Farewell to Another Year – See you later 2013!

And just like that, another year has flown by and it is time for another annual recap.  The top 10 for another (mostly) great year in chronological order, rather than order of importance, are:

1. Jon and I took our first trip to Walla Walla wine country, after Jon ran his 3rd half marathon in Richland, WA.  He placed 3rd in his age division and 11th overall!  We had some great food, great wine, and visited the Whitman Mission National Historic Site.

2.  My dear sweet bitchy kitty Martini went home to the angels after losing her battle with lymphoma on March 1.  I’ll never know how old she was, but I will always remember the nine years I got to spend with her.  And unless you are Oliver, to know her was to love her…

3.  Jon and I took a fantastic road trip to California, down the coast through the Redwoods, the Anderson Valley wine country, San Francisco, Monterey and finally Sacramento.  We saw huge trees, big elk, lighthouses, one of the world’s most awesome paintings, and we ate great food, tasted great wine, and saw great views.  And I puked.  Several times.  Ten days and almost 2,500 miles later, we came home exhausted and thoroughly spent, but happy and with memories to last a lifetime.

4.  On April 20, this sucker for a cute baby brought home sweet Coraline, a six month old kitten who was brought to my vet’s office after being dumped on a farm.  She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, but she does love her kibble.

5.  I got to indulge my inner nerd in June with a trip to Antiques Roadshow in Boise!  We didn’t make it on the show, but if you are interested in watching other people from the Northwest, the 3 hours are airing on January 6, January 13, and January 20 (who knows, maybe the back of my head will be on!).  Although we can’t fund our retirement by selling our treasures, we had a blast, and had a great time seeing the Old Idaho Penitentiary and the World Center for Birds of Prey.

6.  I completed my fourth (on September 1 in wine country!) and fifth (on October 5 at home for a great cause!) half marathons.  Next year, I will have several friends testing their resolve with me!

7.  Jon and I enjoyed a weekend trip to Olympic National Park, where we hiked in the Hoh Rain Forest and listened to the crashing waves of Rialto Beach.  Although Hurricane Ridge gave us the finger with a huge downpour, we’ll be back to see those views.

8.  I had a scare with my horse Biz, who had a scary bout with colic after his most recent dental x-rays.  At 26 years old, I am aware that my remaining time with him… well… you know…

9.  Jon and I welcomed our newest nephew on November 13 (that makes two nieces and two nephews now!).  He is sweet and perfect and cuddly.  His parents love him dearly (at least until he starts talking back).

10.  Jon finished his first full marathon on December 8, in Sacramento, California.  I got a trip to California out of the deal (no more trips to California Jon!), where I got to visit the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the Governor’s Mansion, and the John Muir National Historic Site.  Posts on the trip coming soon, I swear!

This annual recap reminds me of how truly blessed we are to live the life we do.  We are surrounded by awesome friends and family, loving animals, and we are lucky to have the freedom to enjoy our travels to wonderful places.  Although there are always the highs and lows, I am thankful that there are many more highs…  I hope you have all been blessed by 2013, and that all your dreams come true in 2014.  So bye, bye 2013 – you have been good to me!

Harbinger Winery – Home on the Peninsula

After we sat like bumps on a log on Rialto Beach (we were literally sitting on a driftwood log!), we knew we had to begin the long drive back to our hotel in Sequim.

We got back on the road, and drove into the rain that had so kindly not come during our hike in the Hoh Rain Forest and our walk on Rialto Beach.  We were grateful for that, even as we were driving through the rain and approaching darkness.  I was also feeling the effects of our super-early wake up call, so some caffeine was in order – we grabbed a couple of caffeinated drinks at a small country store along the highway.

Soon enough, outside of Port Angeles, I saw a sign announcing a winery (I swear I can spot those suckers from miles away).  We had seen another sign when we were going in the other direction; of course we thought they would be long closed before we headed back that way.  But, as it turns out, it was only 4:30, a bit earlier than we had anticipated.  And Harbinger stays open until 6!

