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Trail heads into Blue Basin

After the cheers died down and a few vehicles sped off to beat the post-eclipse crowds, I said goodbye to all my brand-new eclipse friends and wished them a safe trip home to Seattle, and Portland, and Calgary, and Providence, Hartford, and Albany. (See my eclipse  2017 post here.) Curiously, of all the people I met, they seemed to mostly hail from either the Pacific Northwest, or New England Рopposite sides of the continent.

I had been out of cell range since the previous afternoon, and had merely a sense of where I was headed, based on a map in a newspaper that a woman in a museum had shown me the day before. I had the south-bound road to myself. “Yes! All you eclipse tourists just head on home and clear the roads for me, will you?” I thought as they passed me, heading north. There are few roads and I was not concerned about getting lost.

The eclipse-altered temperature continued to drop as I drove, and could see the temperature display in the Jeep. It dropped from 78 degrees at 10am to 64 degrees by about 11am before it began quickly warming again. I didn’t believe the readout at first, but realized that also happens at dawn: though the sun has finally come up, the morning temperatures will continue to fall until the power of the sun finally overrides the cooling.

I stopped along the way to take a photo of a bluff with striations of different colours, showing up brightly in the strengthening sunlight.

Colourful stripes of earth exposed in the side of a bluff above the John Day River.

Feeling the welding glass still in my pocket, I pulled it out and took another look at the sun. True, it had not been that long since I had stood on the side of the road and watched the eclipse, but it was still surprising to see the sun only 2/3 visible. People were driving, or still on the side of the road, chatting. It was hard to believe how calm we all were, considering the scientific marvel going on right above our heads. I gaped at it a little more, then got back into the Jeep.

In no time I found the parking lot for the Blue Basin trails. It was full of cars and after I parked, I joined a few others who continued to steal glances at our partially obscured sun. Then, in the swelling heat of late morning, I grabbed a water bottle and began hiking the Overlook trail.

Sights along the Blue Basin Overlook Trail.

A mostly dry creek bed wound through the bottom of the canyon, wet here and there where weak springs surfaced.

Fossils found in the area were displayed to help us imagine what they were like when found.

The draw here is the blue-green clay and weathered formations that tower up from the trail. As we were near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, it was not surprising but still delightful to find fossils installed along the trail to help us imagine the canyon in a different time. The fossils were only replicas of what had been found there.

A layer of the blue-green clay soil.

Earth and sky

The shapes of eroded soils were also fascinating.

My Brandeis T-shirt drew an unexpectedly high number of conversations with people who were also Alumni of the school, or had connections to the school.

The blue and green colours showed everywhere, and were most noticeable when I could contrast them with more familiar colours like the golden grasses and rust of mineral-rich soils. I tried to find brighter blues in the few damp areas of the small springs there, but there were no clear examples. My guess is that this canyon is even more remarkable in the rain, which would likely bring out those unexpected hues.

I imagined that sufficient time had passed to allow people to get on their way toward home, and decided I could begin my trip back. I knew the traffic would be worse Monday afternoon than it had been on Sunday, and I wanted to allow myself enough time to get home at a reasonable hour for a full night’s sleep.

Making my slow trip home with all the other eclipse-viewers.

I stopped beside the John Day River (you can see it’s larger here, farther down stream) for a leisurely lunch with my feet in the water. It was 100 degrees.

In an hour or so, I was crawling along the road at 8 miles per hour with hundreds of others who had delayed their return, just like me. My attempts at being uniquely clever were dismayed every time on this eclipse trip. I guess the odds of coming up with an original idea are reduced when there are thousands of others seeking eclipse totality with you! ūüėČ

I did finally make it home by 9pm, which was acceptable. Interstate 5 was still pretty crowded when I got to it, so I took the smaller Highway 30 to get home to Rainier and avoided all the Seattle eclipse-viewers who were heading north still, 10 hours after the eclipse. I heard horror stories of missed flights and 2-hour journeys taking 8 hours instead. So I missed the worst of it, and remained in high spirits all day long.

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Twilight at 10:30am on Monday.

I drove into the path of totality on Monday, to experience the much-advertised total solar eclipse. The eclipse was remarkable in that it passed from the west coast of the US to the east coast, though the fervor of the buildup to Eclipse Day 2017 was unparalleled to any space/stars/meteor shower I  have yet seen. The result of said fervor is that everybody and their dog was headed either south, or north, on Interstate-5, to get to the area around Salem, the capitol city of the state of Oregon. Salem was smack in middle of the path of totality, and one of the first places on the continent to see the eclipse.

Thus, I chose a different route.

I gauged that central Oregon – typically some of the most desolate landscape of the country – would be less of a destination. I was right to some degree, having to share that part of the world only with other people who had chosen it for the same reason. Because let’s face it: people were everywhere within the path of totality on Monday.

A Canadian eclipse-viewer stops for gas and cleans the windshield. His pup was along for the ride.

I passed through vast areas of wind farms. These things always make me think of a science fiction story.

As I have told you a hundred times, I’m a very busy person. The result in this case was that I had not made time to plan other than to get approval to take the day off from work. I had no eclipse glasses, no hotel or campground reservations, no destination in mind, and only a rough idea of where the path of totality would be.

Friday before the eclipse, as my workday was winding down, I started searching on the Internet for where to get those coveted glasses. And they were nowhere!! Everyone sold out & Ebay filled with $200 glasses that their owners had purchased for $12 a month earlier. I gave up and decided just being in the area would be wonderful enough. Fortunately, a¬†friend was thinking of me, and while he couldn’t find eclipse glasses either, bought welding glass for himself and his friends.

Sunday morning I was delighted to find that traffic was a breeze. I was expecting Eclipsageddon on the highways. As I drew closer to the path of totality, the traffic picked up enough that I was certain it was eclipse-related. I could not stop myself from thinking that every time I had been in this region before, I felt like I was the only person in the world. It is that desolate. But that weekend was different.

Heading south. Clearly we all have the same thing in mind. I giggled to myself about the famous Oregon driver politeness. Look at how courteous we all are here, giving plenty of space between each vehicle. This behavior makes East Coast visitors go friggin mad with frustration.

Further south the views became more beautiful to me.

Oregon’s path of totality. (image courtesy NASA) The star is where I live. The arrow points to my campsite.

OK, quick refresher for anyone who wants it: the “path of totality” is the path in which the eclipse is total. That means the moon fits perfectly in front of the sun for at least a few seconds. I guess the path is 70-80 miles across. At the center of that swath, the length of totality was 2 1/2 minutes long, and shorter as you moved toward the outside edge of it. I snagged a map (shown above) from the NASA website, and chose a place to head for.

I stopped in the adorable town of Condon, just outside the path, and I relaxed. It’s amusing in retrospect, but after a month of run-for-your-lives! warnings on every media source, including my employer’s mandate that all employees must work at home on Monday, to avoid driving, I was filled with anxiety. In reality, I made it with no hiccups whatsoever. I chalk it up to 1) heading for a typically desolate area, 2) heading in Sunday instead of Monday, and 3) the fact that eclipse viewers had been trickling in for the past week, so the full population was not impacting the highways on the way in.

