Tag Archive | road trip

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: On the Water

Day 12-14, Friday, August 4-6, 2017

I headed out from Portland towards home on Friday morning.  Along the way, I stopped off at the Tacoma Marina to meet my friend David, who had a boat moored there.  We had talked about just meeting for lunch, but the timing turned out well, as my only commitment was getting back to work the next Monday.  The weather was spectacular, so we ended up taking the boat out for a couple of days of relaxation and decompressing.

On our way

 

Our getaway

The good thing about a boat on the water is that you are a captive to the concept of relaxing.  We anchored off of Vashon Island and had almost no interruptions, except for the occasional boat going by.  For two days, I read my book, napped on the bow of the boat, sunned myself, fished and crabbed (both rather unsuccessfully, as an octopus kept stealing the bait from the crab pots), ate, drank red wine (Redhead Red blend – yummy!), and swam in the Sound.  It was glorious!  We ate well, with shish-ka bobs, strawberries, peaches, plums, assorted snacks, and Greek yogurt for breakfast.  Corn on the cob and roasted potatoes were salted with sea water and cooked on the BBQ.

We jumped in the water whenever we got too hot, and bobbed on pool noodles and watched the jellyfish float by, drinking canned beer until we got too cold.  Well, let’s get real, I always got too cold first.  I learned that full beer cans float – I have no idea how I made it into my 40s while living right next door to the ocean without knowing this.  The weekend cycle – get hot, jump in, bob, drink beer, climb out, warm up on the bow, repeat.

Jellyfish floating by

David knows I hate Modest Mouse – so every time Modest Mouse came on the Spotify station, he would skip over the song, even if it meant getting up to do it.  Bless his sweet heart.  We talked about life; all those deep conversations that happen with close quarters, people you cherish, and wine after dark.

The sunset from the water

These were some of the most peaceful, enjoyable days I have experienced in a long time, and the perfect end to a great vacation.

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Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Dee Wright Observatory and Balancing Rocks

Day 11, Thursday, August 3, 2017

We didn’t have a need to get up really early this morning, so I took a brief walk, had breakfast, and hit the pool. It was so hot out that it was already warm enough for swimming!  I loved spending some more time in the pool!

Me at the Pool

Once we got going, we headed out and went to the Dee Wright Observatory.  It is an observation structure at the summit of McKenzie Pass in the Cascade Mountains near Sisters.  The road up to the summit of McKenzie pass is the route of an 1860 wagon route on the Oregon Trail.  The pioneers actually had to build the road in order to get the wagons across the lava – and you think your commute is bad!

The road leading to Dee Wright

The observatory is a 5,187 feet in elevation, and offers panoramic views of the nearby mountains.  The area around the observatory consists of 65 square miles of black lava rock.  It was built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and was named for the foreman of the project to build the observatory, who died before the project reached its completion.

Dee Wright Observatory

When it is clear, you can see Mount Washington, Mount Jefferson, South, North and Middle Sister, Mount Hood and many more.  Unfortunately, the day we were there, the area was covered in a thick haze of smoke from the wildfires up in Canada.  We could see the closer mountains, but not as well as I would have liked, and the mountains further away were not visible at all. I will have to visit again.

The observatory structure is very cool because it has multiple windows built into the stone structure where you can see the various mountains framed in stone – and they are all labeled so you can tell which mountain you are looking at.  We checked out all the windows, and took photos.

 

We also did the nature trail walk, which explained the volcanic eruptions that occurred in the area, the different types of lava flow and how plants and animals returned to an area after the landscape is changed by volcanic eruptions.  There were small trees and shrubs growing, and there were hundreds of monarch butterflies!

 

After we went to the Dee Wright Observatory, we went into downtown Sisters to get lunch; burgers and fries that were good, but nothing to get all excited about.  We wandered around town for a bit and poked around in some shops before we got on the road for our next destination.

