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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 saké 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 Gewürztraminer and the Müller-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 Müller-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 saké 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

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Rainier City Hall with a diminutive & dark Christmas tree at its side, awaiting official tree-lighting time.

A couple weeks ago I attended the Rainier tree-lighting ceremony. It was a small affair. My new community of Rainier is pretty tiny. Its heyday was when the Trojan Nuclear Facility  was running, which lasted until the plant was closed in 1993. Rumor has it that the TV show The Simpsons modeled their nuclear plant after this one, which makes sense, since so many Simpsons characters are named after streets in Portland. When the nuclear plant shut down, the town of Rainier slowly began to disintegrate. It still exists because of the logging industry, with multiple mills on the Longview, Washington side of the Columbia River (two largest employers there are Weyerhaeuser and Kapstone, timber/paper companies). But it’s not enough to keep a town thriving, so my home of Rainier is understated and I can almost see it shrinking.

The indefatigable citizens organized a caroling event and tree-lighting on the steps of the impressive City Hall building. It’s the only impressive building in town. The tree appears newly planted, and is about 8 feet high and not quite grown into its oversized decorations. About 30 of us stood on the sidewalk along Highway 30 in the rain, and listened to Christmas carols.

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Carolers were energized when Chief Elf showed up.

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Tree is now lit

Soon the city fire engine pulled up next to us, and Santa himself climbed out. The kids all broke into a rousing version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town, and Santa helped sing. When the song was over, Santa led us in a countdown, and the lights of the tree came on at our command.

Then everyone hurried inside and out of the rain. Kids got in line to talk to Santa, grownups grabbed hot cocoa and cookies to wait for the kids. There was a long table piled with donated goods from local businesses. Each person who walked through the door got a raffle ticket and so everyone stayed to see if they won anything good.

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Soon the little tree will be a big tree, and these ornaments will look just right.

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Tree comes to life with lights.

This waiting around took a long time, and I entertained myself by wandering the main hall of the City Hall. There are historic photos on the walls and I was delighted to discover that one of the largest original industries in the town was the Rainier Soap Factory, providing critical employment for women as well as men.

Finally, Santa was done talking to the kids and assisted with the raffle. I won a little basket with a stuffed animal and some Christmas dishes, but traded it with the next door neighbor girl for a squirrel magnet. Squirrels are my favourite.

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Homemade antiquey looking clocks were the only thing I wanted, but no such luck.

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Photos of the Rainier Mineral Soap Factory and its employees (mostly women) are along the walls of City Hall.

Rainier soap

Rainier Mineral Soap – keeps out blood poisoning, cleans ink spots, polishes metals, and protects from pestilence. This natural antiseptic contains no dirty fats. It’s a miracle product! This great little advertisement for the Preston Manufacturing Company tells a story and lauds the many benefits of Rainier Mineral Soap.

I also found an old photo of the City Hall (not very good, so I didn’t include it here) with interesting bits from the back of the photo posted beside it on the wall. “The new City Hall. The American Legion post here was given the privilege of obtaining two cannons, which in a moment of enthusiasm they decided would be fine placed at either side of the entrance to City Hall. It didn’t seem like such a good idea after they were installed, so they were moved to the grounds of the new High School on Nob Hill (1926).

“In the building, provisions were made for a hall above for the American Legion. Also for the library on the east side.

“Bord Kegh, carpenter, built the fire bell tower to the south east side of the building (1922). On Sunday morning, young Robert McKinley (1925) begged the janitor of the Methodist Church across the street for special permission to ring the church bell for Sunday School. In his youthful enthusiasm, he rang it with such vim and vigour that he called out the fire department – the bell tones were similar.”

My first question about those notes from the back of the photo is “Why was it a bad idea to have cannons at City Hall, but a better idea to have the cannons at the High School?” I’m also curious about the timeline, since it appears that the fire bell tower was built in 1922, but the cannons weren’t removed till 1926. Apparently it took years for the bad idea to be discovered. And finally, look at that vigour: Americans in the 1920s also used the British spellings, just like me. Maybe I’m channeling my inner frontierswoman.

It wasn’t the flashiest Christmas party I’ve ever been to, but it was a good night because I visited my City Hall and learned some great little tidbits about the building and my town’s history. These are the kinds of things to make a person feel more connected to her home.

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.

A happy Humpty Dumpty was put back together by Roger Tofte, according to the sign.

