Sunday, September 30, 2007

Small, but a community

Likely, California
The only place within at least 50 miles for Fritz to fill up with diesel.

The run from Bend to Reno on 31/395 is long stretches of lonely (but generally attractive) highway with a few tiny towns scattered at great distances apart. Here in the unlikely place of Likely, you could fill up with diesel (at a price), so long as you had your gas filler cap on the correct side. The four of us talked of the difficulty we would have living in one of these tiny, remote villages.
I do remember that I grew up in the small towns of Spur, Texas. The big City of Lubbock was 75miles (or almost 2 hours) away. There, everyone knew me, and I knew just about all of them. A preacher's kid, I had a prominent exposure as such, and I did try hard to not sully my father's reputation as the minister of a small, though generally liberal for the times, congregation.
I could walk to school, the grocery store and the post office. If old Mrs Alexander didn't answer her phones after an appropriate number of rings, then someone, or usually several ones, would immediately walk or drive over to check on her. If you were ill or injured, you would be quickly placed on the prayer chain as well as the casserole chain. There was no wait for a seat at the soda fountain in the drug store or in the restaurants (both of them).
I could go just about anywhere, anytime safely. This included both the town and the surrounding countryside. The schools were marginal in comparison to my children's schools, but I could "make" just about any sports team or instrumental group for which I cared to try out. The library was within walking distance of everyone except those who lived in the country. There were certainly gaps in my education, but in the end it really did not make any difference. I had the opportunity to know the local lawyer, dentist, businessmen, teachers and doctors on a close basis, planting the early seeds of what I would later become.
Almost every night I could step outside and see that view of our solar system we call the Milky Way. Meteors were common, and at the right time of year you could see dozens of them late at night. There always seemed time, if not always money, for whatever I wanted to do.
I am not volunteering to move to a tiny, remote town, and I know there is a lot of nostalgia here on my part, but on reflection I don't feel too sorry for these citizens; it's a trade off. With modern transportation and the Internet, the isolation is not what it once would have been. In such a place, you are part of a single society. What happens to one affects all. There is a community of individuals, and you have to maintain a certain degree of respect and charity for everyone, something perhaps more difficult in the urban milieu.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The best planning . . .

Well, as you can see, the trip has not been exclusively balmy weather. Yesterday we headed south out of Bend on 97, then veered southeast on 31, and picked up 395 which goes through Reno, where we will catch I-80 and head home. We stayed in the unlikely town of Likely, California that night. Before nightfall we had a brief snowstorm, a sure sign it was time to move south.
The also means that this travel blog is approaching its end. I anticipate perhaps one or two more post (was that a sigh of relief I heard?) See you on the web.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's the journey, not the destination

Mount Thielsen, Forest, and B&D's Airstream

We have been fortunate to have lots of sun and warm weather since leaving on this journey. We have also had some beautiful drives when relocating our rigs. The drive from Ashland to Bend was one such day. In this picture that Barbara took through the windshield of our motorhome, towering above the forest, is Mount Thielsen. At 9,184 feet, it stands out in this range of mountains. This is a volcano, and the peak is actually the old magma core, harder than the surrounding lava flow which has eroded away. It is know as the "lightening rod" of the Cascades. It has received so many strikes, and strikes of such intensity that the rock at the top has melted.
After 4 days in Bend, we will start the journey home, heading south for Reno and then I-80 westward to home. This has been a great sabbatical; I am almost missing work!

A High Point in the High Desert

It seemed that much of what we did in Bend was just "hang out," though there is actually a lot to see and do that we had to save for the next trip.

Our RV park was one of the nicest we have had, and it was such a peaceful environment it was hard to get up and get going.

The High Desert Museum was highlighted in all the guidebooks, and even at ~$30/person is was quite an experience. It combines outdoor and indoor space including a great wildlife exhibit, a historical hall, a "living" settler home, and a partially reconstructed early lumber camp and sawmill.

There were many excellent sculptures set in naturalized settings through the grounds. As well as this cast fish jumping in the stream, there were numerous species of living trout in the waters of the museum.

A highlight for us however was a blown glass exhibit(click here for link). This artist was commissioned by a friend (obviously one with money) to create a series of glass vase sculptures reflecting the living things one would see during a walk in the woods. The exhibit was truly astounding.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Always have a book . . .

