Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Xmas Coach2

We’re enjoying the last few days before Christmas, with our tree and lights glowing and holiday songs (lots of Johnny Mathis) playing throughout the coach.  We’re having a great time visiting friends, catching up on shopping, and of course, visiting our favorite restaurants.  We wish you all a peaceful, happy, and fulfilling Christmas season!

We’ll be back soon with more news from Texas; be sure and check back & visit with us!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wrapping Up the Year’s Travel

After leaving the Oregon coast, we headed east to I-5, then started the long trip south to Southern California to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter and husband. We spent a day in Redding, California, to catch up on shopping and rest for a day. Redding is an interesting town; it lies at the northern edge of the central valley and is surrounded by mountains to the west, north, and east. To the south, the terrain flattens out and becomes the central valley, stretching for 400 miles to just north of the Los Angeles basin. Leaving Redding, the drive southward is not very picturesque; miles and miles of flat highway through dusty, sometimes depressed farm towns and past orchards of nut and fruit trees. We turned east near Fresno to visit Tom and Cara, friends and co-volunteers from our last stint in Montana. They’ve settled into their new winter RV home in the EscapeesPark of the Sierras”, a wonderful place nestled in the Sierra foothills just outside of Coarsegold. The park is a beautiful area of winding roads though tree-covered rolling hills, outstanding amenities, and of course, as an Escapees park, friendly people. We enjoyed our visit, and with time for only one day trip, decided to visit what to us is one of this country’s true treasures, Yosemite Valley. We had hoped to visit Glacier Point, which provides one of the great overlook views you’ll ever experience, but the road was Yosemite Viewclosed for tYosemite Valley2he winter due to snow. No matter how many times we visit Yosemite, we’re surprised and amazed at the magnificent beauty. Driving into the valley, the unique sight of Half-dome, the most recognizable feature of any national park, reminded us of all of the good times we had visiting the area when we were stationed near here in Merced, at the now-closed Castle Air Force Base. Then again, visiting anyplace away from Merced was a good time. Yosemite Forest View

Yosemite Trees Late fall/early winter is a great time to visit Yosemite; with kids back in school and the cool, often cold weather, the tourist crush is gone and we could park anywhere and walk to the varioHalf Domeus viewpoints without seeing hardly anyone else. Deer were everywhere, and coyote were wandering around like domesticBridal Veil Falls2 dogs. Surprisingly, the major waterfalls, both Yosemite and Bridal Veil, were active, the result of snow melt on the higher peaks. But mostly it was just the quiet beauty of the valley and stunning views of the meadows and river that made our visit so memorable. This is truly a magical place.

After our visit, we continued south over the “grapevine” and into the Los Angeles basin. Our route required that we drive I-5 (“The 5” to Californians) through the entire LA area. You would think after driving through here that residents must pass some type of “incompetent driver’s test” – they must have to demonstrate how to fail to yield entering the freewMotorhome on the Beachay, the ability to maintain 85 MPH regardless of traffic conditions, and of course how to talk/text while applying makeup and changing lanes. Sometimes it’s good to be behind the wheel of a 16-ton vehicle with air horns. Somehow we made it through the area unscathed, and settled into our incredible spot at Camp Pendleton’s San Onofre Beach RV Park. Our site was right on the beach, only 20 feet from the tide line – an amazing view and the pounding surf provided a great lullaby each night. No matter what time of day or how cool the weather, we were treated to the sight of surfers right outside our window.Surfer at Sundown

We’ve settled into our winter home in Texas, near New Braunfels, a town just northeast of San Antonio. We’ll be here for the next few months, until our spring journey back to Oregon and our summer of volunteering begins. We’ll continue to explore and share our travels, so stop back and see what we’ve been up to, and if you’re in the area, stop and visit!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Surf's Up!

We’re busy celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday with family and hope you’re doing the same. Instead of a standard blog, I’d like to share pictures of a storm on the Oregon Coast that we watched while visiting the Coos Bay and Bandon, Oregon areas. Waves were forecast to be as high as 37 feet as a storm well offshore created the huge waves that rolled in from the Northwest. At the same time, high winds from the Southeast battered the waves as they broke creating some incredible views. It was a memorable show of nature’s power! We’ll be back in a week or so with more adventures of the Damn Near Perfect Couple, so come back and visit. Enjoy the pictures!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Crabbin’ – The Good Kind

