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January 13, 2008

Snow Geese in the Skagit

What a wonderful day! After a long stretch of cold dark damp gray days, we finally got a sunny break. G and I talked about getting out. We've had cabin fever stuck in the house. The forecast was for a good day on Sunday so we decided to travel up about 60 miles north of Seattle to the Skagit River Valley.

The Skagit River has a huge delta. Over the years it has created a rich flat valley that is still farmed. In the Spring, the fields are a patchwork of color created by the fields of blooming bulbs. This region is the number one region for growing bulbs in the US and second to Holland in the world. After the spring, the fields are used for a variety of crops such as potatoes, cabbage, broccoli and corn.

The farmers leave the corn stubble in the field over the fall and winter. Other farmers will plant wheat and rye as cover crops. This along with the abundance of marsh areas attracts hundreds of snow geese which migrate to the delta in the winter from Siberia. They arrive around October and stay until February or March. The estimation of the flock size is around 50,000 birds. In addition to geese, three types of swans migrate; trumpeter, mute and tundra.

Besides the migrating flocks, there are also hawks, owls and an increasing population of bald eagles that roost along the Skagit. The winter salmon steelhead runs attracts many eagles near Rockport and Concrete a bit upriver.

But it was the geese that we wanted to see. A birding friend had mentioned seeing them recently and that planted the idea. This would give us an opportunity to get out and also do a bit hiking. So we went on the search for the birds.

We started at an area call Big Ditch. I thought it would be good because it is a long levy that runs along the delta. We would have an opportunity to walk and stretch our legs. We arrived shortly after 10am. There were several vehicles in the parking lot; mostly hunters which had been out in the early morning. We walked a long for a while seeing very little. In the treetops, we spotted a red tail hawk. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement and heard a splash. I recognized the glossy dark brown fir. It was a pair of otters. That we so neat to see them. It was the first time for us.

We spotted nothing else so we started back to the car. Just as we arrived in the parking lot, we heard the sound of geese and a few gun shots to the south. The geese were on the move and heading north. They were in line to fly right over the parking lot and they did. What a magnificent sight to see and hear thousands of the large birds in formations flying overhead.

Now to see where they landed. We headed up to Hayton reserve on Fir Island. We had seen them in a distant field near there in other years. We started up the trail and looked west. There they were just a bit further up the road. We jumped in the car to see if we could get there before they left.

What we didn't realize was they were right next to the road. Never had we seen them that close and accessible. There were thousands turning the field white. They were feasting on the winter rye; honking and moving around. By now they were attracting quite a crowd. We walked a bit closer but remained across the road. I was certain they would take flight. But they didn't.

Another photographer moved across the road closer to the flock. The geese slowly moved away but did not take flight. Soon we all moved to the roadside next to them. They continued to eat and slowly move away. What was interesting is they moved towards a house but they didn't seem to want to cross the driveway and move onto the lawn of the house. They must have sensed the humans inhabiting the area. Thus they seemed to be bunching up into a small area of the field. A few spilled onto the road. I have no idea why they did not take flight with so many cars and people around. But they did not.

I was snapping photos like crazy. But it was also nice to just stand and watch them. We stayed at least a half hour and they never flew off. We finally decided to move on to La Conner for lunch still in awe of what we had seen.

After a lunch at La Conner Brewery, we traveled north to an area called West 90. This area is known for short eared owls. I ran into my birding friend and they told us the owls were flying in the area. We walked out into the marshy delta area and soon we also saw them. They flew around and fought a bit with some harrier (marsh) hawks. You could hear the gentle cries of the owls contrasted by the hawk shrieks.

The sun was getting low in the sky and we were getting chilled. We had a cup of coffee and then started home. Driving along Padilla Bay we spotted several herons and decided to stop one more time. We walked a short distance along the Padilla Bay trail watching the sun slowly sink into the west and burnish the ending day with gold.

For more information, here is a recent article from the Seattle Times. Also, this is a good map of the birding areas in the Skagit area.

And of course, I took pictures. Here are a couple of photos and a slide show at Flickr.

Snow Geese SlideShow

Snow Geese

Snow Geese

July 21, 2009

Columbia Basin Drive

Highway 2 to Spokane
Highway 2 to Spokane

Rocky shores, volcanoes, inland marine waterways, desert, rain forests and a mighty river - Washington state has it all. I am still amazed at the different diverse regions. The spine of the volcanic Cascade range separates the state into two very distinct sections.

Crossing the Cascade passes and dropping into Eastern Washington, you enter a different world. This is the land of distant horizons and long lonely stretches of road. The Columbia Basin is dry but fertile desert surrounds the mighty Columbia River - the 4th largest river in North America. The Snake from Idaho and Kootaney from British Columbia Canada feed into the Columbia and are included in this basin.

This is also the area of deep canyons, long coulees, volcanic basalt and rocky dry falls. This is the result of an ice age flood. An ice dam near the Idaho/Montana border near Missoula during the ice age created a large glacial lake from the Clark River coming off the Rockies. The dam held back over 500 cubic miles of water - as much as both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined. It is theorized that the dam broke and the water poured in a matter of 2-3 days over what is now Eastern Washington carving coulees and leaving behind fertile but arid soil. It is awe inspiring to cross the bottom of one of the hot dry coulees and realize the power of water.

The climate is also very different. The Cascades form a rain barrier creating dry barren scrub land east of the mountains similar to the Great Basin area of Nevada. But unlike Nevada, there is a major source of water - the Columbia River. The Columbia Basin Project irrigates the Basin farms with water. Potatoes are the major crop along with corn, alfalfa, and peas.

I love taking a road trip east through this classic western land. My favorite road is Highway 2. It parallels the Great Northern Railway I wrote about earlier, traveling east from Everett to Spokane and beyond. The road passes through small towns along the western foothills before climbing up to Stevens Pass at 4,000ft. At the crest of the pass, the clouds and mist disappear as you drop down into Tumwater canyon and the kitchey Bavarian themed town of Leavenworth. The evergreen trees disappear and sun burnt hills scrubby hills appear and are shortly to replaced by lush apple orchards around Wenatchee and the Columbia River. Green fingers of orchards climb up the microclimate valleys along the Columbia.

The highway crosses the river and travels along the riverbank for a couple of miles before turning east again to climb to the plateau covered with golden fields of wheat and a sky filled with fluffy clouds. The road seems to stretch forever before it suddenly drops into Moses Coulee and the Dry Falls region. Grand Coulee is just around the bend. The road continues east through farm land and small towns. The terrain changes and you start to see solitary pines and rocky crops - the distant foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Spokane is not far away.

Here are a few pictures of region and drive - More tomorrow.

Columbia River at Vantage
Bridge over Columbia River at Vantage

Highway 2 to Spokane
Along the Columbia River near Wenatchee

Wheatfields near Waterville WA
Columbia plateau wheatlands near Waterville, WA

Highway 2 to Spokane
Moses Coulee

Dry Falls
Dry Falls

Coulee Dam
Grand Coulee Dam

July 22, 2009

Palouse

Steptoe Butte
Steptoe Butte Vista

South of Spokane is an area of broad rolling hills and prairies called the Palouse. The area was settled in the 1880 when experiments in dryland farming were successful. By the beginning of the 1900's, all of the land was converted into wheat fields. Today wheat is the major crop along with barley, peas and lentils.

Much of the area remains the same as it was in the early 1900's. Highway 27 curves and rolls through the hills and ravines. It is the main street of many of the small historic towns located about 12 miles about - the distance between rail stops.

It is also a photographer's dream. The hills curve and roll with interesting lines and patterns. In June, the fields are green with new growth and brown from newly plowed fields. In August, huge combines machines cut across the rolling fields as the farmers rush to harvest their crops. In July, the hills are brilliant emerald green as they ripen in the summer sun.

We headed south out of Spokane and turned towards Waverly. Sugar beet was the major crop early in the 1900's but today it is known more for its busy grain elevators. Next town was Latah with its lovely old homes. Tekoa was my favorite. It felt like the quintessential small town with its restored Empire theater, 1909 city hall and mural-faced library. It also has a great train trestle evidence of the influence of the railroad.

Steptoe Butte was our destination. This ancient rock butte rises 1,600ft above the green, tan and brown fields. The road to the top curls around the butte to the top where you have a 360 degree vista. It feels like you are eye level with the clouds.

A quick stop at the local farmers truck stop for a cold drink and a salty snack and then we were on our way back to Spokane. We did a quick detour to one more small town, Rosalia. You pass a multiple arch concrete railroad trestle on the way into town - looking similar to a roman aqueduct. The town is sleepy in the warm afternoon sun. It is also the site of the Steptoe Memorial commemorating the 1858 battle between the U.S. Army and local Indian warriors. The Army lost the battle and retreated.

Grain Elevators
Waverly Grain Elevators

Rolling hills of Palouse
Road and Rolling Hills

Palouse hills
Old Barn and Stripped Hills

Tekoa City Hall and Library
Tekoa City Hall and Library

Tekoa Empire Theater
Empire Theater - Tekoa

Steptoe Butte
Patchwork fields scattered below Steptoe Butte


January 28, 2010

Birdwatching in the Skagit Valley

Trumpeter Swan
Trumpter Swans

Do you ever have one of those serendipitous days where you decide to visit an area but you don't have any specific plans and the day ends up magical? We had one of those days on Monday.

