Sunday, July 27, 2008

Crater Lake and Upper Rogue Gorge

Crater Lake was a highlight of my trip, though I must advise never planning a trip to Crater Lake before mid-July because earlier than that is not yet "the season." Outside of "the season," very little is open. The boats do not run on the lake, the roads are all closed on the east side of the park, and only three miles of hiking trails are available to visitors. They had two of their blue tour boats moored tantalizingly near shore, and they were conducting research trips and training new guides, but we tourists were not allowed in the boats.

We hiked two of the three open miles of trails; the third followed the road we were driving on, so we felt it was unnecessary. The first trail ran up the side of Garfield Peak until it reached a spot where the snow hadn't melted yet. We got some very nice views of the lake, although everything was hazy because of the California wildfires. The Rim Village is at 7,044 feet, and the full 1.5-mile hike up Garfield Peak would add 1,010 feet of elevation.
After the walk, we ate lunch at the park restaurant, which was pretty good, though not worth going out of one's way for. They keep limited hours, and they only serve breakast during official breakfast time, so R. did not get to have eggs Benedict. It would be a good idea to call ahead for their hours, which appear to vary.
We took Cleetwood Trail down to the shore of the lake. Crater Lake is typically about 37 degrees, which made it surprising to us that the mosquitoes were both numerous and ravenous along the entire trail. If it had not been for the mosquitos, we might have stayed another hour or so.
Since the water is so cold that no one can stay in for very long, the park service does not restrict swimming, and many people took the plunge into the icy waters. We merely dipped our feet and hands in, however. It's also interesting to know that unlimited fishing is encouraged in Crater Lake. No fish are native to the lake, but some years ago, someone decided it would be cool to add fish. These days the prevailing thought is that turning a national treasure into a stock pond is not desirable, and the park service would like to get rid of the fish. The fish continue to thrive, and people continue to eat them.
Many posted signs warn people that Cleetwood Trail is "strenuous and steep," so I was expecting at least some scrambling over rocks, but it was nothing except highly civilized switchbacks. It was exposed and hot, and we took a lot of stops for me to take pictures, but even small children had no real trouble with the trail.

Since we did not spend the full day at Crater Lake, I talked R. into driving the long way home so we could see the gorge of the Upper Rogue River. We both liked that a lot; the Rogue takes its rushing seriously and has carved an impressive little gorge. Our last stop was Mill Falls; at that point we were both hungry and wanted to go straight to dinner, but instead we went to Mill Falls because we each thought the other person wanted to go there. Later we could not agree on whose idea it was. However, the falls were lovely.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Oregon: The Coast

R. and I drove the short distance west from Portland to Astoria, where we checked into the Crest Motel. It was very basic on the outside, and I wasn't very pleased that our deck door did not lock, but the inside was quite nice, and as promised, they had an outdoor hot tub in a gazebo. This came in very handy that night.

From the Crest, we drove down to Fort Clatsop, which was where the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the winter of 1805-1806. There was one particularly knowledgeable ranger who dispelled our confusion about the construction of the rooms in the replica fort; the expedition would have built them a different way, with the fireplaces in the middle so they would let less heat escape, but the replica was built for tourists so they put the fireplaces along the walls. This same ranger later gave a rifle firing demonstration that was absolutely fascinating. I don't know anything about guns, but I love hearing someone tell me all about how complex instruments work. They had all kinds of live demonstrations at the fort, and they were all terribly interesting. I had to pry R. away from a weaving demonstration because it was 6:00 and I wanted to leave and get dinner.