Mainstreet of Condon, Oregon

Museum inside the Veteran’s building in Condon

Condon was well-prepared for the eclipse tourists. The tiny town looked like it had been scrubbed from top to bottom. Buildings painted, streets swept, flower baskets out, windows washed, colorful banners up and welcome signs everywhere. I pulled to a stop across from a Veterans Memorial building, and thought I would stretch my legs in there, and see what was inside. To my delight, the space was being used as an art museum, displaying works from local painters and photographers. It was quiet and cool and had a bathroom! I lingered in front of one collection from a single artist, and the woman managing the place came up behind me and asked if I had ever been there: the canyon depicted in the paintings. I had not. She introduced herself as the artist and said that Blue Basin, within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was her favourite place in the region. As long as I was there anyway, she insisted I try to walk the trails there. Just as I was about to ask about potential for camping, she noted that all the public trails would be closed for the eclipse.

I went directly south, through Fossil, Oregon and then east. I discovered that I had left the Internet and cell service behind in Condon, so I was on my own out there in the wild. Remarkably, my GPS sort of worked, and I found a National Forest nearby. I thought, “I’m a taxpayer; it’s my forest too!” And drove up into the hills and found a flat spot and pitched my tent. Throughout the evening, more people trickled in, clearly others as brilliant (and procrastinating) as myself!

Some entrepreneurs thought to rent out space in their fields after getting the hay in. This farm was charging people to set up tents and trailers. If you click the image, you’ll be able to see them in the distance.

Closer shot. There were already hundreds of campers by mid-afternoon. I’ll bet the population was enormous by midnight. I hope the ranchers made a mint!!

National Forests are for everyone!

Watching the sun go down from inside my tent. The murky skies eventually turned into a spectacular sunset.

All day long the skies were worrisome. We’ve had a record-breaking wildfire season (every new summer breaks a new record…sigh.) and smoke was blowing in from fires in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The orange-brown particles obscured the views in every direction. Even more distressing were the cirrus clouds that heralded a change in weather (remember I was a forecaster in my former life). As evening drew nigh, low-level grey clouds thickened and spread across the sky. It began to look like rain.

Miraculously, the sky was spotless blue in the morning. Even the smoke from the fires had cooled and settled into the valleys, leaving the sky above as perfect as any of us could have wished for.

On the way in I had spied a promising high point along the road, with views in all directions. Wide open, beautiful, accessible. In the morning, I packed everything up, and headed back the way I had come, in order to put myself at that spot at about 9:30am. I worried about police coming along and telling me not to park on the side of the road, but I was determined to do it anyway. Imagine my surprise when I found dozens of vehicles already parked where I was headed. I merely found a spot in the midst of the crowd. Again, my bewildered brain recalled that I had been on this road before, and it was not unusual to drive an hour and not see another vehicle.

Eclipse-gazers line both sides of the highway on this curve in the road. If I showed you the view to my right, you would see an equal number of cars in that direction. The hills you see are where I camped.

I walked around taking photos to kill time. I met a photographer who had drool-worthy equipment and had thought to purchase a sun filter so she could photograph the sun safely. I met families with bouncy squealing children, and aging hippies, and science nerds and adventurous twenty-somethings. We all loved each other for being excited about the same event. We were all instantly friendly, trusting, generous. No vehicles were locked, and many doors were wide open with expensive camera equipment and wallets and sunglasses on the seats, available for the taking if any of us wasn’t so filled with joy and love. One family asked if I had eclipse glasses, and I said I did not, and they instantly brought me a spare pair from the truck.

“What were you going to do without glasses?” they asked with genuine concern.

“I have welding glass. Shade 13. It’ll be just fine.” I said to their skeptical faces.

To back up my confident statement, I pulled out my glass and held it in front of my eyes and turned to the sun. And gasped! There was a black disc obscuring 1/4 of the sun. “IT’S ALREADY STARTED!!!!” I yelped. And others, who had calmly discovered this before me, smiled and agreed that it had already started.

Totality was scheduled to begin at 10:22 am, and until then we kept our bubbling enthusiasm under control. I was wearing a Brandeis T-shirt, and was approached by multiple people with affiliations with the school, or who were alumni. That was fun. A couple from Rhode Island complained about the slow and polite Oregon drivers. I spent most of my time with one family from Seattle. Mom chatting with me and Dad constantly hollering at his little girls to put their eclipse glasses back on. They had a white sheet on the ground to capture some mystical phenomena they had heard about. The photographer lady from earlier discovered that she could make a pinhole viewer with her hand, and came over to ask if she and her husband could use the sheet. Once the kids spotted that, everyone wanted to make tiny eclipses with their hands. All the adults tried it too. A woman passing by saw what we were doing and said that she had just passed a tree, and there were a thousand tiny pinhole eclipses cast across the ground by the leaf shadows.

The gorgeous farm next to where I parked.

Playing with different views of thistles and fields. You can see the wildfire smoke beginning to rise with the heat of the day, in the background.

Seattle dad and one of the kids on her back – yes, with her glasses in place.

Making pinhole eclipse-viewers on a sheet.

Here, this one is easier to see. Cool, huh?

And then it became evident that something was happening. The temperature dropped and the light became….odd. It felt like sunset, but my body and brain knew it was morning. I didn’t notice any changes in animals, but had not noticed any animals earlier either. There were no cows or horses close enough to watch, and no crickets. So all we had to notice was the light. And each other. We constantly looked at the sun, then looked at the land. It is truly astonishing how bright it is outside with only a sliver of sun left. All it takes is one tiny bit of that orb to light up our entire world. I snapped a few photos.

Almost totality. What a curious light.

Photographer and her husband.

And then, blam! A distinct change in light and temperature. One man said he was hoping to watch the shadow fly across the land, and I think that would have been cool to see. But it happened too fast. In an instant, we were in totality.

The place we stood probably afforded us only 1 1/2 minutes of the darkest skies. I have to admit: I was envisioning complete blackness; the Milky Way and everything. But no it was not that. It got dark though. We saw stars – or more likely, planets – but only the brightest of them. The light was indescribable, and my photos do not capture it, as my camera is brilliant at sucking in all available light and making things show up better in the photo than in real life.

I think this photo best shows the quality of the light. It was darker than this, but I think you can tell by looking at this that it was an odd light.

My only heartbreak of the day: I did not know you could look at the sun during totality. No one had said this in any of the videos or articles I read beforehand. During totality, the light was too dim to show up through the glass or the eclipse glasses, so with nothing to look at, I dropped my gaze to the ground, and pretty much stared at the ground for the entire period, trying to protect my eyes from instant vaporization – or whatever the fanatical warnings were all about. NEVER NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN DURING AN ECLIPSE! OR YOU WILL DIE! Thankfully, as I moved my gaze away, I accidentally caught a split-second glimpse of it. And it was AWESOME. It was everything you could ever imagine. So unreal, and even in that brief amount of time, burned into my memory clearly.

As the period of darkness ended, and the world lit up again, all the people cheered and clapped. That was fun. The kids squealed about the waves of light shimmering across the sheet, as we had also seen at the very beginning of totality. I was still exhaling and letting some of the awe and astonishment fade, when a couple of cars zoomed off along the highway. They were getting out ahead of the crowds.

