Fur Trappers, Mexican Food, and Waterfalls: Welcome to the Willamette Valley

Making Friends in Portland

Making Friends in Portland

Van has turned in to a ham.  You take out the camera and he immediately starts making his “smiley” face, which in reality is a cross between a smile and a grimace.  In fact, you don’t even need to take out the camera for him to start posing with that camera-ready grin on his face.  When we were exploring a beautiful rose garden in Portland, Oregon, he pranced around the bushes and hedges, posing every few minutes and directing me to take out the camera.  One hand on hip, the other resting on a bush or touching a flower, and a smile plastered on his mug.  But he’s a twenty-first century boy.  His favorite part is running up to you after you’ve shot off a few photos so that he can see the photos you just captured.  Instant gratification, indeed.

Instead of tons of photos of the gorgeous Willamette Valley, we have tons of Van.  You’ll just have to take my word for it that the Willamette Valley is absolutely one of the most beautiful spots in this great country.  Were it not for the mild winters, it would definitely be on our short list.  We loved, loved, loved it!

Van the Ham

Van the Ham

Our first discovery was the amazing Mexican food to be had in Woodburn, Oregon.  Apparently the town is known for having outlet shopping (we saw the shops from afar), but much, much better than that is the main street a few miles to the east that is chock full of Mexican restaurants and grocers.  Seriously excellent and authentic food.  If you’re looking for Tex-Mex, this is not the place.  It was so good we ate it two nights in a row.  If you find yourself anywhere near Woodburn, you owe it to yourself to check out Luis’s Tacqueria or one of the other gems that line the main street.

Then we realized that our nifty museum memberships could get us in to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum for free.  Along with a personal tour of a B-17!  We spent a long, fun day checking out all of the planes (including the Spruce Goose) and catching up on the history of the space program.  Alan didn’t need any catching up, but it was a great refresher for me.

When we weren’t eating yummy food or touring planes, we spent our time outdoors amidst beautiful farmland and waterfalls.  We camped for several nights at Champoeg State Park where we were entranced by the disc golf players and their professional looking gear.  No casual players here!  But even better was the small museum and historical farm.  Van couldn’t get enough of the smell of the hops.  Future homebrewer?  A mother can dream…

Van Testing the Hops

Van Testing the Hops

At the Rogue Brewery Hop Farm

At the Rogue Brewery Hop Farm

But the best part of Champoeg was the fur trapper rendezvous that we happened upon. Actually, Van was personally invited by two fur trappers in traditional French-Canadian trapper clothes the night before (must have been the smile he flashed them).  We walked two miles to get there, some of it through some pouring rain, but it was well worth it.  We had an up close and personal look at fur trapping, homemade birch bark canoes, dutch oven cooking over an open flame, and guns used by the fur trappers.  We spent a long time speaking with each of the folks at the rendezvous and came away with a much greater appreciation for this part of our history.

Once we said our goodbyes (only temporarily) to the Willamette Valley, we headed up to the Columbia River Gorge for a few days of exploring.  It rained – a lot – which means we didn’t take very many photos.  But we did see the gorgeous Multnomah Falls in an uncharacteristic break in the rain.  We also spent a cozy afternoon wandering around the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood and taking a detailed tour from the resident park ranger.  My favorite was curling up in front of the roaring fireplace to dry ourselves out.  But oh how I longed to stay at the lodge and write in my journal at a desk tucked into a nook in the main room.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

We left the area thinking that the Willamette Valley would make a wonderful home. Unfortunately, not for us.  Finding a place that felt so right but for its mild winters reinforced to me just how important snow (and lots of it) is to us.   The mild winters knocked it off of our short list, but if you’re one of the more sane among us, perhaps it should be on yours.

Wet, Chilly, and Gray: Olympic National Park

Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

Wet, a little bit chilly, and gray.  What a way to celebrate the end of summer!  We spent the last week of August camping on the Olympic Peninsula in Olympic National Park.  We got some hiking in and had a glorious time on the banks of Lake Crescent, but were otherwise bundled up in warm socks, sweatshirts, and coats at night and in rain jackets during the day.