A happy Humpty Dumpty was put back together by Roger Tofte, according to the sign. This is no hollow claim, since some unruly guests knocked Humpty to the ground last year, and Mr. Tofte was forced to prove that he could indeed put the egg back together.

For Tara’s 18th birthday celebration, a trip to the Enchanted Forest  was requested. We went last year and loved it, so I was on board to visit again!

This enchanted theme park has moved through too-uncool-for-middle school, and has become a hip place to go, if you are a teenager. It is clearly designed for small children, with some great additions since the 1970s that will entertain the parents, but what keeps this place well worth a visit is that it slightly misses the mark, and crosses the Uncanny Valley. What I mean is, it’s just on the other side of cute, and has turned creepy in a most delicious way.

Tara and birthday friends inside the mouth of the witch. The trail continues inside, with scenes from Snow White inside.

Tara and birthday friends inside the mouth of the witch. The trail continues into the throat, with scenes from Snow White and her evil witch stepmother.

The kids peek into the windows of the tiny house of the Seven Dwarves.

The kids peek into the windows of the tiny house of the Seven Dwarfs.

The second floor of the little house holds these darling beds, a tiny rabbit, and a squirrel doing some housekeeping.

The second floor of the little house holds these darling beds, a tiny rabbit, and a squirrel doing some housekeeping.

It is so much like the idea of Disneyland that I am amazed no one has sued. Thank goodness, because the Enchanted Forest, south of Salem, Oregon, is a high-quality theme park that’s a blast for the little ones, and genuinely amusing for everyone else. All that – for an entrance fee of $10.99, and tickets for the rides at $1 per ticket.

The park is a true family effort, envisioned by Roger Tofte, supported by his wife and children, and opened in 1971. A son grew up and learned animatronics, and built for us the awkward, jerking, breathed into life-sized beings across the park. One daughter wrote and directs the comedic plays that show at the theatre, and she also wrote all the music heard in the park, which is always played on pipes.

Hansel and Gretel couldn't resist this place. Neither could Tara.

Hansel and Gretel couldn’t resist this place. Neither could Tara.

This is by far the most frightening thing in the park: animated witch beckons Gretel into the furnace, and creaking, hesitant, animatronic Gretel slowly turns her head back and forth in a

This is by far the most frightening thing in the park: animated witch beckons Gretel into the furnace, and creaking, hesitant, animatronic Gretel slowly turns her head back and forth in a “no.” Life-sized Hansel crouches in an iron cage at her feet.

It begins just past the entrance, where guests walk along Storybook Trail through a real forest, and find miniature and life-sized creations from children’s faery tales and Mother Goose rhymes. You can stand on the trail and look, but if you get close and go inside or peek in windows, that is when the real treat begins. Or the real heebie jeebies, as the case may be.

There is a Western-themed town, which is hilarious, filled with more animatronics, and named Tofteville. The kids got a big charge out of the drunken walk, where you enter a building, and follow the path out on a floor balanced on springs. There is no way to keep steady.

I think I may just love Pinocchio Town the best, a European-style village that has several animated faces that peer from shutters two stories above you that swing open. The characters gossip loud enough to hear, about different storybook characters. You can enter a doorway and follow a path through multiple buildings, peeking into holes in walls, and holes in cheese, and reading about puppetry around the world, and controlling a miniature train on a track through snowy Alps. Through one curtained window is a kaleidescope, that simply turns as long as you stand there. One window reveals a fabulous 10-foot-high Rube Goldberg mechanism that runs balls through a wire obstacle course. And who can stand resist the singing blackbirds baked in a pie?

Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.

Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.

Peek through one of the holes in an enormous piece of Swiss cheese, and you can see the home of the Three Blind Mice.

Peek through one of the holes in an enormous piece of Swiss cheese, and you can see the home of the Three Blind Mice.

Where will this lead us next?

Where will this lead us next?

Gossips in Pinocchio's Village

Gossips in Pinocchio’s Village

These inviting structures hold picnic tables, where people can eat the food they brought in, or buy from the vendors.

These inviting structures hold picnic tables, where people can eat the food they brought in, or buy from the vendors.

Rip Van Winkle sleeps on a hil

Rip Van Winkle sleeps on a hill

Jack and Jill run down the hill

Jack and Jill run down the hill

Little Red Riding Hood knocks on the door, but the wolf has already eaten Grandma

The wolf listens eagerly to Red Riding Hood’s knock.

The Crooked Man invites visitors to walk through his crooked house.

The Crooked Man invites visitors to walk through his crooked house.

Mrs. Pumpkin Eater is trapped.