There was chance to meet an accomplished man when I was young, probably around the age of 12 or 13. This gentleman credited much of his success to his habit of taking every opportunity to read. It had started when he was in the military and found himself to often be waiting for things to happen. He always had reading material, a paperback, a magazine or paper, with him. When waiting in a line, traveling, or otherwise unoccupied, he would pull out his book or whatever and read.
It has been my habit since hearing him talk to try to never find myself in a down moment without something to read. Indeed, I look forward to travel as a time for uninterrupted reading. The long delays in airports these days in some ways I look forward to for reading time.
On this trip, I have not had a great deal of down time for reading. (I'm always working on this darn travel blog it seems!) I will share with you those for which I have so far had time - in no particular order:

Cosmos, Chaos, & the World to Come; The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith by Norman Cohn

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Blood Meridian; or The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy

Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein edited by Carl Seelig

A primer of Freudian Psychology by Calvin Hall

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper FForde

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (currently reading)

Mama Mia, Now That's Italian

John, Dino, and Barbara
In front of Dino's Ristorante italiano

I am regressing just a bit here. After so many seafood meals on the coast, we were ready for a change when we turned inland for Roseburg (see the Umpqua valley post.) We did some research and decided to try Dino's Ristorante Italiano in downtown Roseburg. It seems people love it or dismiss it, with a clear majority on the positive side.

We found the food excellent, though maybe I've had better (at home of course!). The critical factor here is Dino himself. Dino and Debbie live in Italy on and off over the years. They study the foods, work in kitchens there and bring back new ideas and spices for cooking.

Dino himself took care of our table, and the banter was continuous:

Bill: Are you Dino?
Dino: That's what I answer to.
Bill "Is this your place"

Dino: "Of course. If it wasn't, I would have been fired 10 min ago."
Bill: "Probably 30 min ago!"
Dino: "Maybe, but you got to put up with me if you're going to eat tonight, so we're both stuck."

In the end, the food was exceptional, the service was entertaining, and it was certainly a memorable evening.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

We are such stuff . . .

Ashland Oregon is a nice, small college town with a significant added factor; The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (click for info). This repertory institution occupies a 3 theater complex positioned right in the heart of the colorful Central district, located behind these buildings on the main street of Ashland.
We knew we would be in the Ashland region, and had secured tickets for a performance of Shakespeare's farewell masterpiece The Tempest; generally accepted as his final self-written play, and also considered one of his best. The Elizabethan Stage pictured here is an open roof theater, and we fortunately had clear blue skys.

The Play started just as twilight darkned. This marginal picture perhaps gives one a feeling of our position in the middle of the balcony; really quite good seats.
I certainly cannot claim to be knowledgeable about Shakespeare (though he does seem to have said pretty much anything that was important about anything of worth talking about.)
In the Tempest, the Bard certainly seems to be saying goodby:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. ( "
The Tempest" (4.1.138-48))

The definition of Blue

"Wow!" That's the most common comment heard as someone first approaches the view of Crater Lake from the rim. I said it my self again.

Barbara has been here three times; I have been here twice, and Bill and Dana were here for the first time. Its impact does not lessen with revisits. This is a view that's simply fun to share with other people.
We saw it was going to be a sunny, warm day, so we loaded up on picnic fare and headed up (w
e staying near Ashland at 1,300ft elevation, and the rim is 7,100 ft.)

Stories and pictures of the deep lake and its famous blue water do not prepare one for their first breathtaking look from the brink of this 6 mile wide caldera which was created by the eruption and collapse of Mt. Mazama almost 7,700 years ago. (Cl
ick here for a very nice geological description of this event)
The blue background to the tree branches in the third picture is not the sky - it's the water!
I'm just thankful that there are not a bunch of motels, condos and homes ringing the rim as one sees at places like Lake Tahoe. There are efforts underway to also designate Crater Lake National Park as a "Wilderness Preserve," limiting additional development of campgrounds, hotels, restaurants and other facilities that would otherwise add a bit of comercial air as exist at some of our other national parks. Seems like a good idea to me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jump in the Time Machine and go back . . .

Dyson and Susan Demara giving tastings at their HillCrest vineyard and Winery

For those of us old enough to remember the Napa and Sonoma valleys of decades ago, we can recall small vinyards and wineries where you could occasionally meet the owners, or better the winemakers, and the tastings and the conversations were both free and worthwhile. We discovered a bit of that today while driving through the Umpqua valleys near Roseburg, Oregon and wine tasting.

Here the landscape is highly reminiscent of Napa and Sonoma, but there is a marked lack of commercialism. It is refreshing as well as nostalgic. It seems that the climate is similar to Napa and Sonoma, with 2-3 inches more rain, and a harvest that takes place several weeks later.