I had the opposite plan. My plan was to dally. Rather than head north like everyone else, I decided to head south and see if I could find that canyon that the museum lady talked about.

{This got really long. Sorry about that. I’ll post a part II so I can tell you about Blue Basin and the trip home.}

 

Sea lions heaped upon the docks, ranging from hound-sized to bear-sized.

Sea lions heaped upon the docks, ranging from hound-sized to bear-sized.

It started with an ordinary night out to eat at one of the very few restaurants in tiny Rainier. I stepped out of the Jeep in the parking lot, and was awash in the sounds of barking, growling, and moaning. Sometimes I can hear sea lions barking while standing on my porch, several miles away, but this sounded more impressive. Before going into the restaurant, I walked down to the beach in the dark, following the sounds, and came to the Rainier Marina. I could barely see the docks, but I could hear that they were occupied. I took this video for the sounds. Even after hearing it twenty times, it makes me smile!

The next morning was partially sunny, so I took my camera back down the hill to see what the scene looked like in daylight.

I wasn’t the only one with this idea, because other locals were parked on a hill overlooking the docks. I was armed with my Nikon and a zoom lens, and got some really fun shots.dsc_0007-2dsc_0009-2dsc_0012-2

Hey! Remember I had camera problems starting during my trip to Chile? At a camera store, before sending it off for repairs, the technician suggested a couple of ways to trouble shoot. One of his suggestions was to try a different lens. I had been almost exclusively using the Tamron lens because it can use the autofocus on the Nikon, and it goes from 35mm to 270mm! So convenient. I tried the 18-35, and also the 70-300, and viola! Problem fixed. It means my Tamron is dead, but not the camera. Yay!

It's a little blurry, since I have poor distance vision and the lens has to be manually focused. But what a great open maw!

It’s a little blurry, since I have poor distance vision and the lens has to be manually focused. But what a great open maw!

This one lunged along, on top of the others, to find a new spot.

This one lunged along, on top of the others, to find a new spot.

Look at these howlers!

Look at these howlers!

I chatted up one of the men in a truck, who turned out to be a local fisherman. He was very unhappy about the sea lion situation. He explained that the local fishermen view them as a menace because they eat the fish. Smelt populations wax and wane, but since the year 2000 their numbers have been so low they were added to the Endangered Species list as a threatened population. The huge sea creatures were gobbling up a lot of what is available, leaving even less for the humans. This is also a problem during salmon runs, with salmon populations already threatened by human activity like dams on the river. From an anthropologist’s perspective, I see it as a way that the fishermen respect the wild animals, and I think the rivalry is almost touching. People curse the seals and sea lions as though they are equal rivals for a limited resource, and it draws them together and highlights what they have in common. I recognize that I have the luxury of using this perspective because I don’t depend on fishing for food or for income.

Still, I had to bite down to keep from commenting to the fisherman in his truck, that while he professed to hate the sea lions, here he was, among other crusty old fishermen on the hill, having his lunch break with his windows down, listening to and watching them.

Cover up in enough blubber, and nap in a pile with your buddies, and I'll bet February becomes a lot warmer.

Cover up in enough blubber, and nap in a pile with your buddies, and I’ll bet February becomes a lot warmer.

Rainier sits on the Columbia River right across from the mouth of the Cowlitz River. This  year, like last year, a one-day, five-hour net fishing season was open on February 25th. People stand on the riverbank with nets and scoop them up. Reports are that no one got a fish this year on the Cowlitz. I imagine there will be even more cursing about sea lions now.

There are enough smelt to bring their wild hunters 45 miles inland from the sea, however.

In hopes of protecting our Marina, workers went out in January to build barriers to keep the beasts off the docks. The combined weight of hundreds of massive sea lions will sink the docks. Wooden fences were constructed, and lined with bright orange plastic netting, to make the fence seem more intimidating. The sea lions said a collective “Whatevs,” and pushed the fences aside and lounged on the docks anyway. I’m afraid the already-poor city of Rainier will have to build new docks, or at least do some significant repairs, when all is said and done.

Looking downriver toward Astoria, and the Pacific Ocean. That is the Lewis & Clark Bridge, joining Longview, Washington to Rainier, Oregon

Looking downriver toward Astoria, and the Pacific Ocean. That is the Lewis & Clark Bridge, joining Longview, Washington to Rainier, Oregon

The other thing I saw down there were the signs of commerce and industry. I know it’s factories and massive machinery and big dirty ships, but I have a childlike joy when I see it all. The lights at night (as you can see in the video at the top) are nothing short of beautiful to behold. The exhaust from the pulp mill is like a scene from a science fiction movie. Everything is huge! The factory towers, the ships, the bridge, the enormous docks across the river at the Port of Longview, in Washington. All of it delights me.

Sea lions have overtaken the Rainier docks. A pulp mill at the Port of Longview is across the river.

Sea lions have overtaken the Rainier docks. A pulp mill at the Port of Longview is across the river.

This ship's size is almost made modest beside the big sea creatures.

This ship’s size is almost made modest beside the big sea creatures.

The very end of the docks here still have their fences intact. I took the photos a couple days ago, and wonder if these fences have been wrecked too.

The very end of the docks here still have their fences intact. I took the photos a couple days ago, and wonder if these fences have been wrecked too.

Singing for their supper.

Singing for their supper.

For comparison, I took a second video with my phone, to give you a better sense of the whole view.

 

The M winery. First stop on our quick tour.

Apolloni Vineyards. First stop on our quick tour.

Did you know Oregon makes great wines? Pinos, in particular. I moved here in 2007 and Friday was my very first visit to an Oregon winery to do some tasting. A co-worker got a couple of us together for a quick tour on the federal holiday. Yes, for Veterans Day, we went out drinking.

During the day I picked up a winery tour map for Washington County, west of Portland (so you must mentally add¬†the other nearby wine regions to the following figures). Along the mapped route are 31 highlighted wineries within a 30 minute drive of the city. Twelve breweries are also noted on the map, a relevant fact since Portland is famous for it’s beer. Portland sits in Multnomah County, which boasts 55 breweries (and probably more by the time I finish this post). There is one Oregon sak√© brewery, and you’ll hear about that shortly.

Big house on a hill. The vines have lost their leaves this late in the season.

Big house on a hill. The vines have lost their leaves this late in the season.

Morning fog cloaked the low hills in the Forest Grove area, and we enjoyed mysterious misty scenes on the way to Apolloni Vineyards, 30 miles out Highway 26 from downtown Portland. We were impressed at first with a huge, gorgeous home on a hill of vines. I assume it belongs to the Apolloni family, who have named their vineyards after their children. The tasting room is nearer to the base of the hill, and is also used as the winemaking area for their Italian-style wines, showcasing the famous Oregon Pinot Noir.

In the early 2000s I lived in northern California and was introduced to wine tasting when the experience was free. Possibly tastes were charged in Napa back then, but I toured the most in Mendocino County. A taster could do so properly, by swishing the wine, spitting the rest out, and dumping the remaining contents of one’s glass into the bucket. The vineyards were spread quite a distance, and to drive all the way to Pacific Star (my favourite in those days), I needed to be sober.