Mrs. Pumpkin Eater is trapped.

The Europen-style village

The European-style village

Mad Hatter and March Hare have tea, while the Cheshire Cat looks down, grinning

Mad Hatter and March Hare have tea, while the Cheshire Cat looks down, grinning

I haven’t shown any photos of the rides, but I think I’ll save those for another day. There were too many fun photos in this post to bog it down further.

In 1960s, Roger Tofte seemed to be the only person who could see the final version in his mind’s eye. He was the target of many jokes and whispers that he had some screws loose.

Mr. Tofte can laugh at them all today, though I imagine he’s too sweet to do so. Both times we have visited the park, we have spotted him moving around, quietly under the radar, passing through doors that say “staff only” and happily waiting for toddlers to pass before he drives through on his scooter.

The Western town, named Tofteville.

The Western town, named Tofteville.

In Tofteville, a barber and his client appear startled to see me.

In Tofteville, a barber and his client appear startled to see me.

A dentist in Tofteville, getting some unruly teeth in order.

A dentist in Tofteville, getting some unruly teeth in order.

Our trail climbed steeply, and the payoff was incredible views of the Columbia River Gorge.

Our trail climbed steeply, and the payoff was incredible views of the Columbia River Gorge.

DSC_0035I joined a Meetup Portland group recently.  I actually just heard about Meetup on the radio, and it turns out there are groups all over the country – tons of them! For stamp collectors and entrepreneurs and knitters and singles over 60 and gamers and history buffs. If you’re looking for a group to join, check this out and see if you find anything you like: http://www.meetup.com. Ok, cheesy advertisement over. (They didn’t even pay me!)

Anyhow, the group that looked the best to me was PNW Women’s Outdoor Group, Hiking in the Pacific Northwest. I made a great choice! The leader is a person brimming with positive energy, the women were all enthusiastic about being on the trail. The group offers at least three events a week – so there is no possible way I could do all of it, but I love the idea that there is always something going on, and I can sign up for what works in my crazy busy schedule.

A lovely trailhead sign for the Cherry Orchard Trail.

A lovely trailhead sign for the Cherry Orchard Trail.

We hiked through trees at the beginning, but soon climbed up and out onto the exposed mountainside.

We hiked through trees at the beginning, but soon climbed up and out onto the exposed mountainside.

I went on my first hike on an incredible and unseasonably spectacular sunny day in the Gorge. We all gathered at a meeting place just 5 minutes from my house (it couldn’t get any more convenient) and piled into vehicles together. That was nice because I was able to get to know a few of the women before we hiked.

One great thing about this group is that I will be introduced to new trails in the Columbia River Gorge that I haven’t had a chance to hike yet. In this case, I had hiked the Coyote Wall trail near Lyle, Washington, so I knew the landscape. When the announcement came out that we would be hiking the Cherry Orchard Trail that also begins near Lyle, I knew ahead of time that I would like it.

One person in our group was very knowledgeable about the wildflowers and was able to name everything we spotted.

One person in our group was very knowledgeable about the wildflowers and was able to name everything we spotted.

I was surprised at how many wildflowers were bursting to life so early in the season.

I was surprised at how many wildflowers were bursting to life so early in the season.

Our winter sun doesn’t rise very high in the sky yet, and it was a chilly chilly morning. What a boon, then, to be hiking on the Washington side. The cliffs with all the waterfalls you’ve seen in my posts are on the Oregon side, and that side stays shady much of the day all year round. On this morning we hiked the other side of the river, and soaked up the sunshine till we were toasty warm and smiling.

It was a nice short trail – only two miles – and the views hit us right away and made the little discomforts all worth it. Getting up at 6am on a weekend, bundling up in freezing morning temps, going alone into a group of strangers for a day…an inexpensive price for being out in this beautiful world with beautiful women.

Even in the leafless brown winter, this landscape is compelling.

Even in the leafless brown winter, this landscape is compelling.

Looking down onto the Columbia River.

Looking down onto the Columbia River.

That's me, holding my Tilly hat to make sure it didn't blow into the next state!

That’s me, holding my Tilly hat to make sure it didn’t blow into the next state!

I was feeling a little artistic with this one.

I was feeling a little artistic with this one.

Looking east from where we picnicked at the top of the trail.

Looking east from where we picnicked at the top of the trail.

And looking west, back toward Portland, from our lunch stop.

And looking west, back toward Portland, from our lunch stop.

Something about this landscape is stunning to me. On the surface, it is desolate and dry and colourless. Still, I find it spectacular.