We called up a friend who likes to bird watch and suggested that we go to the Skagit Valley. He couldn't go on Sunday so we decided to go Monday. The forecast was unpredictable as usual in January in the Pacific Northwest. It has been extremely unseasonably warm and dry. Gray still but warmer and drier.

Skagit Valley is about 1 hour north of Seattle. The Skagit River forks just south of the city of Mount Vernon into two branches and creates Fir Island. This is rich farmland and also the winter home of snow geese, swans and bald eagles. Flocks of these bird migrate south from the summer breeding grounds in Alaska to over winter in the rich fields. We have seen the flocks increase over the years.

Birders share this area with hunters in the winter months up through January. Washington state Fish and Game have several areas set aside which are open to both hunters and bird watchers. It can be a difficult mix but part of economy of wildlife.

Fir Island is easy to get to. Driving north on I-5, you exit at Conway and head towards La Connor. We had just crossed over the south fork of the Skagit when we spotted a field of Trumpeter Swans. We have two favorite spots to stop. First is the Hayton reserve. We had seen a bald eagle in the trees west of the parking lot last year. Wow! This year there were at least 4 bald eagles in the trees and also a huge nest. We brought out the scope and watched the birds. We also noticed several bald eagles just sitting in the fields and one returned to the tree with a catch and we watched him eat it. We think it was some type of rodent caught in the field.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Eagle Nest

We moved on and headed to the end of Rawlins Road where we could access the dike and over look the salt marshes. A large flock of snow geese were in a field so we walked about 1/4 mile along the dike until we could see them. We had passed several hunters along the road and we could hear their runs in the distance. The flock were a little agitated but we had a great opportunity to watch the geese as they went through the field.

It was time for lunch so we headed to La Connor and the La Connor Brewery. There are several great places to eat in La Connor, the brewery, Palmers and Calico Bakery are good. We like the brews at the brewery so we always stop there.

After lunch we headed north towards Edison. This is the Padilla Bay and the estuary for the Samish river. We had heard that there might be a snowy owl near the out take of the Samish River. First we stopped at West 90. We saw very little bird life other than a Marsh Hawk. But on the way back we stopped to watch a flock of Trumpeter Swans near the highway. We were fascinated by their head bobbing just before two pairs would take flight. They would travel a ways out of distance and then after waiting a couple of minutes - they would return. We watched and listened to the gentle honking in waning light of the late afternoon.

It was time to head home. We decided to head back across Fir Island. There was an opening in the clouds and G was predicting a nice sunset. We crossed over the bridge onto Fir Island and I noticed a flock of Snow Geese near Maupin Road. I decided to stop. Just as we pulled up, the sun peaked under the clouds and the sky was starting to turn golden. We looked towards the north and saw groups after groups of snow geese heading towards us. We stepped out of the car and watched in amazement as each group approached over us and glided to the field for the night. It was so magical. It was one of those moments that you just could not capture.

After a short while, another car approached and for some reason, the geese were spooked. All at once the flock took flight and headed toward the water. The golden sunset was speckled with their wings.

It was growing cold and dark. We headed back to the car and Seattle. A satisfying end to a glorious winter day.

Skagit Estuary
Skagit Estuary

Snow Geese

Arriving for the evening

Snow Geese
A field of Snow Geese

Snow Geese
Snow Geese in the mud

Snow Geese Sunset
Snow Geese taking flight in the sunset

Sunset over the Skagiit

Here are some links:

Seattle Things To Do

June 7, 2010

Ebey's Landing

Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
Vista from bluff above Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island

We went camping on Memorial Day and stopped at Ebey's Landing on the way. I had heard about the unique flowers that could be found on the bluffs and wanted to explore. Ebey's Landing is a unique micro climate in the center of Whidbey Island. The area is a National Historical Reserve created to preserve the working landscape, historical buildings and natural habitat. I love the windswept prairie that spills onto the rocky beach. We had not explored the bluffs just north which is home to Opuntia fragilis - a prickly pear cactus that is native to the islands of the Puget Sound.

There are two trail heads to the bluff trail. We decided to park at the Prairie Overlook. The first quarter of a mile or so is along a private road next to several houses that overlook the prairie before it turns and runs along the edge of the prairie. I love the spacious vistas and the tall prairie grass. Along with the weathered fences, buildings and fir trees, you almost feel as if you are in Maine. At the bluff, you have a massive vista of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympics and the bluffs north and south. We meandered along checking out the flowers. We kept an eye out for the cactus and found one patch near the trail. The trail runs along the edge of the bluff to the top of Perego’s Lake, a small lagoon along the beach. We found a place to sit and have lunch and mulled whether to go back along the bluff or walk along the rocky beach. We decided to go down and walk along the beach. It would have been a great walk except light rain started up and the wind was blowing it towards us. I was not happy.

You continue along the beach until you come to the parking lot and the second trail head. I convinced G to walk back the last 3/4 mile to the car and come pick me up. Fortunately, neither of us got too wet, mainly just a little damp and we dried off before arriving at our campground.

The next day we went over to Fort Casey to see the Admiralty Lighthouse. The weather was cold windy and drizzly. We took a quick walk around the lighthouse before heading back home.

Ebey's Landing is a perfect place to explore. It is also a great hike in the winter or early spring. We will definitely return. Next time we want to also camp at Fort Ebey's State Park.

Reference Links:

Bluff Trail at Ebey's Landing


Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
View at start of trail from Prairie Overlook

Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
Heading to the bluff

Rosa nutkana
Rosa Nutkana was in bloom all along the trail

Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
It feels like Maine and the country of Andrew Wyeth

Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
Across the prairie

Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
On to the bluff

Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
She is still a happy camper here. :)

Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
Windswept forest along the bluff edge

Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
Perego’s Lake

Ebey Landing Bluff Trail
Beach at Ebey's Landing

Admiralty Lighthouse

Admiralty Head Lighthouse

Admiralty Head Lighthouse

Admiralty Head Lighthouse

Admiralty Head Lighthouse
Ebey's Landing bluffs in the distance


July 9, 2010

Summer time is here

Marina Beach - Edmonds



In Atlantic City or out in Malibu
Or any where between, I'm telling you
When you feel those balmy breezes on your face
Summer time is the best time any place

'Cause it's summer
Summer time is here
Yes it's summer
My time of year
"Summer" - War

Finally! After a long gloomy June, summer has arrived. We have a saying here in the Seattle area that summer doesn't arrive until after July 4th. And right on scheduled, the weather has turned hot. Believe it or not - Sunday July 4th had a high of 59 degrees! Thursday July 8th, it broke records with a high of 87.

I took full advantage of the warmth today. I started the day out with a cup of coffee and my netbook on the deck. Just before noon, I went to the Marina beach in Edmonds. It was not as crowded as I expected but there were many families enjoying the sun. I thought of going in the water but I had no interest after seeing the green slimy algae. So after a bit of sunbathing, I packed up and headed to Yost Pool. It is one of few outdoor pools in the region. The public swim started just before 1pm. It was so refreshing. I don't mind the crowded pool although I could take a little bit less of the pre-teen girls screaming.

I am now back out on the deck. It is currently 87 again but there is a light breeze. I smell a whiff of the citrus herbal smell of the linden tree just starting to bloom. Sinatra is on the iPod singing Summer Wind. Kitty is sprawled out next my chair on the deck. Perfect!

The forecast is for it to cool a bit and become partially cloudy by Sunday. We're thinking of heading to the Washington Coast for to camp. It sounds like it will be pretty cool and overcast in the morning but we're going to give it a shot.

Marina Beach - Edmonds

Marina Beach - Edmonds

Marina Beach - Edmonds


July 14, 2010

Silver Falls - Entiat

Camping in the Entiat

We have taken a likin' to camping and we went again this weekend. The weather has been good so I was hoping to go to the coast. We had two places in mind. One was close to Forks - the Twilight Capital. But the weather looked poor for Sunday night so we made a call and headed to Central Washington where the summer weather is more reliable. The Cascades are a perfect rain/cloud barrier.

Sunday dawned cloudy. G packed up and we were out by 9am. Our destination - Entiat Valley. This is a valley between Wenatchee and Lake Chelan. We had never visited it in all our years of living here in Washington. Silver Falls CG was recommended in the Tent Camping book.

It took about 2 hours to make it over Steven Pass even on a Sunday Morning. There were a lot of people heading out to hiking or visiting Leavenworth.It was another hour up along the Columbia River to the turn off and another 30 minutes or more up the valley.

The valley was very interesting. It is a very warm microclimate and it was lined with orchards up past Ardenvoir. We entered the forest and we were soon at Silver Falls CG. We cruised through the camp and found a site along the river and quickly set up camp.

We relaxed reading the paper and napping. I decided to go for a walk to Silver Falls. It is a beautiful falls that cascades and falls down the side of the fall right across from the CG. It is a national recreation trail and is beautifully built. Each bridge is hand build with lots of details. There are also steps of granite climbing steeply up both sides of the fall along with several spots to sit and admire (or rest).

I did not go far and returned to camp with G took a nap. We had our dinner and started a fire. We had several deers passing near our camp in the early evening. Soon it was almost 10 and we headed off for the night. I awoke once and gazed at the bright stars.

