Saturday, February 26, 2011

Where in the Sam Hill am I?

Child free weekends are so rare that you must seize them and make the most of that opportunity. This past weekend, that event -- rarer than a blue moon -- occurred at our house. And make the most of it we did.

I won't make you suffer through hearing about my husband kidnapping me and dragging me kicking and screaming to Skamania Lodge. (Well, maybe it wasn't kicking and screaming.) I certainly didn't complain when we sat  in the outdoor hot tub and watched the full moon. Or when I was enjoying a hot cocktail with huckleberry creme brulee. (Which I am still wanting seconds of.) And I didn't complain when, after yet another trip to the hot tub in the morning, there was an unadvertised breakfast buffet (due to the chainsaw convention happening at the resort. Everyone thought my husband was a lumberjack and we were there to attend) I got to eat all the bacon and salmon hash with fresh tomato compote I could eat, and I did. No, I won't bore you with those details at all......

View from Skamania Lodge

Where was I? Oh yes, there are just some things you can't do with kids. Most people might just enjoy the quiet of home, take a nap, get some projects done in the absence of two high maintenance little girls. Not us. We decided to take an epic day road trip since there was no chance of any whining coming from the backseat of the Rover. (I prefer to do all my whining from the front seat.) Yes, it never fails, 2 miles after we pass the last gas station/rest area for 50 miles, I have to use the bathroom like I haven't gone in days. But I digress.

We started the epic journey by driving east on Highway 14, the Washington side of the Gorge, with no particular destination in mind. There were many "Ohh...what is that! Stop!" moments. Dog Creek Falls, a particularly interesting railroad tunnel, and Horsethief Butte.

My husband at Dog Creek Falls

Our first stop. Stonehenge. Well, faux Stonehenge. As it would have looked when it was originally built, and they used concrete. Built by Sam Hill as a memorial to soldiers from Klickitat County who perished in WWI. I won't bore you with the rest of the historic details, that's what Wikipedia is for. However, if you haven't been here, the view alone is worth the trip. To be honest, this is probably as close to the real Stonehenge as I will really get, and, unless someone asks for the details, when they ask what you did over the weekend, and you say you went to Stonehenge, won't they be impressed?

Stonehenge with a Columbia River Gorge view.
Sun over Stonehenge

From there we crossed the Columbia back into Oregon and the town of Biggs. We still didn't have a specific destination in mind, but it was time to fill the tank. I then decided that I must go to Shaniko, since we were so close. (Close being over an hour away, but in relative terms, close. Hey we were in Eastern Oregon. That counted as close!)

For anyone who has traveled down Highway 97 from the Columbia River south, or in a lot of spots in Eastern Oregon, there isn't a whole lot to see if you aren't enthralled with sagebrush and rocks. I happen to be enthralled with both, my husband, eh, not so much, but, if you look and pay attention, there is actually more to see than you might think.

This is ranch country. This is the part of Oregon where the wool for the legendary Pendelton blankets originally came from, along with the sheep ranches, there were -- and still are -- many cattle ranches. There are lots of historic abandoned houses, barns, windmills, and other buildings along the way that make for interesting pictures if you are so inclined.

Windmill near Moro, Oregon

There was one particular homestead that caught my eye. It was far off the highway, down a dirt road, and I just had to stop and get closer -- until I saw the dead coyote hanging off the fence at the end of the road. Immediately, scenes from every creepy horror movie I have ever seen came to my mind. My husband explained that when coyotes start killing chickens or whatever other type of farm animal, the problem animal will be hunted, and then hung as a warning to other predators to stay away. This sounded particularly barbaric to me, and I certainly didn't want to be hung from a barbed wire fence as a warning to other tourists who considered trespassing to get a few pictures. The husband just laughed at me, and we drove down the road to get a bit closer. I was very glad we did. I got some incredible pictures, including one of a windmill that I am particularly fond of, and no one will be waiting until spring to find our bodies somewhere out in the snow covered high desert.

Abandoned Homestead

Close-up Shot of Windmill

After that, the rest of the trip wasn't particularly thrilling. We stopped in Shaniko and the town was pretty much locked down for the winter, i.e. absence of tourists. We continued on south to Madras, made a pit stop for tater tots at Sonic (mmmmmm tater tots). By this time I had lost the light, and we traveled over Mount Hood in the dark and on to home.

