Thursday, July 28, 2011

Between a Rock and a Beautiful Place: Smith Rock State Park

"All sunshine makes the desert." - Arabian Proverb
This past weekend, the family and I packed up and headed to Central Oregon for a family wedding. The original plan had been to leave bright and early Saturday morning, but as always, our plans are subject to change--and our whims. After getting a late start Friday night, we opted to spend the night on Mount Hood, near Timothy Lake, and get an early start the next morning.
At daybreak we were awoken to the sound of crows (or mountain roosters, as I refer to them) cawing in the trees around us. We hit the road headed for the other side of the Cascades. About half way through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, the still snow-capped peaks started to become visible, and our ritual game of “What mountain is that?” began.
“No, that’s not Hood.”
“I think it is Jefferson….”
“Yeah, Hood is that way.” <pointing>
“You might be right….”
I have driven between the Portland area and Bend on numerous occasions though it is generally when I am in a hurry to get somewhere else like the Painted Hills or Crater Lake, so I have never taken much time to stop and smell the sagebrush, so to speak. Smith Rock State Park is one of those places I have wanted to explore.
Smith Rock and the Crooked River
Located between Madras and Bend, Smith Rock is a short detour from Highway 97. It is known as a rock climbing paradise. Based on the large number of climbers we saw readying their gear for the day at the campground, I don’t think that is an exaggeration. We proceeded to the day-use area at the end of the road and took in the views of the rock formations, Crooked River and Mount Jefferson (someone correct me if I am wrong) in the distance.
Mount Jefferson framed by a rock formation
The landscape here was a feast for my camera, drinking in the reds, browns and sage greens of the high desert as they stand against the bright blue of an Oregon sky.
My husband, Jon asked if I wanted to go hiking with the rattlesnakes and ticks, and this finally broke me out of the trance the beauty of the place had put me into.
(Depending on who you ask, I have either a very irrational or wise fear of ticks. Not sure where it came from, but I would probably prefer the snake to finding one of those little insects crawling on me.)
Within minutes, we were back on the road, headed to visit with relatives I haven’t seen in far too long and watch my cousin get married. Another Oregon “natural attraction” was checked off of my to-do list and thoughts of coming back to explore more were already entering my mind.
Plan Your Visit:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Chasing Ramona Falls

"I beg your pardon, Owl, but I th-th-th-think we are coming to a fatterfall... a flutterfall... a very big waterfall!" - Piglet

It’s no secret that I spend most of my time chasing waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, so hiking to a waterfall on one of the most popular trails in the Mt. Hood National Forest felt a little bit like cheating on my spouse. But “The Gorge” knows where it stands in my heart and it will never be replaced.

We “attempted” this trail last summer, but Odessa’s little legs (she was only 3 ½ at the time) just weren’t up for the task and we ended up turning back not long after crossing the Sandy River Bridge. When I told my husband, Jon, on the Fourth of July that I wanted to go hiking and get away from the masses of holiday travelers that would be fighting for parking spots at most of the trailheads in “The Gorge”, he suggested we give Ramona Falls another shot.

Near the trailhead

According to most of the hiking guides, the Ramona Falls Trail is a 7.1 mile roundtrip with 1000 feet in elevation gain. According to my pedometer, it was 7.31 miles, but I am guessing that the hiking guides don’t account for chasing a 4-year-old up and down the trail either. We started the trail a bit later in the afternoon than most, so we passed few people on the trail, and those that we did offered a hearty hello and a smile.

Crossing the Sandy River

There is a small, wooden bridge that crosses the Sandy River and this seemed to be a great spot to stop, dip our feet in the glacial (that means it’s freezing cold) water and take a quick break until our toes almost turned blue.

Are they blue yet?

The views of Mt. Hood are spectacular, especially just after crossing the Sandy River. At times, you feel like you could just reach out and touch the snow that is still covering the mountain.
Mount Hood

The trail wound its way through the forest, flanked by wild rhododendron and the sound of rushing water coming from below. The cool breeze blowing down off the mountain was a welcome treat, as we were all getting a workout.

Trail sign near the falls

The trail

As a first time visitor, when we finally reached Ramona Falls, I was awed by both the scale and the beauty. I had seen many pictures before, but not one of them did this place justice. The falls were much (much) larger than I had imagined, and the place had a peacefulness that is hard to describe. After hiking for well over three miles with no cell phone signal and no one but my husband and children to be seen, I truly felt like I had gotten away from it all.

Sage and Ramona Falls

My girls ran around in wonder of the place, feeling like they had just found the play land of fairies. My husband was busy with his camera, snapping his own pictures, but, I just sat there, for what seemed like not nearly long enough, and enjoyed the peace of the place before giving my own camera its workout.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away. It was getting late in the afternoon and we needed to get back to the trailhead before dark.

Wild rhododendron

I have never claimed to be in any kind of shape other than round. So I won’t lie, it was a few days before my calves were speaking to me again in anything other than shrieks. This trail was about double the distance of what I normally do on a day hike. Was it worth it? Absolutely!! I returned home that night, a combination of relaxed and exhausted. I even slept right through the annual neighborhood Independence Day re-enactment of the bombing of Baghdad!

Visiting Ramona Falls:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Picnicking at Maryhill Museum

“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain.” – America

Every time I drive through the high deserts of the Northwest, this song always seems to pop in to my head. On this day, it really felt good to be out of the rain, too. The sunshine was bright, the sky deep blue, and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen in the sky.