We enjoyed our stay at Astoria and would like to return some day, but it was time to move on and so we headed south along the coast to Winchester Bay, a small fishing town that we’ve visited before. But before leaving, we visited the remains of old Fort Stevens, and tFort Stevens Gun Mount2he gun emplacements built during Fort Stevens Gun MountWWII for the defense of the Oregon coast. We weren’t aware of it before we first visited here, but Oregon was the site of two Japanese air attacks in 1942, and Fort Stevens itself was shelled by a Japanese submarine that same year . The fort was one of three built to guard the Columbia River, the others, Fort Canby and Fort Columbia are on the Washington side of the Columbia. Walking through the cannonruins on the bluff overlooking the Pacific, you get a sense of the massive fortifications protecting the huge guns located here. While the guns have been removed, you can gauge their size by looking at the large holes where the gun turrets were located. This is an interesting area of history, now surrounded by bike paths, campgrounds, and hiking trails.

At Winchester Bay, we stayed at the Winchester Bay RV Resort at Salmon Harbor, one of our favorite places on the coast. The park is built right on the harbor and river, and our site allowed us to pull in to within 20 feet of the water, giving us a great view through the windshield of boats, waterfowl, and harbor seals. It also gave me a chance to do some crabbing from the shore. I tried a device called a “crabhawk” – it's a hinged, spring-loaded net that’s cast like a lure, and when on the bottom, unfolds to reveal the Crabs on the RunCrabhawkbait (in this case, a chicken leg). When pulled, it snaps shut trapping the huge, delicious, Dungeness crabs so that Keith and Brenda can cook them up…….at least, that was the idea. Everything worked according to plan – cast, watch rod tip for “crab action”, quickly reel in……all went well except for the size. Instead of big crabs, all I caught were little crabs….dozens and dozens of little, foul-tempered, angry crabby little crabs. We had fun watching the action when I dropped the crabhawk on the ground and opened the trap – fast-scurrying little crabs would flee in all directions looking for someone (me) to pinch – it’s amazing how fast those little suckers can move. (Little known fact: crabs, no matter how small, can exert the same force with their claws and pinchers as a full-grown Pit Bull) After three hours of recycling dozens of little crabs in and out of the harbor, I gave up and vowed to get my crabs at the market – it’s worth it to pay someone else for the trouble…..and not get pinched.

Pelicans & Gulls at Oyster FarmOyster & Mussel FarmThis area had a lot of places to explore; we enjoyed seeing the Oregon Dunes, Umpqua Lighthouse and Museum, and walking the beach near the jetty and oyster farm. It was fun to just sit on the jetty and watch the gulls, pelicans, and cormorants compete for a spot on the oyster floats. The lighthouse, on a hill above the jetty, had an interesting museum that told the story of its occupancy bWinchester Bay Lighthousey the Lighthouse Service and Coast Guard. This is a great area to visit, although during the summer it’s crowded and noisy as people bring their ATVs to play on the dunes. But for our visit, it was quiet, peaceful, and we certainly couldn’t crab about being here (sorry, I’m on a roll with the crab stuff).

We again headed south on Highway 101, stopping at viewpoints overlooking the ocean along the way. Sea Lions on beachAt one stop, we looked down on the beach to see hundreds of California Sea Lions on the beach and in the water. It was an amazing sensory experience – the sight, the sound, and oh yes, the smell! You’d think they’d be cleaner after spending all of that time in the water!

We spent time in Bandon, a quaint little town with a great state park and lots of restaurants (our kind of place). During our time here, we visited with the volunteer coordinator for the Shoreline Education for Awareness organization, and happily agreed to spend next summer here as wildlife interpreters, something we’ve come to truly enjoy doing . We also experienced an amazing winter storm, but more on that later. For now, we’ll leave you with a picture of the Bullard’s Point lighthouse and the hope that you’ll come back and see us again!Bullard's Beach Light House

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Amazing Astoria

Leaving Westport, we wove our way down Highway 101 along the coast, passing through small fishing towns and eventually crossing the Columbia River into Astoria. The Columbia is huge, second only to the Columbia River ViewShip at Columbia SunsetMississippi River, and here where it enters the Pacific, it is one of the most dangerous waterways in the country. Crossing the Astoria Bridge was a memorable experience – after three miles of level causeway, the road suddenly launches itself into a high span, then a spiraling right turn down to Astoria’s main street. It was a bit sporty on a good day, I wouldn’t want to cross it during one of the area’s famous winter storms.