Something about this landscape is stunning to me. On the surface, it is desolate and dry and colourless. Still, I find it spectacular.

This is me, photographing one of the ancient Cherry trees for which the trail takes its name. Thanks to the group leader S for the photo!

This is me, photographing one of the ancient Cherry trees from which the trail takes its name. Thanks to the group leader S for the photo!

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

I need to be outside to feel completely right. Breathing fresh air brings me peace. I wish I could live outside – except for the dirt, ha! During the warm months I open up half the windows in the house, and they stay open -morning, noon and night- till November when I am forced to shut up the house again.

So it follows that in winter I tend to go a little stir crazy when the weather keeps me indoors too long.

Lucky for me, I do not live in New England right now, and going outside is pretty much a breeze. Wednesday the temps were in the 50s with fog and only a slight chance of drizzle. I picked a show-stopper of a trail to add some Zing! to my winter, and off I went. Well, I had a late start because first thing that morning I toured a home for sale in Estacada. I liked it so much I made an offer, and then heard it had sold 15 minutes earlier. Dang!

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The Eagle Creek Trail is one of the most popular in the Columbia River Gorge because the trailhead is an easy 45 minutes from Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, and also because it packs a lot of scenic beauty into a few short miles on a super easy trail. For these reasons, in warmer months the parking spaces at the trailhead are typically jammed, and cars line the sides of the road all the way out to the Interstate. I thought perhaps the middle of the day Wednesday, in February, would mean an empty trail but I was wrong. There were about 25 vehicles parked when we arrived.

Guidebooks caution that it’s not a good trail for children and dogs, and that everyone should use care. Much of the trail was actually blasted out of the side of a cliff above sheer drops into the creek. In 2009, two people died on this trail, one due to a 100-foot fall.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff. The cable is there to hold on to.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

My philosophy is that there is potential danger all around us at all times, and that a trail is actually safer than a sidewalk. As long as I dress right, bring extra gear, water, food, etc., and in this particular case if I stay on the trail, I am confident that it will be a safe hike. Using our smarts will keep many of us alive. You’d think that would mean after 7 million years of natural selection our human population would be filled with only brilliant individuals, but somehow…that is not the case. 🙂

From the trailhead, it’s a 12-mile hike to Tunnel Falls, which I have never seen because I have never hiked that far. There are spectacular sights along the entire trail, but so far I have only hiked in 2 miles to Punchbowl Falls and then returned. There is so much to see in such a short distance that I use the trail for day hikes when I don’t have much time to invest.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

In the winter, there are waterfalls. And waterfalls, and waterfalls! They are astonishingly high, crashing down on both sides of the creek every few hundred feet or so. In some places you have no choice but to get wet because the trail hugs the cliff, and the falls spill down the cliffs. At one point near the beginning of the trail, a waterfall arcs over the top of the trail and you walk beneath it. (By the way, this is why Tunnel Falls has it’s name) The falls are so common that despite many of them being remarkable enough to warrant a postcard if they were solitary waterfalls in some other place…HERE most of them are not even named.

Lower Punchbowl Falls is a fun place to play in the water in the summer, and one can walk out into the creek and get a great view of the big falls. On this trip, it was too chilly to even consider going into the water for a view. It was lovely, and we watched others play around with each other and with their dogs. Despite the dog and child warnings, many people brought their dogs and children – and I’m glad. This is a place that really should be experienced by all.

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there's just a guy taking pictures of his girl. :-)

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there’s just a guy taking pictures of his girl. 🙂

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail...

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail…

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I'm standing is the one at the top of this post - jaw-droppingly gorgeous.)

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I’m standing is the one at the top of this post –  the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Punchbowl Falls.)

Heading back to the trailhead along these truly remarkable and beautiful cliffs.

The rocks, trees, and cliffs are adorned with luscious moss.

Weddle Bridge now sits in a place of honor in Sweet Home, Oregon. It was originally built near Crabtree, Oregon.

Weddle Bridge now sits in a place of honor in Sweet Home, Oregon. It was originally built near Crabtree, Oregon.

When the rain let up and the sun came out, the glow was irresistible.

When the rain let up and the sun came out, the glow was irresistible.

Arno and I had the idea to leave Friday after work and drive wherever our fancy took us. The weather was a factor, and we went south and east in an attempt to escape the rain. We left I-5 and went due East till we reached Sweet Home, Oregon. My deepest apologies to my aunts and uncles who live in the area, and did not receive a visit. Next time, you guys!

