Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Play's the Thing

The last stop on our vacation before hitting the Cascade Writers Workshop in Vancouver, Washington, was Ashland, Oregon.  Ashland is reknowned for its Shakespeare Festival and, for reasons I am not entirely clear on, I have long held a strong antipathy towards it, despite never having been.

So it was that I agreed to let Tom take me, as it's one of his favorite places, and I had subjected him to caves and sand dunes.  We had tickets for the evening performance of Henry the Fifth, which I knew approximately nothing about, but there was plenty of day to fill beforehand, under a very hot sun.

Ashland provides a smorgasbord of humanity.  A number of retirees, folks like us, and what appeared to be an entire village worth of neo-hippy types.  Peoplewatching could easily be a favorite passtime there.  You'd never be bored.

The first place we stopped was Lithia Park (due to free, head-in parking, and a public restroom).  It's a beautiful park with wide open grassy areas, large trees providing copious shade, duck ponds, and a river running down its length where kids and grown-ups went wading.  This was easily my favorite place in Ashland, and I returned there later in the day with a notepad to sit by one of the duck ponds and do some writing in the shade.

Many shops and art studios line the main street and we hit several of them.  My favorite was the music store.  I managed to escape without purchasing any new instruments, but I did pick up some fabulous sheet music, including "The Fellowship of the Ring" for voice and piano.  SO MUCH FUN!

Dinner was in a nice Italian restaurant, then off to the theater for the show.  I was wearing a sundress, with a little short-sleeved jacket, but even then, despite the show running until nearly eleven o'clock, I was easily warm enough.  (Did I mention it was hot in Ashland?)

I enjoyed the play, which was presented in an outdoor theater, but would probably have been well-served to have studied up a bit on the show beforehand.  On the other hand, at least I spoke enough French to follow the two sections of the show which were almost entirely in French.  Poor Tom was utterly lost.

Back to the hotel for bed.  It was going to be a long drive up to Vancouver the next day.  Thank goodness for air conditioning!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Underhill - My Adventures Therein

Given that my blog's title is a Tolkien quotation, I couldn't resist using Frodo's assumed traveling name for this posting.

Our next stop was Oregon Caves National Monument.  The morning included an exciting drive through the Siskiyou, and an even more exciting drive up seventeen miles of extra-twisty mountain roads to arrive at the caves.  We were staying at the historic Chateau, so once we got there, we weren't driving again for the whole day!

I arrived just in time to catch the 10:30 tour into the caves (Tom did not go in with me).  You have to go with a tour, which is sad for those of us with explorer tendencies, but good for preserving the site.  My group was fairly small.  Two couples, myself, and a father with three boys ranging from probably four to seven at the oldest, although my first instinct would be to put them all close to 5.  Very inquisitve.  Well behaved, but an impressively incessant barrage of questions.

I tried to stick to the back of the pack, to give myself the opportunity to linger just a hair and experience the place without being surrounded, but one of the couples seemed to have the same idea and we spent time jockeying back and forth to the rear.

These were easily the most impressive caves I have visited.  Lots of three-dimensionality, pretty formations, having to duck and twist along the pathway, and the advertised 500 stairs that led us through the marble cave.  I was particularly aware of the temperature (44 degrees!) and the fact that the caves were constantly dripping.  Of course, it's that dripping that causes the formations, but I was pretty impressed that it managed to drip on my eye, especially given that I was wearing my glasses.

Once outside, I took the trail up to a viewpoint on the ridge, hiking up over where I'd just been spelunking.  There was a beautiful view.  It was quite warm, but it didn't bother me too much.  Later, after lunch at the 50's style cafeteria, Tom and I took a short trail hike.  I had seen an advertisement for a hike with a ranger starting at 4:00, and thought that sounded neat.  Leaving Tom to read in the Chateau, I tracked down the starting point and met Ranger Mike.  As I was the only person who showed up, I had a personalized hike with him.  I learned about trees--did you know that Douglas firs aren't real firs, and no trees in North America are real cedars, despite us calling them so?--plants, and animals.  We had some animal sightings as well, including a skink with its bright blue tail, springtails, which are strange little bugs that launch themselves huge distance with, well, springloaded tails, a snake (spotted by me), and a hobo spider.  My third hike of the day, and it was quite educational.