Perhaps the quintessential Umpqua Vally winery is HillCrest, a small operation that somehow Dyson and Susan Demara manage themselves with occasional help from friends and family (and the local Brownie girl scout troop). They "allow" local children to assist in the "stomping" or foot crushing of some of the grapes in the fall. It seems that these small people are big enough to separate the skins and seeds, but not heavy enough to crush the seeds that have fallen to the bottom of the vat and let undesirable elements enter the juice. The children have fun, and some great wine can be produced.

We had a wonderful tasting here. Dyson and Susan are obviously a happy couple (along with the kids and dogs), and bring this attitude to their wines. They have Napa Valley as well as more world wide experiences, and left Napa a few years ago to create their own crafted wines. Dyson talks enthusiastically about the environment, the wine making process, and other elements that produce their wines (sold locally; no distributor). The process is "old world family technique", with none of the substances that may be "organic", but are not really naturally occurring, that are tossed into 99% of retail wines. I found their tasting offerings were good to superb, with a fine Syrah and an incredible late harvest Riesling.

This is what the Napa and Sonoma valleys were decades ago; open wineries (not just tasting buildings), accessibility to the owners and winemakers, and a distinct lack of a Disneyland commercial feeling to the area. If you are traveling I-5 through Oregon, be sure to stop in the Umpqua Valley for a winery detour. If you have time for only one stop, I strongly urge you to make it HillCrest. Say "Hi" to Dyson and Susan for us if you make it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Maybe tomorrow a hamburger. . .

Oyster stew and fishing boat.

Barbara has been driving our quest for seafood for the most part. It's only natural, she spent most of her youth on the Pacific Ocean: Alaska, Hawaii, and San Diego. In Iowa, she has been just a bit more than a little frustrated when trying to get really fresh Pacific seafood.

To that end of trying to get really fresh seafood, yesterday we bought an 18 pound tuna (filleted down to about 8 pounds by the owner thank goodness) straight off this fishing boat ($24 for the fish and $4 for cleaning and filleting.

Last night we grilled about half of the tuna and enjoyed it with a great salad, lemon couscous, and a good white wine . . . my oh my, was it good! Today we will make fish tacos from the leftovers, and tuna salad with the rest. Most of the original fish we froze for later.

This morning we turned inland, our first move towards our return to the east. It's a bit sad, but there's still a lot we have planned between here and home.

A "Cheezy" stop at Tillamook

Probably all of you are familiar with Tillamook cheese, but do you know why there is a sailing ship as their logo? Fertile farmlands at this part of the Oregon coast are surrounded by low mountain ranges that were an impedement to transportation in the 1800's. The farmers were producing excellent cheese, but had no way to get it to the retail centers of Astoria, Portland and beyond. From shipwrecks and local wood they built a boat, the Morning Star, to transport the cheese to Astoria and Portland, and they successfully created the now well known Cheese company, and the small sailing boat is appropriately on their logo. The accompanying picture is in the cutting and packing room at the cheese factory.

Where's the sun?

Well, we finally ran into the famous Northwest overcast and mist. Really no rain to speak of. We have either been lucky or just picked the right time of year to do the Oregon coast.

The dogs ran free on this beach and had a great time, but Pip needed his bath before coming in the rig.

The Hecetas Head Lighthouse north of Florence is in a beautiful location; you can reserve a room in the lighthouse keepers home . . . if you start calling 6 or more months in advance. Because of its setting, this view is the most photographed lighthouse view on the Oregon Coast. I have to remind myself that the reason it is there is because of the propensity for ships to be lost on the shoals nearby. It was built of course as a matter of life and death rather than beauty.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Can you do this?

A part of travel is always experiencing the culinary variations in the local stops and regions. Just above Tillamook is the tiny village of Bay City, which happens to be one of the fishing ports for Pacific Seafoods. In this case, it seems to be primarily oysters. We stopped on the Pacific Seafood dock and found this unmarked restaurant.
Fresh oysters were being unloaded from a dock in back, and there was this restaurant in the front, with oyster shuckers at work in the back.
Of course there were various oyster dishes as well as the usual mix of seafood.
This place had fielded a winning team of oyster shuckers, and in the video below you can see their skills. In the short time of this video, if you watch closely, you will see her open the shell, extract the meat, and repeat it again and start a third. I assume they are paid by the pound, because they were all working like this. Seeing their effort can't help but make you appreciate the oysters more.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sights and Friends

We stayed in the far NW corner of Oregon for several days. Ft Stevens State Park was a great change from the comercial parks. Lots of tall trees, and lots of space between rigs. The historic Fort was good for a quick visit, and the town of Astoria held a number of surprises. In the evenings we relaxed in these woods, only a mile from the beach.
Astoria is both a tourist town and a working town, more of the latter. A highlight for us was the Maritime Museum, which focuses on the Columbia River and adjacent coastline. The rescue boat pictured here was retired and donated to the museum after participating in the saving of "hundreds" of potential victims and surviving many roll overs and one "Pole vault" where it was flipped stern over bow. The museum was large and well organized. Visit it if you are in the area and have time to do it justice.