Our next stop was the Oregon Balancing Rocks.  If you hadn’t heard of them, never fear – I hadn’t either.  Apparently, years ago, my brother and sister in law saw a documentary on the Oregon Public Broadcasting Station about the Balancing Rocks.  They visited many years ago, and wanted to see them again with the kids.

The Balancing Rocks in Oregon are similar to the more famous balancing rocks in Arches National Park in Utah.  The harder stone above is held up by softer stone underneath.  The softer stone erodes away more quickly, leaving these mushroom-shaped capped stones.  The Oregon Balancing Rocks are not nearly as exciting as the rocks in Arches though – the colors are more brown than red, and they aren’t nearly as pretty.  There were lizards there though!

I have no idea where these rocks really were, besides about 30 miles north of Sisters down a gravel forest service road, somewhere overlooking Billy Chinook Lake and the Metolius River (how’s that for vague?).  There is an unmarked small gravel parking lot at the trail head, but no services.  The quarter mile trail is well maintained gravel though – and the kids enjoyed running down it with abandon.  Which they probably shouldn’t, because I am sure this area has rattlesnakes – but hey, I’m the aunt…

We checked out the rocks, and checked out the view, which was hazy because of the wildfire smoke, and took some pictures of the lizards, but really, there isn’t a whole lot to see out there in the middle of nowhere.  Like I said, they aren’t as exciting as their more famous cousins in Utah…

 

After the Balancing Rocks, we started the long drive home.  The wildfires made the sun bright red and the sky really hazy.  We even got out of the car for a minute to take photos of the sun because it was so unusual.  We got home to my brother’s house about 8 pm, unpacked the car and discovered a house that was about 87 degrees upstairs – Yikes!  Home sweet home!  The air conditioning and some fans did manage to cool it down to 85 by the time we got into bed – that certainly isn’t much though!

The wildfire sun and haze

Distance for the Day: Sisters, Oregon – Dee Wright Observatory, Sisters, OR – Balancing Rocks, OR – Portland, OR (4 hours, 15 minutes; 185 miles – this is a guess, because Google Maps is being fickle and wouldn’t let me map some of these because the roads are still closed for the winter)
Fees: None
Lodging: Back home at my brother’s house

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Yellowstone Arrival

Day 3, Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I woke up to a breeze at our campground in Arco, Idaho, and knew that it would start raining soon.  And it did – pretty much immediately after I had that first thought about it.  I got up and got going quickly, tearing down my tent and getting it all packed up and ready to go before the rain got too heavy.  I went and showered, since the kids were not as motivated to get moving!  After that, I took them for waffles at the breakfast bar at the campground, while Michael and Susanna packed up their stuff.  YUM!

We finally got everything and everyone in the van and hit the road; we decided to stop at Cabela’s for rain jackets for the kids.  Note: some kids HATE rain jackets – they feel “funny,” so you can imagine how this trip went!  We also got a pop-up rain/shade tent thing for any rainy days along the way.  Then we were all set!  Today was the day we were getting to Yellowstone!

There is a lot of driving on the way to Wyoming, by the way, but soon we made it!  We got into the park through the West Entrance and fairly soon we saw our first wildlife – a couple of elk!  The kids were fascinated.  We also saw a few bison and some pelicans and geese.

Elk Butt!

 

White Pelicans and Canada Geese

 

We didn’t want to do too much sightseeing though, because we needed to get our campsite set up and ready for our five nights there!  We checked in, got firewood, got our campsite number, and headed over to see where we would be!  Our site was in the trees and on a small slope, so we really had to scope out our spots for two tents.  We got tents up, got our shade/rain tent up and got settled in.  My tent was only about 20 feet from my brother’s, but at night, was I far enough away that I would get eaten by bears!?

Our tents at camp

 

We had a fire, and turned in relatively early, and of course it rained… Hard!  But my little tent stayed dry!