We crossed the Columbia on the toll bridge at Hood River, our next destination thus far being a complete mystery to all in the car but me. As soon as I took the right turn to Highway 14 on the Washington side of the river, it became pretty apparent where we were going.

My friend, Kerri: “Are we going to Maryhill?”

“Yes we are!”

The kids, almost in symphony from the back seat: “What is Maryhill? Is that where we are going for our picnic?”

“Yes we are.”

Maryhill Museum

After about a 45-minute drive along the river and past some gorgeous river landscapes, small towns, farms and wineries, we arrived at the Maryhill Museum of Art. The museum and grounds sit atop a cliff overlooking the Columbia. Originally built to be a mansion for Sam Hill, he was convinced by his friend, Queen Marie of Romania, to turn the building into an art museum instead.

Mt. Hood from the Museum Steps

Rose in the museum's garden.

The museum grounds make the perfect spot for a picnic: large picnic tables, lush green grass, plenty of shade trees and a million dollar view of the gorge and windmills on the surrounding hills. However, one must watch out for the peacocks. They are quite insistent on being fed and really don’t take no for an answer. This flock seemed particularly gentle, though peacocks do have a reputation for being a bit aggressive at times, one in particular sat and begged like a dog for another bite of food. 

Snacking peacock

When asked later, all three girls stated that the peacocks were the highlight of their day. They screamed when the peacocks chased them, but mere moments later would whisper to each other and then be back in their midst once again. They became particularly fond of one male in particular, and named him Aqua. Fortunately, I did not need to convince the girls that peacocks do not make good house pets, otherwise they would have tried smuggling one home in the car with us.

Aqua the begging peacock

Girls enjoying the picnic

The grounds of the museum also features an outdoor sculpture collection, one of which my youngest mistook for a piece of playground equipment. Well, maybe there was more than one. Luckily, the sculptures you are not supposed to touch are very clearly marked, but others are just begging to be touched.

She probably shouldn't be up there.

Lily sculpture

While the shade of the trees and the breeze was wonderful, it was still a hot day (NOT COMPLAINING) and almost 5:00 when the museum grounds close, and we were all in need of something ice cold to drink. We opted to cross the river to Biggs on the Oregon side for “provisions” and then continue towards home along I-84. 

The view down to Biggs.

The closer we got to home, the greener the scenery became and the cooler the air. We all agreed one last stop at Wahkeena Falls was in order. We ended our adventure in one of my favorite ways: sitting listening to the waterfall and cooling my feet in the creek.

It was a good day indeed!

Visiting Maryhill and the surrounding area:

Maryhill Winery

Maryhill Museum of Art

Stonehenge Memorial

Related Blog Post:

Where in the Sam Hill am I?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An Afternoon at the White House

"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon

Summer may have finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, after several false starts. I don't think there is a better time for Mother Nature to grace us with her sunshine and warm temperatures than a long, holiday weekend, which is just what she did.

I haven't had much downtime the past few weeks, between participating in the St. John's Outdoor Community Market, and shuttling children around the state to visit grandparents, I have been overdue for a break, and some time to just have fun. A trip east through "The Gorge" is always a fine way to recharge my batteries, and I invited Kerri, my partner in crime when it comes to the craft show/outdoor market business, along for the ride, since she deserved the break as much as I did. My oldest daughter, Sage, also invited her friend Danielle along.

My original plan had been to head to Hood River Lavender first. The farm is absolutely stunning, with views of both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, and I don't think there is anything more beautiful than a huge field of lavender in full bloom. However, our plans were thwarted. The farm was rented out for a special event and therefore closed to the public for the day. I had to come up with a new plan of action for the Hood River portion of our adventure.

The Gorge White House  stands next to the highway like a grand dame. It is a stunning Dutch Colonial house, surrounded by orchards and gardens. It is one of my favorite "pit stops" along highway 35, when either touring the Fruit Loop or following the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway around the mountain. Besides the obvious draws of wine-tasting and the gift shop, they also offer some unique "U-Pick" opportunities in the gardens behind the house.

The view of Mt. Adams and orchards at the Gorge White House.
Normally by this time of year, the u-pick flower garden is brimming with flowers, but due to the soggy and cool Spring, they are still running a little behind. However, there were many stunning Asiatic lilies just starting to emerge and I fully expect within a few weeks they will be joined by many other beautiful blooms.

Asiatic lily in the gardens

The strawberry field, however, was prime for the picking. The girls (and Kerri) had a fine time picking a bucket of berries. I would have joined in myself, but I have PTSD from working the berry fields in Sandy one summer when I was 12. I have never felt the same about strawberries again and I gained a special appreciation for migrant farm workers at the same time.

Odessa picking strawberries

I digress. The girls fully enjoyed the experience. In fact, I practically had to drag them out of the strawberry field, kicking and screaming. The berries, while very small, were sweet and tasty. In my opinion, nothing is better than a fresh, Oregon strawberry. Even the farmer's market doesn't have them quite this fresh.

Sage and Danielle with their berries.
Strawberry stained hands

By this time, the girls (and us adults for that matter) needed a little more sustenance than a couple handfuls of fresh berries. So, it was time to load up the car and head to our next destination for a picnic lunch, Maryhill Museum.

Stay tuned!

Plan your visit to Hood River: