Ten Days in Oregon

_MG_8913Since the first time I booted up my Apple computer with a 3 1/2 inch floppy drive and played The Oregon Trail, I have had dreams of going “out west” to Oregon.  Finally, almost twenty years later, I made it!  We drove straight from Seattle to Portland in an afternoon, arriving at the doorstep of my Aunt Ruby and Uncle Pete just in time for a delicious homemade dinner. We spent the next ten days traveling, reading, wining and dining all over Oregon and here are some of the highlights.

Portland Farmer’s MarketFarmers Market PortlandOn Saturday morning, we met our friends Fred and Rebecca Gerendasy at the Portland Farmer’s Market.  If you recall, we originally met Fred and Rebecca while in Cordova, Alaska.  It was really fun to be able to see them again and check out the farmer’s market through the eyes of local food experts.  I loaded up on Portland-made vegan delicacies that we wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else, such as Chia Cheeze Sauce and chocolate hazelnut butter (a much healthier version of Nutella). There was so much colorful produce and a large array of locally-made, generally healthy food. We strolled through the market at turtle speed, freely handing out money to the musicians who entertained us along the way.

Wine Tasting in Willamette Valley_MG_8954On Sunday afternoon, we piled into Pete’s Biodiesel truck and drove into the Willamette Valley for an afternoon of wine tasting.  Oregon’s Willamette Valley is home to 316 wineries and more than 600 vineyards.  There’s nearly 17,000 vineyard acres and over 11,000 of them are for Pinot Noir, which happens to be my favorite type of wine.  We drove into the valley for about an hour, looking for a vineyard with a great view of Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson.  Torii Mor Winery provided that for us, with a balcony that overlooks the Cascade Range and the rolling hills of the valley. Our tasting went beyond the menu and we had seven different wines and finished with a tasty port wine. For the first time, I realized how complex and varied pinots can be.  We drove down the road to Lange Estate Winery, where we once again enjoyed beautiful views while tasting fantastic wine.

Oregon Coast_MG_9040When Nick and I left Portland, we spent a day driving down Highway 101, which snugly parallels the Oregon Coast.  The coastline is about 363 miles long, divided into North, Central and South coasts.  In 1967, the Oregon Beach Bill granted free beach access to everyone and private landowners stopped paying property tax in exchange for allowing passage to the public. Nick and I spent a good portion of a full day driving from Portland to Florence, stopping a few times for views, beach strolls and photographs.  The geography of the beaches was totally unique. We saw black boulders beaten by Pacific waves, soft sand, tall grasses – all shrouded in a thick and rapidly moving mist.

Florence, Oregon_MG_9050Florence is a small town along Oregon’s coast, located about mid-way between the Washington and California borders. Originally a fishing and logging town, the economy of Florence is now largely based on tourism.  Nick and I spent a night with my mom’s childhood best friend, MJ, and her husband Dave but wish we could have spent more time in the area.  Dave took us sandboarding in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which was definitely the highlight of our short visit. Sandboarding is essentially snowboarding on sand and Florence is home to the first sandboarding park in the world.  We spent a couple hours racing each other down fresh dunes before becoming prisoners to our car for the remainder of the day.

Ashland, OregonAshlandAshland, Oregon is a town located about 15 miles north of the California border.  We heard of Ashland through our friend Joe Jackson, who we met in Santa Fe through Outside Magazine. We visited Joe and his wife Sarah for a few days while also checking out what Ashland has to offer. The landscape reminded us of our previous home, Santa Fe, surrounded by sage-peppered mountains.  We spent a lot of time in Ashland’s well-groomed Lithia Park and walking around the Shakespeare-inspired downtown area.  Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in which 11 plays are produced on three different stages for nine months out of the year.  Through a friend of Joe’s, we were able to see Shakespeare’s Cymbeline on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage.  During the three hour play we watched the sun set and the following twilight faded into a clear, starry night.

Crater LakeCrater LakeOregon has a recent history of volcanic activity which is easily seen in the varied and rugged landscape throughout the state.  Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson, the two tallest peaks in Oregon, are both active volcanoes. The Cascade Range is a volcanic range that is surrounded by buttes, lava fields, old lava tubes and other features that make Nick and I, self-professed geology nerds, very happy. Crater Lake is actually the collapsed caldera of a volcano that erupted about 7,700 years ago.  Since then, the giant crater has filled in with rain water.  Because the water is so pure, the lake is a brilliant pure blue color.  At nearly 2,000 feet deep, it is the deepest lake in North America and among deepest lakes in the entire world. We felt so lucky to have an annual National Parks pass, a gift from my mom, because we have visited many National Parks during our road trip (8 so far!) for free.

