Beacon Rock

Washington Oregon Columbia River Beacon Rock Lewis & Clark

Beacon Rock Washington State Park Columbia River

Beacon Rock, Washington State Park is about an hour out of Portland along the Columbia River heading east on highway 14.  This rock received its name from Lewis and Clark in 1805.  Hike up the rock for amazing views of the Columbia River or hike down a number of trails like the Hamilton Mountain trail.  It’s a great place for a picnic and just taking it easy.  Don’t forget to pick up your Discover Pass.

Feel Like An Explorer

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Ice Fields, Canada, Canadian Rockies

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Ice Fields, Canada, Canadian Rockies

Athabasca Glacier

I can only imagine what it must feel like to work for the National Geographic and visit remote places like the North or South Poles.  The summer of 2016 gave me the opportunity to experience what might be close to what the NG field crews get to feel and see.  Fortunately the Columbia Icefields is neither remote nor difficult to reach.

The Canadian Rockies offer a variety of experiences available to people of all ages and abilities.  You can enjoy the town of Banff and the magnificent hotels in the morning and hike to the toe of a glacier in the afternoon.  This is done with a car and a hiking stick.

My most memorable moment of this trip is when I hiked to the toe of Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefields.  Gray clouds were hanging low and moving fast.  It was cold and windy with sleet stinging my face.  I said to myself, “This is what it feels like to work for the National Geographic!” It was totally awesome and I loved every minute.

Getting to the Columbia Icefields is not difficult, just take Hwy 93 west from Banff in Alberta for about 2.5 hours.   The trailhead is directly across from the Icefields Visitors Center which you can’t miss because it’s the only thing out there.  Driving along the Icefields Parkway can take longer than you might expect with all the scenic stops offered along the way.

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Ice Fields, Canada, Canadian Rockies

Ice Cave

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Ice Fields, Canada, Canadian Rockies

National Geographic Wannabe

Looking Forward to Spring

TulipsHave the he gloomy gray days of winter got you down? Spring will be here in a few months and all the colors of the rainbow will be popping up in the fields and yards everywhere under a sunny blue sky.  Plan your trip now for a drive into the countryside to see a Northwest tulip farm and enjoy the wonder of nature.

Paradise in Washington State

An easy day trip from Seattle or Portland, Mt. Rainier National Park offers spectacular alpine scenery and hiking opportunities.  The most popular destination is Paradise where you’ll find Paradise Inn, a visitors center, and paved trails for a close up experience with the mountain.  You’ll see alpine flowers such as Bear Grass blooming in the fields during the summer.  Get there early and enjoy the fresh clean air, mountain views, and peaceful old growth forests.


Touring Seattle and Pacific Northwest

What are you going to do when you’re in Seattle with a few days before you head out on a cruise or return home after sailing to Alaska?  This is a common question for many and fortunately has several answers depending on your budget and personal preferences.  There are many options close to Seattle and there are other exciting options just across the state border in Oregon.  Follow the hyperlinks within the discussion below for detailed information as you plan your visit and when you find your way around the Northwest.

If a waterfall is what you’re looking for, it’s an hour or less drive out of Seattle to Snoqualmie Falls.  Don’t miss Pike Place Market if you’re in the downtown area.  The first Starbucks is just across the street.  You’ll find numerous shops with unique and hard to find items, plus you might be lucky enough to see a fish fly above the crowd.  If you like planes or cars, plan a visit to the Museum of Flight just south of downtown or the Car Museum in Takoma which is just a little further south of town.

Travel into the Cascade Mountain Range to see Mount Rainier or Mount St. Helens.  Mt. Rainier is seen from Seattle and can be reached in only a couple of hours.  I recommend the Ashford, WA entrance which leads to the Paradise section of the park where you’ll find outstanding views and fresh air.  If you have more time to travel out of Seattle, you’ll want to visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mt. St. Helens.  Yes, it’s still active but taking a rest for now.  The latest report (Spring 2014) is that a mass of molten material is growing beneath the mountain.  The eruption of 1980 is an incredible story and one worth checking out in person.  Check out my previous post on Mount St. Helens for some photos.

If you want to experience the Pacific Coast, head over to Ruby Beach in the Olympic National Park.  It’s over a 3 hour drive through Olympia, WA.  Lodging in the park is extremely costly or unavailable.  In about the same amount of time you can get to Astoria, Oregon which is filled with history and beauty, if it’s not foggy.  Just south of Astoria is the incredible North Oregon Coast.  On a clear day the coast with its rocks, sea lions, and huge crashing white waves are an amazing sight.  One of my favorite locations is Ecola State Park located just north of Cannon Beach famous for its haystack rock.