Things are different now and you pay for your tastes. Luckily, in humble Forest Grove, Oregon, the charge was acceptable. Still, at $10 per flight, I was not going to waste a drop. There was no spitting and no pouring out. I got happier and more chatty as the day went on, as you can guess. Thank goodness for my friend and co-worker who had not only planned the whole day but also volunteered to be designated driver.

Winemaking, aging, and tasting come together in the Apolloni winery.

Winemaking, aging, and tasting come together in the Apolloni winery.

Our flight at Apolloni

Our flight at Apolloni {photo MN}

Inviting wicker furniture beneath a mostly leafless maple.

Inviting wicker furniture beneath a mostly leafless maple.

Autumn-yellow leaves on some of the Apolloni vines.

Autumn-yellow leaves on some of the Apolloni vines, and candy-pink berries in front.

We were offered a nice variety of wines, beginning with their Pinot Gris, including a recently popular 2014 Pinot Noir Cuvée, and finishing with the dessert wine 2013 Viognier Dolce Vino. All our questions were answered and we happily browsed the gifts for sale and admired the oak casks as we tasted. Outside once more, I had to take photos of the scenes around us.

Our next stop was spontaneous, based on the recommendation of the wine stewardess. In minutes we arrived on another hill at Shafer Vineyard Cellars. Curiously, the sign also said Miki’s Christmas Shop, and at first I ignored it. The views here were outstanding, and I was unable to walk into the building without first climbing down a slope and snapping a few photos.

The view from the parking lot at Shafer Vineyard Cellars.

The view from the parking lot at Shafer Vineyard Cellars.

I imagine this area hosts more people in warmer months.

I imagine this area hosts more people in warmer months.

Finally we made our way inside, where the steward was playing Leonard Cohen, in tribute to the unparalleled Canadian poet/singer who left us with so much melancholy. He was eager to tell us about the German-style wines at Shafer. These vines were planted in 1973 and have recently passed on to new owners. I assume this means there will be a shift in character out at Shafer, so I’ll stop by again in a couple years. Our flight included mostly whites, and leaned toward sweet wines.

German-style wines at Shafer Vineyard Cellars.

German-style wines at Shafer Vineyard Cellars.

Scrumptious cheese plate.

Scrumptious cheese plate. {MN}

We asked so many questions about the difference between the Gew√ľrztraminer and the M√ľller-Thurgau, he gave up and said he would include his favourite Shafer wine in our flight, though that was not one of the wines that he had planned to offer. ¬†By the time he poured it, other tasters had walked in and we all fell in love with the 2014 M√ľller-Thurgau, and purchased several bottles.

A bit peckish, our designated driver spotted a menu on the wall and couldn’t resist the cheese plate. I didn’t think I was hungry, but my friends insisted I join in and the cheese was irresistible. While we munched and sipped, another group came in and said hello, then went directly to a door in the back and disappeared. “What’s back there?” we asked the steward, who told us about the old style German Christmas shop that is apparently open year-round. Before we left, we had to take a look. The bonus after all that shopping is that if you spend $25 or more, your flight is free.

Quite unexpected, this local favourite shopping spot was tucked in the back of the Shafer tasting room.

Quite unexpected, this local favourite shopping spot was tucked in the back of the Shafer tasting room.

Every traditional German Christmas decoration is here.

Every traditional German Christmas decoration is here.

Our driver explained that we could make it to the 1:00 pm saké brewery tour if we headed there next, and we voted to switch to saké!

SakéOne is in Forest Grove, Oregon and began in 1992 as a saké import company. By 1997 local saké was brewed and bottled, taking advantage of the right kind of Coast Range natural water. It is the home of the award-winning Junmai Ginjo Genshu saké Joy. The company has won more awards than the other five American saké breweries, placing it at the crest of the first wave of saké production which surely must be followed by more, if the explosion of wine-making and brewing in the region is any indication. dsc_0023

Mack – we’ll call him the sak√© steward – took us on a tour of the nearby facility. Outside the building he gave a bit of the history of the original owner and the choice of location and the vision of the company. We gazed at murals on the walls as he spoke. “These days,” Mack said as he finished, “while we maintain¬†traditional methods, we have changed a few things. We do wear pants.”

Inside the facility, or kura, we were allowed to get a close look at how this traditional Japanese drink is made here in Oregon. Original ceramic tanks still in use are being replaced with stainless steel when they become unusable due to cracks or stain. The first stage of the process is in a warehouse room with two-ton bags of rice that are husked and polished to remove the unwanted pieces.

Rice is first husked and polished in this station.

Rice is first husked and polished in this station.

You can see the powder left from polishing.

You can see the powder left from polishing.

The polished rice is then piped to this station, next to 2-ton bags of rice.

The polished rice is piped to this station, next to 2-ton bags of rice.

“We’ve won a few awards,” Mack said with a sly smile.

To maintain the integrity of their product, we all donned booties and entered the rooms where a mold is added to the rice to turn it into sugar. In each part of our tour was a subtle smell of brewing, but here we breathed in the aroma of fermentation, which was not subtle! We looked deep inside the tanks with giant paddles for washing the rice, and in one tank we saw the starter brew with thick white and crumbly bubbles. We remarked that brewing saké appears to be a complicated operation, and Mack confirmed this by noting that it takes about a year to make the full journey from a grain of rice to bottled drink.

Mack explained the steps with the help of this panel.

Mack explained the steps with the help of this panel.

Smiling tasters.

Smiling tasters.

Our feet had to be covered to prevent unwanted contamination.

Our feet had to be covered to prevent unwanted contamination.

An enormous mixer.

An enormous mixer.

The cedar-lined room

The cedar-lined koji room, where the koji mold grows on the rice.

The fermentation room that smelled thickly sweet.

Inside the thickly sweet-smelling fermentation room.

Bubbling rice

Bubbling, brewing rice {MN}

Imported saké in the tasting room.

Imported saké for sale in the tasting room.

I tasted the

I tasted the “moldy rice,” which was chewy and sweet. {MN}

Back in the tasting room, our flights were only $3 (we chose a smaller flight) and our tasting questions were then answered by Lou, who tag-teamed into our service after Mack returned us to the tasting room. As well as the water-clear options, Lou proferred two types of milky sake, which they clarified is only less filtered, not “unfiltered” as some people call it.

By then we were sated and it was time to go home. We purchased a few bottles of Oregon saké (I took home the Momokawa Silver) and made our way through the beautiful countryside with ideas of what we wanted to try the next time.

{GREAT big thanks to Maria Nguyen for several photos that I was not able to get, and for having the fabulous idea in the first place.}

Women head into the water to surf. Pacific City's Haystack Rock sits almost a mile offshore.

Women head into the water to surf. Pacific City’s Haystack Rock sits almost a mile offshore.

Confession: I live about 40 minutes’ drive from the Pacific Ocean and I hardly ever go there! That’s a crime, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is.

In 2016 I’ve been to the beach two times. I went to Astoria for my birthday in January, and later in the Spring, I went out with a group of friends. All the photos have been sitting here on my computer, patiently waiting to be posted, and now it’s time. This was a weekend in early May.