Old truck outside the Blacksmith Shop in Shaniko

In summary, over 260 miles, 400 pictures and six potty breaks later, we made it home to our recliners and take out Chinese from our favorite place in Sandy. An epic road trip it was. I think Sam Hill the road builder would have been proud!!

(By the way, did I mention the huckleberry creme brulee at Skamania Lodge is incredible???)

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Trees Don't Care What You Look Like - Wahclella Falls

The trees don’t care what you look like. They don’t care if you haven’t done your hair, if you are wearing your grubby jeans, and definitely not about the amount of makeup you are wearing. On a recent Sunday I had spent the morning doing housework and definitely was not at my most attractive. I was getting an itch to get out of the house, but didn’t feel like getting prettied up either. Since the rain seemed to be holding off and a couple of rays of sunshine were peeking out, a hike in the Gorge with my oldest daughter and dog was the perfect solution.

My youngest child was at the coast visiting her grandparents. My husband was ensconced in other projects, so this was a rare opportunity to spend some quality time with the tween and explore a trail we haven’t visited before. Normally, I don’t take my 4 year old on a trail I have never been on before. She is just too rambunctious and I like to be completely aware of whatever “dangers” might exist. So, it was seize the opportunity now or wait an undetermined amount of time until it presented itself again. We headed out with no particular destination in mind.

Sign at the trailhead.
I have driven by the trailhead to Wahclella Falls an innumerable amount of times. Normally, we take the left instead of the right and head straight to Bonneville Fish Hatchery to feed the trout, one of the kids’ favorite things to do. I recently looked information about the trail online, so, about the time we passed the Bridal Veil exit on I-84 I decided this would be our destination. I was not sorry about my decision at all.

Tanner Creek
The first part of the trail is really a service road that runs parallel to Tanner Creek. A beautiful way to start, with the sound of the running water, small cascades and trees almost completely covered in bright green moss. You cross a bridge next to a very small waterfall that runs down a rock face, that you can literally reach out and touch. From there, the trail turns to gravel, a little rocky in places and starts climbing. Close to the falls there is a fork in the trail, one heading down the hill and into the canyon, another that continues up. We continued on the “high road”, leaving the lower trail for a future visit. After about a mile hike, you are rewarded with the spectacular view of the falls spouting from the basalt cliff.

Wahclella Falls
The hike back to the car we just enjoyed the sound of the creek. There weren't a ton of people on the trail this day, but we saw a little bit of everyone. From some older ladies to a couple carrying a baby, and all ages in between.

The dog and the tween on the trail.
Speaking of carrying babies, my little 6 pound minature pinscher did not enjoy the hike as much as we did. In fact, by the time we got the the actual waterfall, she was begging to be picked up. My daughter ended up taking pity on her and carried her the entire way back to the trailhead. I don't think the dog has really forgiven me yet, but I think most humans, even those not in great hiking shape, would enjoy this almost two mile round trip. It wasn't too strenuous, and we returned home more relaxed than when we left. Not a bad way to end a weekend if you ask me!!

Want to go check out this gem for yourself? Friends of the Columbia Gorge had a great website that has a tool for planning hiking trips all over the area. Click here for more information on the hike we took!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Columbia River Gorge Through New Eyes

Whenever someone from out of town comes to visit, there is an unwritten list of places that you must take them. The Oregon Coast, Columbia River Gorge, Powell's City of Books, Voodoo Doughnuts and it goes on and on. As many of you know, my friend (and many of yours as well) Sarah was out visiting the great Pacific Northwest from North Carolina, and I took it upon myself to kidnap her for the day and show her one of my favorite places on earth, the western Columbia River Gorge.

I spend a lot of time in "The Gorge". If I am not out there at least once a month it is probably because I have been suffering from some horrible illness. Or have been extremely busy. Either way, it's not good. So, a trip out the old highway may be considered somewhat "routine" around my house, even though every trip it can be very different, depending on the season and what the weather has done recently. However, I can't recall a time I have ever had the rare opportunity to show the area to someone who has never seen it before, except through my pictures. To say this was a treat would be a great understatement.