The Cascade Mountains and the Northwest coast are truly spectacular, but equally in grandeur is the Columbia River Gorge.  Start out in Vancouver, Washington, at the actual location of Fort Vancouver established before the Northwest was part of the United States.  Next swing around to I-84 via I-205 and venture east.  The Vista House at Crown Point should be your first stop.  Then stay on the scenic path and stop at all the waterfalls.  Multnomah Falls is the most popular and offers food, information, and restrooms.  One option is to get back on I-84 and cross over to Washington State at Cascade Locks.  Be sure to stop at the base of the bridge in Cascade Locks ( Bridge of The Gods) to look at the river and get some pictures of the bridge.  When you cross over, you can check out the city of Stevenson just to the east about five minutes, or you can head back toward Vancouver.  See my previous post on Stevenson for more on the city.  On your way back to Vancouver you’ll see Beacon Rock State Park.  This is interesting from an historical and geological point of view.  The rock is actually the core of a volcano that was referenced by Lewis and Clark.  You can climb to the top and get some incredible views of the area.  Continuing east you’ll come to the city of Washougal where you’ll see the Pendleton Woolen Mill along Hwy 14.  Stop here if you want a tour of the mill or want to purchase some merchandise from the most famous maker of wool blankets.

If you have even more time to explore the Columbia River Gorge, don’t turn off at Cascade Locks and keep traveling east toward Hood River.  The little town of Hood River is well known for its apples, cherries, berries, and other fruit crops that are available beginning in June.  You’ll see the flyers for the Hood River Fruit Loop at all the information stations in the Gorge.  Continuing east will bring you to The Dalles, Oregon.   Stop at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center to learn about the Columbia River and Native Americans that lived off the river until the politicians demanded electricity for every American.  This farther end of the gorge is unlike the area around Multnomah Falls.  Here in The Dalles you’ll find more arid conditions that add to the experience.

Regardless of the path you choose when you set foot out of Seattle you won’t be disappointed.  Just be sure to check for alerts on the web sites of where you’re headed.  Summer is also known as road construction time so check the ODOT and WSDOT sites before you get on the road.  Enjoy your time with nature in the Northwest and remember to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Quick Getaway Day Trip in Washington State

A short drive less than an hour east of Portland, the city of Stevenson, Washington in Skamania County offers the feel of a small Cascade mountain town plus the added wonder and magnificence of the Columbia River Gorge.   You’ll find the classic Northwest mountain style Skamania Lodge, an assortment of village shops along the main street, the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Museum, and a riverfront for accessing, picnicking, and enjoying the historic Columbia River.   Make a quick escape from the busy cities of Portland and Vancouver by traveling east on Washington State Highway 14, accessible from either I-5 or I-205.   This route quickly sets you into the green forested hillsides along the Gorge where you’ll pass Beacon Rock State Park and find several opportunities for framing great photos.  Traveling past Stevenson approximately 10 miles further east on Highway 14 at milepost 53 is the popular hiking trail head of Dog Mountain where you’ll find even more outstanding views of the Columbia River Gorge.

One Sunday morning we woke early and set out for Stevenson to enjoy an unusually warm and clear spring day in the Pacific Northwest.  Our first stop was 9:00 a.m. Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea where we were greeted, asked for our names, and welcomed to the community.  Never before had we received such a welcome when simply entering a church.  We knew we were in the right place to start out the day.

The church building of Our Lady Star of the Sea is warm and inviting, designed for plenty of outdoor lighting and with materials fitting for the Northwest.  Local stone decorates the sanctuary to give it the mountain community feel and a custom altar and ambo is crafted from local cherry wood.  We enjoyed the folk style music and after a proper Mass, we headed for the well-attended coffee and donut social to find more welcoming parishioners.

Our next stop was Rock Cove right across the street from the church where peaceful scenery along a paved trail was just right for Sunday morning.  Geese and a stand up paddle-boarder were seen with basalt cliffs and Bridge of the Gods in the background.  It was all refreshing and calming.  We topped off our walk along the rocky shore of Rock Creek listening to its babbling flow of icy cold water.  Next, a short drive to the Stevenson riverfront provided an outstanding view of the Columbia River with kiteboarders and windsurfers in the sun.  Stevenson offered a quick trip for a scenic and restful Sunday away from the city.  It was one more great experience in the State of Washington.