Distance for the Day: 2 hours, 53 minutes; 167 miles
Yellowstone Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle for 7 days, free with a National Parks Pass
Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park: $30 per night for a tent site

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: World Center for Birds of Prey

Day 2, Tuesday, July 25, 2017

We woke up in Farewell Bend State Park on a cooler, but still hot, and still breezy morning.  I took a shower – the water took a long time to warm up so most of it was cold… Then we had omelettes and chocolate muffins for breakfast.  We live such a rough camping life! Tear down and packing the car took a bit of time, as it was our first attempt at re-Tetrising on the road.  I had my stuff packed and ready to go long before the kids, so I helped their parents try to wrangle them and we got on the road at 9:30.

Our next stop was at the World Center for Birds of Prey.  I had been there once before, in 2013 and loved it! The World Center for Birds of Prey was founded by the Peregrine Fund, as a conservation and education center. They are a group dedicated to the ancient sport of falconry.  Peregrines have been used in falconry for over 3,000 years, and the group wanted to save them for the sport.  Peregrines are the fastest animal on earth, diving at speeds more than 200 mph while hunting.

Peregrine Falcon

Their first conservation mission began in 1970, to save the Peregrine Falcon from extinction – the Peregrines and other birds of prey had become threatened due to the agricultural pesticide DDT, which causes birds to lay eggs with thin shells.  The breeding program and legislation to ban DDT were so successful that the Peregrine Falcon was removed from the Endangered Species list in 1999.  They are doing so well now that the Center no longer breeds them for release into the wild; they are focusing their efforts on other, still endangered, species.

While we were there, we saw a demonstration on a Lanner Falcon, which is native to the Mediterranean area.  He was beautiful, and we all loved seeing him up close.  We learned about the malar stripes, which reduce glare on the bird’s eyes as they hunt.  It’s where football players got the idea.

Lanner Falcon

We watched the movie on the work of the center, and I also loved seeing the success story of the Peregrine Falcon (removed from the endangered species list in 1999), as well as the California Condor, which in great part is due to the efforts of the World Center for Birds of Prey has gone from only 22 individuals remaining in the world to 446 in captivity and in the wild as of the end of 2016.  We also checked out the birds on display inside.

When we went back outside after touring the indoor exhibits, we split up and I was lucky enough to find two bird handlers with a male and female American Kestrel.  They look so different from each other – it was very cool to see them up close!  They are very small falcons, and the females are larger than the males, which is common among birds of prey.  Also very interesting is that Kestrels can hover, in order to ambush and swoop down on their prey!

American Kestrel Male

 

American Kestrel Female

The center also has several birds on exhibit outdoors, including a Bald Eagle, a Turkey Vulture, a Peregrine and my favorites, the Bataleur Eagles.  These eagles were 45 and 47 years old when I visited in 2013, so now they are 50 and 52 years old!  They were hatched in 1966 and 1968.  The birds here are not able to be released in the wild, either due to the fact that they were imprinted on humans when they were young or due to an injury they suffered previously.  The Center uses them as education birds, teaching students and community members about the species and their conservation efforts.

 

I was sure they wouldn’t be interested, but after we told them about it, the kids really wanted to do the tour of the archive.  The archive, of course has books and information on the history of falconry, but it also has exhibits and artifacts related to falconry.  There are falconry hoods and perches, radio and early GPS tracking systems, and artwork related to falconry.  There is also a 20 x 12 foot traditional goat-hair hunting tent from Syria.  The archive was made possible in large part from a donation from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, son of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding President of the United Arab Emirates and a falconer himself.  I guess it goes to show that it pays to know people…  I was surprised to see how much the kids enjoyed seeing it, especially the hunting tent, and they listened attentively to the guide during the tour.