Tom and I had dinner at the Chateau.  It was very fancy and HUGE.  Way too much food, but quite tasty.

With no internet at the site, we spent some of the evening sitting in the main lobby reading and watching tiny bats flying around outside the windows.  A pleasant day, and a definite highlight of the trip for me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Holy Giant Paul Bunyan, Batman!

Monday we left Coos Bay early and stopped by Shore Acres.  Unlike most of the beaches we encountered, Shore Acres had a lot more going on than sand, water, and a potty.  There are two rose gardens, a Japanese garden, and a greenhouse, along with a hidden beach down a trail and a nice promontory overlook.

The beach is called Simpson Beach, and Tom and I are pretty sure it the place where my father took a picture of my mother on two different trips, separated by many years.  We decided to follow suit, so I now have some pictures of me sitting on a rock at Simpson Beach.  The wind was doing some unfortunate things to my hair, but it is what it is.  Perhaps that's why my mother was wearing a hat.

We piled back in the car for the long drive to Crescent City, CA.  It was the longest stretch of coast driving yet.  Watching the color of the water change, from a sort of cold green up in the north to cerulean blue in California was pretty amazing.  We stopped at one beach for a stretch and discovered four horses, with riders.  Must be nice to ride a horse at the seashore.

After passing through Crescent City, (Hi, Best Western--see you soon!), we made our way further south towards the Trees of Mystery.  There was some serious road construction on the way, with an enforced one-lane road through the Redwoods.  We had to stop and wait for a pilot car to lead our snake of cars through the construction zone.

At last, there he was--Paul Bunyan!  I believe I heard he's thirty-five feet tall, and his companion Babe, the Blue Ox was with him, proportionately huge.  Now, Paul Bunyan doesn't just stand there.  He can wave his giant hand and he talks.  This is not inane chatter.  He can clearly see everybody and has two-way conversations with the guests.  I suspect the operator is inside the Paul Bunyan statue, because I can't figure where else they could have been hiding him.

We ate lunch across the street at a strange little diner decorated with fake foliage all over one side (including the ceiling), and underwater scenes on the other side.  That's where we sat.  The ceiling is painted blue and has the bottom halves of ducks, orange feet frozen in mid-paddle.

The lower portion of the Trees of Mystery was an easy climb past some spectacular trees, Redwood, Sitka Spruce, Pine, and more.  Nature at its finest--and largest--was on prominent display.

We took the Sky Trail, a gondola lift to the top of the mountain.  I have a fairly strong phobia of gondolas.  I don't think I let go of the wall or stopped staring straight ahead the whole way up.

You could either take the gondola back down or hike down the trail labeled "ADVANCED HIKERS ONLY--EXPERIENCE REQUIRED."  Being a mountaineer's daughter, I thought I qualified.  There were walking sticks available for use and I grabbed one.  They weren't kidding about this trail.  It was very steep and the ground was slick.  Probably a third to a quarter of it involved ropes you could use as a handrail, and they were fairly necessary.  I held on with one hand and controlled the speed of descent with the walking stick.  I had a lot of fun, but it's probably safe to say it wasn't Tom's favorite activity of the day.

The Trail of Tall Tales was the last part of the Trees of Mystery.  Stories of Paul Bunyan chainsaw-carved into massive pieces of wood.

At last, we were done and it was time to drive back through the road construction to Crescent City.  We checked in, Tom went to sleep (still cooling off from the hike), and I took myself to dinner.

Next on the menu, The Oregon Caves National Monument.  Same bat time, same bat channel!  (Except there weren't any bats.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Devil's Paraphernelia--Part Two

The Oregon Coast seems to be the place where the Devil leaves his things around.  More on that later.

Sunday morning began with shopping in Newport down by the canning inudstry.  STINKY!!!  Some of the stores had some neat things and Tom took pictures of the murals that lined the street, but I had a hard time turning off my nose and was happy when we headed off to the Oregon Coast Aquarium (also in Newport--sans stinky.)