View of mountains around Stevenson, Washington

View of mountains around Stevenson, Washington

Paddle-Boarder on Cove Lake in Stevenson, WA

Paddle-Boarder on Cove Lake in Stevenson, WA

Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church

Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church

View of Lewis and Clark Highway from Rock Creek in Stevenson, WA

View of Lewis and Clark Highway from Rock Creek in Stevenson, WA

Kiteboarder on Columbia River at the Stevenson Riverfront pathway.

Kiteboarder on Columbia River at the Stevenson Riverfront pathway.






Did it Actually Happen?

The past week was anything but dull.  Pope Benedict XVI resigned, a meteorite hit Russia with the force of an atomic bomb, and the soap opera like story of the renegade ex-cop Dorner came to an end.  Things that we thought could never happen did actually happen and what we thought only happens in the movies did actually happen as well.  I’m starting to really believe that anything can happen!

Some interesting posts this week on the internet.

One activity that truly helped to make life more interesting was visiting Chinatown in Portland today.  Teams of Lion Dancers made their way around to restaurants and businesses to bring blessings for the new year.  The dances are complete with drums, cymbals, and firecrackers.  You can’t help but get excited with all the energy produced by these loud and colorful exhibitions.  Below are some pictures.  Enjoy!

Lion Dance Team

Chinese New Year 2013 Portland

Chinese New Year 2013 Lion Dance Team

Chinese New Year 2013 Lion Dance Team

Portland Chinese Gardens New Year 2013 Celebrations

Portland Chinese Gardens New Year 2013 Celebrations

Mt. St. Helens – To the Crater and Back

If you’re planning a visit to the Pacific Northwest and want to see a something spectacular, don’t skip a drive to Mt. St. Helens.  Here you get to experience part of the Cascade Mountain Range and what makes it unique.  You’ll see wildlife, tall Douglas Firs, cold mountain streams, lakes, a volcano, and perhaps Bigfoot.  Easily accessible from Seattle or Portland, the road to Mt. St. Helens is only 53 miles long starting at Castle Rock, WA on I-5.  There are many visitor centers where you can stop on the way but very few gas stations so start your trip with a full tank. 

My wife asked what I wanted to do for my Birthday and I said visit the volcano.  Unfortunately the kids were sick on my birthday so I delayed our trip to Mt. St. Helens for the next clear weekend when nothing else was on the calendar.  The day finally arrived so we packed a picnic, the cameras, hiking poles, Washington State Discover Pass, and lots of water.   Check out my post for packing an easy picnic.

Our first stop was Seaquest State Park, about 5.5 miles on Hwy. 504 from I-5.  It was around noon and time for lunch.  Seaquest is essentially a camping park but is great for a picnic too.  It also has some hiking trails and one that leads to a visitor center across highway 504 where a boardwalk winds through some marshland and besides Silver Lake where we saw birds, fish, and lots of wildflowers.  The Mt. St. Helens Visitors Center at  Silver Lake contains some great displays and a video for a small fee.  Of course we first had our lunch in the shade of the tall fir trees.

As we continued down the road toward our destination we began to cross over many rivers.  The Toutle River got our attention.  We learned from the first visitor center how the river carried destructive mud flows during the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.   Around mile marker 20 you’ll see a sign leading to an overview of the Sediment Retention Structure.  Here you can take a short hike for a closer look at the river and all the sediment that remains as a result of the mud flows. 

Hoffstadt Bluffs is another great place to stop and you’ll find it around mile marker 27.  They offer free yet interesting displays related to Mt. St. Helens, a restaurant, and a gift shop inside their impressive lodge styled building.  On the outside they offer a great view of the mountain in the distance and helicopter rides if you want to get up close and personal with the volcano. 

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument from Hoffstad Bluffs

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

From Hoffstadt Bluffs you’ll notice the road beginning to climb and wind more as you head east.  The Forest Learning Center is at mile marker 33 where you’ll get more awesome views of the mountain and the Elk grazing below along the Toutle River Basin.  This impressive visitor’s center is free of charge and houses an indoor forest exhibit where you’ll learn all about the forest and the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  It’s ideal for all ages.

Mt. St. Helens Forest Learning Center view over Toutle River Basin

Mt. St. Helens Forest Learning Center view over Toutle River Basin

There are more great places to stop like Elk Rock and Coldwater Lake before you reach the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  We opted to pass them on the way up.  It was getting late and we all wanted to reach our destination to look squarely into the crater of the volcano. 