The next day after breakfast, G & I both headed to the top of Silver Falls. It is actually a loop trail that loops from one side to the other crossing the stream at the top. It was steep but short. It is about 1.7 miles in loop but 700 ft gain. We took our time taking photos and admiring the views.

We returned and broke camp. We had seen a sign for a dirt backroad to Lake Chelan just down from the campground. It was 31 miles but we had time so we decided to take it. I'll describe what we saw in the next post.

Camping in the Entiat
Our tent with sides rolled up for ventilation in the heat.

Camping in the Entiat

Silver Falls Trail
Lovely handwork on one of the bridges on the Silver Falls Trail

Silver Falls Trail
Cascading stream

Silver Falls Trail
Climbing up

Silver Falls Trail
Places to rest along the way

Silver Falls Trail
The largest fall

Silver Falls Trail
View of the Falls from opposite side

Silver Falls Trail
Bridge at the top

Camping in the Entiat
Warm Sunny Day on the Trail

July 15, 2010

Driving the backroad - FS5900 Entiat to Chelan

Road 5900 between Entiat and Chelan
Wildflowers amid the destruction

On the way in to our campground, we saw the sign for FS5900. We looked at the map and it looked very interesting. It was 31 miles to Lake Chelan shoreline at 25 Mile Creek. It passed over Shady Pass. We knew nothing about the road other than Shady Pass was at 6000ft and only 8 miles from the Entiat Road which was 2900ft. That meant the road was going to climb over 3,000 ft in 8 miles.

We were game. We figured it would probably take at least 1 1/2 hours since I usually travel about 20 MPH on a good gravel road. The road was well graded and in good condition. As we climbed, we noticed swatches of brown dead trees. The pine bark beetle has gotten a good foothold and is killing many of the large lodgepole pines.

FS5900 over Shady Pass from Entiat to Chelan
Up to Shady Pass - The brown trees are dead

We climbed higher and higher. The trees got shorter and shorter. The lupine went from purple blooms to buds. We finally emerged onto the summit area with wide open vistas of the craggy peaks in the Entiat Mountains.

FS5900 over Shady Pass from Entiat to Chelan
Entiat Mountains Vista from Shady Pass

We did not expect what we found next. We entered into a ghostly surreal world of destruction. We entered the extensive stark silver burnt remnants of the Tyee Creek Fire. The Tyee Creek fire burned over 135,000 acres and burned for almost a month. It is the second largest fire in Washington's history. What amazed us was lack of regrowth. The fire occurred in 1994 and very little had regrown. It was amazing since we we have been in other areas that were also burnt in 1994 that have good regrowth. The fire must have burned extremely hot and the soil must be very poor.

There was extensive swaths of wildflowers on the south facing slopes. Bright purple of lupine and penstemon - dotted with brilliant red blossoms of scarlet gilia and paint brush. The road narrowed and was rocky. Fortunately, we were able to make it with our Honda and we never met another car. The road was almost like a wagon path with a center line of wildflowers. It was amazingly beautiful.

We finally reentered the forest and descended down to the Chelan shoreline. It had taken 2 hours to drive. We still had four hours to drive.

On the drive home, we had passed a fire along the Columbia. It had expanded quite a bit and was billowing smoke over the Columbia. The area had been burned several years ago and the plants were still green so the fire staff were able to keep it somewhat controlled although it is still burning today.

FS5900 over Shady Pass from Entiat to Chelan

FS5900 over Shady Pass from Entiat to Chelan

FS5900 over Shady Pass from Entiat to Chelan

FS5900 over Shady Pass from Entiat to Chelan

Lewisia Tweedyi
Lewisia tweedyi

Calochortus macrocarpus - Sagebrush Mariposa Lily
Calochortus macrocarpus

FS5900 over Shady Pass from Entiat to Chelan
Lake Chelan Shoreline

Swakane Fire from Hwy 97A
Swakane Fire along the Columbia

March 8, 2011

Port Townsend

Port Townsend Washington
Jefferson County Courthouse in Victorian Port Townsend, Washington

It has been ages since we went to the Olympic Peninsula. I have a love-hate relationship with the trip. It always start out great with a ferry ride to Kingston from Edmonds. The traffic can be congested but it is good to get you to slow down and enjoy the ride. But I always end up hating the trip back especially on Sundays. There never seems to be an easy way to catch the ferry back. It is one boat or in the prime summer season - over 2 hour wait to catch the return ferry. And it ain't cheap - $32 roundtrip in winter.

But it can be a glorious time while on the peninsula. We headed out on Sunday and easily caught the ferry after a short wait. I do love the vistas and it was great to look back at the area where I do many of my walks. Edmonds slowly disappeared in the distance and we moved forward to catch views of Whidbey Island and approaching Kingston shore.

We headed towards Sequim, passing scenic Port Gamble - a restored 1800's mill town, crossing the Hood Canal Bridge and joining up with Highway 101. The sky darkened and rain started as we got closer to Sequim. So much for a walk at Dungeness Spit. It was miserable looking so we turned around and headed back with our backup plan of a day shopping in Pt. Townsend.

Port Townsend is a small Victorian seaport town on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. It was a major port in the late 1800's. Many large Victorian buildings and homes were built in this time. But the town slowly died when the major rail line was never extended from Olympia up to city. A paper mill opened in the 1920's but it remained small. Because there never was another major industry, the town retained its Victorian qualities and quaintness. In 1970's, the historic district was declared a National Historic Landmark.

The main district is along the sound and it has a series of interesting shops ranging from art galleries to the typical NW souvenir shop. We enjoy spending a leisurely time in the bookstores and kitchen shops. There are several good places to eat. We choose Sirens, a hip bar with the young crowd serving good food and an excellent selection of beers and cocktails. It is located up a long flight of stairs in restored historic building overlooking the port. It was crowded so we sat at the bar which gave us a good view of the action. We both had a local Pt Townsend IPA which was very tasty - a little more citrus than herbal hops but good. The place was very crowded and have to say it was slow getting our food. The service was good - it was just very busy and the kitchen was pretty small. We did enjoy watching the bartender make one of their specialty drinks - Spanish Coffee, 151 Rum flaming with Kahlua, Cointreau and coffee. The sprinkling of cinnamon sparks was awesome. They also got points for having a bottle of St Germaine behind the bar.

We had noticed a lot of cars and young guys in town. We did not figure out exactly what was up until our next stop - Fort Worden which I'll talk about in the next post. Meanwhile, here are some of the sights of the trip to Port Townsend.

Edmonds to Kingston Ferry
Looking back on the Edmonds Waterfront - my favorite place for a walk

Edmonds to Kingston Ferry
On board the Puyallup Ferry

Edmonds to Kingston Ferry
Kingston on the horizon

Edmonds to Kingston Ferry
You'll never see the ferry this empty in the summery

Port Towsend Washington
Typical Victorian buildings in Port Townsend historical downtown

Port Towsend Washington
Great sidewalk shopping

Port Towsend Washington
Looking up from the Wharf towards the bell tower

Port Towsend Washington
Interesting Virginia Creeper covered building

Port Towsend Washington
The striking Jefferson County Courthouse

March 9, 2011

Fort Worden

Fort Worden Port Townsend

After our tasty lunch and sightseeing in downtown Port Townsend, we headed to Fort Worden State Park. Located at the tip of the Peninsula and the entry to the Puget Sound, Fort Worden was built in 1902 as part of a trio of forts to protect the entrance to the sound and Seattle. We visited one of the other two forts - Fort Casey on our trip to Whidbey Island last May.

Fort Worden is a beautiful part with lovely vistas across Admiralty Inlet. But the old bunkers and officer quarters are the most fun. Do you remember the movie "The Officer and a Gentleman"? Remember the barracks and army grounds where Richard Gere trained? This was filmed on Fort Worden. Today the officer quarters, houses and dormitories are used as a conference grounds. Many classes and major music events are held throughout the year. But it is available for everyone to tour and roam along the beach, dunes and army bunkers.

We noticed that there were a lot of Volkswagen cars coming and going on the grounds. I think it was the group taking pictures of their cars that caught my eye and clued me into something going on. It also matched up with why we saw so many cars in Pt Townsend and why it was so crowded. It was the Port Townsend Cruise for European automobiles - a local car rally. There were over 400 cars participating in the rally and gathering in Port Townsend. That explained why it was so busy in early March!

But the sun came out late in the afternoon and we enjoyed a few moments of rays before returning home. And it satisfied our need for a bit of beach time.

Fort Worden Port Townsend
Army building around the center plaza

Fort Worden Port Townsend
Officer housing now available for rent

Fort Worden Port Townsend
Remnants of the gun bunkers

Fort Worden Port Townsend
View from within the bunkers

Fort Worden Port Townsend
Soldiers walked these paths in the early 1900's

Fort Worden Port Townsend
All that remains are the concrete walls

Fort Worden Port Townsend
The Beach

Fort Worden Port Townsend
The Birds

Fort Worden Port Townsend
The dunes

Fort Worden Port Townsend
The trees and ruins


July 26, 2011

Camping at Pleasant Valley - Chinook Pass

Pleasant Valley Campground

We have been having a terrible cool summer. Some people love it and others are getting grumpy wanting heat. Traditionally the last two weeks in July are always sunny and hot. Chance of rain is really low so I asked for a Monday off last month and we planned on camping. We decided to increase our chances of heat and decided to go to the eastern side of the Cascades. We had not been in the Naches area between Mt. Rainier and Yakima in many years and there are lots of forest service camp grounds.