D is a serious cyclist and most of his friends are cyclists and their idea of fun is to rides their bikes a thousand miles to the beach and then party. Luckily, I was assigned car support duty. It’s a good thing because I have personally been upon a bicycle twice in the past twenty years.

Someone had rented a couple of houses across the street from each other in a cute beach community filled with houses that appear to only exist for that purpose. They were decorated as though a family lived there, with bathrooms stocked and children’s photos on the walls, and kitchen utensils available. But it was not quite lived in, and I guessed the places had been “staged” to feel like a family home. I find it interesting how I reacted to that idea, in this time of Air BnB popularity. While many people obviously love the idea of staying in someone’s home while they’re out, it’s actually an uncomfortable idea for me, and I feel the need not to touch anything, or disturb anything in their absence. I feel as though the owners have done a huge favor by letting me stay there (payment notwithstanding), and I can only repay them by not using any bathroom products and as few towels as possible. I remain uncomfortable the whole time. Whereas in a hotel! It’s purely built for transients. No one claims ownership. Every single thing in the room is MINE as long as I’m there, and I feel complete luxury. I use way too many towels, and all the shampoo, and I rearrange the furniture, click the remote control, fill up the closets and drawers with my clothes, and collect all the brochures and placards and pile them in a drawer somewhere to get them out of my way. If there’s a kitchen, I use anything I want and leave dirty dishes in the sink. Luxury.

Everyone chose a room in one of the houses and we dumped our gear and then went to play on the beach. Pacific City, Oregon is west and a little south of Portland, so still at the northern part of the state. It’s a small community that appears to survive on tourism, since that was the theme of nearly all the shops. I’m a fan of that sometimes, because it provides classy dinner options and great coffeehouses in rural communities that could never provide that without out-of-town tourists. In particular, this beach town hosts Pelican Bay Brewery, and a comfortable and friendly brew pub with burgers and fries and great craft beers on tap.

Our group climbed a sand dune at Cape Kiwanda and were treated with coastline views.

Our group climbed a sand dune at Cape Kiwanda and were treated with coastline views.

I found this sign somewhat disconcerting.

I found this sign somewhat disconcerting.

 

The weather was cool and and wet most of the time, but the second day the skies cleared up and we all decided to hike to a lookout point on Cape Kiwanda. The hike is literally straight up the side of a huge sand dune, so that was a bit tricky. But the views at the top were worth the long steep slog, and shoes filled with sand.

Whales are a big tourist draw, particularly during the height of migration season in December and January. In late May there were stragglers making their way from Mexico to Alaska for the warm weather. It didn’t take long before we began spotting their spouts just offshore. Gray Whales make this trip in about 3 weeks. The photos I took don’t do it justice, but it really is fun to stand on shore and see sea creatures as large as a bus exhaling a blast of water into the sky as they surface for air.

When we returned, we ate tons of food and played games together at the big family table and told stories. When the weekend was over nearly everyone rode home in a car, but one crazy person rode their bike back to the city again. That’s close to 100 miles each way. 200 miles in a weekend. Now there’s a person who is in good physical condition.

The white-and-gray speckled body of a Gray Whale is visible as she surfaces.

The white-and-gray speckled body of a Gray Whale is visible as she surfaces.

These whales are said to spout water and vapor up to 12 feet into the air.

These whales are said to spout water and vapor up to 12 feet into the air.

There's another one!

There’s another one!

Haystack Rock from Cape Kiwanda

Haystack Rock from Cape Kiwanda

Lovely Oregon coast

Lovely Oregon coast

My favourite camping partner.

My favourite camping partner.

Our traditional Mother’s Day is not likely similar to yours. Nonetheless, aren’t traditions sometimes the whole reason we look forward to a holiday? For Tara and me, it’s camping.

It all started because I am the outdoorsy one and Tara less so. And when the kid was little, I just laid down the law and said, “I’m the parent and I say we are going camping.” When Tara got to be a teenager and had a mobile phone, and friends, and a bedroom where a teen could close the door and avoid interaction all weekend long rather than go trudging into the woods…well…there was resistance.

One year I got a little desperate and pulled the Mom card on Mother’s Day. “I don’t want a gift, or for you to make me breakfast, or anything else. Your gift to me on Mother’s Day is that you are going camping with me.” Surprise! Tara seemed relieved to know what I wanted, and happy to give it. Maybe they were grateful to have the excuse for friends, “I’d love to cosplay at the park with you, but Mom is making me go camping.” Whatever their reason, I had my kiddo with me in the forest.

It’s our sixth year and Tara confessed to looking forward to it. “When you called and said, ‘Mother’s Day is coming up,’ I got excited because I knew it meant camping.”

Tara set up the tent while I got the fire started.

Tara set up the tent while I got the fire started.

View from our camp across the river.

View from our camp across the river.

I was delighted by this God's Eye woven by a previous camper and tucked into a tree beside the tent.

I was delighted by this God’s Eye woven by a previous camper and tucked into a tree beside the tent.

My Jeep Dragon-Wagon is a great camp car.

My Jeep Dragon-Wagon is a great camp car.

Tara is at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. It’s about 3 1/2 hours’ drive from home. It made more sense to find a place to camp closer to the university, so I wouldn’t have to do so much driving. I found a place we had camped at before, and I blogged about it for Mother’s Day 2014. I went onto campus Friday evening and picked up the kid.

There was no cell phone service and so we had nothing to do but be together and talk and explore. Tara told me about their classes, the food, possible changes in majors. Right now they are most excited about the History of American Film classes, so we talked about those most often.

Tara's still having fun with hair colour. This year it has been the Cruella de Vil look.

Tara’s still having fun with hair colour. This year it has been the Cruella de Vil look.

Tara brushing their teeth at the creek Saturday morning.

Tara brushing their teeth at the creek Saturday morning.

The place is called House Rock Campground. Across the river is an enormous slab of rock that seems to lean against the ridge, forming a large protected space beneath. From the outside it’s hard to tell, but beneath it there is room for 20 or 30 people. You can stand up under there! The rock is along an old wagon road, and got a reputation as a good place to stop for shelter. Thus it was named “House Rock.”

Look carefully and you can see the long horizontal mouth of House Rock above the ferns.

Look carefully and you can see the long horizontal mouth of House Rock above the ferns.

That's me, inside the huge space.

That’s me, inside the huge space.

Trail between House Rock and House Rock Falls.

Trail between House Rock and House Rock Falls.

Saturday we walked across the wooden foot bridge to the trails on the other side of the South Santiam River (pronounced like “Auntie Em” – Santi Am). I was captivated by everything, as usual: the beautiful trail, the jungle plants, the bugs, the birds. I can’t help myself. We played under House Rock for awhile, then hiked up to the falls, which is simply gorgeous. From that trail, we could connect to the old wagon road, and hike a loop on that. Isn’t it exciting to walk in the footsteps of your ancestors? I love that it was a wagon road originally.

Information board out on the highway.

Information board out on the highway. Click to enlarge.

Footbridge from the campground to the trails. If you click the link to my 2014 post, you'll see the original ballet pose. We decided to recreate it.