Hiking in Olympic National Park

Hiking in Olympic National Park

The Happy Family in Olympic National Park

The Happy Family in Olympic National Park

After our night in Staircase, we headed up to camp at Heart O’ the Hills campground, which is on the way to Hurricane Ridge, the most mountainous part of the park that is accessible by car.  We enjoyed some ridgeline hiking and the first real blasts of cool fall air.  The real highlight of camping in this area was visiting Lake Crescent.  The hikes nearby were a lot of fun, but just sitting and staring at the lake was the best part.  At least for me.  For Van it was probably the hours of rock throwing that he was able to do on its banks.

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

And from here our trip proceeded to get wetter and wetter.  I guess that’s what happens when you head into a rain forest.  We camped near the coast at Mora campground, in close proximity to a beach with great sunset views.  The beach was beautiful, but the sunset was shrouded in the mist that marked all of our visits to the coast.

Washington Coast

Washington Coast

Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park

Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park

Sea Foam

Sea Foam

Rock Throwing is Not Limited to Lakes and Rivers

Rock Throwing is Not Limited to Lakes and Rivers

We headed inland to the Hoh Rain Forest, excited to explore the moss-covered trees and lush green forests.  We put up our hoods and had one great hike through the pouring rain, but decided to cut our second hike short when the skies opened up even more.  I like rain – I really do.  But it’s hard to like it when you’re living out of a tent and you have no prospect of being dry at any point in the next couple of days.  That being said, we had a great time playing games in our cozy tent with Van and listening the pitter patter on the nylon above.

Glistening Ferns

Glistening Ferns

Our Site in Mora Campground, Olympic National Park

Our Site in Mora Campground, Olympic National Park

Olympic is a neat place, noted for its vastly different terrain – glaciated mountains, lush old-growth rain forests, rocky coastline, and sunny days in the Olympics’ rain shadow.  Even so, between the wet and chilly weather (to be expected, I suppose) and a run-in with a less than savory character along the coast, I was for the first time on our trip, beginning to question how much longer I wanted to travel.  But in the spirit of explorers who have come before, we pressed on, looking forward to five luxurious days with my parents in a beautiful home in the San Juan Islands.

Telluride, Ouray, and the Million Dollar Highway

Twenty-five dollars a night is pretty steep for a campground that doesn’t provide free showers, but with no other good options available (apparently, the campgrounds in the area fill up fast in the summer months), we stayed at what wound up being a very nice walk-in campsite in Ridgway State Park.  The park is between Telluride and Ouray, which positioned us well to check out the two towns we were interested in exploring in the area.

We spent our first full day in the area checking out Telluride.  We had wanted to hike up to Bridal Veil Falls, but due to a road failure earlier in the season, the road to the trailhead was closed, as was the trail.  We parked our car at the construction zone, proceeded to walk directly through the construction zone (Van was in heaven) and walked as far as we could to glimpse a view of the falls.  Although we disappointingly missed out on hiking to the falls, we did spy the large white house perched on the cliff above.  We wondered to ourselves, and with a couple of folks from New Mexico who had also made their way through the construction site, who was crazy enough to build a home and live in it on that cliff edge.  A little later in the day, we learned that the pretty white house was not a residence, but was instead a power plant.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more attractive power plant and I’m not sure I ever will.

Since we were excited to do some hiking, we simply turned around and hiked in the other direction.  Our hike eventually lead us right into the center of town.  Fortuitous, indeed!

Views Along Our Hike in Telluride

Views Along Our Hike in Telluride

We wandered around town for a while, and while looking for a spot for lunch, Alan spotted a small sign pointing down a street that said Free Gondola.  What?  Free and gondola in the same sentence?  Well, actually the sentence was only two words, but still.  As soon as we finished lunch, we headed in the direction the sign pointed and a few short minutes later we were walking right onto the gondola and heading up and over the mountain.  Van was wide-eyed for most of his first gondola ride and was equally excited to ride a second time back to the center of Telluride.  Definitely a must-do if you ever find yourself in this beautiful mountain town.