In the morning before we left town, we asked someone to tell us how to find the Weddle covered bridge. When it was replaced by a concrete bridge at its original location, the town of Sweet Home bought it and rebuilt it here in town. Most of the covered bridges in Oregon were built between 1905 and 1925, numbering as many as 450. Fifty of the historic bridges remain. I’d like to do a covered bridges trip one day.

While Arno drove, I flipped through the book Bend, Overall (by Scott Cook) and picked our next stop. It was a trail to House Rock, following the old Santiam Wagon Road.

House Rock Falls lights up when the sun hits

House Rock Falls lights up when the sun hits

Wildlife!

Wildlife!

The trail was easy to find and to follow. The day had sun mixed with showers, but it remained relatively warm so our hiking was enjoyable. It was neat to think that we were walking along a road built for wagons and horses. Before we reached the rock, however, we were distracted by a side trail to a falls, which turned out to be really beautiful.

House Rock purportedly got its name for being a place of shelter for travelers along the wagon road. It was apparently large enough to cover multiple pioneer families. Soon we came upon it. The rock is indeed huge, and leaves a generous space beneath. However, there was a healthy-sized brook running through the sheltered area, fanning out across the small rocks beneath House Rock to wet as much ground as possible. I decided that if I had to shelter there, the first thing I would do is build a trench to keep the brook in one place, and free up the rest of the area for me and my family to try and stay dry.

Arno stands on the trail and looks up at House Rock

Arno stands on the trail and looks up at House Rock

This is me beneath House Rock, contemplating how I would use this space if I was a pioneer traveling through Oregon by wagon.

This is me beneath House Rock, contemplating how I would use this space if I was a pioneer traveling through Oregon by wagon.

This campsite was across the river from the House Rock trail. I decided to stay there the following weekend with Tara.

This campsite was across the river from the House Rock trail. I decided to stay there the following weekend with Tara.

Harlequin duck

Harlequin duck

Chipmunk at the Metolius

Chipmunk at the Metolius

Next we went seeking the Headwaters of the Metolius River, at Metolius Springs. This is a fascinating thing to see: the river simple bubbles out from beneath Black Butte, river-sized and immediately flowing freely. The theory is that when volcanic eruption caused Black Butte to form, it blocked an old river. The water now spreads out over a wide marshy area, and percolates through the porous volcanic rocks through the base of the butte, and presto! Instant river on the other side.

Metolius River bubbles up, instantly formed, from beneath Black Butte.

Metolius River bubbles up, instantly formed, from beneath Black Butte.

We moseyed on to the little town of Sisters after that. Outside of town we found a gravel road that followed a creek, and we picnicked while seated on an old log and watching Whychus Creek flow by. The clouds cleared and the sun warmed us, and we stayed for a couple hours after we ate, just soaking it up and talking.

By the time we got on the road again and reached Bend, we were ready to eat a real meal. Lucky for us, Bend has some really awesome places to eat. It’s a walkable town, and as we walked to find a restaurant, I found Wabi Sabi, a store packed full of fun Japanese stuff. Of course I had to go in. I bought a pendant necklace inspired by the manga Attack on Titan, that Tara is currently reading. I picked out a Totoro decal for me.

We decided to camp that night instead of find a hotel. Arno thought of a campground at McKay Crossing, and off we went. It’s only about 25 minutes south of Bend, but we got a late start after dinner and had to set up the tent in the dark.

McKay Crossing Falls on Highway 21 south of Bend.

McKay Crossing Falls on Highway 21 south of Bend.

The next morning we explored around the campsite, which included the lovely and unexpected McKay Crossing Falls.  We walked to McKay Crossing, named for an old creek crossing (which is now a bridge – much easier). On the other side is a pretty good trail that follows Paulina Creek and gave us a new perspective of the falls.

Soon we had to head home. I wanted to get back in time to help Tara prepare for her AP test for Environmental Science scheduled first thing next morning (update: she thinks she did well on it, yay!), and we had many miles to travel in order to be home in time for studying and a good, healthy pre-test dinner.

Stretching the weekend as long as possible, I found one more adventure to try from Cook’s book, and we found a rutty, dirt road to climb, outside of Redmond. The view from the top of Cline Buttes was really worth the trouble, and we got a pretty spectacular view of Black Butte, despite the clouds obscuring its top.

View of Black Butte from Cline Buttes. From here you can tell it was formed by a volcanic eruption.

View of Black Butte from Cline Buttes. From here you can tell it was formed by a volcanic eruption.