Footbridge from the campground to the trails. If you click the link to my 2014 post, you’ll see the original ballet pose. We decided to recreate it.

Jungly plant with jungly flower

Jungly plant with jungly flower

slug

slug

milipede

milipede

Harlequin Ducks along the river

Harlequin Ducks on the river

South Santiam River

South Santiam River

At House Rock Falls. Tara said, "Pose!" So I did.

At House Rock Falls. Tara said, “Pose!” So I did.

less of a pose, but a better smile.

less of a pose, but a better smile.

On a rock ledge down by the water.

Rock ledge down by the water.

Sunday morning it was time to head out. I packed up the tent still soaked with dew, said goodbye to the families on either side of our camp. On both sides of us were young parents with small, active, vocal children who discovered each other immediately. Since our camp was in the middle, it became something of a connecting route, to the chagrin of the frequently apologizing parents. Luckily they were decent children, not being hoodlums, and I was able to easily forgive their shrieks and their bikes because they were doing exactly what I think kids should do: run around in forests and climb trees and get dirty and fall in the river and get wet.

I drove out of the Willamette National Forest early Sunday morning, intending to get home with enough time to get a few chores done before my 4:30 am alarm Monday morning. It seems like weekends just get shorter and shorter, and my enthusiasm for waking up at that obscene hour is fading over the years. I look forward to retirement and being free to go camping whenever, and for as long as, I choose.

A covered bridge near the campground.

A covered bridge near the campground.

My blogger friend LB takes a lot of B&W photos. So when I saw this fence along the highway, I instantly thought of her.

My blogger friend LB at Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things takes a lot of B&W photos. So when I saw this fence along the highway, I instantly thought of her.

I was told that there was a falls on Beaver Creek. That’s MY creek! Of course, I am only one property owner living along this pretty creek, but that hasn’t stopped my claiming ownership of the whole darn thing.

My friend G is living in Seattle, so pretty close. He wanted to come by for a visit and see my new place. G and I used to work together, forecasting the weather for the National Weather Service in Eureka, California. G has the actual atmospheric sciences degree, I came about that career from the Air Force, and thus can’t flaunt the same impressive qualifications. Still, that work put me into the path of some fun, interesting, and super smart people, and my friend G is one of them.

I thought that finding the trail to the falls would be a good plan for us.¬†G has hiked a lot of trails, and in fact, recommended a trail to Red Cap Lake in northern California that was my very first solo hike of my life, back in the 1990s when I got bit by the backpacking bug. I knew he would be game, so when I suggested it, I was already going for my boots and jacket in the few seconds it took him to say, “Yes!”

The town of Rainier is on Highway 30 in Oregon, which follows the Columbia River Gorge east to west. It’s the road I took recently to celebrate my birthday in Astoria. This time we just went a couple of miles toward the coast, and turned off. We followed Beaver Creek Road several more miles, and Beaver Creek kept curving around, back and forth, beneath the road. It was big, and deep, and it was so exciting to think that this rushing body of water was the same creek that flows past the henhouse.

Before we got to the creek, there was a pull out on the road, where we pulled out and went to the water’s edge to watch the water roaring over a couple of short falls. The sun had broken through the morning fog and lit up a white fence along the highway, and I took the shot at the top of this post. Then I went over the bank and stood there soaking it up. A rainbow lit up the spray to my right. Huge basalt columns formed the banks of the river to my left. We climbed around and guessed at the height of the water during the December floods, as thick mosses on the tree branches above us caught fire in the sunlight.

You can sort of make out the geometric shapes of the basalt columns that poke through the earth here.

You can sort of make out the hexagonal tops of basalt columns that poke through the earth here.

Trees form a natural cathedral over the water above the falls.

Trees form a natural cathedral over the water above the falls.

Farther down the road we pulled out again and parked near the trailhead sign for Beaver Creek Falls. It is 9 miles from my house.

This time of year, it’s best to plan on mud, and we got some. It wasn’t too bad though. The trail was rocky, so we didn’t sink in, but the smallish rocks weren’t held together well in the wet soil and we had to take care not to slide down the steep hill.

G leads the way through the trees.

G leads the way through the trees, watching for washed out trail.

Beaver Falls from the road, through a protective chain link fence.

Beaver Falls from the road, through a protective chain link fence.

It was fun chatting with my friend as we walked, who has been working for the National Weather Service for 26 years, I think he said. Wow, has it been that long since we were young and new at that game? He caught me up on the latest intel he had on people I used to work with. Who moved, who got a promotion, who is still there, doing the same work for the great little community in Humboldt County.

After not too long, we heard the roar, and knew we were close.

The falls is surprisingly huge and beautiful. “It’s symmetrical,” G said, obviously the scientist.

Approaching the falls.

Approaching the falls.

 A small but dizzyingly high falls squirts out from beneath the road we came in on.

It’s hard to see this small but dizzyingly high falls that squirts out from beneath the road we came in on.

Beaver Creek scours out a bowl to fill.

Beaver Creek scours out a bowl to fill.

It is rather symmetrical. Practically square.

It is rather symmetrical. Practically square.

This last photo is for laughs. The sign, drenched in a waterfall and nailed to a tree with its roots in the water, warns NO CAMPFIRES! Darn it, I was just looking for my matches...

This last photo is for laughs. The sign, drenched in a waterfall and nailed to a tree with its roots in the water, warns NO CAMPFIRES! Darn it, I was just looking for my matches…

The trail is totally washed out near the bottom. It’s possible the flood waters came that high, and ground the trail to nothing. I’m surprised we didn’t think to investigate that while we were there. Feet from other winter hikers had eeked out a bit of a passage beyond the washed out part, and I took the chance and went about 20 feet beyond where there was clearly no more trail. But even I had to stop without getting to the bottom.

The falls has ground out a big bowl there, making the steep cliffs more than vertical, but undercut. It must be a fabulous place too cool off on hot days. I’ll bet the water’s edges are packed in the summer. Maybe I wouldn’t want to be here then. But a January hike into the bowl and having this view all to ourselves was pretty sweet.

 

My sweet ride. This was the real deal and when I slid into the seat, I could *smell* my childhood.

My sweet ride. This was the real deal and when I slid into the seat, I could *smell* my childhood.

First of all I’ll tell you about my night. I was not very hungry after eating gouda cubes and smoked salmon on crackers with complimentary Chardonnay, so I picked a place called Wet Dog Cafe & Brewery (there are a lot of breweries in Oregon), hoping for a tasty dessert. I arranged for a chauffer to take me there in one of the hotel’s three restored antique cars. I think he told me it’s a 1958 Chevrolet.¬†My driver was a great guy who had been driving for the hotel for many years and probably would have been fun to ride around all night with, but in minutes he let me off. Once inside the Wet Dog, I was tempted by the marionberry cheesecake and since I was at a brewery, I had a pint of Bitter Bitch, because, who could resist with a name like that?

snacks

snacks

Bitter Bitch

Bitter Bitch

dessert

dessert

While I sat there I was watching the Bengals-Steelers game and saw Martavis Bryant pull off an astonishing forward somersault through the end zone to maintain control of the football. Did you see that? Wow. I was so impressed I had to tell the ladies sitting next to me. Before I knew it, we found out we were

my server

my server

chandelier

chandelier

practically neighbors, and had made plans to move on to the place across the street, the very cool and chandelier-filled Inferno Lounge. My chauffer came back at the end of the night to get me safely home in that beautiful car.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

I ran out of space yesterday to tell you about the post-worthy Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. It’s more than you’d want to spend if you’re just traveling through, but highly highly worth it for a splurge.¬†The photos will have to convey the beauty and quality and uniqueness of this place. It could get an entire blog post itself, but instead you’ll just have to suffer with a dozen photos.