Our excitement grew as we walked up the path towards the large open viewing area that was crowded with tourists from all over the world.  The views of the crater, lava dome, and the landslide deposit were captivating.  Fortunately there is a half mile walk, Eruption Trail, that leads away from the building where you can get even better views of not just the mountain but the entire surrounding area.  You’ll also see Mt. Adams and the hillsides that contain the remains of downed trees from the 1980 eruption.  Inside of the observatory you’ll find a comfortable theater and educational exhibits.  The end of the film was truly spectacular.  We were impressed by the high quality of the film and found it enjoyable as well as educational.

Mt. St. Helens Crater Lava Dome at the Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mt. St. Helens Crater Lava Dome at the Johnston Ridge Observatory – National Volcanic Monument

Driving back down to I-5 was quick and easy, although we stopped at Elk Rock for a few more pictures.  We were also on the lookout for Bigfoot since we saw him on the way up and wanted to get a picture with him. 

Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center - Big Foot
Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center with Big Foot Exhibits

We stopped at the Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center, took some pictures with Bigfoot, and looked at the merchandise.  It was actually a pleasant and unexpected surprise.  The store had unusual items that we did not see in all the other visitor centers.  Of course all the Bigfoot merchandise was unique too.   If you stop here be sure to ask about the last time Bigfoot was spotted. 

Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center Big Foot Sighting
Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center Big Foot Statue

Not once were we bored when traveling on Hwy 504 and the observatory was outstanding.  Bathroom facilities all along the road to Mt. St. Helens were acceptable to my wife and daughter, and that’s not something we’ve experienced everywhere.  The views were incredible from many different places along the way.  Overall, we had a great travel experience.   Don’t miss out on this great American treasure if you’re ever in the Northwest.  


Mt. St. Helens from Elk Rock Viewpoint


Easy Picnic Easy Travel

Whether you’re on the road or at home, packing a picnic lunch can be easy.  Ask my wife what she wants to do on a nice day and she’ll say, “Let’s have a picnic!”  My first response is a period of quiet as I have visions of a slice of lunch meat and a piece of cheese between two pieces of dry bread.  It’s nothing that encourages me to start packing the car. 

I asked my wife what she wanted to do for Mother’s Day this year, and yes, you guessed it, she wanted to go on a picnic.  Fortunately I’m a strategic thinker and was determined to make this enjoyable for my wife and the whole family.  As I wandered through Fred Meyer I eventually passed by the deli and that’s when it came to me, “I’ll just get several salads and put them in an ice chest.”  My wife was so pleased and we all enjoyed it so much we wanted to do it again.

Now, when my wife says picnic, we just head for the deli and load up.  My perfect picnic consists of potato salad, coleslaw, pea salad, broccoli salad, chicken salad, cut fruit like cantaloupe or watermelon, and pita bread or crackers.  The best of it all is that you can buy however much you want from the deli of your local grocery store.  You get to pick whatever salads you want, they put them into sealed containers, and all you have to do is put them into an ice chest.  Buy it the night before to get a head start.  Just pack utensils, plates, and napkins along with your drinks and you’re ready to travel. 

Summer Picnic

Easy Summer Picnic

If you’re packing a picnic to save money or just to have fun, it’s easy and makes life so much easier when you’re on the road.  Of course you can make you own salads and actually we like to make our own tomato and cheese salad with our homegrown tomatoes.  Find the good in your day and have a picnic when you do it. 


Summer Tomato Fresh Mozzarella Cheese Salad

Tomato Fresh Mozzarella Cheese Salad


Oregon Wine Country

Exploring the Oregon wine country is a memorable experience.  The vineyards, fruit, wine casks, comfortable patios, and that smell of wine is not easily forgotten.  We’ve visited a many in the Southern Willamette Valley and some just Southwest of Portland.  Wine tasting is available any time of year.  Summer touring is fun but the grapes are harvested in the fall and that’s really interesting to watch.  Ripe fruit makes for a better picture than the cluster of tiny green balls that you’ll see in the summer.  Unfortunately it’s getting hard to find a winery that offers free wine tasting.  Something tells me that most of them could use some help in marketing their products.  During a recent trip my wife some friends tasted at a couple of locations and purchased 3 bottles.  The prices were on the high side so we had to put on the brakes.  We’re still enjoying the wine now that we’re home and hope to go back to explore more vineyards in the near future.  They’re peaceful and relaxing even before you begin tasting.  If you’re visiting Western Oregon, even with kids, one or two vineyards should be on your list of activities.   They’re not far from the cities along I-5 and they’re usually not far apart.

Flower Pot Purse