After exploring Astoria which also has a few wonderful, old Victorian homes perched on the hill, we visited a small interpretive center at the original Ft Clapsop site where Lewis and Clark wintered. There is a reproduction of their fortifications, created from original plans and drawings made by the expedition; actually quite interesting.

RVers are a little like the military in that we make friends here and there, and occasionally run into them on the road. It's really for the most part a social group. In Ft Stevens we crossed paths withJoan and Mike, friends originally from Estes park, subsequently RV full-timers, and ultimately residents of Saddlebrook, AZ a couple of minutes golf cart ride from Jay and Kate. They hosted us for dinner our first evening at Ft Stevens, and we returned the favor the next evening. Barbara here displays the desert she prepared. We caught up with past travels and future plans, followed by some down time around the campfire.

People are everything, and friends are critical to the good life, especially the good friends.

A bit more evocative perhaps

On the last post, I had a picture of the Peter Iredale in the Sunshine. Two days later I went down to see if the whales were still there, and to try to get a picture of one with his head poking out of the surf (saw it happen a couple of times, but never got a picture). This time the morning mist had moved in, leaving a more ethereal image of the wreck. Just thought I would share it with you. There have been many shipwrecks at the Colombia R. bars, and many lost lives. This picture is perhaps more appropriate than the other one.

Monday, September 10, 2007

We made it to the Pacific

Barbara and a 101 year old shipwreck on the beach at Ft Steven State Park beaches.

We checked in to Ft Steven's State Park last night. We are in the middle of a Sitka spruce forest; very quiet and picturesque. The Ft was first an earthen battery constructed by order of President Lincoln in 1865. After several periods of expansion and modernization it was decommissioned in 1947 after duty defending the Columbia River access during WW II.

The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel bark built in Maryport, England, in 1890 and owned by British shipping firm Iredale & Porter. On September 26, 1906, the Iredale left Salina Cruz, Mexico, bound for Portland, where it was to pick up a cargo of wheat for the United Kingdom. Despite encountering heavy fog, they managed to safely reach the mouth of the Columbia River early in the morning of October 25. The captain of the ship, H. Lawrence, later recalled that, as they waited for a pilot, “a heavy southeast wind blew and a strong current prevailed. Before the vessel could be veered around, she was in the breakers and all efforts to keep her off were unavailing.” The Iredale ran aground at Clatsop Beach, hitting so hard that three of her masts snapped from the impact. Fortunately, none of the crew were seriously injured. Captain Lawrence ordered that the ship be abandoned, and rockets were launched to signal for help.

This morning I went down to get a picture of the wreck at Sunup; found a pod of whales feeding incredibly close to shore. The pix is of one of them blowing (the white smudge with the black hump next to it in the picture.) You can see the sand beach at the bottom of the picture to show how close to shore they were.
Wonderful start to the day - coffee, cool breeze, and whales.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

You don't see it, you experience it!

"You don't go to see it, you can only experience it" is what the guidebook says about Portland. Perhaps you have to do both.

We had two days in Portland; driving in one day, and experiencing the light rail the next. Barbara and I had been looking forward to having the chance to see Matt (aka "John") and Rachael, and the 6 of us "experienced" what we could in the limited time.

Whimsy in modern architecture, historic Norwegian churches, sampling food and drink in an Irish bar (with broadcast of Irish rugby matches live at 6am), shopping for chantrelles, cheese, and produce at the farmer's market, riding the (free downtown) trolley and light rail system, all make their impression on the visitor.

There are some specific things to see of course. The Japanese and Chinese Gardens are each unique and very
different, but both serene. Powell's bookstore is interesting, exciting and overwhelming all at once. We didn't have time to do the galleries, museums, and so many other things. Still just hitting a few highlights, sampling some of the fare, and getting caught up in the youthful vitality of this city was enough for this quick visit.

Retirement Living magazine list Portland as one of the 5 best cities in which to retire. Best thing? The "Pearl" district. Least favorite thing? 155 days of rain (though we saw none fortunately.)

I was a quick visit, but a good one. Now we head for the coast. Don't know what the availability of internet connections will be for the next several days. . . if present I will probably add a post or two. If not, then see you in a few days.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Green at last!