We drove up to Washington's Long Beach Peninsula, which separates Willapa Bay from the Pacific Ocean, so that we could try the famous Willapa Bay oysters. To me they tasted like oysters anywhere. I ate two, and then I had fried razor clam for dinner, which was tough and rubbery. Well, with dinner you win some and you lose some. Those are the breaks.
By the time we got back to the hotel, I was chilled and could not get warm, but the hot tub turned out to be well heated, and I eventually felt warm and comfortable again. We slept late, and in the morning our first stop was Josephson's Smokehouse. The salmon jerky was actually quite fantastic, and they also sold cans of high quality salmon, tuna, and oysters. After stocking up at Josephson's, we drove to the Astoria Column at the highest point in Astoria, which commanded a sweeping view of Young's Bay and the Columbia River. Unfortunately, the column turned out to be closed for repair, so we couldn't climb up to the top like we wanted to. Instead we went to the Columbia River Museum, which R. wanted to see. I did enjoy it very much. We heard the stories of many shipwrecks, and we were particularly impressed by a life-sized display showing a river rescue with the boat nearly at 90 degrees across a wave. The particular boat was a self-righting vessel that proved nearly indestructible but was finally retired and set up in the museum.
We ate lunch at Baked Alaska, a restaurant on a pier over the river. I ordered sea scallops over fettuccini, and this time my order was a winner. I found out later that the area has particularly tasty scallops, which mine certainly were. I love scallops that just melt in my mouth.
Finally, after lunch, we started driving down the coast. We stopped in Seaside to see a replica of the equipment that the Corps of Discovery used to get salt from the sea water, and I was pleased to get to see that. We made a lot of stops to check out sea stacks and other viewpoints. At one point we took a random trail down through berry bushes taller than our heads, eventually emerging at spectacular sea cliffs with birds soaring around. It was splendid, and it was all ours.

We took the Three Capes Scenic Loop and got out to walk around at every cape, so it was already starting to get dark when we stopped in Pacific City on Cape Kiwanda for a tasty dinner at the Pelican Pub and microbrewery. McPelican's Scottish Ale was the best beer we tried; for some reason I was not a fan of their award-winning stout. The view held a particularly engaging sea stack, pictured with this post.
It was quite dark by the time we finally arrived at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, which I selected. Each room has a theme of a famous writer. We slept in the E. B. White room because it was the only one with separate beds, but there are many other rooms. The Oscar Wilde room features garish Victorian wallpaper because they say Wilde's last words were, "Either this wallpaper goes, or I go." Besides the themed rooms, they have an upstairs library area with coffee and tea, and mulled wine after 10:00, and they serve a great breakfast including a hot dish that varies daily.

The tides were unusually low in the mornings, and the people at the Sylvia Beach Hotel kindly alerted us to this fact, so we went down to the beach and checked out some tide pools before breakfast. Breakfast was German pancakes, and we dined with two English/ESL teachers and a museum curator. Before leaving town, we spent the morning at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which was a nice facility, though somehow I was expecting it to be bigger. Still, I always love to watch sea lions, and I think my favorite part was the sea birds. The puffins splashed around and showed off.
After a stop for pizza, we hiked up Cape Perpetua, another of my ideas foiled by Mother Nature. I did not really realize how high we were going. We rose above the fog, so basically we completed a tedious 800-foot climb in high humidity in order to see ... NOTHING. That took a while, and after the hike we did not make many more stops. We turned off the coast at Florence and drove west, stopping only for dinner and gas.
Dinner was at a promising-looking restaurant called Our Daily Bread in Veneta, Oregon. Unfortunately, I happened to be in the mood for a hamburger because the restaurant offered free range beef. They did not ask me how I wanted it, which was a bad sign; and while R. dined on a pasta dish that he wholly enjoyed, I got a dry, overcooked piece of something that used to be beef but was no longer entirely identifiable. They were busy and never stopped by the table again after bringing us our food, so eventually we gave up on dessert, went to the cash register to pay, and left. I bought us a couple cookies at a gas station later that evening as we drove late into the night to Klamath Falls.


Oregon Vacation Part 1

My summer vacation occurred early this year due to time constraints at work. Despite the fact that I had a good trip, in hindsight this wasn't a very good time to go to Oregon; Mother Nature dogged me the whole trip.

I left not long after the Iowa floods. The roads were open, but it was still raining, and there was stuff on the roads. I was halfway to Chicago's Midway airport, which is about a 235-mile drive, when something sharp pierced the inside of my tire and I had a blowout on Interstate 80. I pulled all the way off so my right tires were on the grass, zipped up my rainproof jacket, and started changing my ruined tire. Several cars drove by without pulling over to the left lane, and one truck splashed a wall of water all over me. My blue jeans got soaked and filthy. Luckily, my can-do attitude resulted in good karma, and before I could even get the tire off, a handsome DOT worker stopped and changed my tire for me. I was dry by the time I got to the airport, although I was still pretty dirty.