We caught the tail end of the sea lion feeding, and enjoyed watching a sea otter clean its toes, and walking through the glass-enclosed tube through the fishies and the sharks.  I got a good look at what kelp looks like underwater.  I've often seen its bullwhip-like shape on the shores, but had never really gotten a good look at it in its natural habitat.  The bulb has air in it that makes it float, making it look a bit like ultra-thin palm trees.

There were a few more shops before getting back out onto the road.  We drove as far as Yachats for lunch in a place called the Drift Inn.  There was a live piano player, and aside from all the fancy umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, it had a very old west sort of feel to me.  Kind of Wild West meets impressionism.

On to the aforementioned Devil's Paraphernelia, Devil's Churn.  Having seen the punchbowl the day before, I was prepared for swirling waters and I was not disappointed.  Originally, I was going to try to dash down the brief, steep trail, take a picture or two, and get back up within the fifteen free minutes we could get before having to pay a day use fee.  I'd gotten partway back up the trail when I got a phone call from Tom that he'd gone ahead and paid the fee, and go spend more time below.

Which I did.  The churn is long, straight cleft that the sea has dug out of the rock.  The waves rush up and funnel through, crashing on the sharp, black stones and racing to the back where they thunder off the end with a low rumble that almost shakes the ground.  I was feeling enthusiastic, so I got fairly close to the edge, close enough that one surprisingly large wave splashed so high I nearly got hit by the spray plume.  After that I retreated a bit, but spent a good deal of time just watching the water do its thing.  Tom made his way down and joined me for a while, staying closer to the base of the hill rather than clambering out on the rocks with me.  Probably just as well that one of us has a sense of self-preservation.  (It wasn't as dangerous as I might be making it sound, but enough so that I got my little adrenaline hit of "Ooo!  Excitement!")

Our next stop was Sea Lion Caves.  There was a bit of a disappointment there.  The caves are accessed by an elevator, which had broken down the day before.  So, no caves for us.  On the other hand, a large group of sea lions had appeared on the rocks at the base of the cliff--the lady said there were close to 300.  I didn't count, but there were certainly a lot of them, making all sorts of noise.  I was standing next to a staff member who was fielding all sort of inane questions with respectable grace.  One of my favorites, as we were listening to them bellowing, was "What kinds of noises do they make?"  Overall, an enjoyable stop, if a tad disappointing with no caves.

In Florence, we drove past the place where Tom's grandmother lived in a retirement home before she passed away.  We also attempted to drive past his grandparents' house, but we couldn't quite find it.

Just south of there, we stopped at the sand dunes.  We parked at the base of a dune and I struggled my way up to the top, sand infiltrating my shoes with startling speed.  By the time I got to the top and was looking out over the ocean, I noticed that everybody else was going barefoot and carrying their shoes.  A good plan.  The warm sand was heavenly, and not carrying the extra weight in my shoes was a definite plus.  I finally got my feet in the Pacific.  COLD!!!

After a little time to air dry, it was back over the dune, where Tom was waiting at the car.  (He's not a fan of sand.)  I was glad we stopped.  It was a new experience, and one I'll remember.

Finally, we arrived in Coos Bay.  It was a definite improvement over Saturday, in terms of my consciousness and crabbiness levels.  Less bonine was a very good thing.

A long drive on tap for Monday morning, so off to bed we went.  I even fell asleep before 10:00!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Joys of Bonine

Saturday took us from Astoria, OR down to Newport, OR.  On this stretch of the trip, Tom had planned for me to do a bit of wine tasting.  The upshot of that is that he would need to do some of the driving.  That being the case, I decided to take the maximum recommended dose of Bonine, so as to avoid the desire to hurl as we wound down the twisting coast highway.

Unfortunately, those two pills made me pretty wiped out and I'm afraid a wee bit crabby.

Still, even with me not in tip-top form, we managed to hit several places on the way.  I enforced a stop in Cannon Beach so I could get closer to Haystack Rock than I'd managed the last time I was there.  Tom is not a big fan of beaches, so I left him in town while I walked out.  I felt bad about abandoning him there, so I didn't go all the way out to the rock.