We made a picnic lunch up here and gazed out across this amazing view while we ate and sampled some Hood River microbrews.

We made a picnic lunch up here and gazed out across this amazing view while we ate and sampled some Hood River microbrews.

 

 

Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

{Our trip begins with Day one.}

I had told Arno the night before that I wanted to be on the beach Christmas morning for sunrise photos. It helps to tell someone else when there’s a good chance I’ll blow off my own plans.

“Sunrise is at 7:52,” he announced as soon as I started moving. “We’ve got about 40 minutes. But first, I want you to open this.”

Arno handed me a Christmas gift and I sat perched on the high bed feeling excited about the gift and disappointed in myself. I had searched all over and found him just exactly what he wanted, wrapped it a week before, and left it at home. Darn it! (He has it now though: a GPS for his many many hikes into the mountains.) I opened a new lens! It takes my two old lenses (18-55mm and 70-300mm) and makes them one, 18-270mm. So convenient.

His organization was the opposite of mine: he brought multiple gifts, stocking stuffers (I forgot my stocking, too), and even a little decorated tree, which you saw in the previous post. I opened all my gifts and felt very spoiled. Glancing over the top of my pile of booty through the window, I could see the grey sky growing lighter over the ocean.

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

I couldn’t wait to try out my lens! We jumped out of bed and made coffee, washed our faces, pulled on coats and gloves and I added my new alpaca Christmas scarf.

The temperature was above freezing, but it was cold out there at the beach. Seagulls were in a group, standing in the mouth of Tenmile Creek as it spread out at the beach and then emptied into the ocean. We joked that it was probably warmer in the freshwater stream than in the salty ocean.

Our bellies reminded us that it was time to eat something amazing. We headed back up the hill to see what Sherwood and Stephanie had cooked up for us at the B&B.

After breakfast, our big plan for the day was to Take It Easy. I had checked the tide table and knew that low tide would be around noon, so after we stuffed ourselves on baked grapefruit and cheese croissants, we headed back to the beach to check out the tide pools. We played out there for a couple of hours. The sun prevailed, there was no wind, and for a little while I felt warm. Other people came out too. It felt silly and fun to call “Merry Christmas!” to folks on the beach in the sunshine.

Sea-green anemones

Sea-green anemones

After the beach, we wandered south again on Highway 101. The first thing that caught our attention was the Heceta Head Lighthouse run by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. We left the highway and drove out to it, to see if it was any prettier than the Umpqua Lighthouse from the day before. Oh my, yes it is.

Haceta Head lighthouse

Heceta Head lighthouse

There is a half-mile trail from the parking lot out to the lighthouse, but first we went out onto the beach to get photos of it from a distance.

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper's House to the right. The weather was perfect!

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper’s House to the right. The weather was perfect!

We were both grateful for the long trail to the light house. We needed the exercise to burn off some of the holiday food. Above the lighthouse are more trails that head up and along the ridge, which we also walked, just to keep moving. It paid off with new views.

Looking out to sea

A view of the beautiful first-order Fresnel lens

Heceta Head lighthouse is all by itself at the head, and so picturesque.

The 56-foot tall picturesque Heceta Head lighthouse

inside the tower

inside the tower

base of the light

base of the light

inside the lens

inside the lens

Back down at the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, people were whale-watching. It’s a great spot for awesome views of the ocean. Nearby, we admired the Queen Anne style assistant light keeper’s house (the light keeper’s house was torn down for the lumber) is now used as a Bed & Breakfast.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

At first we assumed the place would be closed because of the holiday, but it soon became apparent that the OPRD volunteer there was taking people on tours. It was my very first time inside a lighthouse. This one is newly restored and having a tour is a good way to have things explained that I wouldn’t have known to ask. For example, I learned that all the lighthouses along the coast have a signature, so mariners can identify them. Heceta head flashes every 10 seconds, the one at Yaquina every 20 seconds, and the Umpqua lighthouse has a red glass pane, so every third flash is red.

Next we continued south to Sea Lion Caves, and that was closed, as expected. However, we peered over the edge of the cliff and spotted the main attraction anyway. Sea Lions were lounging all over the rocks below us.

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

After that it was time to dress in Christmas clothes and head to our dinner in Yachats. (We had to ask our hosts how to pronounce it. We never would have guessed it’s Ya-Hots, emphasis on the second syllable.) Our holiday dinner was lovely. I even found a little phone reception and called my 93-year-old Grandma to wish her a Merry Christmas before I went to the table.

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

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