We left about 10am after G had finished watering. The road goes through Mt. Rainier where the tourists were jocking for views of the mountain. We continued on to Chinook Pass. This is where one of our favorite hikes is located - Naches Trail. The Ranger report said you needed an ice axe for the trail. We pulled over to the vista and the trail is definitely covered still in several feet of snow. So was Tipsoo lake.

We continued on. Pleasant Valley and Hells Crossing campgrounds were recommended. They are just a couple of miles apart. We pulled in and did a drive through on both before deciding on Pleasant Valley. We loved the open meadow besides the American River. We thought it would be perfect for relaxing. Everyone else was leaving since it was Sunday so we had our choice of the spots. We choose a site near but not right next to the meadow. We noticed that there were some ants in the camp and discovered a large ant hill between the site and the river. But we decided we could share it with them and they never bothered us. We set up camp, relaxed a bit and ate our lunch. The mosquitoes were out but a couple of Off wipes took care of them.

After lunch, we headed to check out Boulder Cave. We drove in and the parking lot was packed with cars parking on the side. The ranger checked our America the Beautiful Pass and wrote down our number. We circled the lot once and scored a parking place. The trail was packed with families including one or two pushing strollers on the trail. The actual cave was pretty short.

One the way back to the parking lot, we heard many sirens. It was kinda spooky just after the shooting in Norway. On our drive back to the camp, we detoured and drove up the Rimrock Lake Road. There were several aid cars coming out of Camp Fife. A bit further, we came across motorcycle accident and turned around not really wanting to see it.

Back at the camp, we relaxed a while and made dinner. I brought along pesto pasta and watermelon feta salad. We built a fire and I took a walk out along the river. It was warm so we decided to leave off the rain fly – mistake. I woke up about 2am and noticed the stars were no longer out. At 3am – it started to drizzle. I woke up G, pulled the rain fly on and went back to sleep to thunder. It was still drizzling when we woke up. We hung out for a while and then moved over to the picnic shelter to make a fire and have breakfast.

Meadow at Pleasant Valley Campground
Meadow at the camp

Filling up at the camp pump
Pumping Water at the camp

Interesting Clouds
Interesting clouds above the meadow

Vanilla leaf
Vanilla Leaf

Picnic shelter at Pleasant Valley Campground
The picnic shelter

Entrance to Boulder Cave
Entrance to Boulder Cave

Flashlight photo in Boulder Cave
Prerequisite 'scary' flashlight photo in the cave

Boulder Cave Exit
Bridge at the Boulder Cave Exit


Breakfast and a fire in the shelter after a rainy night
Coffee and a fire on a drizzly morning

February 12, 2012

Skagit Birding

Barn near  Big Ditch
Skagit Valley barn near Big Ditch
It was time for our annual trip up to the Skagit Valley for a little bit of birding. This year I used the Snow Goose Festival website for some ideas on where to go along with a read through the local posts on Tweeters newsgroups. The best place seemed to be Boe or Thomle Road just south of Stanwood.

Our birding friend meet us with us at our house. We decided to start near Stanwood and then head north. Our first stop was Boe Road. We saw a large beautiful flock of snow geese but they were a bit away. Next we headed to Big Ditch. Surprisingly - no one was in the parking lot. We headed first towards the end of the stream but saw nothing and then headed back along the ditch where we saw a couple of raptors in the tree. We were surprised that there was little activity. We met a couple of groups and one said that they had seen some snowy owls back at Thomle. Hmmm..

I was hungry we we continued north. We stopped at Haydon reserve. The eagles that we normally see were not nesting there this year. There weren't any geese near the road either. We saw lots of trumpeter swans in the fields. We headed on up to Anacortes for lunch at the Brown Lantern.

After lunch, we discussed where to go. We decided to make one more stop south of Stanwood along Thomle Road. G is so good at spotting and he saw the snowy owls along the dike. They were too far to get a picture with my camera but we were able to see them well in the bird scope.

Overall a nice birding day.

Big Ditch Slough
Big Ditch Slough

Marshes at Big Ditch
Marshes at Big Ditch

Marshes at Big Ditch
Marshes at Big Ditch

Raptors in tree at Big Ditch Slough
Raptors in tree at Big Ditch Slough

Skagit farmland from Hayton Bird Reserve
Skagit farmland from Hayton Bird Reserve

Trumpter Swans on Fir Island
Trumpter Swans on Fir Island

April 8, 2012

Dungeness NWR

Dungeness NWR
Olympic Range from Dungeness Spit

Spring is continuing to drag its feet even though we are already into April. Today is Easter and although it has been nice, today is overcast with a chance of some sun. That is the way it seems to go when you only have one day off together. The chances of a great day, even if the forecast is for good weather, is very slim. Oh well, to make the best of the day.

We head off for the 8:50 ferry and fortunately the line is not that long. The fare is now $33.00 RT and that isn't even Summer fares. The crossing is cold, breeze but you can see the mountains. Yesterday, I went for a walk to see the brants along the Edmonds waterfront and we spot a few here and there before we arrive in Kingston.

The drive is easy. There isn't a lot of traffic. Either everyone is in church or the cost of gas which is about $4.10/gallon is keeping people off the roads. Our destination is the Dungeness National Wildlife Reserve and a beach walk along the spit. It is 5 miles from the parking lot to the lighthouse which we probably won't do but it will be good to at least get outside.

We sign in. It is a National Wildlife Reserve so the fee is $3.00 unless you have a National Pass which we do in which case you just put your pass number on the form and in the envelope. The trail is nice and wide with several kiosks along the way with information about the forest and beach. The trail descends through the fir forest to the edge of the bluffs and the start of the spit.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca is on the west and a tidal lagoon on the left separated by a wall of driftwood. We spy some herons and ducks in the lagoon and listen to the lapping of the waves.

G wonders if we can see whales and scans the horizon with binoculars. He spots a pod surfacing in the distance. They are orcas and we watch them swim out towards the ocean - too far for a picture but it is cool to see their black and white fins.

The rocky pebbles crackle beneath our feet as we meander along the shore. We see a Caspian Tern patrolling the beach - back and forth. The seagulls are harvesting clams from the lagoon and dropping them on the rocks to break them open. The Olympics ring the horizon to the south still covered with snow. To the north, the beam from the lighthouse blinks on and off and Mt Baker white cap is visible in the distance. The smell of the sea is fresh.

We walk about a mile or a mile and half down the shore until our stomach tell us it is time for lunch. The walk is much faster on the return. We headed to 3 Crabs on the other side of the spit for a couple of sandwiches. Halibut for me and crab for G. Just right.

We head back to Kingston and catch the 4:00 ferry. It still is not that crowded but there is a bit of blue in the sky. Northwesterns can not resist standing on the front edge of the ferry, cold wind blowing, enjoying the tips of the Seattle skyscrapers and Mt. Rainier in the distance.

Kingston WA Ferry
Leaving Edmonds

Dungeness NWR
View of Dungeness Spit from the trail

Dungeness NWR
Dungeness lighthouse at the end of Spit

Dungeness NWR
Looking for whales and birds

Dungeness NWR
Red Breasted Merganser Duck

Dungeness NWR
This is the best I could do to photo the Caspian Terns

Dungeness NWR
Dungeness Spit - Olympic Range

Dungeness NWR
Another view of the Olympics

Dungeness NWR
Driftwood along the spit

Kingston WA Ferry
Ferry ride home

July 26, 2012

Roadtrip to Southeastern Washington

Steptoe Butte
Dry Farmland of the Palouse in Eastern Washington

This has been a pretty uneventful summer. We ended up not planting a vegetable garden other than a couple of pots of tomatoes. The local farmers are happy since I’ve been a happy purchaser at the Edmonds Farmers Market.

We went camping Memorial Day on Whidbey Island again. The weather was the same as the previous two years - gray but no rain. We did a quick trip down to California for G’s parents 60th wedding anniversary. We got to see a lot of relatives and friends.

But we have no big international trip planned this year. We have ended up taking a few smaller long weekends and two week long trip. One of the long weekends are coming up - a road and camping trip to the South East corner of Washington State.

Over the years we have made it to most of the different areas but the one area that has just been a bit too far is the far SE corner. This is the dry farming area of the Palouse, the remote Blue Mountains and the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness area. The corner are made up of three lightly populated counties, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin - all three bounded by the Snake River. Garfield is the least populated county in Washington with less than 3,000 inhabitants. Columbia is not much bigger with just over a population of 4,000 and Asotin the biggest with a population of over 21,000 and the big town of Clarkston. I've wondered why there was a need back around 1880 to split this region into these three different counties.

At first, G was interested in hunting down a rare plant but we decided it was too difficult. We had also heard good things about a remote state park but it gets very hot in this corner near Clarkston. We decided to head higher up and go camping in the Umatilla National Forest outside of Pomeroy. Our wildflower hike book also mentioned to hikes near Mt. Misery which might still be good this late in the season. The flowers are a bit more like the flowers in the Rocky Mountains since these mountains are on the edge of the Rockies and Great Basin Desert.

