30 June 2013

Victoria

I have some strict beliefs about running.  I really don't understand doing it for recreation.  Why run when bikes exist?  As a rule I only run away from things, or in the airport.  But I will modify that from now on having had to run to a pier to catch a boat. 
Both my friend and I were running uncharacteristically late.  Well, we left on time, and the uncontrollable elements of a big city got in our way.  But we found ourselves arriving at the port for our boat to Victoria, Canada with literally minutes to spare as we parked the car.  So, I only run away from things, or toward things that will take me on a trip.  That adage is a work in progress.
Running toward your transportation is an exhilarating way to start a holiday.  Then sitting in a boat for 3 hours is less exhilarating, but, as I love boats, I didn't mind. 

I'm sorry, Canada, but it is easy to forget you are a foreign country.  I blithely put my passport back in my backpack, stowed under our tour bus.  It wasn't until I sat down and thought for a second that I realized that without it, I couldn't get back home.  I immediately retrieved it. 

We took a great little prebooked overnight trip to Victoria, because we are elderly.  To be fair, we did bring the median age on the bus down by about 30 years.  But Victoria is home to the amazing Butchart Gardens.  Here, some well to do Victorians bought some land for its rich lime deposits.  They were cement tycoons, one could say.  They built their quarry (or whatever it's called) on this land, and eventually their home as well.  Mrs. Butchart had a bit of a green thumb, and eventually, once the lime had all been used, she created an amazing garden around their house and even in one of the old lime quarries.  The result is magnificent, and even on a rainy day, early in the season, it is a botanists and photographers dream scape.  I am sure millions of budding and enthusiastic gardeners have drawn inspiration from the Japanese, Italian, Rose, or Eden-like sunken garden here.   

When our tour was over we explored Victoria, the capitol city of British Columbia, located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.  This is a very interesting European feeling town with a cobbled high street, historic Chinatown, and some very expensive ivy-coated hotels.

On the waterfront, I had the third best fish and chips I've ever had.  I have a deep philosophy concerning fish and chips.  The taste is directly proportional to the eaters proximity to the sea.  Well, literally sitting on the dock, enjoying the evening activities of boats mooring and sea planes landing, this was about as close as I could get to the sea without actually being in it.  The fish and chips were amazing and, I attribute it to Canadian haddock, great preparation, and of course, the sea air.

The next day we returned to Seattle and went in search of the Fremont Troll, which is a really cool art installation under a bridge.  We did find it, and it was cool.  We stumbled upon the flagship Archie McPhee store which had me over excited, and made me never want to give a serious gift ever again.  (Inflatable turkeys for everyone!)

This was more or less the conclusion of my trip to the pacific northwest.  A return trip is all but compulsory, if for nothing else than to see the top of Mt. St. Helen's.

27 June 2013

Rainier

At 5000 feet in the Paradise area of Mt. Rainier National Park, one is still 9000 feet from the summit, in spring it makes rare, unscheduled appearances.  From the visitor center, we did glimpse the summit for a glorious 5-10 seconds, it's curved, snowy, outline barely discernible from the clouds behind it.

Wind and snow decide how tall and how straight the trees grow here, and even in late May many struggle to peek out of the snow.  They are called krummholtz, a German word meaning twisted and crooked. 

Shrouded in cloud, Mt. Rainier is a mysterious force.  It is considered an active volcano, which is more concerning having visited Mt. St. Helen's.  25 glaciers adorn the mountain which would melt in the case of an eruption, forming a violent mudflow that would travel for miles into populated areas.  But, that is unlikely.  Kind of.

Even on a rainy day, the park is amazing. The mountain road to 'paradise' is windy and wonderful and full of viewpoints. Granted, viewpoints with little to no view, but it's the thought that counts.  We were still able to see waterfalls, a few tourists, and stand in an ancient lahar.  The visitor center was wonderful and had the requisite inspirational video and scary volcano section of the exhibit.  While we were there, the building nearly fell over when one of the rangers announced that the summit was visible, as every tourist flocked to the windows, hungry for a glimpse of this mammoth.  The glimpse was fleeting, and only added to the mystery and majesty of this mountain.

26 June 2013

Orcas

The Puget sound is the second largest estuary in the United States, behind the Chesapeake Bay.  Within the Puget Sound are the San Juan Islands.  We took a ferry from Anacortes to Orcas Island, an upiside-down U shaped island, where we would be camping for the next four days.   

Washington state has the largest ferry system in the US.  I think it's pretty awesome. Mostly because I love to travel by boat.  The only problem with the system is that there is no reservation system.  Therfore, when we arrived with an hour to spare before our boat, we were quite surprised to actually miss it because there were already so many people waiting.  Therefore we got to hang out at the ferry port for, well, quite some time.  Eventually we did get on a boat and even found our campsite at Moran State Park and set up before dark. 

In the morning, we took the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.  This is a cute port town full of artists and specialty shops.  It was nice just to wander around town.  After lunch, we took a bus to the other side of the island to Roche harbor.  San Juan island used to be a top producer of lyme which brought people and industry to the area.  Roche harbor was where one company set up shop and when the business was finished, the leftover buildings became a resort.  It's pretty cute and a great wedding venue (I'd imagine). 