Our first choice was to stay at the Fort Stevens State Park campground, a very large park along the coast that extends northward and ends in a jetty on the Columbia. We arrived in a steady rain and found that the only sites available were deep into the trees and rather small. With no cable TV available and no chance of using the satellite for a week’s stay, we opted for a very nice park in Astoria, the Lewis and Clark Golf and RV Resort. A new park on the golf course, we had a pull-in site that gave us great views through the windshield of the green grass and hills, and of course, the rain.

We took a trip back to explore Fort Stevens, as it provides great access to the beach and the south jetty of the Columbia. It’s one of many old forts that provided defense from attack during WWII and the actual gun mounts and fortifications can still be seen. Driving north towards the jetty, the view of pounding surf and endless beach was amazing. The mouth of the Columbia is famous for the “bar”, the area where sand and shoals constantly build and change shape causing huge waves to form. It has an amazing history – since 1792, over 2000 major shipwrecks have been recorded, and even with today’s system of dredging, forecasting, advanced navigation systems, and river and bar pilots, it still claims victims each year. One the beach to the jetty is a stark example of one old wreckColumbia Bar South Jetty; the bow of the Peter Iredale, which ran aground in 1906. At the edge of the jetty, a long series of huge rocks extending into the ocean, we watched from the observation tower as the waves crashed into the jetty and the sun began to set on the horizon. Sunset Ocean View

Astoria is a town with character; much like a small version of San Francisco with its up-and-down streets and interesting small shops in the downtown area. Not as fancy or elegant, but still a town with intriguing places to explore. We Astoria Column drove to the highest point in town to visit the Astoria Column, and interesting structure that provides a great view of the area. A must-see for visitors is the Columbia River Maritime Museum, a beautiful building along the waterfront that helps visitors understand the history of the area. The exhibits are unusual; you can pilot a tugboat, stand on the deck of a WWII destroyer (they actually moved the entire bridge from the ship here and then built the museum around it), and listen to the actual recordings of rescues by the Coast Guard. It’s interesting that to enter the river, large ships need two “pilots”, a “bar pilot” until clear of the infamous bar, and a “river pilot” to navigate Ships from Windowto the many ports along the Columbia. The pilot groups are completely separate organizations and both require years of training. The bar pilots have the dangerous job of getting on and off ships no matter what the weather, using small boats or helicopters. They make a lot of money – up to $180,000 a year, but considering the danger, deserve every penny.

No trip to the area would be complete without a trip back across the bridge to Cape Disappointment and the Lewis and Clark historic site. Cape Disappointment was Cape Disapointmentnamed by an explorer looking for the entrance to the Columbia, and sailing from the north, failed to find it and turned around here. The lighthouse is the most photographed of any in Washington, and the best photo site is from the site where Lewis and Clark’s expedition viewed the Pacific Ocean. It’s beautiful here, another magnificent area of crashing waves, sandy beaches, and tangled piles of driftwood. We enjoyed our stay here, and hope to return some day and spend time during the summer months. From here, we continue down the Oregon coast – check back and see where we’ve been!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

'Round the Olympic Peninsula

From Port Townsend, we continued on Highway 101 along the north coast, passing through more small fishing towns and marveling at the beautiful scenery. We visited Neah Bay, a quiet village on the Makah Indian reservation, where we toured an interesting museum and learned that the Makah tribe is the only tribe allowed by treaty to hunt whales. From here, we drove to the trailhead for the Northwestern-most point in the continental US, Cape Flattery. The 1.5 mile trail is described as requiring "moderate exertion" - we must have missed the fine print that said that
was for the downhill portion. The trail to the point is a series of wooden staircases and dirt path down to to a wooden platform overlooking the ocean, a hike well worth the views of the rugged coastline and lighthouse on the adjacent island. After a short, refreshing 3-hour crawl back to the parking lot, we headed home to a night of rest and Bengay.
Our next trip was to the town of Forks, a small town that has been overrun with teens and pre-teens since the movie "Twilight" the story of a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire, was filmed here. Having raised a teen-age daughter, we didn't find this particularly unusual. Signs highlighting the movie are everywhere: the high school that the heroine, Bella attended, the Thriftway Market where she bought groceries, and on, and on. Locals told us that it's not unusual for a summer crowd of 15,000 to visit on a Saturday. Yikes. But we weren't here to see Bella, but to visit the Hoh Rain Forest, a few miles outside of town. This area, like much of the coast, is a "temperate rain forest" and receives an incredible 12-14 feet of rainfall a year. We walked along beautiful trails through the thick, moss-covered forest, with large sword ferns everywhere. Some areas look more like a Louisiana swamp than a Pacific Northwest forest. Along the trail were interesting tree formations; one looked to us like the head of a Pileated Woodpecker, anther resembled the head of a unicorn. Although we enjoyed the visit, this area is no