Bend_MG_9117As soon as we told people we were traveling through Oregon, nearly everybody we met told us we would absolutely love Bend. Its location in the Cascade mountain range along the Deschutes River allows for easy access to kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, rock climbing, camping, white water rafting, etc.  Nick and I spent a few days checking the area out. When we first arrived in town, we got internet and Boba Tea from Townshend’s Tea.  As the sun set, we walked along the Deschutes River.  We camped near Mount Bachelor, Bend’s ski mountain, taking advantage of our location with an early morning hike. Back in town, we had to replace a broken Thule key, which left us with some time to walk up Pilot Butte, have a beer from Deschutes Brewery, walk the Deschutes River again and a late dinner from Pizza Mondo.  The next morning, before an 18 hour driving day, we checked out Smith Rock State Park, a local rock climbing spot. The nearly vertical rocks jut straight out of the ground along the river. It was a bittersweet stop because the beauty immediately drew us in but we had to get back on the road and drive east.

Staying with Family & FriendsNatural BridgeAs with Washington, we owe some of our best Oregon experiences to our hosts throughout the trip.  My Aunt Ruby and Uncle Pete introduced us to an abundance of amazing vegan restaurants, helped us navigate downtown, took us to breweries, vineyards and even to Bob’s Red Mill.  The special treatment continued with my mom’s friends MJ and Dave. Without Dave’s advice, we never would have driven along the Umpqua River, where we stopped along the road, swam in the river and sunbathed on the rocks during the hottest part of the day. In Ashland, we got a home-cooked meal from our friend Joe and a tour of the Papaya headquarters from his wife, Sarah.  Per Joe’s suggestion, we stopped at Natural Bridge on our way to Bend, where we saw Rogue River totally disappear underground and reappear 200 feet away, right into a waterfall.

UmpquaAfter all of this, our time exploring the west, living out of our car and having the company of only strangers and each other, drew to an end.

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The Road Back: Denali to Vancouver

Denali Highway

We’re a bit behind in updates on our whereabouts since Denali National Park. In the days following, we’ve driven out of Alaska, down the long empty roads of the Yukon and British Columbia, around the Pacific Northwest, and more than halfway across the country to Indiana via Big Sky country. We have much catching up to do, but that’s what happens when you’re living an adventure. You live it. Sometimes documentation must wait. But now that we have a moment to stay put, we’ll tackle our latest doings in a series of new posts.

Some highlights from our drive back to the Lower 48:

Denali Highway campsite

Denali Highway
From Cantwell, just south of Denali National Park, to Paxon, the 135-mile gravel Denali Highway was not long ago the predominant route accessing the park. The eastern 21 miles are now paved, but the rest remains little used, poorly maintained, and wild. The first thing we saw upon turning east and entering was a large moose crossing the road directly in front of our small-seeming car. The second was a young boy at a lakeside play-firing his toy gun at us, then enthusiastically waving as if in thanks for playing his imaginary victims. The next hundred miles of washboard dirt cross the Nenana and Susitna rivers, winding over the Amphitheater Mountains with long views to the dwindling Alaska Range and distant glaciers.

We camped about halfway that night at a roadside pullout just before a storm hit, the dark line of rain clouds rolling swiftly in from the southeast. The next morning we discovered we had a flat. So, rain still coming down, by the instruction and foresighted gifts of Paige’s dad we took the wheel off, pulled out our tire repair kit, extracted the offending headless screw, plugged the hole, and reinflated with the air compressor. We were quickly becoming seasoned experts in the maintenance and repair of our Subaru.

And that was good. Because the next morning before pulling out of camp in Tok–the drivers’ gateway town into Alaska–we had to extract yet another screw from the same tire and plug two more holes mere inches away from the first one. Feeling pretty competent, we topped off our oil, tightened a few bolts, shipped our gun from Three Bears Outpost, and drove our Frankenstein-wheeled rig back into Canada.

free construction worker

Cassiar Highway
Returned to the Yukon, we retraced a portion of the Alaska Highway (our only repeated section of road) to British Columbia. It felt good somehow to be on a known route, even if that familiarity came in the form of a wild and empty path. Empty of people but not lonely, abundant with majesty and life. We would come to know desolation in long roads ahead, but for now we were enveloped in the fecundity of nature, hugged by it on either side of a narrow road.

Day two retracing the Alaska Highway was warm and beautiful, even in a Far North tinged with autumn. On a map at the side of the road we spotted the Takhini Hot Springs marked just west of Whitehorse and decided to head there on a whim. A divided pool separated hot and warm sections with a narrow channel between, and we swam between the two, soaking and floating for a couple of hours in the Yukon sun before taking once more to the road. A welcome diversion.