We looked over the different campgrounds and we have a couple picked out. There will not be any water so we’re going to have to bring our own. Hopefully, it won’t be too hot and there won’t be any thunderstorms. We’ve been watching the storms and checking for fires.

I’ve been studying the map for a route. We’ve been to Walla Walla a couple of times. One trip we came back from Walla Walla through the town of Starbuck, crossing the Snake at Lyon’s Ferry and visiting Palouse Falls. I wanted to go that way to Pomeroy. On the way back, I want to swing up through the southern portion of the Palouse to visit a few farm towns and check out the fields. I think we will be too early for the harvest but we may have some good wheat fields.

The drives will be long. Google is mapping it out to be just under 300 miles to Pomeroy and 5 hours driving. The return trip is longer but it will give us a chance to see a very different part of our state

July 29, 2012

Drive to Pomeroy - Day 1 of Eastern Washington Road Trip

Palouse Falls

400 miles is a long way to drive.

G is very good at organizing. He got the camping gear all staged and ready to go so it was easy to load most of it up when he got home on Saturday. Sunday morning we were up early to take care of the last minute packing of food. The menu was pretty simple;

Lunch on the drive - sandwiches, barley greenbean salad and chips
Dinner - Pasta one night (prepared ahead of time) and skillet Pizza
Breakfast - Rice Chez and Starbucks Via coffee

Along with the meals, a good selection of drinks; Coke, a couple of 6-packs of Anderson Brewing IPA and Red Ale, a couple of Bota Box Pinot Grigio and a sampler of Scotch Whiskey. We decided to forego our normal bottled beer and wine for space and because they've broken in the ice chest on the rough dirt roads.

Our little Honda was packed with some room to spare and we hit the road just after 9am. It was overcast but we knew it was just a marine layer of clouds and it would burn off once we were over the pass. We made the pass by 10am and dropped into the Eastern Washington sunshine. We reached Ellensburg in 2 hours and soon crossed the Columbia. Now we were headed to the rich farm land of the Columbia Basin. We passed fields and fields of potatoes and were surprised to see a bright field of sunflowers.

Three hours from home we reached Othello and we were over half way across the state. The potatoes disappeared and we were starting into wheat country - high dry plateaus amoung the scab lands. It was hot and flat and not much to see along the two lanes. We turned off at Washtucna and headed toward Palouse Falls. The road was much slower; curving through the coulees covered in wheat. It was also hot. There's little out here other than the occasional farm and grain elevator. Nothing to indicate a river let alone a waterfall. You expect to see a large mountain or something to indicate it but Palouse Falls is actually located in a coulee carved out during Missoula Floods which created the canyon where it now flows through the scablands.

We pulled into the state park right about 4 hours from home. We were ready for our lunch. The sun was pretty relentless but fortunately there was a cool shady grass area with benches. We setup lunch and while watching the vistors at the overlook.

After lunch we walked along the overlooks and took some pictures. Lots of grasshopers and butterfly amoung the dry grass overlooking the falls. It was time to go since we still had a couple more hours to drive. It was just a few more miles and we crossed the mighty Snake River and entered Lewis and Clark country. We passed the small town of Starbucks and turned east to Pomeroy.

Pomeroy is small town with a very cool county seat building built in the late 1800's. We found the turn off for the forest and headed south. The signs directed us towards the town of Peola and we were climbing rapidly in elevation. Wheat fields were stretched out to the pine foothills. It was another 20 miles before we arrived at our destination - Misery Springs Campground.

Grain elevators at Washtucna
Grain elevators at Washtucna

Along Hwy 260 south of Washtucna
Open wheat plateau along Hwy 260 south of Washtucna - in the distance are the elevators in the next picture

Columbia Plateau Grain elevators at junction of 260 and 261

Lunch at Palouse Falls
Lunch at Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

Coulee with the Palouse River
Palouse River winding through a coulee

Overlooking Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

Butterfly at Palouse
Butterfly at Palouse Falls

Driving across the Snake
Driving across the Snake River - we're now in Lewis & Clark Country

Pomeroy County Courthouse
Garfield County Courthouse in Pomeroy

Looking towards the Blue Mountains from Paola Rd south of Pomeroy
Looking towards the Blue Mountains south of Pomeroy

Misery Spring Campground - Eastern Washington Roadtrip

Vista from ridge near Misery Spring
Vista from Ridge near Misery Springs

Road 40 climbed steadily up heading south towards the Oregon border. It was wide and rather smooth for a dirt road. The traffic was light and everyone was heading home for Sunday evening. There are three campgrounds along the way; Alder Springs, Teal Springs and Misery Springs. We were planning on staying at Misery but checked out Alder and Teal along the way. The forest was still quite blackened around Teal Springs from the forest fires in 2005 and 2006. These fires (School and Columbia Complex) burned over 28,000 – 50,000 acres of forest. It was slowly growing back.

We reached a major junction and continued on. We realized quickly that we were heading back down and probably missed the campground. There were no signs. Our forest service map wasn’t much help either since about 4 roads joined together. We backtracked and looked around and decided it was probably west. It turned out it was the right way and we saw a sign pointing to the left to road 4030020 – the sign was almost hidden by the plant growth. The camp was just a half mile down the road. It was not large – 5 sites and the road looped in a circle. There was one other camper but we found a nice site just on the other side of the outhouse.

We pulled out the tent and started setting up the camp. We had just finished when the other camper dropped by. We chatted a bit about the area, where we were from etc. before he left. We went exploring. Misery Spring is located on Ray Ridge which opens up to vistas across the Blues, into Wenaha-Tucannon wilderness and on to Oregon. Just across the road and up a small hill, the forest opened to a flower covered slope where you could see for miles. We did a bit of botanizing before returning to camp for our pasta dinner.

It was still light and we went exploring a bit more. The area around Misery had been used as sheep grazing area since 1875. Much of the wool in the late 1800’s was used by the Pendleton Wool Mills to manufacture blankets. Just up the road was the site of the Misery Sheep Corral. It was covered in red paintbrush, blue penstemon and white yarrow. The sun was setting making the flowers glow in the gloaming twilight.

We headed back and started the campfire. We had found a stack of dry wood left at another campsite and it was quickly lit. The moon was bright and I headed off to bed to the hooting of the owls.

Misery Springs Campground
Misery Springs Campground

Misery Springs Campground
Misery Springs Campground

Misery Springs Campground
Misery Springs Campground

Skillet Pizza in the camp
Skillet Pizza we had the second night

Botanizing at Misery Springs
Botanizing at Misery Springs

Vista from ridge near Misery Spring
Another Vista into Oregon

Ladybug and Aster
Ladybug and aster

Mt Misery Historic Sheep Corral
Mt. Misery Historic Sheep Corral

Wildflowers at the Misery Sheep Corral
Wildflower field where the Mt Misery Sheep Corral was located

Wildflowers at the Misery Sheep Corral
Wildflowers at Misery Springs Campground

Sunset in the Umatilla National Forest - near Misery Springs
Sunset in the Blue Mountains

July 31, 2012

More Palouse Country - Day 3 of Eastern Washington Road trip

Palouse Scene

It was time for the long drive back to the Puget Sound. I wanted to see more of the Palouse so we decided to loop through the Palouse Scenic Byway . And it would give us a chance to go to Clarkston on the Idaho border to get gas at Costco (anything to save a couple of cents).

It took about an hour to drive back to Pomeroy and then head east on Highway 12. We stopped at a scenic pull out where it had a display on Lewis and Clark. The foot trail used by them was visible on the hillside. We then dropped into Lewiston/Clarkston on the Snake. They are definitely in a ‘hole’. I think we dropped about 1500 ft down into the river basin.

The river was pretty but we didn’t see much else. We crossed over into Idaho and then started the steep climb back up to the Palouse plateau. Boy was it a climb. Our loaded down little Honda Hybrid struggled up the hill. I had to drop it down into 3rd to climb up at about 45mph while everyone else zipped by.

We headed for Uniontown. The town had caught my eye when I was looking for places to visit. It has an interesting history originally being settled in the 1860’s and still an active community today.

Our first stop was St Boniface Church. We could see the spires on the horizon when we drove into town and it was easy to locate by turning up “Church Street”. It was built in 1904 and was the first consecrated Catholic Church in Washington State. The interior is ornate with beautiful stainglass windows which cast a lovely golden glow across the pews. It is a beautiful church and so unexpected at this far side of the state.

Next was to find Dehman barn and its unique iron wheel fence. I had seen several pictures on the web since it is a popular stop of the Palouse Photography tours but didn’t know exactly where it was. Just leaving town, I spotted it and we made a quick turn off the road to take some pictures.

It was lunchtime and Pullman was our next stop. We decided to have a couple of burgers and drove around a couple of times trying to find a local burger place. No luck so we stopped at the Washington State University Visitor’s Center and they pointed us to Cougar Country Drive In. It was perfect - if we could just find a place to park. We had arrived right after noon and it was packed. We finally found a empty lot just down the street and walked over. Yummmy huge burgers, good fries and an awesome huckleberry shake. Sorry... no photos. We gobbled it down before I remembered.