 

After the archive, we had a snack and got on the road again.  Our plan had been to head over to Craters of the Moon National Monument, not thinking we were going to be at the World Center for Birds of Prey for so long.  What an issue to have!  So sadly, by the time we got to Craters, there weren’t any campsites available – they are first-come first-served.  After a bit of discussion, we decided that we would do Craters on the way home.  So that evening we really just breezed through…

At this point, it was getting late and starting to get dark and we still didn’t have a campsite…  A call to a KOA RV Park in Arco, Idaho and we had a site!  We got checked in and my brother took the kids over to the pool while Susanna and I got tents up and dinners started.  Cooking dinner over a camp stove in the dark with a headlamp is always interesting!  We had noodle pasta with hamburger and salad.  Not gourmet, but it hit the spot!  We had picked up a bottle of wine on our travels that day, and Susanna and I enjoyed some wine while cooking and during dinner too.

After dinner, and after booting the kids to bed, Michael, Susanna and I stayed up talking and enjoying our bevvies – wine for the girls and a bit of whisky for my brother, before turning in for the night.  Another great day…

 

Distance for the Day: 4 hours, 58 minutes; 282 miles
World Center for Birds of Prey: $10.00 adults, $8 seniors, $5  youth ages 4 to 16. 
Craters of the Moon KOA, Arco, Idaho: $30 for a tent site (if I remember correctly)

 

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Baker City

Day 1, Monday, July 24, 2017

I headed down to Portland the day before we departed on our road trip, and spent Sunday evening sorting out last minute packing details and spending time with my nieces and nephew.

Monday morning, we were up and at ’em.  The first order of business, after showers and breakfast, was to “Tetris” the minivan.  Six people in a minivan, with all our stuff and camping gear is a tight squeeze!  It took some doing, and a healthy bit of discarding to get everything in the van!  We got on the road a little later than anticipated, but at 9 am, we pulled out of the driveway and soon we were traveling on Interstate 84 along The Columbia River Gorge.  Lunch was ham sandwiches, cucumbers, tomatoes and Doritos at the Boardman Rest Area, and it was windy, so we had to make sure to hold our stuff down!

After piling back into the car, we made good time, and our next stop was in Baker City, Oregon, at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.  The site is part of the National Parks System, operated by the Bureau of Land Management, so my annual pass served as our admission fee.

The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center Sign

 

Heading into the Center

The center has an outdoor exhibit with several covered wagons, some original to the Oregon Trail time period, and some replicas.  The kids were able to climb into the wagons and see what it would be like to ride in a covered wagon.  They had fun, and seeing the different wagons was pretty neat.

Covered Wagons – the one in front is an original

 

The inside of a covered wagon – could you fit your whole life in there?

Inside the Center, we had time to look through the exhibits, which covered the experience of the pioneers traveling the trail, the items they brought with them, and the reasons why families made the decision to travel West to the Oregon Territory.  The Center also had an exhibit on gold mining, as many pioneers came west to try their luck at gold mining in the region.  Outside, visitors can view the historic Flagstaff Gold Mine Stamp Mill.

The Stamp Mill at the Interpretive Center

I decided to do the Junior Ranger Program which included finding the answers to questions throughout the center’s exhibits.  Some of them were hard – I think I forgot all that stuff I studied in school!  I did manage to complete my book before it was time to go, and I got my first Junior Ranger Badge!  Yes, I really am a nerd, in case you didn’t already know that.  My nieces and nephew didn’t want to finish theirs, but I think they were totally jealous when they saw my badge…

Pioneers on the Oregon Trail

As we were talking to the Ranger, we learned that the freeway was closed further down the road due to a chemical spill.  Would we be able to get to the campground before nightfall?  Luckily, we got word right as we were wrapping up that the road had reopened.  Yay!  We piled back into the van after taking a short trail back to stretch our legs once home and get one last view of the covered wagons.

The landscape from the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

A little less than an hour more of driving, and finally we got to our destination for the night – Farewell Bend State Recreation Area, which is right along the Oregon/Idaho border, along the Snake River.  We got our tents set up – it was still windy but it was hot!!  We had a huge field almost entirely to ourselves – and the restroom was just right across the field.  We had dinner and went for a walk to explore the riverbank.