The next day we turned south at the lonely junction for the Cassiar Highway, an emptier, narrower version of the Alaska Highway that passes 547 miles through the isolated wooded ranges of northern B.C. An American gentleman at the crossroads gas station was surprised to learn that he was in Canada. He had no recollection of a border crossing from the U.S. though we were at least two full days’ drive and many hundreds of miles from any such crossing. Paige passed as a Canadian as the woman at the counter bemoaned American ignorance.

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Black bears were abundant on this stretch of road. To that point, we had seen mainly grizzlies on our trip, ten of them, and no black bears in Alaska. Yet within twenty miles the black tally, including a pair of cubs, matched the grizzly as they grazed along the roadside every few miles. We’d stop on the road and watch them eat; they’d look at us from a few yards away, curious but unfazed, and continue eating. The final bear we saw–and we have not seen another since–was killed by the car in front of us, who had only recently passed us. The driver looked remorseful as he dragged the dead or dying bear off the road. We sat for a few minutes silently pondering that needless and unfortunate death.

Roadside camping

That night we slept at a rest stop where a dirt road ran down a short hill to a lakeside. Others had clearly made fire there before, and we were away from the road enough that we wouldn’t be disturbed, we thought. Once we’d set up our car for sleeping, though, some folks came down the hill in a couple of trucks full of plywood. We were reading as the light waned and hoping for an early night as the newcomers built up their bonfire and blared bad music two feet away. We exchanged a few friendly words but hoped they’d soon depart and kept reading. Some time later, when a particularly obnoxious girl left in the music truck to seek more booze and wood, we came out of our little shell to chat with the few remaining guys around the fire, and they were more to our liking. They were locals, in a manner of speaking, workers putting up power line towers along this part of the Cassiar. Some came from Prince George or other nearby towns, some from farther provinces, and they came to this spot to get away from camp for a midweek bonfire on the lake. We talked a bit and drove to the top of the hill to a quieter spot for sleeping.

Whistler Olympic rings

Whistler
South of Prince George and the Highway of Tears–a particularly ominous stretch of road where in the last 40 years 18 women have been murdered or disappeared–we turned coastward down the Sea to Sky highway. Starting from the sky side we wound through gorgeous canyons and valleys nestled between high snow-slathered summits. Chamisa, sagebrush, and ponderosa dotting the eastern hills reminded us of our far away former home in Santa Fe, but these quickly gave way to the lush and verdant coastal flora of the wetter mountains. We soaked our feet in Fraser River, cool, clear, and swift and slept the night in the parking lot of Joffre Lakes park before reaching Whistler the next morning.

This time of year Whistler was rife with downhill mountain bikers armored for fast lift-served descents. That particular weekend Whistler was hosting the Ironman. Scores of cyclists in alienesque track helmets and aero wheels lined the highways between Whistler and Pemberton. We managed to hit that portion of the route the last day it was open before the race, and that is the only path to Vancouver without a long backtracking detour. We walked Whistler village, got some coffee, then drove south to walk to 217-foot Brandywine Falls, a worthy sight that reminded us of The Lord of the Rings and the Brandywine River at the Shire’s edge.

Brandywine Falls

Vancouver
The drive along the coast south to Vancouver was idyllic. Cliff walls and green peaks rose to the left, dark blue coves and bays dotted with sailboats and fine homes to the right. On the bridge to West Vancouver we encountered our first shock of traffic, unwelcome after weeks in the relative wild. But the city, by my reckoning anyway, was aesthetically pleasing. Joggers and skateboarders peppered the walkways and parks, people were outside and engaged with their surroundings, however urban. It was a few steps up from, say, Anchorage, our most recent city. Yet we didn’t spend much time in it beyond looking for parking and stepping into a cafe to search for the most likely accommodations. These were outside of the city in Surrey, where we got a long awaited Mexican meal and spent a good few hours wandering, reading, and eating wild blackberries along the trails in Tynehead Park before returning, at long last, to the continental U.S. to visit friends and explore the Pacific Northwest–what we hoped might become our future home.

from sky to sea

The Road to Alaska, Part I: Denver to Montana

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Greetings from Anchorage! Sorry for the blog delay, but we’ve been in relative wilderness for the last week and a half, many miles now behind us. I wrote this update on the way. Now that we have more reliable internet, expect more to follow.
It’s day eight of our drive from Denver to Alaska as I write this in the car. We’ve just left Grand Prairie, Alberta, soon to cross into British Columbia. We’re making progress. But we’ll come to that later. It’s been awhile since we’ve had any internet access, since we’ve updated you folks. So we’ll start where we left off, leaving Denver. So as not to overwhelm you or ourselves, we’ll break things down into a few posts, starting with the first leg: Denver to Montana. We’ve done and seen a lot, so I hope you’ll pardon a non-exhaustive account. Man, this is a long drive, and there’s much to report.