We headed back on Highway 26 soon to retrace our drive. It is a long haul across the flat wheat lands. We finally rolled back into the driveway about 9 hours after leaving camp. Hot, tired but curiosity satisfied by our visit to SE Washington.

Wheat fields near Pomeroy
Wheat fields near Pomeroy


Palouse Wheat Scene


Palouse Wheat
Palouse Wheat


St. Boniface Catholic Church - Uniontown
St. Boniface Church - Uniontown


St. Boniface Catholic Church - Uniontown
St. Boniface Church - Uniontown


St. Boniface Catholic Church - Uniontown
St. Boniface Church - Uniontown - Interior


St. Boniface Catholic Church - Uniontown
St. Boniface Church - Uniontown


St. Boniface Catholic Church - Uniontown
St. Boniface Church - Uniontown


St. Boniface Catholic Church - Uniontown
St. Boniface Church - Uniontown


Dahmen Barn - Uniontown
Dahmen Barn - Uniontown - Wheel Fence


Dahmen Barn - Uniontown
Dahmen Barn - Uniontown - Wheel Fence


Dahmen Barn - Uniontown
Dahmen Barn - Uniontown - Wheel Fence

September 27, 2012

Seattle to Bend - Oregon Road Trip


View Larger Map

August 19, 2012

I am finally getting around to posting about our road trip to Oregon. We took a week in August 2012 to explore Central and Southeastern Oregon. The main goal was to visit a remote mountain range in SE Oregon called Steens Mountains with a stop for a couple of days in Bend.

I don't know how we first learned of the Steens Mountains or why they have held such an attraction for us. I think it might have been the opportunity to see Pronghorn antelope and the unique range which towers over the desert at over 9,000ft. We love the western deserts and remoteness.

We left Seattle just after 9am for Bend. We decided to drive via I-90 Snoqualmie Pass and Hwy 97 to avoid the boring I-5 slogg and traffic. We stopped for a picnic lunch at Maryhill State Park on the Oregon border. We rested and lunched for about an hour before returning to the road. We rolled into Bend shortly before 5pm.

We rented an older craftsman cottage near the downtown area. We found it on VRBO. It was recently restored and very charming. We had the ability to cook and easily walk to the downtown area. The day was hot and hose didn't have any air conditioning so it was pretty warm when we arrived but we opened all the windows and turned on the fan to cool it down.

We walked to Deschutes Brewery for dinner. The wait on Sunday evening at 6pm was over 40 minutes. We had a couple of brews in the bar and eventually got seated. Unfortunately, the food was not worth the wait or price. I had a burger and fries which was around $14.00 and G had a pear Gorgonzola pizza. The beer was good. We were able to have a couple of their different IPAs which were nice.

We walked home along the Deschutes River Park which curves along downtown. It was the perfect way to wind down after the long drive.

Maryhill State Park
Maryhill State Park - shady park along the Columbia - our lunch stop

Bridge to Oregon
Crossing the Columbia into Oregon

Bend Rental
Our Bend Cottage

Bend Rental
Our Bend Cottage

Bend Rental
Our Bend Cottage

Sunset along the Deschutes River - Bend
Sunset along the Deschutes River

September 28, 2012

John Day Fossil Beds

Painted Hills - John Day Fossil Beds
Painted Hills - John Day Fossil Beds

August 20, 2012

Monday we were up early and had our breakfast in the cottage. We brought along most of our food since we were going to be camping after our stay in Bend. Around 9am, we headed out for John Day Fossil Beds. I have seen some stunning pictures of the unusually colored and shaped hills in the monument. It is not really along the way to anywhere. We thought about stopping on the way back but realized it would not work out. So we decided to do a long day trip from Bend.

It is about 70 miles from Bend to the park Headquarters. From Bend, the road crosses the high desert juniper forest with the volcanoes peaks of the Cascades to the west before turning east at Prineville and climbing up into the Ochoho National Forest. The road was lightly traveled and very interesting. We arrived at the Sheep Rock Visitor's Center just around noon.

The museum is the headquarters of the paleontology research in the monument. There is a wonderful museum detailing the fossils that have been found - many over 40 millions years old. It is a collection of plant and animal fossils - many of which are now extinct.

We brought along a picnic lunch and ate it at the Condon Ranch in the shade of a couple of apple trees. After walk, we drove a short way to Blue Canyon. We did the short hike up through the middle to see the spectacular colors of the rocks. It was hot so we didn't stick around long.

We headed back west to the second section called Painted Hills Unit. We wanted to get there later in the days since the hills are layered in colors. We did a short walk and then headed back to Bend. We stopped at Fred Meyers to fill up the car and use our gas discount - $3.75/gallon. We stopped at Super Burrito for a couple of chile relleno burritos and relaxed the evening with a couple of local beers - Cascade Lakes Cyclops IPA and Three Creeks Brewery IPA.

Visitors Center - Sheep Rock Unit

John Day Fossil Beds Visitor Center

John Day Fossil Beds

Sheep Rock - John Day Fossil Beds

John Day Fossil Beds

Blue Basin Area - Island in Time Trail

Blue Basin - John Day Fossil Beds

Blue Basin - John Day Fossil Beds

Blue Basin - John Day Fossil Beds

Blue Basin - John Day Fossil Beds

Blue Basin - John Day Fossil Beds

Painted Hills Unit

Painted Hills - John Day Fossil Beds

Painted Hills - John Day Fossil Beds

Painted Cove - John Day Fossil Beds

Painted Hills - John Day Fossil Beds

Painted Cove - John Day Fossil Beds

Painted Cove - John Day Fossil Beds


September 29, 2012

Exploring Bend Oregon

Boneyard Brewery Bend
T-Shirts of their brews at Boneyard Brewery

August 21, 2012

Tuesdays we decided to play tourist in Bend. We went to breakfast at the Victorian Cafe. Its web site touted it as the 'best breakfast in Bend' and it was very good. We had a couple of yummy egg dishes including an Mediterranean omelet with Moroccan chermoula sauce.

We headed to the High Desert Museum. We started with the ranger talk on desert plants where we learned that a grove of quaking aspens is really one plant connected by the root system. Next we toured the Miller Family Ranch; a re-created 1904 family ranch where live actors portray the family. It was interesting to talk with Mrs. Miller who explained how they came to homestead their ranch, their local doctor who was selling several potions and the local school teacher who was visiting the ranch for a home class. It was kinda surreal but very cool and informative,

We went also to the Raptors of the Desert Sky show where captive hawks and falcons would fly through the forest and audience. It was great show. I loved the owls.

After the museum, we cruised through the Old Milltown area. This is a large outdoor shopping center where your favorite large corporate chain store is located. I saw a few local stores but most of the stores were the usual ones you would find at your local specialty mall. We passed. and continued on to Boneyard Brewery for a tasting. It was our favorite brewery. It felt a lot like brewer meets roller girl. They only had two brews on tap but both were tasty especially for $1.00 for a tasting (2 - 4oz tastes). We got a half growler of the IPA and returned to the cottage.

For dinner we walked to 10 Barrel Brewery which was located across the river but not far from the cottage. Again, it was almost an hour wait at 6pm on a Tuesday. Bend is super busy during the high summer season. The food was excellent as were the beers. I had the grilled lamb chops which came with mashed yams and G had the swordfish. After dinner, we walked along the river again and watched the moon come out in the desert sky.

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl at High Desert Museum

Barn Owl
Barn Owl at High Desert Museum

Barn Owl
Barn Owl in Flight

Moroccan Omelet - Victorian Cafe Bend
Moroccan Omelet at Victorian Cafe

Boneyard Brewery Bend
Boneyard Brewery Tasting Room

10 Barrel Brewery Bend
Two brews at 10 Barrel Brewery

Swordfish - 10 Barrels Brewery Bend
Swordfish at 10 Barrels Brewery

Moonrise over Deschutes river
Moonrise over Deschutes River


October 4, 2012

Page Springs Campground - Steens Mountains

Page Spring Campground - Steens Mountains

August 22, 2012

Wednesday, we headed for the Steens. Highway 20 is a long rolling highway east to Burns. We didn't make too good of time because of a lot of slow trucks and difficulty passing in the little Honda hybrid. We topped the tank in Burns - $4.09. It was going to be the last cheap gas in a while.

We exited Hwy 20 and started south. The signs pointed towards Winnemucca Nevada. Reality hit us - we would soon be close to Nevada.

We dropped into the Malheur basin, one of the premier bird spots in the US. We spotted pelicans floating in the lake and mother grebes with their babies on their backs. Soon after we kept an eye out for signs for Diamond. We wanted to check out the Pete French round barn where the earlier settler, cattle baron Peter French trained his horses in the winter. This was mostly BLM land and we traveled through Diamonds Crater volcanic area, one of the premier basalt volcanic area in the nation. To us, it looked a lot like asphalt. But we did see a pretty group of pink monkey flowers growing out of the lava gravel.

The barn was very interesting and amazingly construction. You truly got a sense of how remote this area is in Oregon. You wonder what it was like to live in the area at the turn of the century.