The Snake River

The Park is another Oregon Trail site, because after following the Snake River for 330 miles, Oregon Trail pioneers rested above the bend in the river here.  It was here that they said farewell to the Snake River and continued their journey. Nearby is the location where the Snake River Shoshone Indians battled with pioneer travelers in 1860.

There were several people fishing from the boat launch dock, a few feet away from a several dead fish rotting along the banks of the river.  I am pretty sure that even if I had a fishing pole, I wouldn’t want to fish so close to dead fish – YUCK! I’ll spare you the photos of that – here’s a cute bunny instead…

A bunny at our campsite

The sunset was spectacular that evening, and it was too windy to have a fire, so as is the case with camping, we turned in when the darkness hit.  I lay on top of my sleeping bag in the heat of the evening, pondering life before falling asleep to the sound of the breeze…

The view from my tent – Farewell Bend State Recreation Area

 

The sunset at Farewell Bend

 

Distance for the Day: 5 hours, 37 minutes; 355 miles
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center: $8.00 adults, $4.50 seniors, free for youth ages 15 and under.  A free carload with a National Parks Pass.
Farewell Bend State Recreation Area: $18 for a tent site

 

MI Road Trip: More Beer and a Dead Guy (Maybe…)

While we were visiting Grandma, Jon, my cousin and I also checked out another Kalamazoo brewery; a relatively new one called Arcadia Brewery.  My cousin hadn’t been there either, so she was excited to check it out too.  The place is huge, with lots of space, an industrial feel, long pub style tables that appear to be reclaimed wood, and big garage doors that could roll up in warm weather.

My cousin and I at Arcadia Brewery

My cousin and I at Arcadia Brewery

I had the Rapunzel; a wheat IPA advertised with a crisp, sweet malt and flavors of pineapple, citrus and lemongrass. It wasn’t my favorite – too bitter.  Jon started out with a beer called the Cereal Killer, which he was really pleased with. He bought some in the bottle to bring home.  His second choice wasn’t so successful.  He tried the Jaw Jacker, an autumn spiced amber wheat ale brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg and all spice.  Neither of us liked it at all.  I guess you can’t win ‘em all. We both liked the atmosphere, and will certainly visit again, but I hope their beers are trending a little less bitter next time.

Arcadia Brewery Beers – That was not a red ale, but it was that red…

Arcadia Brewery Beers – That was not a red ale, but it was that red…

After several days hanging out with Grandma, walking the quiet streets of small town Michigan, Jon and I said our goodbyes and set out to explore more of the state.  It was a crisp, sunny day and the trees were just starting to change color.

We stopped in Grand Rapids because Jon wanted to visit a record store.  It was late morning, and the store hadn’t opened yet.  The block was crawling with panhandlers, and there was a homeless guy lying on the sidewalk a short ways away.  I couldn’t tell if he was unconscious or just sleeping.  Another man was pulling on him, trying to rouse him – literally lifting the man off the ground – so at that point I started wondering if he was dead.  There was a police officer coming down the street toward him, so we didn’t need to call 911, but we decided not to hang around and wait for the record store to open.

So instead, we headed over to Founder’s Brewery (in a much nicer neighborhood) for lunch and a brew. I had the Michigander Salad, with dried cherries, blue cheese crumbles, candied walnuts, avocado, mixed greens, and a balsamic vinaigrette.  It had onions on it, and I don’t like them, so I asked if they could leave them off – and they offered to substitute something I love – avocado!  I didn’t even have to ask!  I had my salad with a Honey Wheat beer – delicious and 6.1% ABV.  It was a wonderful lunch; my only gripe was that the balsamic dressing was a bit too acidic – it made my mouth really sensitive – has that ever happened to you?