As previously noted, the western portion of Oregon, even along the Columbia River, is quite arid. This 20000 sq ft mansion was built by Sam Hill for his bride. She took one look at the location, and refused to move there. . . it's since been an art museum. As they say, if momma ain't happy, no one's happy.

Yet less than two hours away, here is what you have!

(Click on picture to enlarge it)

The Columbia Gorge is an amazing vista, made all the more spectacular by the contrast between the eastern and central portion of the gorge. The above picture is from the "Women's Forum Overlook". The small white building in on the bluff in the middle of the above picture is "Vista House", a 4-story monumental visitor's building on the old highway (I-84 can be seen running down by the river.)

Below are the 4 of us at Multnomah Falls, with the water dropping a quarter of a mile from the cliff edge.

Between Fall River, OR and Portland is the Bonneville Dam. This happens to be a great place to see the fish using the "ladders" for migrating up river past the dams. Bill got some wonderful pictures of salmon as they move through the ladder to spawn up river. It was one of those places where you could have stood watching to the point of hypnosis. Just really a neat experience.

Of course, if there is anything more fun than watching the fish migrate, it is having a fine fish dinner. At the Multnomah Falls Lodge, Bill and I had a great lunch of smoked salmon, melon, pineapple, grapes, cheese, and fresh-baked bread.

Last night we settled into Portland Fairview RV park, and Matt and Rachael came out for cocktail hour. Today we head for Portland proper for some sightseeing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Climate Climax

Looking West Down the Columbia River Valley in Eastern Oregon
with Mt Hood in the Distance

We are spending two nights in Boardman, OR, having finally joined the Columbia River. Where it flows through eastern Washington/Oregon, about 2 inches of rain falls yearly. After the river passes through the "Gorge" to the Western side of the Cascades, it's banks are welcoming 200 inches of rain yearly and covered with verdant forest. This 100-fold difference in precipitation collides abruptly in the Columbia River Valley in the region between the Dalles and Hood River.

William Clark seemed to have made the majority of notations about the countryside as he and Lewis proceeded downriver to their final destination. His log from this section is notable for how rapidly the vegetation changes almost daily, from desert grass, to scrub oak, to major forest.

We drove up the valley as far as Hood River, where we had lunch in the 3-Rivers Grill on the deck overlooking the valley and river, with wind surfers and para sails dotting the river. (Apparently the wind through here is quite constant.)

Before returning to Boardman, we took the "Fruit Loop," a winding tour route through small and large orchards, vineyards, and groves in the Hood R. Valley south the town of Hood River. We found some great peaches, but were a little late for the peak berry season and a little early for the peak apple and pear season. Still, we found the country side beautiful, and some of the produce stores and stands proved rewarding to explore.

I must admit that I am usually reluctant to take a long break from my practice "just" to travel around in our motorhome. It seems so "inefficient" to be just wandering around taking in the sights rather than being productive by staying and working. Earning money always to me seemed somehow a greater moral state than spending money. Once I hit the road however, I realize that the experiences contribute to making "me" better.

I think I am fairly well travelled, but I am still amazed by the expanse, variety and wonderful contrast this country offers the modern explorer.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Here is where it started

It started with Wally Byam right here in Baker City, OR. This may be a bit curious to many of you, but to RVers, Wally Byam is know for founding Airstream, making it famous with caravans around the world (many pictures in Nat'l Geographic and Life Magazines), and jump starting the RV explosion of post-war America.

B&D, who are traveling in their Airstream, pose here for a picture at a poster exhibit noting his accomplishments.

Three dollars a gallon is cheap!

These pictures and video clip are from the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, a Federal project along the original Oregon Trail path just across I-84 from Baker City. It is done extremely well, and we spent a few hours here.

We were there on Labor Day, and they were holding a reenactment of a wagon train encampment with cooking of historical meals in Dutch ovens and performance of period music (video clip). In actuality, it was a much more festive atmosphere than was probably the case in 1840. A statistic that one can get a hand on is that, on average, one person died every 80 yards along the Oregon Trail, many not far from their goal, unable to survive the weather, disease, accidents, starvation and deaths by Indians or disgruntled travelers out of patience after 6 months of incredibly difficult travel.

In the desert, damage to the landscape takes centuries to be erased. As Barbara and I stood in the original 150 year-old ruts from the wagon trains, I tried to imagine myself crossing this arid landscape, exhausted from almost 6 months travel through forest and deserts, across wide rivers, and up mountains. I could almost hear the oxen and horses and the creaking of the wagons.

It seems that these travelers had to spend most waking hours in punishing physical effort and discomfort just to survive. It makes $3/gallon gasoline seem like a great bargain.