There is a normal path people follow when visiting The Gorge. From my experience, the majority of the people that I have witnessed visiting usually stop at Vista House, and then high tail it for Multnomah Falls, passing many other beautiful sights along the way. I assure you, Sarah did not get this type of tour, and I don't think anyone would expect any less than the Blue Ribbon Tour from me.

Of course our first stop was Vista House. Sarah must have thought me a bit crazy when I told her we were going to stop at one of the most beautiful, and expensive when it was built, rest areas in the world. (For those of you don't know, that was the "original" purpose of the building when originally constructed.) The weather was not exactly cooperating. Okay, really, it wasn't at all. It was gray and drizzly, but, if you think about it, the perfect representation of a February day in Oregon.

Sarah enjoying the view at Vista House/Crown Point

Our next stop was Latourell Falls. Now, don't go telling Wahkeena Falls, cause we all know how jealous she can get, but, this is probably my favorite waterfall to photograph in The Gorge. Shhh...remember, it's our secret. The best part, I was starting to see the first sparkles of awe and wonder in Sarah's eyes.

Latourell Falls

Next stop was Bridal Veil Falls. I warned Sarah I was going to take her on a hike this trip, but would go easy on her, and I think I kept my word. There was a wonderful amazement in Sarah's eyes as we hiked down the trail, that just continued to grow the closer to the falls that we got. I heard things like "Have you seen the Narnia movies? I feel like I am one in them right now." "This looks like Lord of the Rings!" Okay, I may be paraphrasing a bit. Sarah can correct me later. I was too thrilled with her reaction to remember her exact words, but I think you get the idea.

Bridal Veil Creek

Sarah and Sage at Bridal Veil Falls
 From there we made the rest of the "highlight" stops along the Historic Highway. Wahkeena Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oneonta Gorge and Tunnel, and Horsetail Falls. At this point I kind of expected Sarah to be saying "Oh yay another waterfall. *YAWN*" but she seemed absolutely thrilled with every stop we made, even if we just jumped out of the car for a few pictures and moved on at a couple of spots.

Making a quick stop at Wahkeena Falls
One of the perils of taking any kind of day trip with my family is we all have cameras. We have been known to stop and take a picture of almost anything that catches our eye. Leave, flowers, an interesting rain drop. Yeah, pretty much anything. Anyone who does not have the photography habit and accompanies us usually spends a fair amount of time standing around waiting for us to finish taking pictures. I guess you can call it a "recreational hazard". However, on this trip, I think I spent more time standing around waiting for Sarah to finish taking pictures, and completely enjoying her reaction to everything she saw. I didn't even notice that I was barely taking any pictures.

We all found  something interesting to take a picture of.

We stopped for lunch at Charburger in Cascade Locks. Food is nothing fancy, but you won't get a better view while you eat. This is probably my favorite lunch stop for that reason alone, but the marionberry pie isn't half bad either.

From there we took Sarah on the Dam tour. Bonneville Dam that is. I had hoped the sea lions would be making a repeat appearance, and they did not disappoint. As an added bonus, we spotted two bald eagles and two golden eagles perched in a tree. I assume they were fishing just like the sea lion. We sat in the car and watched them for a long time, and even remarked that while w were watching the wildlife, most of our friend were sitting around somewhere watching the Super Bowl. Can't say as I am sorry we missed the half time show, and from what I heard when we got back home, it certainly sounds like we got the better end of the deal.

Bald Eagles at Bonneville Dam

Our final stop was the Bonneville Fish Hatchery to visit Herman the Sturgeon and his rainbow trout friends. A perfect way to end a tour of the Columbia River Gorge.

Rainbow Trout at Bonneville Dam

Final photo count:

Sarah: 250 Wahkeena Photos: 76

Note: Sarah has been one of my great friends that has encouraged me to start blogging, and I usually count on her to proofread my posts. I wanted to surprise her with this one, so please excuse any typos, grammatical errors, etc. I hope you enjoyed it Sarah, and thanks for giving me the chance to see The Gorge through your eyes!!