These cars are for the guests

These cars are for the guests

Love this tub!

Love this tub!

View from my balcony

View from my balcony

Windowseat, fireplace, wow

Windowseat, fireplace, wow

Lobby area on the first floor

Lobby area on the first floor

Lounge area second floor

Lounge area second floor

Conference room

Conference room

West side of the building

West side of the building

Car below the bridge

Car below the bridge

Boat out front

Boat out front

History on the walls

History on the walls

Early days of the cannery

Early days of the cannery

The Lewis & Clark Bridge that I drive every day is almost the last bridge across the huge river. The Astoria-Megler Bridge is the last one, and it’s a doozy. At 4.1 miles long, it is the longest continuous truss bridge (the load-bearing structure is made of connected pieces forming triangles) in the United States. The whole hotel is on a pier out in the river, and my room was almost beneath the bridge.

Saturday evening was rather cloudy, but Sunday morning dawned spectacularly, and that made for some brilliant scenes for me to capture.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge from the balcony of my room in the morning sunshine.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge from the balcony of my room in the morning sunshine.

The Navajo getting an early start.

The Soujourn getting an early start.

Sojourn makes her way East up the river.

Sojourn makes her way East up the river.

On the land side of the pier, I spotted big ships glowing in the sun.

On the land side of the pier, I spotted distant ships glowing in the sun.

Here they are, at max zoom on my Nikon.

Here they are, at max zoom on my Nikon.

Later in the morning this tug came by, tugging.

Later in the morning this tug came by, tugging.

Close up of the tug

Close up of the tug Navajo.

I had a complimentary breakfast with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt and juice. The attendant even fetched me a larger plate when she saw I was having a waffle. I carried it all upstairs so I could continue to watch the view from my window seat. Finally I couldn’t lollygag in the gorgeous room anymore, so I packed up and headed out. With a day this beautiful, I had no choice but to head back to the Astoria Column that Mads and I visited in March on the first day of our road trip. I stopped first to take a photo of the Flavel House, which wasn’t open yet. Astoria is jam-packed with Victorian style homes and this one is one of the best. Built in 1884, it is now a museum, and something I’ll have to add to my next visit here.

Captain George Flavel House

Captain George Flavel House. It’s surrounded by trees, so hard to get a better shot.

Detail of the column. The closer you stand, the more remarkable it is.

Detail of the column. The closer you stand, the more remarkable it is.

The eye-catching Astoria Column.

The eye-catching Astoria Column stands on top of the hill.

It was still chilly, and on top of the hill the wind could get pretty brisk, but the sun was irresistible and plenty of others had the same idea as me. Soon kids were running¬†to the gift store to purchase little balsa wood airplanes to launch from the top of the Astoria Column. I parked at a lower spot on the hill, and hiked up the grass to get a little exercise on my way up (parking at the top is $5 for the year if you don’t want to hike). Once I arrived at the column, I got even more exercise because there are 164 steps to the top.

The column is 125 feet tall with a spiral staircase inside that leads to an observation deck at the top. It was built with financing by the Great Northern Railroad and Vincent Astor, and was dedicated in 1926. It’s steel and concrete, and the outside is an unbroken spiral history of this area, told in pictures. I¬†was interested in how the murals were made, so I looked it up. “The artwork was created using a technique called sgraffito (‚Äúskrah-fee-toh‚ÄĚ), an Italian Renaissance art form,” says the column website.

I stayed at the top a good long while, though it was windy as heck and somewhat cramped. Adults and children alike launched their tiny planes, and we cheered them on as they often soared to unexpected distances and for great lengths of time before gliding silently to a stop. Anytime a plane landed nearby, someone at the bottom would scoop it up to try their own¬†launch. The original owners didn’t care, because no one was about to make that climb a second time.

After that I decided to head back home. I stopped at Coffee Girl on Pier 39 on my way out of town. Named after the original coffee girl who sold coffee to the cannery workers at the Bumble Bee Seafood pier, the coffee was handed to me across the original coffee counter. Pretty cool.

A view of the city of Astoria from the column.

A view of the city of Astoria from the column. Columbia River on the right, Youngs Bay Bridge across Youngs Bay to the left, and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Youngs Bay

Youngs Bay and Warrenton, Oregon across the bridge.

Mt. Rainier off to the northeast (because I had to include a volcano!)

Mt. Rainier off to the northeast (because I had to include a volcano!)

Me, squinting in the sun.

Me, squinting in the sun.

An Indian boat display at the far end of the parking lot.

An Indian boat display at the far end of the parking lot.

There's my little home town of Rainier in the foreground, on the Oregon side, and Longview across the river on the Washington side. In the center is the Lewis & Clark Bridge across the Columbia River, that helps me get to work (and more importantly: home) each day.

There’s my little home town of Rainier in the foreground, on the Oregon side, and Longview across the river on the Washington side. In the center is the Lewis & Clark Bridge across the Columbia River, that helps me get to work (and more importantly: home) each day.

Saturday I turned 46 and went down the road apiece to Astoria, Oregon. I stopped right away at a viewpoint and looked down on our rural valley, about an hour drive north of Portland, Oregon. From there I could see the industrial mechanisms of the local economy, in the form of lumber and pulp mills, and the Port of Longview.

The next thing that caught my attention was a sign that pointed the way to a toll ferry. I did not need to go wherever the ferry would take me, except that I have been randomly discovering quite a few small ferry crossings on the many Oregon rivers, and it’s become a new interest of mine. Sadly, I did not ride a ferry that day.

Ferry was closed for repairs, but now that I know it's there, I'll go back and try again.

Ferry was closed for repairs, but now that I know it’s there, I’ll go back and try again.

The water beside the ferry launch was picturesque.

The water beside the ferry launch was picturesque.

In no time I was in Astoria, the city built at the mouth of the Columbia as it pours into the Pacific Ocean. I took a few photos near the mouth of the river, which is filled with sea faring ships, of course, since it’s a safe harbour when the ships are not en route. Then I stopped for lunch at the Rogue Brewery on Pier 39. I drove on the pier to get there!

Ships appear to be moving along a track in this photo. But they are in the distance, and a man is walking his dog along the path.

Ships appear to be moving along an earthen track in this photo. But they are in the distance, and a man is walking his dog along the path that follows the narrow piece of land.

The "road" to the brewery. One will also find shops, a museum, a law office, and the original cannery building for Bumble Bee Tuna.

The “road” to the brewery. One will also find a coffe shop, a dive store, a museum, and a law office.