I had driven that distance so that I could fly Southwest, the one airline that still seems to be nice to its customers. My direct flight was inexpensive and included an ordinary baggage allowance and inflight snacks, and Southwest also had the best terminals, equipped with wide seats with electrical outlets for laptops. Southwest doesn't have reserved seating, so when I boarded the plane, I looked for people who seemed nice and were not too wide. I saw a couple of genial men and asked if I could sit between them, and they steered me to the window seat, which was even better. They were flying to Portland for the weekend to visit some old friends, and let me tell you, they had come prepared. They had more free drink coupons than they could use, and they had brought their own in-flight movie, Sideways of course. They were delightful.

In Portland I had reserved a rental car. The West Coast traffic was a bit of a shock at first, and I white-knuckled it until I got out of the city. It was a long drive to Pullman, Washington, where I had a reservation at the cheap and comfortable Pullman Hotel. Unfortunately, the effort was wasted, except as a fact-finding mission showing me that I really liked Pullman. Winter had brought a record snow pack, and all the forest roads around Mount Saint Helens were still closed, which was highly unusual and a huge drag.

Deprived of my hike, I drove back west, stopping for a huge breakfast at a diner. I think an entire potato went into my hashbrowns. While I waited, I watched the short-order cook like a hungry wolf, and every time she brought out someone else's order, I looked disappointed and involuntarily dropped my shoulders. Although the waitress brought everyone else their orders, the short-order cook handed me my food directly with an understanding smile. I ate every last speck of food, left a 30% tip, and took off.

I visited the lowest visitors' center at Mount Saint Helens, where I learned a great deal about the 1980s eruption, and I took the walking path along Spirit Lake, which I had hoped to observe from a great height at Norway Pass. Then I took off driving toward the innermost visitors' center and Johnson Observatory. I never made it there because I started to worry about running out of gas, but I saw some great views. I'll go back some time in August.

After dropping the car at the Portland airport, it was easy to hop on a commuter train into town. I opted to walk about 1.5 miles toward my friends' house, until the sidewalk ran out and I called my friends to rescue me. We visited several Portland parks, and I was really impressed with the city.

In the evening we decided to take our chances at Apizza Scholls, New York style pizza limited to three toppings. They only serve pizza until they run out of dough, which generally takes 2-3 hours. The pizza was pretty decent, though I have to admit that I preferred Nick -n- Willy's, a New York style pizza chain that started in Boulder; they recently went out of business in my town. I still haven't decided what I'm going to do for pizza now. However, I think back on the Apizza Scholls beer list with great nostalgia. I may have to start eating pizza at the Sanctuary, which is several miles from my house but has a great beer selection.

Apizza Scholls started out in a small town, where they did spotty business until they decided to pack up and move to the city. Now they are so popular that they only open for a few hours a day. I remember Delfino's Pizza in my Iowa home town, which made such fantastic Chicago style pizza that they did hardly any business and they closed up shop and moved to the West Coast. I think I have located them in Seattle, so I'll be going out there some time to check them out. At Apizza Scholls we ordered two pizzas--a sausage, mushroom, and olive pizza, which was my idea, and my friend's choice of pepperoni and basil, which was better.

The next day was Sunday, and we visited the Portland Art Museum, which was absolutely huge. I had a great time there, and afterward we stopped at Voodoo Doughnuts, which also made me very happy. Voodoo Doughnuts is the coolest doughnut shop in the entire world, and I think no one could dispute that in a way that would carry any weight with me. They offer weddings that are "100% legal, unless you don't want them to be. The service is performed by ordained ministers beneath the holy doughnut and a velvet painting of Isaac Hayes. It doesn't get more legal than that!"

Voodoo Doughnuts offers several inventive specialty doughnuts. I could only try a few, but I particularly liked the dirty snowball: a chocolate doughnut with pink marshmallow frosting and coconut sprinkles, and a peanut butter dollop in the middle. It sounds gross, but it was so good that I ate the whole thing and did not share. What I thought would be delicious was the evil doughnut, all chocolate with a frosting pentagram on it, but it tasted boring. Maple glaze is something they do very well. We ordered both a maple log and a maple frosted bismarck, and they were irresistible.

In the evening we went out for Vietnamese food, and in the morning I left for the coast with college friend R.