Van's First Gondola Ride

Van’s First Gondola Ride

Downtown Telluride

Downtown Telluride

After a full day in Telluride, we spent the next day exploring Ouray, which is also known as Little Switzerland.  It’s in a beautiful location and I understand how it received the moniker, though I hate when things are referred to as “little (something more famous)” or things of the like.  I think it cheapens the place and makes it less special.  Ouray is a tourist town with steep, imposing mountains rising on both sides.  The location is great, but we weren’t enthralled by the town.  We spent the morning checking out a nearby waterfall and taking a walk around town, but decided the afternoon would be better spent running errands and getting Van to nap in the tent.  Van normally naps in the car, but we were excited to actually get him down for a nap in the tent with the bright sun shining through.  The nap was short-lived, though, as a thunderstorm rolled in and the lightning was handily breaking the 30/30 rule (less than 30 seconds between lightning and thunder).  We wound up spending a fair amount of the afternoon sitting in the only safe place nearby – our car.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but this was just a harbinger of things to come for us over the next week.

Ouray

Ouray

A Happy Life!

A Happy Life!

Falls in Ouray

Falls in Ouray

Falls in Ouray

Falls in Ouray

Stacey and Van Enjoying the Falls in Ouray

Stacey and Van Enjoying the Falls in Ouray

Falls in Ouray

Falls in Ouray

We awoke on our last morning in Ridgway State Park, excited for our drive down the Million Dollar Highway to Durango.  We were right to be excited – it was beautiful!  Every turn provided exciting new views, completely different from what we had just driven through.  Towards the end of the drive, we drove through the western town of Silverton, also touristy, but a whole lot cooler looking than Ouray (at least according to us).  Enjoy the photos below from our drive over the aptly named highway.

A Week in North Georgia

Due to the incredible generosity of our friends, we were able to spend a week staying in our friends’ family’s vacation condo in the North Georgia mountains.  It has been the most relaxing week I’ve had in a long time, and I expect it may be the most relaxing week of our journey.  We were able to receive mail via general delivery at the local post office, wrap up some of the loose ends associated with moving and getting on the road, and catch up on journaling and writing these posts.  We’ve done a lot of cooking (pancakes almost every day!), checked out the local fitness center most days, and visited a number of magnificent waterfalls, including two that we were able to walk behind.  It’s also given us the opportunity to reassess what we brought with us and cull through our belongings, sending some back to Colorado, getting rid of some, and using up our excess consumables.  It’s a good idea to have a roll of toilet paper – four is completely unnecessary.  The same goes for the massive quantities of sardines and herring that we brought with us.  Now you know what we’ll be eating for lunch in the coming weeks!

We’ve also had to send home some of the books we brought with us.  We both love to read, but I think we were overly optimistic about the amount of reading we’ll be getting to do while one the road with a toddler.  Alan took it upon himself to read as much as he could this week and we both sent a number of already read and not-yet-read books back to Colorado so we can refresh our book supply when we get there in a couple of months.  That being said, if you have any book suggestions that you think are appropriate for our journey, we’re all ears.  I recently started reading Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat Moon about the author’s cross-country travels along the back roads of America in the 1970s.  I’ve been enjoying reading about his ambitious road trip as we make our way along the back roads several decades later.

Without further ado, below are a few highlights from our week in northern Georgia and southwestern North Carolina.

View from Rabun Bald, the second highest peak in Georgia

View from Rabun Bald, the second highest peak in Georgia

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls near Highlands, NC

Watching the water fall

Watching the water fall

Dry Falls near Highlands, NC

Dry Falls near Highlands, NC

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

Train Tracks Along the Nantahala River

Train Tracks Along the Nantahala River

Yogurt?!?!

Yogurt?!?!

Yes, yogurt!!!

Yes, yogurt!!!

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Excitement on the Nantahala River