We ran out of gas on our first day, 16 miles from Lander, Wyoming on the side of the highway. It’s the emptiest state in the country. In our defense (mine, since I was driving) I tried to get gas in Cheyenne with a full quarter tank, but saw no gas exit. The place was pretty empty. Only 40 miles to Lander–no problem, we thought. But it turns out that our gas gauge is off considerably. A quarter tank means we’ve got 20 miles before puttering out, which is exactly what we did near a deserted looking farmhouse. While Paige guarded the car I hopped a barbed-wire fence and walked across the field to that farm, where a couple were about to get into their car. I asked them if they had a can of gas to sell me, but they were just “neighbors.” The owners weren’t home and they were late to a Cheyenne rendezvous. “Try the guy by the firehouse across the highway, a quarter mile down the road” the man suggested. Then they were gone.

As I walked back across the field, a pronghorn sprinted in front of me, and up from a hill three horses meandered toward me. I stood still and waited. They walked right up like they knew me and nibbled my fingers as I stroked their long faces. A very surreal and magical moment for me in the midst of our small crisis. Then I hopped a couple more barbed wires and, after finding the firehouse deserted, bought some gas from a rancher, who drove me back to the car to refuel. He had 400 head of cattle he’d just driven to their summer pastures, was a volunteer firefighter and former state trooper, and his brother was an FBI agent on assignment in Anchorage.

We drove till one in the morning that night, camping just off a forest road under an endless expanse of stars and the clear bright band of the Milky Way. A horsewoman and her two dogs passed us in the morning.

Nick Grand Teton

In Grand Teton we saw our first moose standing in a river and finally got out of the car for a real hike to Taggart Lake at the foot of Grand Teton and Mt. Owens, jagged snow-salted peaks that towered above. Unfathomably tall waterfalls dropped in high and distant valleys. On the hike back, a crippled pika dragged itself under a dead tree and chirped as we passed. There, another couple our age caught up with us and shared our concern for the injured pika. We hiked together along the rest of the path, talking of our various adventures. They’d been on the road for a couple of months, driving across the southern U.S. from Brooklyn, where they were from, to California. Now they were headed back east across the northern route. It was good to make friends on the road, if only for a fleeting moment, even if we’d never see them again. They gave us a little honk as they passed us going toward Jackson. Our path took us north.

Paying $27 for a park campsite didn’t appeal to us, so we drove ten miles down the rough Grassy Lake Road into Caribou Targhee National Forest and camped in a cloud of mosquitos. Not terribly fun, but free.

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Yellowstone is a vast and varied park. Our first stop was Old Faithful and the surrounding geothermal wonderland of geysers, fumaroles, hot springs, and mud pots. As with so many famous wonders, actually witnessing the eruption of Old Faithful was surreal. Behind us a little girl yelled in genuine awe, “It’s a water volcano! It makes the clouds!” And she was right. The water, like most water there, trickled down in bright orange rivulets, colored by hungry thermophiles who loved boiling water like a miner loves gold. (Come on, baby, let the good times roll.)

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We tread the boardwalk path in a big loop around dozens of other geothermal features, boiling with such tremendous heat. It’s a forbidding place where taking the wrong step could mean your last in some fireless water volcano. Hence the mandatory boardwalk, one of those rules with which Paige and I felt obligated to comply, by virtue of its common sense. Imagine with what perpetual nervousness early travelers must have inched forward, with no guiding boards to steer them right.

Down the road, a whim took us to a one-way diversion through Firehole Canyon, where we got a refreshing and much needed rinse swimming in a swift, warmish river, vertical rock walls dwarfing us. That may have been the day’s best moment.

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But I’d also been looking forward to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone ahead. There we hiked a short rim-top trail to the brink of an immense and gushing waterfall, snapping photos along the way. I particularly loved the way the sun’s slanted light struck the textured canyon walls and a little waterfall tucked in a small gorge where most probably never saw it. The big waterfall, on the river’s main course, churned and heaved over the brink with such astounding force. I couldn’t fathom the quantity of water tumbling down every moment, and Paige in I watched in awe for many minutes, rapt, before turning back and continuing our long drive north and west.

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By the day’s end, we’d spotted bison, elk, pronghorn, yellow-bellied marmot, and about a million crepuscular insects that became well acquainted with our windshield like a pattering and messy rain, our welcome to Montana.

Moving Day!

Moving day has finally arrived! 

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I have already said many goodbyes… one was more permanent than the others.   I will certainly miss Santa Fe and all of the experiences I’ve had in this place.  After all, it is where Nick & I met.

This has been an intense week.  This move has been different than any I’ve done in the past because we are moving into a car.  There has been a lot to prepare for.  I am currently taking a lunch break from packing.  Unfortunately, I already packed all of the kitchen stuff, so my leftovers are warming in the sun.  Oops.

I am looking forward to spending our last few days with family and friends, as well as all the family visits we have planned before heading North!