Grand Teton’s boundaries changed after that and now include the beautiful log chapel. 
 
It seats about 115 people and is open 24 hours a day from May to September, with a Sunday mass.  The chapel is closed in the winter.  It was worth a stop to see the interior with its stained glass windows and icon of Mary with Jesus. 
 
Signal Mountain is a mountain within the park that has a total elevation of 7,720 feet; it rises 890 feet from the valley floor.  There is a 5 mile drive up the mountain and two different viewpoints at the top; from there you have a great view of the valley below, as well as Jackson Lake.  You can also hike up Signal Mountain via a 6.8 mile hiking trail.
 
 
And who could resist a photo of the signage we saw all over Yellowstone and Grand Tetons on the pit toilets!  Well, perhaps you could resist, but I couldn’t…  Even though it is not historic, it is definitely going into my toilet archive!  Sit don’t squat!  I am a firm believer that signs exist because somebody doing it wrong created a need to clarify…  I don’t even want to imagine what happened when that went awry… 

Oh the ways to do it wrong!

 
And with that folks, my West adventure was nearly concluded.  All that remained was to make the long drive back to Billings, MT and stay there one last night before our flight home.  We turned in the rental car without further incident, and were relieved when no one noticed anything from the run-in with the curb and wall at Wind Cave, or the collision with Jelly 
 
I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, and was glad for the opportunity to spend this time with my mom.  Until next time! 

Me with the mountains

 

Me with the moose at the Visitor’s Center

West 2016: Grand Teton Wildlife

Day 10, 11 & 12, Sunday – Tuesday, August 14, 15 & 16, 2016

Grand Teton is most known for its views of the mountains, and its back-country hiking.  Wildlife spotting seems to be secondary, and we certainly found that to be true.  While we did find some wildlife, we had way more luck in Yellowstone.  That said, here is what we found!

While I believe these were farmed bison, they were bison nonetheless:

Bison at Grand Teton

These pronghorn were hanging out with the bison.  My sister-in-law believed they were imaginary, but here they are!

 

Pronghorn at Grand Teton

 

Least Chipmunks – we saw lots of these at the lower elevations.

Least Chipmunk at Jenny Lake

 

Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels.  Although they look like chipmunks, you can tell they aren’t because of the lack of stripes on their heads.

A Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel at Inspiration Point

Pika!  I saw two when I hiked Inspiration Point.

Pika!

Pika!

Birds.  We saw several birds – mostly little-brown-jobs, but ducks too. Some of them I couldn’t identify.

Dark Eyed Junco

 

Raven on Signal Mountain

 

Ducks in Jenny Lake

 

A female Mallard on Signal Mountain

 

A juvenile mountain bluebird at the Cunningham cabin

Fish!

Fish in Jenny Lake

Mule deer.  I saw this lady on the hill heading up to the summit of Signal Mountain. Beautiful!

Mule Deer on Signal Mountain

 

I am a wildlife lover, and although not the primary focus at Grand Teton, I was happy to see what we did!  I was disappointed to not see a moose though!  Maybe another time…

 

 

West 2016: Menor’s Ferry

Day 11, Monday, August 15, 2016

The Snake River is generally a wide multi-channeled river as it flows through Grand Teton National Park.  There are only a few places within the park boundary where the river narrows to a single channel.  It is at one of these spots where Bill Menor settled in 1892, and established a ferry to cross the river, as well a General Store.  His brother Holiday settled on the other side of the river and operated a limekiln.  Bill Menor used this lime to whitewash his General Store.

The ferry was a reaction ferry, which used the current of the river to propel the ferry.  In the winter, when the river was low, he used a cable car to transport passengers.  Menor operated the ferry until 1918, when he sold the store and the ferry to Maud Noble, a Philadelphia women who came to Jackson Hole looking for adventure.  She operated the ferry until 1927, when the state of Wyoming built a bridge nearby.

Maud Noble was significant for another reason too.  She was instrumental in the movement to create Grand Teton National Park.  She hosted Horace Albright, then the Superintendent of the National Park Service, along with several local ranchers and farmers, at a historic meeting in her cabin to talk about the creation of the park.

The Menor’s Ferry history area contains the Menor General Store, a replica reaction ferry, the original well, a replica barn and Maud Noble’s cabin, which was moved to the site when she purchased the store and ferry in 1918.

 

 

 

Nearby is also the Chapel of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal Church that was built in 1925 on land donated by Maud Noble.  Services are held weekly between May and September, and the chapel can be booked for weddings with the stunning backdrop of the Tetons through the window.

 

 

 

Be sure to visit the area when you are in Grand Teton National Park – it is worth a look around!

West 2016: Jenny Lake

Day 11, Monday, August 15, 2016

One of the activities that I most wanted to do at Grand Teton was to take the boat across Jenny Lake, and hike up to Inspiration Point.  I knew that there was going to be a lot of congestion in the area, because they are renovating the parking lot and services there, so we got up early to make sure we could get a parking spot and a spot on the boat.

The river near Jenny Lake

 

Jenny Lake

The boat ride was nice – a relaxing, short trip on a gorgeous lake.  The mountains in the background are stunning.  Once you get off the boat, you can choose how far you want to go.  The entire hike up to Inspiration Point, with a stop at Hidden Falls is about .9 miles each way.  However, the trail to Hidden Falls was closed for repairs when we were there, so I didn’t get to see it!  My mom didn’t want to hike all the way to Inspiration Point, so I pulled away from her with the agreement that I would meet her wherever she happened to end up.  That works fine with an out and back trail.

 

The trail is a gentle uphill at the beginning, but the last bit of it is steeper switchbacks along the side of a mountain.  You will need to be patient about passing, as not all spots are quite wide enough for two.  Once you are at the top, at an elevation of 7,200 feet, the view is amazing!  You look out over the lake and see the boats coming and going from the dock down below.  It is well worth the exertion! I found a family to take my photo and spent a bit of time enjoying the view. A little Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel was excited to see me; he wanted me to feed him…

Switchbacks up to Inspiration Point

 

Me at Inspiration Point

 

On the way down I saw two different pika and spent some time getting photos of them.  It was fairly quiet since it was still relatively early, so I got some good photos before another group of people came along to scare them away.  I loved seeing those little guys!

 

Pika!

 

Pika!

On the way back I ran into my mom at another viewpoint and was impressed with how far she had made it.  She got her own view to enjoy while waiting for me to come back down.

 

Mom and me – Inspiration Point Trail

Mom and I took the boat both ways, but you can hike all the way around the lake for an additional 3 miles.  Next time I visit I want to do that!  Plus, I still need to see the falls.

Jenny Lake and Inspiration Point were certainly worth the visit!

Costs and Fees: $15 per person round-trip for Jenny Lake boat shuttle.