The outside of the winery is a big old warehouse (it used to be a logging truck shop), with these gigantic wooden doors concealing what is going on within.  When you open the doors, you have to turn around and pull them back closed, because this isn’t a door that will swing shut on its own.  Inside, you are greeted with a large tasting room decorated with wine barrels around the edges, a wooden tasting bar with bar stools on the left, and a living room set of a couch and chairs on the right.  In between are several tables and chairs who want a more restaurant feel.

The exterior at Harbinger Winery with those big wooden doors

The exterior at Harbinger Winery with those big wooden doors

The joint was jumping!  There were 4 men dressed in camo and overalls seated at one table, sipping red wine (one guy was having a beer) – they looked like the least likely wine lovers I have ever seen.  The couch and chairs were filled with two couples.  A man at another table was chatting up the server and obviously knew her well.  And another guy was going through their beer lineup at the end of the tasting bar.  While we were there, several people came and went.  Even though this was one of the busier tasting rooms we have visited, the two servers were on top of their game, serving promptly and remembering where each customer was in the lineup.  And they were friendly and chatty, making everybody feel welcome.

The Interior at Harbinger - it had cleared out a bit by this time.

The Interior at Harbinger – it had cleared out a bit by this time.

You could choose to taste through their flight, purchase by the glass or bottle, or have a beer flight of northwest beers.  Even though they didn’t brew the beers themselves, they had a good variety of northwest beers that I hadn’t tried before; if I were local I would certainly do the beer flight sometimes.

The restroom at Harbinger is decorated with all of their labels from years gone by.

The restroom at Harbinger is decorated with all of their labels from years gone by.

We tasted through their flight, starting with the whites – a Viognier and a Rosé of Lemberger – neither wine was really my taste.  To be honest, I was a little worried at that point that I wasn’t going to be a fan of any of their wines.  But then we moved on to the reds, and wow – I was impressed!  Their Barbera was excellent, a great balance of light tannins and acidity.  El Jefe, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre had bold tannins and earthy flavors mixed with bright berries.  The Rapture was a great Cabernet Franc with big tannins and pepper notes.

Our tasting finished off with the Blackberry Bliss, a blackberry wine aged in oak barrels.  I really enjoyed it, but I was really surprised when Jon wanted a bottle as he normally doesn’t like sweeter wines.

Their grapes are sourced from several vineyards near Yakima, including Crawford Vineyard, Sagemoor, Elephant Mountain, Two Coyote and Piper; several are in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, which consistently receives high reviews.  The blackberries and raspberries for their Bliss line of fruit wines are sourced locally, from Graymarsh Farm in Sequim.

We purchased the Barbera and the Blackberry Bliss – the Barbera is already long gone, but I can’t wait to open the Blackberry Bliss!  Our visit to Harbinger was a lot of fun – they definitely have a fun vibe and friendly staff.  If you have a chance, go pull open those big wooden doors!  Just remember to close them behind you!

Olympic National Park: Rialto Beach

After our trip to the Hoh Rain Forest, we decided to head over to Rialto Beach.  Rialto Beach is one of the coastal areas within Olympic National Park, near the town of La Push, Washington, and just north of the mouth of the Quillayute River.  The area is the ancestral home of the Quileute Tribe, who still live on a small reservation in La Push.

At the Mouth of the Quillayute River

At the Mouth of the Quillayute River

Rialto Beach is covered with driftwood, from small pieces all the way up to huge driftwood logs.  The waves crash onto the beach in this area, making it a perfect place to sit and listen to the sound of the rushing water.  It is the sound of a seashell held up to your ear.  There is something soothing about the sound of crashing waves, and I found all my worries drifting away as Jon and I sat on a driftwood log and just listened.

Trees Grow Right Up to the Edge of Rialto Beach

Trees Grow Right Up to the Edge of Rialto Beach

Piddles the Traveling Owl Relaxing at Rialto Beach

Piddles the Traveling Owl Relaxing at Rialto Beach

Someone Built a Driftwood Fort at Rialto Beach

Someone Built a Driftwood Fort at Rialto Beach

I love the little stack of rocks on this driftwood log - Rialto Beach

I love the little stack of rocks on this driftwood log – Rialto Beach

A Young Woman Enjoying the Beauty at Rialto Beach

A Young Woman Enjoying the Beauty at Rialto Beach

It was a gorgeous sunny day, and warm enough that I could take my jacket off!  The views are spectacular, from the seastacks in the distance to the driftwood right beneath your feet.  This was easily one of my favorite places on our Olympic National Park trip.