We continued on to Frenchglen. This is one of the bigger 'towns' and it basically consisted of about a dozen houses and businesses. The Frenchglen Hotel is on the register of Historic places. We did spy an ice machine which was going to be very important. We were spending 3 nights and the temperatures were near 90. We knew our block of ice wasn't going to last more than maybe another day.

We turned off and headed for Page Springs Campground. It sits along the Donner river. We talked to the camp host and he recommended a couple of places that would have shade late in the afternoon which would be important for us in a tent. One spot was in a grassy field - open but lots of room. We took it. We arrived about 2:30pm about a 4 hour drive even with the detour to the barn. Unfortunately the Steens Mountains were cloaked in a smoky haze from the wildfire along the Nevada border.

We set up camp and relaxed in warm shade before a hearty dinner of pasta. A couple of cool beers and it was time for bed.

Hwy 20 from Bend to Burns Oregon
The long road east - Highway 20 to Burns

Diamond Craters - Oregon
Diamond Craters

Diamond Craters - Oregon
Basalt formation at Diamond Craters - doesn't it look just like asphalt

Mimulus bigelovii – Bigelow's Monkey-flowe
Mimulus bigelovvi growing in the lava rock

Pete French Round Barn
Pete French Round Barn

Pete French Round Barn
Pete French Round Barn

Pete French Round Barn
Pete French Round Barn

Pete French Round Barn
Pete French Round Barn

Pete French Round Barn
Pete French Round Barn

Pete French Round Barn
Pete French Round Barn

Page Spring Campground - Steens Mountains
Page Spring Campground


November 3, 2012

Favorite Winter Walks in the Seattle Area: Lord Hill Regional Park

Fall at Lord Hill Regional Park

Another one of our favorite winter walks or hikes is Lord Hill Regional Park near Snohomish. I originally blogged about it on our first trip in 2010. It is one of our favorites to do in the Fall or Winter. I don’t know why we do not go more often since it is not too far.

We needed to run some errands today. One of the errands was a trip to Snohomish to Steubers Distributing. It is a old-time wholesale company specializing in farm and nursery supplies. G used to buy soil and pots when he had his nursery. You don’t need to be a business to shop there but it seems to not be as known by the casual gardener. G needed to pick up some perlite and soil so we headed off to Snohomish. We also wanted to do a hike in the woods. Lord Hill came to mind since it is not far from downtown Snohomish.

The drive across Ebby’s Slough got us in the fall mood. There were flocks of geese flying south in V formation. Mt. Rainier and the foothills were visible in the distance even though it was slightly overcast. The plan was to pick up supplies we needed at Steubers and then head to Lord Hill for a walk.

The parking lot had about 8 cars when we arrived. It wasn’t cold at all and we picked up a map at the kiosk. We looked over the trails and decided to head to the West loop for a change. We usually go to point 630 with the gorgeous views over Snohomish River but we decided to do the West View trail and loop along Devil’s Bluff.

We were hoping for some fall color and we were not disappointed. The recent rains and winds had blown down much of the big leaf maple leaves. The trails were covered with leaf litter. I love the rustle of leaves as you walk along the trails. It was a little muddy and slippery but overall not bad.

It took us about 1 ½ hours to do the 3 mile loop. We missed the views but it was so invigorating to get outside.

Fall at Lord Hill Regional Park

Fall at Lord Hill Regional Park

Fall at Lord Hill Regional Park

Fall at Lord Hill Regional Park

Fall at Lord Hill Regional Park

Fall at Lord Hill Regional Park

November 19, 2012

Rain

Weathering

November is our rainiest month. The transitioning between Fall and winter is always unpredictable especially the week before Thanksgiving. Our tradition for many years was to get together with G's parent here in Seattle. It was an ongoing joke about what was the weather going to do this year. We had a little bit of everything. One year we had to put on chains to get to the airport. One year it was freezing with temperatures down into the 'teens. The most memorable was the year we had the wind storm. It came up the night before Thanksgiving. Trees were blown down everywhere. I had just put the turkey in and about 30 minutes later - the power went out. Uggg. I took the turkey out and moved it into the cold garage to wait for the power to come back.

An hour passed and we brought out the candles and lit the fireplace. Another hour passed and we got the transistor radio and cards. We played games by candlelight listening the the crackle of Komo radio reporting how wide spread the power outage was. About 3pm, we had to do something about dinner so we called a couple of restaurants. We found one with power and taking reservations. By 8pm, we were waiting in a crowded restaurant lobby with everyone swapping stories. Our power was still out. The power came back on just after we arrived back home after almost 12 hours.

By then the turkey was unsafe and we threw it out. I don't remember much of the meal but oh what memories do I have spending time 'off the grid' together with family. This unplugged Thanksgiving lives on in our memories much more than the times when the meal was perfect.

November 21, 2012

Alvord Desert

Alvord Desert - Oregon

Looking over my photos for the year, I keep coming back to our time in Eastern Oregon. Our day trip from our camp in the Steens Mountains to the Alvord desert sticks in my mind. It seems so remote and isolated and unique. I wish we would have spent more time there. I'll blog more about it and the Steens later.

November 23, 2012

Columbia River

Columbia River


Today's post is from a trip through the Columbia Gorge. We did a quick but long one day road trip two years ago traveling from Seattle to Vancouver - then along the Washington side of the Gorge to Maryhill and returning by driving through the fertile Yakima Valley and Snoqualmie Pass. The trip took about 12 hours but what beautiful scenery.

January 31, 2013

Ocean Shores

Snowy Owl

We're heading for the coast - the Washington coast that is. Our coast is not as scenic as Oregon or California. It is rather rough and very industrial. It is a working coast. We are spending an early weekend at Ocean Shores which is on the north side of Grays Harbor.

We are going to see if we can find snowy owls again this year. They returned again this year to Damon Point which is an inlet that juts out at the peninsula. It is a very slow time for this area. A lot of the places are closed or running low rates. We grabbed a senior rate at the Best Western with a view of the dunes and ocean. I've got a couple of places in mind for food and beer. The weather forecast actually has a chance of being decent although one never knows at the beach.

I'll post pictures when I return

February 4, 2013

Washington Coast

Winter Morning at Ocean Shores

The winters in Washington can drag on you. The days are short and gray broken by sprinkles. Walks can help but I needed to get away. We have not been to the coast in years. Our last trip was yurt camping at Cape Disappointment and that has been almost 5 years. It was time for a trip.

The Washington coast is very different from the scenic, rocky Oregon and California coast which attract millions. Washington's coast is mainly an industrial coast where timber and fishing are the main industries. The dense forest hugs the coast line broken by marshy estuaries and a few muddy bays. One thing that is unique are the long stretches of flat sandy beach that would be the envy of most other locations but never have seemed to have taken off as a tourist destination in Washington. The beach areas always seem to be the land of broken dreams; locals resistant to change, broken down houses with small windows covered with moss and dying local factories. But the potential is there - you know someday it will change.

Mid January was cold, foggy and frosty. G was away for a week visiting his parents. I started to dream and plan for a weekend away. We could go on Friday and Saturday and be home in time for me to work Sunday night. But I got my summons for jury duty. G said we could still probably go on Friday and stay one night. Wednesday I was dismissed from my dutiesand I quickly booked a night at the Best Western in Ocean Shores.

Part of the lack of draw is the type of amount of tourist services. Ocean Shores is lined with the small tacky seaside businesses selling cheap trinkets, taffy, kites along with an Indian Casino. Things to do are renting paddle boats or driving your car on the beach. Yes, it is legal to drive on the beach here in Washington. They are actually part of the highway system since the long flat beaches were once the easiest way to get between towns. They are fortunately closed to driving in the summer. The cuisine is mostly deep fried fish and other greasy options. Not much for the foodie. Also many of the tourist shops are closed for the winter and won't reopen until April.

But we dug up a couple of restaurant options that sounded good. For beer we found: 8th Street Ale House in Hoquiam, Westport Brewing Company, Elk Head Tap Room. Amici's Cafe sounded great for breakfast and Bennett's Fish Shack was probably one of the better fry joints.

Our main attraction was the snowy owls at Damon Point. Damon Point is located at the southern tip of the Point Brown peninsula where Ocean Shores is located. The peninsula juts out into Grays Harbor. A.O. Damon bought the southern portion for a trading marina in 1870 and eventually bought the whole peninsula. It passed down to his heirs which used it as cattle land until they sold it back in the late '60s for a cool million. The state now owns the point and bay as a wildlife area. There have been reports of Snowy Owls among the sea dunes and we wanted to check them out.

The weather can always be tricky. One trip in February we arrived to find the power out up and down the peninsula and North beach area. But the forecast was for broken clouds and a chance of sun. Perfect for a winter Friday night away.

February 7, 2013

Westport

Grays Harbor Lighthouse
February 1, 2013

It was a late start as expected. We hit the road around 10am. The clouds were starting to break up and it looked like the weather gods were on our side. The first part of the drive is on I5 to Olympia where you turn off and head west. The country side soon turns to farms and small towns. The eerie empty towers of the abandoned Satsop nuclear plant peak out over the tree farms. We have always had an abundance of natural energy from the hydroelectrical dams but we have also been a huge supporter of nuclear power. Hanford in Central Washington was established as part of the Manhattan Project and have supplied plutonium to the industry. It was not surprising to find the area embracing nuclear power plants in the late '70s. They are remnants of the WPPSS fiasco.