different than many other areas along the coast, and some, especially the areas of the redwood forests, are even more beautiful (and wet). But it was a nice day and there were no "Bella was here" signs.
We continued South and stayed in Westport, a vibrant fishing village, where each day we walked the docks and drove the back roads to small bays and rivers. It was quiet during our stay, with many of the dockside shops and restaurants closed for the season, but is a popular place to visit during the summer. There were hundreds of Brown Pelicans, a variety of Gulls, and even large flocks of migrating Marbled Godwits, a shorebird we'd never seen in such a large group. In Westport, we watched an interesting scene of fisherman trying to catch coho (silver) salmon from the docks. Each year, fingerling salmon are released in the harbor basin and they return 2-3 years later to spawn. By now, many are in the 12-14 pound range and provide a real challenge for anglers in a "combat fishing" environment - we watched as a salmon was sighted and 12-15 anglers frantically rushed together to fling lines into the water. One angler had almost landed his salmon when a Steller Sea Lion popped out of the water and grabbed it. Sitting in a dockside restaurant with a good view of the action was more entertaining than watching any TV reality show. Down a ways from Westport, we toured what for us was a big surprise -the local cranberry bogs. There was an extensive area of the rectangular sunken fields, and the harvest was ongoing. These bogs were not flooded like the ones we were used to seeing on the TV commercials, but were being harvested by small, self-propelled machines that looked like miniature threshing machines. There was even a cranberry festival in the small town of Grayland, with cranberry baked goods, sausage, and ice cream. It wasn't exactly the highlight of our trip to the area, and only took 30 minutes before we'd seen everything. But we shared an "elephant ear" which always makes a festival better.
We enjoyed our stay in the area, but after too many lunches of Albacore Tuna and chips, it was time to raise the jacks, fire up the engine, and continue our journey down Highway 101. Next stop, Astoria, Oregon - C'mon back!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Olympic National Park

Traveling around the Olympic Peninsula, we followed Highway 101 north, then west along the Strait of Juan De Fuca to the small coastal town of Port Angeles. This is a working town, not a destination resort. Dominated by a paper mill and a blue-collar downtown, the small houses on hillsides are more reminiscent of a mining town than a seaport. An interesting feature of the area is Ediz Hook, a hook-shaped arm of land that forms an arc around the harbor and provides a shelter for shipping and waterfowl. From the spit, you can look across the harbor for a great view of the port and the Olympic Mountains as they rise behind the town. From Port Angeles, it's just a short drive into Olympic National Park, a surprisingly beautiful area. Huge in size, the park and wilderness area take up most of the peninsula, over 1,400 square miles and nearly 1 million acres. Not as well known as other parks, it's an amazing place with three distinctly different ecosystems: glacier-capped mountains, rugged seacoast, and huge old-growth forest and temperate rain forest. What's striking is the elevation gain - from sea level to over 7000' in what seems like only a few miles. We started our visit with a trip to Hurricane Ridge, a 17-mile drive that gains 5000 feet in altitude. On the way, we could see across the water to the ghostly looking Mt. Baker on the horizon, over 60 miles away. We started our trip in a comfortable temperature of 65 degrees, but by the time we parked at the visitor center, it was closer to 30, with a biting wind. The view from the visitor center, at a horizon filled with snow-covered mountains, was breathtaking. Covered in clouds, Mt. Olympus, the highest peak at just under 8000', was surrounded by other peaks with a light covering of snow. We had arrived just after the first snow of the fall, so it was clear that the mountains retained a large amount year-round, and on one mountain it was interesting how the last snowfall only remained in the trees, which made them resemble Popsicles. From the visitor center, we took a few of the short side roads, and around one corner came upon these two black-tailed fawns soaking up the sun. As we drove back down to Port Angeles, it was striking how deep the valleys are in this rugged area. It's no wonder that the first expedition of explorers from Port Angeles took one month to reach Hurricane Ridge and that much of the park was unexplored until the 1900s. The exploration of the peninsula is an interesting story, you can read more about it here.
We'll be heading west to explore Cape Flattery and the Hoh Rain Forest, stop back and visit!