Olympic National Park: Lake Crescent and the Hoh!

Our second day in Olympic National Park was a big day.  We were going to spend the day in the Hoh Rain Forest!  We got up super-early (5:40 am!) to make the several hour drive from Sequim over to the rainforest.  The night before, we had gone to the grocery store, and made sure that we would have enough snacks for a long day of driving and hiking – plus a new sweatshirt for me because I forgot to bring a warm sweatshirt from home.

We headed out from the hotel in the dark.  At the beginning, there was some misty rain – we chatted about how much it would suck to spend the whole day hiking in the rain.  But soon enough, it gave way to a beautiful morning!  Our first stop on the drive was at Lake Crescent, which is about 17 miles west (and slightly south) of Port Angeles.  Lake Crescent was created during the last Ice Age when the glaciers carved a deep valley; it drained into the Elwha River, which is one of the major rivers in the park.  About 8,000 years ago, there was a giant landslide that created a second lake, Lake Sutherland, and cut Lake Crescent off from the Elwha River.  Fish were trapped in the lake and began to evolve; today there are two subspecies of trout that are genetically distinct from nearby trout.

The moon over Lake Crescent

The moon over Lake Crescent

We were at Lake Crescent just after sunrise, and the lake was absolutely beautiful.  The water is a deep, clear, turquoise blue, a result of the lack of nitrogen in the water, which inhibits the growth of algae in the lake.  Lake Crescent is officially the second deepest lake in Washington state (the first is Lake Chelan), with an official depth of 624 feet.  However, unofficial depth surveys have recorded depths of more than 1,000 feet!

After our quick stop at Lake Crescent, we continued on our way to the Hoh Rain Forest.  The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the United States’ temperate rainforests, with average rainfall of 140 – 170 inches of rain per year.  That’s 12 to 14 feet!  I know some of you think that it rains a lot in all of Washington, but to give you some perspective, Seattle receives an average of 36 inches per year, and New York City receives 45 inches.

Welcome to the Hoh Rain Forest!

Welcome to the Hoh Rain Forest!

When we got to the forest, we stopped off at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor’s Center and got our National Park Passport stamps (one of their stamps is a banana slug!) and set off for a hike.  We started off in the Hall of Mosses, an easy 0.8 mile jaunt near the Visitor’s Center, with signs letting you know which species are out there, and information on the rainforest ecosystem.

The Hoh Rain Forest is dominated by Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock, which grow to extreme sizes because of the abundant rainfall.  The Hall of Mosses shows that there are many types of mosses and lichens too; the lettuce lichen is a favorite of the deer and elk in the forest.  Animals in the Hoh Rain Forest include deer, Roosevelt elk, black bear, cougar, bobcat, tree frogs, spotted owls and of course, the banana slug.

These trees in the Hoh Rain Forest are massive!

These trees in the Hoh Rain Forest are massive!

That's a lot of Moss!

That’s a lot of Moss!

Piddles the Traveling Owl Posing with some of the Hoh's Lichens

Piddles the Traveling Owl Posing with some of the Hoh’s Lichens

After enjoying the Hall of Mosses, and watching Jon play with the camera for awhile, we hiked out the Hoh River trail, a trail that stretches for over 17 miles near the river.  You can hike out and camp if you want, or you can head out as far as you want and then turn around and come back.  There are several small trails that lead to the river, and after running into some other hikers who tipped us off to where the elk were, we took one of the small trails over to the river and found a herd of elk grazing and sleeping along the banks of the river.  We watched them for awhile, trading the camera and the binoculars back and forth.  Seeing the elk was really the highlight of the rainforest for me!