We arrive in Aberdeen around noon. We laughed when we saw the sign announcing the city "Welcome to Aberdeen - come as you are". The sign is a tribute to Kurt Cobain who was born and raised in Aberdeen. We couldn't check in to our motel until 4pm so we decided to take a side trip out to Westport

Grays Harbor is a large bay formed by the Chehalis river esturary. Two peninsulas jut out into the mouth of the bay, Point with Ocean Shores to the north and Point Chehalis to the south were Westport is located. We may have been in Westport once so it was time for a visit.

It takes about 30 minutes to get there from Aberdeen traveling through cranberry bogs and marshy forests filled with salal and snags of short trees. It is very typical of most of the coast in this central part of Washington. The town itself is not too big - population of just over 2,000. Most of the main street is lined with gray weathered homes; some filled with crab pots and fishing floats, some shut down summer houses. The road leads through a small downtown to the Marina which is one of the main attractions. One side is lined with fish canneries and other marine industries. Closer to the jetty is the marina where the private fish boats leave. The inland side of the marina is line with the typical seaside shops. In February most of them are closed with one or two open with flashing taffy signs. A few cars are clustered around the open restaurants. At the west end is a large viewing tower which gives you a view over the jetty and marina. Just over the jetty seawall are surfers. Yes, Westport is the main area for surfing in Washington state.

We climb up the tower to take in the view. Next we search for the lighthouse. We found it along Ocean Drive which leads out to the new condo complex. We had intended to just take a few pictures but a gentleman was in a car and asked us if we were going to tour the lighthouse. His wife was a docent and it turned it had just opened for the day. We did not know it was the tallest lighthouse in Washington and the third tallest on the US Pacific Coast. Now we were interested and walked up to do a tour.

The Westport South Beach Historical Society owns and runs the lighthouse. During opening hours you can take a tour and climb to the top. The lighthouse was completed in 1898. It stands 107 feet tall and there are 135 metals steps up the stairs that spiral to the top. It is surprising to see that it is not right at the beach. The beach is maybe 1/4 - 1/2 mile away. It was build at the beach but sand and land has built up and created land. The new land is a result of the jetty. The lantern room at the top holds a third-order clamshell Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was to signal that a safe harbor was nearby. The lighthouse still is working but the large light has been replaced by a small red and white lantern which is lit by a tiny 35 watt bulb. It is amazing that it can be seen farther than the original light. For more on the lighthouse - Lighthouse Friends.

Westport Marina
Westport Marina

Westport Marina
Businesses along the Marina

Westport Marina
Taffy

Surfers at Westport Marina
Surfers near the jetty

Westport Marina
View of the marina from the viewing tower

Westport Marina
Viewing Tower

Grays Harbor Lighthouse
Grays Harbor Lighthouse

Grays Harbor Lighthouse
135 steps to the top

Grays Harbor Lighthouse
Third-order clamshell Fresnel lens

February 8, 2013

Ocean Shores Sunset

Sunset at Ocean Shores

February 1-2, 2013

After visiting the light house in Westport, we started the drive back around the bay. We debated where and if to east. We looked for the Westport Brewing but missed it (it is behind the Shell station) and decided to head on out to Ocean Shores. We drove around to check out the strip and Damon Point before returning to eat. We decided on Bennett's Fish Shack. It was actually very good. G had a crab melt and I had a combo - fish, clams and fries. And they had an excellent NW microbrew selection on tap. G had the Elysian IPA and I had the Big Al Bitter. Everything was yummy.

We checked into the Best Western Lighthouse Suite Inn at the northern end of the beach. Unfortunately, the fireplace was not working in the room we were booked in and they changed our room to a corner room. Sweet! We had booked a discount senior rate so it was a steal and the perfect winter getaway. Thank you Best Western!

The fourth floor room had a small balcony that over looked the dunes, beach and ocean. The sun was flitting in and out of the clouds but there was still time for a walk out on the beach. We walked the short distance from the hotel to the shoreline and watched an amazing large flock of dunlins waving back and forth over the surf. It was so magical to watch them fly and land while the sun was setting. We walked back to our room in the twilight and spent a relaxing night around the fire.

The next morning we headed to Amici's for breakfast. We arrived shortly before they opened at 9am (winter hours). It is owned and run by a charming couple. The menu is supper yummy and great service. G had an omelet and I had an excellent corn beef hash. The latte was a perfect wake up. We were stuffed and ready for some bird watching.

Ocean Shores Washington
View north of the dunes and shoreline from our room

Ocean Shores Washington
One of five vehicle access points

Sunset at Ocean Shores

Sunset at Ocean Shores
Dunlins and sunset

Sunset at Ocean Shores

Sunset at Ocean Shores

February 13, 2013

A day with the Snowy Owls - Damon Point

Snowy Owl at Damon Point

February 3, 2013

We always love a good treasure hunt be it searching for wildflowers or birdwatching. Last year was irruption year - a year where the food sources become low and the young snowy owls fly south in search of better food. They must have found the hunting great because several have returned this year.

I have been following the Tweeters bird email postings on the sitings in the area. The best areas last year and this year have been Boundary Bay in Canada and Damon Point in Ocean Shores. Postings have mentioned seeing 5-9 birds among the grassy dunes.

We headed to the parking area at the south tip of the peninsula. Just past the Marina, you will see to porta-potties and usually several cars parked along grassy sides of the road. Park here. The trail starts off here and goes along the curvy beach. We walked on the west side along the sand looking for the birders. It was a breezy day and there were many kite surfers along the east (bay) side of the spit. We stayed along the shore and could see a group of birders ahead. It was our first owl.

How beautiful. We tried to stay a distance away but everyone was crowded up closer to the bird. Some people recommend staying 150 ft way but it was difficult. He seemed a little stressed looking here and there but stayed perched atop the driftwood.

We moved on down the spit and by now we could spot the owls among the dune grass along with other birders. We stayed and watched two larger birds and saw several flying in the distance. What magnificant birds. Plus the day was warm and sunny. We found our treasure.

After about an hour or so watching the birds (and people) we returned back up the shore and headed home. It was about a 3 hour drive back to Seattle. We were back in time to play with the kittens and have a warm dinner. A wonderful winter weekend at the beach.

Kite surfers at Ocean Shores
Kite Surfers

Damon Point

Birders at Damon Point
Birders - can you spot the owl?

Birders at Damon Point
Two owls in this picture

Snowy Owl - Damon Point

Snowy Owl - Damon Point

Snowy Owl - Damon Point

Snowy Owl - Damon Point
Fluffing feathers in the sun

Snowy Owl - Damon Point
Doesn't it look regal? Not the furry talons perfect for snow.

April 27, 2013

Wild Horse Windfarm

One of our favorite day trips in the spring is to go to Eastern Washington to view the wildflowers. I was searching on this blog to see my previous posts and I found that I haven't blogged that often about our spring trips. We almost always make one trip to see the wildflowers. Timing is key. I will follow hiking trip reports from my local NW Hikers forum or the trip reports on Washington Trails Association. The bloom can be anytime from mid-April to mid-May. So much depends upon the temperatures. Some years the bloom can start and then be blasted by high temps. Other years, it is slow and spreads out into mid-May. This year it is a little early.

We like to just ramble over the sage country exploring and seeing what can we can discover. Our favorite area is along the Old Vantage Highway between Ellenburg and Vantage. The area around Whiskey Dick and Quilomene Wildlife area are our favorites for exploring. The reports that I have read said everything was already in bloom so we wanted to do a trip.

This area is extremely windy. Puget Power has build a wind farm- Wild Horse Wind Farm in the past years which has changed the area. But they have done a lot to repopulate the area with the native plants and open the area to visitors. I saw that it was the start of their Wildflower Hike season. Perfect timing. I called and signed up for the hike this weekend.

It takes about 2 and half hours to drive from North of Seattle to the Wild Horse Farm. We started to see Prairie Lupine along the drive. We gathered in the seminar room at the Wild Horse Facility before heading off to an hour and half walk/hike exploring the wildflowers. We decided to go with the advanced botanical group and spent time exploring. It was great to meet other plant enthusiasts.

We went back to the visitors center after our hike and got a permit which allowed us to stop and explore more of the property. We drove north and into the Quilomene Wildlife area. The dirt roads can get pretty rough. The wind started to really blow. We could hardly walk across the fields. I checked the wind speeds and they were around 45mph!

But the blooms were stunning. The perfume of the prairie lupine was intoxicating. The big head clover was at its prime and accented by the golden Hooker's Balsamroot.

Around 2pm, we headed back to Ellensburg. We stopped at U-Totem Burgers for an early dinner and then over to Iron Horse Brewery for a sampler. It was pretty tasty and we filled our growler with some of their IPA before heading back to the gray.

First a couple of previous posts on Eastern Washington and the Wind Farm:

Washington Desert in Bloom

Technology (Wild Horse Wind Farm)

Wildflowers and Wind Turbines

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers
Visitors Center

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers
Group heading out to search for wildflowers

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers
Prairie Lupine

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers
Yes - Cactus grows in Washington State!

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers

Wild Horse Wind Farm Wildflowers

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