Founder’s Brewery Beer Selection

Founder’s Brewery Beer Selection

Jon had the Charise’s Rueben, with roasted sliced turkey, dill Havarti cheese, baby spinach, tomatoes, red onions, avocado, tangy coleslaw & 1,000 Island dressing.  He loved it, and we got to turn the tables for once with him ordering the sandwich and me ordering the salad!  He had the Double Trouble IPA, described by Founder’s as, “An imperial IPA that was brewed to turn your world upside down.  Hops will get you coming and going. Pungent aromatics up front pair with a malt-balanced backbone and a smooth, bitter finish. – 9.4% ABV.”  Jon declared it a winner.

It would have been nice to wile away the afternoon at Founder’s but we had more touristing to do!

Long Weekend Kickoff!

Jon and I prefer vacations with variety, and who doesn’t love a little shopping?  I have to admit, I don’t shop for clothes very often, but I was able to start out our August long weekend with a little shopping at Oregon’s Woodburn Premium Outlet Mall.

Jon and I got a jump start on our vacation by driving down to Woodburn after work on Thursday evening.  Our final destination was Grants Pass, Oregon, so driving to Woodburn allowed us to get more than halfway there.  We stayed at the La Quinta nearby, which is frequently our home base when we go wine tasting in the area.  After getting some breakfast with Jon’s parents (they ended up at the La Quinta too!), we made our way to the Outlet Mall.

The Loft was having a clearance sale and I spent awhile there, exploring the clearance rack and trying on several things.  I made out like a bandit, getting two dresses, several pairs of shorts and tops, and two sweaters.  I topped off my shopping with a new pair of Naturalizer wedge sandals with cork soles, and a cozy Columbia fleece.  Jon found a couple of things for himself as well; a jacket, a long sleeved running shirt, and a new watch.

After the outlet mall, we had a quick lunch at Subway, and then continued on towards Grant’s Pass.  We wanted to stop along the way at a few wineries that we had never tried before, ones that were reasonably close to the freeway.  I found one that was right off the freeway in my Oregon winery book, Sienna Ridge Estate.  The Sienna Ridge tasting room is located in a historic home built in 1906.  Sienna Ridge’s vineyards are also unique, as one of the only individual vineyards to be designated as its own AVA, Red Hill Vineyard.  We made the short detour, only to find it… closed for an event.  Foiled!

Sienna Ridge Estate – Closed!

Sienna Ridge Estate – Closed!

We got back on the freeway for a few more exits while I consulted my book again and decided we would try out Palotai Vineyard and Winery.  Neither of us had ever heard of it before, so we weren’t sure what we would find.  The winery is a tiny little place tucked down at the end of a long gravel driveway with four acres of vineyards on either side.  The tasting area is the front of the wine production facility and warehouse, with a small covered area in the front with barrel tables.

Palotai Vineyard and Winery

Palotai Vineyard and Winery

The server ran us through a tasting of four wines.  I didn’t take notes, but they were all good.  The winery was owned by a Hungarian gentleman who had fled Communist Hungary in the 1980s.  He started out training horses in Sacramento, and then eventually began making wine using European methods. He made small batches of wine that are drinkable right after bottling.

I had their white blend, the Bianca, the 2012 Pinot Noir, the 2012 Dolcetto and the Bull’s Blood – named after a traditional Hungarian wine, it is their most popular wine.  Curiously, the Bull’s Blood was my least favorite, but still pretty decent.  In speaking with the server, we learned that the owner of the winery had decided to pursue other goals, and had recently sold the vineyard.  The plan was for the owner to make one more vintage of wine in fall 2014 for the new owner and the new winery name.  We purchased 4 bottles of Palotai wine, knowing there won’t be more…

We stopped for some groceries and then found our rental for the weekend and got settled in.  The house was huge, with a hot tub and a pool.  We enjoyed a steak and salad dinner on the front patio overlooking the river, and watched the Canada geese flying back home from their daily feeding grounds.  And we got to check out the jet boats on the river!  It was a great end to a wonderful first day of vacation!

Canada Geese Hanging Out on the Rogue River

Canada Geese Hanging Out on the Rogue River