A Roosevelt Elk Bull with two females in the Hoh Rain Forest

A Roosevelt Elk Bull with two females in the Hoh Rain Forest

When we were there, we were mostly alone.  We ran into other hikers about every 15 or 20 minutes, but otherwise, it was just us.  It is not a difficult hike either, with most of the first several miles relatively flat.  And even better, the whole time we were at the Hoh Rain Forest, there was no rain!  I have no idea how that happened, but we certainly lucked out.

Olympic Cellars Winery

After our disappointing trip up to Hurricane Ridge, and having the skies open up in a deluge, Jon and I decided to head back to the hotel for the evening.  On our drive out to Port Angeles, I had seen a winery along the main road, housed in a large historic barn.  I had been thinking that they would be closed by the time we returned from our hike, but with the weather changing our plans, we now had a chance to stop!

Olympic Cellars Winery was founded in 1979, making it the 15th winery founded in Washington State, and the first on the Olympic Peninsula.  I hadn’t realized that there had been wineries on the peninsula so long, but I wasn’t really paying much attention to wine when I was a kid on a family trip to Port Townsend.  The barn that the winery is housed in is 121 years old, and the ladies who own the winery have a lot of pride in the history of the land and the building.  The tasting bar where you sample the wine is also over 100 years old.

Olympic Cellars Winery makes its home in a 121 year old barn

Olympic Cellars Winery makes its home in a 121 year old barn

When we stopped by, it was about 30 minutes before they closed, and the rain had let up so it was mostly just a light sprinkle.  We headed in and were the only ones there.  I apologize for not taking any photos, but imagine a large old barn with a beautiful, dark wood, antique tasting bar.  The rest of the tasting room is an amazingly well stocked, wine themed gift shop.  They have all sorts of wine items and novelty gifts for the wine lover in your life.  They also sell some gift items in their online store, but that is only a fraction of the items that they have in their tasting room.

Olympic Cellars Winery produces three labels, their popular everyday “Working Girl” series, the Olympic Cellars label, which has 5 varietal wines, and the Dungeness label, their artist label series wines.  For your tasting fee, you get to sample 5 wines of your choice.

I hadn’t really planned on tasting that afternoon, so I didn’t take any notes, but we really enjoyed their Cabernet Franc (the 2009 won Best in Show at the Denver International Wine Competition), and the Dungeness Red, which is made with Lemberger grapes.  Neither of us was a fan of their Chardonnay, but I can’t remember what it was about it that didn’t appeal to me.

Overall, the visit was pleasant; my only criticism would be that our server that day didn’t offer up any information about the winery, its history, the winemakers or the wines we were sampling.  If I haven’t been someplace before, I like to hear about the winery; I want to know what I’m drinking and how it was made!  Where do you source your grapes, why is the winery in this location?  Give me something…  So, this lack of conversation made for some awkward long silences when you are the only people in the tasting room.

The bell they use to ring in the harvest is over 100 years old!

The bell they use to ring in the harvest is over 100 years old!

All in all, worth a trip, but you might make sure to bring a friend who likes to talk…

Olympic National Park: Hurricane Ridge

After stopping at the main Visitor’s Center at Olympic National Park, Jon and I headed up the mountain for a little hiking at the top of the ridge itself.  The top of Hurricane Ridge is 17 miles south of Port Angeles, but the road has a lot of twists and turns, so it takes about 45 minutes to get from the Visitor’s Center to the top of the ridge.

Hurricane Ridge is named for the strong winds that frequent the area, and snow is common even as late as July.  With the panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains, it is a popular hiking spot in the spring, summer and fall, and there are skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing opportunities in the winter.  People frequently see wildlife, including deer, elk, bear and a type of marmot that only exists on the Olympic Peninsula.  We were eager to see what everybody raves about!

As we began our drive the weather was cloudy but dry, and we stopped at a few of the scenic viewpoints along the way.  The view on a clear day is supposed to be spectacular, but with the clouds we couldn’t see out that far.  Then, as we were standing there taking some photos, we felt a couple of drops of rain.  Now, we both grew up in the Northwest, so a little rain won’t deter us.  We got back into the car and continued on our way.

Me on our way up to Hurricane Ridge - that smudge above my right shoulder is a raindrop on the camera lens.

Me on our way up to Hurricane Ridge – that smudge above my right shoulder is a raindrop on the camera lens.