Bumble Bee Seafood Company started right here. Can you sing the tune with me? "Bum Bum Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna."

Bumble Bee Seafood Company started right here. Can you sing the tune with me? “Bum Bum Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna.”

At the Rogue Brewery I¬†veered away from the “Dead Guy Ale,” and the “Yellow Snow IPA,” and tried the “8 Hop IPA”¬†and some homemade clam chowder (fresh clams, obviously). I somewhat recklessly agreed to become a citizen of the Rogue Nation and raised my right hand and took the pledge. I got a card that entitles me to a free pitcher of beer on my next birthday, but not this one. I talked with another woman traveling solo who is from Idaho like me, and has been roaming the West Coast since November, she said, trying to decide whether or not to retire. When she left, I talked with the couple on the other side of me, who were having a great day because the grandparents had the baby and they were free for awhile. They were both Air Force veterans like me and I quickly gave my VA-is-the-best-thing-ever spiel, and answered some questions and gave them my contact information.

Next I went to check in at the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. This place looked great online, and is *so* much better in reality. The service was personal and genuine. They learned my name in the first greeting, and from then on never asked again what room I was in. I told them it was my birthday and they wished me a happy birthday every time I passed the front desk (and even checked in with me the next day at breakfast, to see if I had enjoyed my birthday. I had.) I took a dozen photos, and I’ll share them with you in my next post.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

There were about two hours of daylight left, so I left the place and went to find the sea.

First I got distracted by this garage covered in scavenged buoys. The woman who owned the home there said the garage was built at the same time as her grandmother’s home, which had been where we were standing before she tore it down to build her new home. “But Grandma loved her garage and it reminds me of her, and I just can’t bring myself to take it down yet,” she said. “We had a pile of these buoys that we had found, and one day we hung them up. Now people drop them off and we keep hanging them up.”

Grandma's garage covered in buoys

Grandma’s garage covered in buoys

Then I was distracted again by a sign giving directions to the Army Cemetery. The road passed through what had clearly been an Army outpost years ago. Though it is entirely civilian now, one can’t ever erase the stamp of the federal government. It had the feel of a military base still. At the end of the road I found the humble Fort Stevens Post Cemetery, founded in 1868,¬†according to an informational sign, when the first¬†burial was Private August Stahlberger, who fell¬†in the river and drowned while under the influence. It was also closed for repair.

The road to the cemetery.

The road to the cemetery.

Past the guardhouse

Past the guardhouse

U.S. Army Cemetery, Fort Stevens

U.S. Army Cemetery, Fort Stevens

Doing repairs carefully

Doing repairs carefully

Finally I found the beach. I honestly tried to pick out just the good photos, but… I fell in love with them all. It was an exquisite view in the January afternoon, as the sun shed her last rays on us ocean-loving humans.DSC_0191DSC_0189DSC_0198DSC_0195DSC_0194

On the way back to the hotel for their 5 pm wine, cheese, salmon and crackers, I had to stop again for photos. These reflections were still discernible in the very last vestiges of light at about 4:40 pm.

Branches stretch across a swampy bay.

Branches stretch across a swampy bay.

My camera makes it look rather light still, but it was pretty dark at this point. Still, the reflections were worth stopping for.

My camera makes it look rather light still, but it was pretty dark at this point. Still, the reflections were worth stopping for.

I went up to my room and changed into my new Christmas dress that I had only worn once so far. I enjoyed the treats downstairs, then came back to my room to try out a new whiskey that I received as a birthday gift. Have I mentioned that I’m a whiskey drinker? A co-worker has been lauding this Japanese scotch for the longest time. I was skeptical that such a good whiskey could be from Japan. I am no longer skeptical. Then, since I wanted to get a photo of my dress for Tara, I took about 75 photos in the bathroom mirror and failed them all. By the time this one was taken, I was totally cracking up at my own ineptness. But at least I got a fuzzy picture¬†of my dress. It’s a sweater dress, so fuzzy is appropriate.

Auchentoshan pours out like syrup

Auchentoshan Three Wood pours out like syrup

Cracking myself up while failing at a selfie.

Cracking myself up while failing at a selfie.

 

Humpty Dumpty sits atop a high wall and waves to motorists passing by on Interstate 5.

Humpty Dumpty sits atop a high wall and waves to motorists passing by on Interstate 5.

Remember back in July when Tara and friends went the The Enchanted Forest for a birthday celebration? On that post I introduced¬†the place, but did not show you any of the rides. This post is to showcase the rides at this fun, small, relatively unknown (and let’s not forget: creepy) theme park in central Oregon.

Get a load of Tara and friends on the log ride:

A slide exits the toe of an old boot. Or rather, shoe, as in

A slide exits the toe of an old boot. Or rather, shoe, as in “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…”

Not necessarily a ride, but a hands-on attraction. Here Tara descends into the rabbit hole with Alice. The tunnel emerges in a different part of the park.

Not a “ride,” but hands-on entertainment. Here Tara descends into the rabbit hole with Alice. The tunnel emerges in a different part of the park.

Bumper car racetrack is as much fun for adults as for the kids.

Bumper car racetrack is as much fun for adults as for the kids.

The train ride is far less entertaining to adults than kids, I suspect. But it is rather photogenic.

The tiny train ride is far less entertaining to adults than kids, I suspect. But it is rather photogenic.

The rides are not as mind-blowing as typical corporate theme park rides, but they are legitimately fun. There are several specifically designed for tots, and several that can entertain adults for multiple rides, like a lazer tag game for points inside a magical dragon lair called The Challenge of Mondor. I couldn’t get any photos because it’s very dark inside and your chair constantly spins.

Bobsleds heading up Ice Mountain

Bobsleds heading up Ice Mountain

My view from inside a bobsled

My view from inside a bobsled

The Haunted House is seriously scary!

The Haunted House is seriously scary!

This is the way to the exit, but do you really want to go?

This is the way to the emergency exit, but are you prepared to take it?

rats and cobwebs in the Haunted House

rats and cobwebs in the Haunted House

Found inside a coffin in the Haunted House

Found inside a coffin in the Haunted House

The Haunted House is surprisingly spooky, even if you go through more than once. Motions sensors trigger spooks of all sorts that appear from walls and drop from the ceiling. There are funny gags inside as well, continuing founder Roger Tofte’s unquenchable humor. Skeletons heckle you, ghosts sail through, rats gnaw on moldy cheese and you can hear the screams of other startled people ahead and behind you.

The curious musical water show.

The curious musical water show.

Rather than a water show, the original plan was to create a restaurant with a stage for Tofte’s daughter Susan to hold musical performances, but as the hillside was being excavated, it¬†looked like the perfect place for waterfalls. Two years later, the dazzling water-light show opened with music composed by, and lights and water choreographed by, daughter Susan. It was so successful, that no live performances were ever held on the stage.

A new stage was built in a different location, and the plays include song and dance, and are packed with gags.

A new stage was built in a different location, and the plays include song and dance, and are packed with gags.

Test your wild-west rifle skills in this shooting game.

Test your wild-west rifle skills in this shooting game.

Most walls have something posted to make you laugh.

Again, not a ride, but certainly an attraction, that most walls in the park have something posted to make you laugh.

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