The next day we went kayaking which was wonderful if only because I was in a kayak in the pacific northwest.  It was an extremely low tide, which meant that we spotted hundreds of star fish including the 22 arm'd sunflower starfish.  We also spotted a couple of harbor seals, as well as a bald eagle whom I paid handsomly to pose for us. 

Once we got out of the water we lunched and hit the trail to Cascade Falls.  Let me just say that staying in a park where we could walk to trailheads was awesome.  Let me also just say that I love hiking.  I cannot explain it, but especially in the pacific NW, I was absolutely overtaken by the size of the trees, the smell of the pine, and the just general good vibes from the forest. 
This hike was well worth it. 

The next day we hiked to the hightest point in the San Juan Islands, Mt. Constitution.  It was about 7 miles round trip from our campsite and began quite steeply, but it smoothed out and was a good hike.  It made me wish that I knew anything about forestry as the woods seemed to change every once in a while and I am sure there is some ecological reason.  The view at the top was intermittent due to clouds, but still pretty cool. (literally, as I actually wore gloves at the top).

It was a great camping trip which I would happily do again.  It helps to bring along a super planner who will orchestrate meals that are more fancy than my usual fare at home.  It also helps to bring along friends old and new who also love camping and its ups and downs.  It also helps to bring along the right sleeping bag to be cozy.  Thats the end of my camping advice.   

25 June 2013

Hey You Guys!

The entire purpose of the trip out west wasn't to visit Astoria, Oregon, home of the Goonies, but it was a pretty important part.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself. 

We drove west and turned onto the pacific coast highway, before us, over a cliff was my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.  We stopped on the first turnout and immediately saw a bald eagle.  This was just a prelude to the beauty before us.  From the wildflowers to the strange rock formations jutting out of the ocean, this was a beautiful sight.  The weather was perfect and there were stacks of waves forming on the bright blue
water.  Okay, maybe I'm not good at describing it. So, here's a picture. 

We then headed south to Oswold West state park to dip our toes in (as dipping anything more would have led to immediate hypothermia) at Smuggler's Cove.  It's a short walk through towering evergreens to the beach which boggled my East coast mind where the prelude to the ocean is infinate flatness.   Low tide here revealed small caves, and small ecosystems clinging to the sides of rocks on the beach.  Starfish, mussles, and anemonies fascinated us.  We moved on from there to Ecola State park.  The view is worth the small price of admission here.  I will refrain from describing it for fear that my words would minimize its beauty.  
This view may look vaguely familiar to any Goonies reading as this is where the restaraunt was located in the movie.  The outcropping rocks served to triangulate the location of the start of their adventure.  It would be difficult to ride your kid bike the 20 miles it is to here from Astoria, our next stop. 
This is a cute town that probably feels and looks exactly as it did in the 80's.  We unabashadly visited Mikey's house and Data's right next door.  They are privately owned, so we didn't see if the broken David statue is still there, but it was cool to see them.  Interestingly, from these houses we could hear the barking/talking of about 200 sea lions that beach themselves on the local dock.  We went for a closer look, and it was pretty cool to see so many there communing.  I guess they were having a meeting or something. 

In the morning, we visited the nearby Oregon Film Museum, which is housed in the old jail of the town.  The jail is familiar as it is where the opening scene of the Goonies was filmed.  The museum is full of goonies memorbilia and some costumes and props from the movie.  Over 300 movies have been filmed in Oregon, and even spending a day here, it is easy to see why. 

02 June 2013

Put a Bird on it

On May 18th 1980, Mt. St. Helen's erupted in a spectacular show of mother nature's power.  A 5.1 magnitude earthquake sent the north face of the mountain flying.  The initial blast burned the landscape 14 miles away.  From there, a hot, turbulent flow of mud and debris traveled down the mountain at 300 miles and hour, destroying everything in its path.  (please read that in a dramatic, movie trailer narrator type of voice.)

It's pretty scary to think about, but also one of most fascinating places I've been.  Sadly, we did not see the mountain itself due to clouds, (even though it is 1300 feet smaller than it was on May 17th 1980).

After coasting back toward sea level, we visited Multnomah Falls 30 minutes outside of Portland, Oregon.  These falls are literally yards from the highway and a popular destination for travelers.  At 582 feet, they are the second tallest year round falls in the United States.   It's a little over a mile to see the top of the falls, which weeds out a lot of the tourists.  11 switchbacks yields a great view of the Columbia River Gorge as well as the highway. 

Two years ago, I didn't know anything about Portland, Oregon.  But thanks to Portlandia, a wacky and funny sketch show, I know more about that town than almost any other.   I think that I really wanted to go to Portland just to shout some of the classic lines from the show on the street.  Let's just say we said 'put a bird on it' 'bike right!' and 'whose dog is this?!' quite a bit.  (Really we said 'Whose dog/parkbench/baby/bag is this!?' as much as it could possibly be applied for the entire trip).

Outside of that, in Portland we ate great food, fancy donuts, and drank a few craft beers.  We also visited the National Museum of Forestry which is peppered with great interactive exhibits including a dry run of whitewater rafting, a way to practice logging with a huge tractor, and to perfect jumping into a wildfire as a wild land firefighter.  Once all of the school children on field trips went to lunch, we all had a good time playing.

From there we headed West until we couldn't head west anymore.