Next stop was the town of Tillamook.  Yes, that Tillamook, home of the famous cheddar cheese.  We "toured" the plant--inasmuch as touring means observing the production floor and reading the interpretive signs.  It was interesting to see, and I learned why sometimes there's an extra thin bit of cheese on one side of the loaf that peels off really easily.  There's a guy who weighs each loaf and if it's a bit under, he slaps on a thin strip and presses it into the block.  You learn something new every day!

Being lactose intolerant, I did not partake of the delicious cheese and ice cream.

Next on the list in Tillamook was the Blue Heron French Cheese Company for lunch and I had my promised wine tasting.  The best thing I tried was a sweet sparkling red wine. 

That done, I thought it was time for me to take a nap in the car and try to wear off the Bonine-grogginess, but we didn't even make it out of town before we came across the giant building labeled AIR MUSEUM in letters about as tall as houses.  It is safe to say that airplanes were not likely to help with my I'm-tired-and-crabby feelings, but Tom was very excited so we stopped by.

The building itself was my favorite thing; it had been built to house a fleet of blimps during WWII.  Being inside of it made me feel quite insignificant.  I dutifully observed planes of all shapes and sizes and posed for a photo inside of a trainer.

Finally--NAP TIME!  Or not so much.  I didn't sleep well in the car.

We stopped next a place called "Cape Foulweather," which was incredibly windy and had a kitschy little gift shop that was enjoyable.    Better yet, though, was Devil's Punchbowl.  This is a place where the sea has pounded out a massive hole in the stone, and you look down through the skylight of the cave into this swirling mass of waves.  I was glad of the chance to get out of the car and be in nature and enjoy yet more invigorating wind.

For yet more wind, we stopped by Yaquina Head Lighthouse.  We were too late to tour the lighthouse, but the point it's on is beautiful, and there was a beach covered with coal-gray cobbles that had worn down from the end of an ancient lava flow that reached from central Oregon all the way to the sea.

At last, we made it to Newport.  By that time, I was starting to feel more fully human, and in the evening I took a swim in the pool at the hotel, with a view of the sunset over the ocean, and wrote thirteen lines for a trigger challenge at one of my online workshops on my Kindle.

For tomorrow--my car--I'm driving--NO BONINE!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

From Monsoon to Munchies

Yesterday, we began our adventures in road-tripping by leaving town in about as close to a monsoon as Seattle gets.  The drive from Seattle south to about Olympia was a haze of rain-splots and spray and a blur of windshield wipers.  The good news is that I didn't have to drive that part.

I took over the driving at a rest stop south of Olympia and the car is mine for most of the rest of the week. The roads on the Oregon coast are just too winding for me to be a passenger.  The bonine helps, but not enough.

We arrived in Astoria around two-o'clock in the afternoon and made our first stop at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.  It made Tom very happy.  Lots of boats, well-presented.  I've never been a big fan of maritime museums, but there were enough things there that were not boats to keep me occupied.  A whole display of the evolution of maps was fascinating--did you know that for a long time California was depicted as an island?--and a video display showcasing all sorts of sea monsters that made their way into the maps were my favorites.

After that, I was tired from the long drive and requested that we check in to our hotel.  It was a good idea, except for the part where we missed the turn and got stuck on a very long bridge.  By that time, we were seeing signs for Fort Stevens, so we followed those instead.  Fort Stevens is very similar to Fort Casey and Fort Warden up in Washington.  Gun emplacements dug into the hills looking out over the water so as to be invisible from any boats.  I had lots of fun climbing ladders, making hooting sounds to play with the echoes in the empy concrete bunkers, and climbing stairs in the pitch black.  Tom waited for me while I took a walk on the Jetty Trail.  I didn't encounter another soul, but I did see several types of birds I hadn't seen before, and walked through a grove of trees that is likely to make an appearance in my next story.

Dinner was back in Astoria at a brewing company.  Since neither of us drinks beer, we missed that opportunity, but the people sharing our outdoor (brrr!) table, had flights of samplers, so we got to hear the spiel on all of them.  Good food, a short walk to see the architecture in downtown, and then it was time for an early night.  Clearly very early, since I'm awake by six-o'clock.

Today, on to Newport!