Soon, we were almost at the top of the ridge, and the skies opened up into a huge downpour!  We ran from the car into the Visitor’s Center at the top of the ridge, and in a 20 second run we were soaked!  The pictures don’t do it justice, but believe me it was really wet!

You can't tell in this photo, but it was raining really hard.  So much for the view...

You can’t tell in this photo, but it was raining really hard. So much for the view…

The "View" from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor's Center.  Awesome, right?

The “View” from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center. Awesome, right?

The torrential downpour changed our plan to do some hiking at the top of the ridge, so we had some coffee at the Visitor’s Center, and I got some awesome postcards of the view that I wasn’t going to see for myself…

I love these old style postcards - Hurricane Ridge View of the Mountains

I love these old style postcards – Hurricane Ridge View of the Mountains

There were no eagles flying around in the torrential downpour either!

There were no eagles flying around in the torrential downpour either!

Check out the bears!  We never saw any real ones - they were staying inside!

Check out the bears! We never saw any real ones – they were staying inside!

This is what Hurricane Ridge would look like on a clear day.

This is what Hurricane Ridge would look like on a clear day.

Well, not every day of sightseeing can come off without a hitch…  Sigh… The good news is, we have a reason to come again.  And I spotted a winery on the way out to the park – we stopped by on the way back!

Our First Peek at Olympic National Park

The first day of our Olympic National Park weekend began in Bremerton, Washington, with me wrapping up my conference in the morning.  I came back to the hotel just before noon to finish packing up my things while Jon took a shower after his run.  We checked out and then got on the road, heading north to our home for the next few days, Sequim.  We stopped for a panini, soup and salad lunch at Panera Bread (don’t you just love their food!), and then we were on our way!

I have always thought of the Olympic Peninsula being a good distance away from our home just south of Canada.  To get there from home, we have to drive south, then west, then take a ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend, then drive to whatever our final destination is.  For some reason I just have a mental block about it, even though it really isn’t that far away – so I had never been there, and neither had Jon.  But driving up to Sequim from Bremerton was just over an hour, on mostly country highways with light traffic.  The sun was shining and the workweek was done, so it was really a pleasant excursion.

The View on the Way to Sequim

The View on the Way to Sequim

We got to Sequim and checked into our hotel, changed into hiking clothes, and then headed out to the Olympic National Park Visitor’s Center to try to beat the rain.  We knew the weekend would bring some, but in Washington, even if rain is promised, you never really know if it will start, when it will start, how much you will get, or how long it will last.

Olympic National Park is a huge park, spanning 922,650 acres, with several entrances, and several Visitor’s Centers.  President Theodore Roosevelt designated the area as a National Monument in 1909, and it was changed to National Park status in 1938 by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The park has four distinct ecosystems: coastal, alpine, temperate rainforest, and drier coniferous forest on the east side of the park.  The park contains 60 miles of coastline on the West Coast of Washington, rainforests that receive over 150 inches of precipitation annually, and a mountain range with a summit of 7,788 feet, Mount Deception, and a glacier of over 5 kilometers.

The main Visitor’s Center at Olympic National Park is just outside of Port Angeles, which is about 15 miles east of where we were staying in Sequim.  The rangers there are very helpful, giving you advice on which trails you might want to hike, or equipping you with a bear box if you are going to be camping in the park.  The Visitor’s Center also contains the Beaumont Cabin, a log cabin built by Elliott Beaumont in 1887, on his 160 acre homestead claim.

The Front of the Beaumont Cabin - What a Tiny House!

The Front of the Beaumont Cabin – What a Tiny House!

Beaumont lived in the cabin with his wife for almost 40 years.  It was donated to the Clallam County Historical Society in the 1960s, and has been restored and furnished with period furnishings.  You can peek in and see the decor, and immediately realize how small a pioneer cabin is.  It is about 10 feet by 10 feet!  You really get a good idea of the phrase cabin fever!

The Side of the Beaumont Cabin

The Side of the Beaumont Cabin

After checking out the cabin, it wasn’t raining, so we were ready to head up to Hurricane Ridge to see some awesome views!