Interspersed with our scenic drives were outdoor activities that we like to do when available in areas we visited. Indeed there is an abundance of recreation opportunities at the gorgeous Gorge that should not be missed. The Gorge is the playground for windsurfers, white-water rafters, and hikers from all over the world. It also happens to be one of the nation’s premier road biking destinations. We got it made! We are so thrilled that we can do our favorite outdoor activities with sunny days and awesome weather to boot. So what did we do? We hiked, we biked, we went wine and beer tours. How about that! Continue reading
Traveling through and around the Gorge is easy, and to really experience the Gorge is to drive from east to west or vice versa depending on where you originate from. It should also be driven following State Route 14 on the Washington side and the busier highway 84 on the Oregon side, or much will be missed. The breathtaking beauty of the Gorge and surrounding areas are full of remarkable views depending on your direction, time of day and weather. State Route 14 (a.k.a Lewis and Clark highway ) and I-84 are both scenic highways, and driving them completes the Gorge Loop and one must stop along the way to take in the various sights and towns.
We arrived at the Gorge from the east, Washington side on State Route 14, and what we saw from there were sweeping views of the Gorge, gigantic rock formations, quaint towns, vineyards and Mt Hood.
The Historical Columbia River Highway (Oregon) is another option to travel back in time circa 1913, a winding road amidst lush green trees and stonework construction. On the east end we took the 9 mile scenic route paralleling I-84, climbing to the Rowena Plateau and stopping at the Rowena Crest Overlook which is the eastern companion to the Crown Point Overlook on the west. The dramatic views of the Rowena Loops and the dry eastern landscape are not to be missed.
On the west end of the Historical Columbia River Highway, our drive took us to the many beautiful cascading waterfalls and lush greenery that we described in part 1 of this post. We began the drive at Chanticleer Point which has astounding views of the river and the Gorge that can be seen from the tops of cliffs.
Continuing down the Byway, we arrived at the Vista House at Crown Point, one of the most photographed sites along the Historic Columbia River Highway. In 1913 Samuel Lancaster, the highway’s chief engineer, believed that this outcropping of land located atop a 733-foot sheer cliff overlooking the Columbia River was one of the most spectacular vistas in the world. We agreed. It was a view to behold.
On another day we drove the Mt Hood Scenic Byway (approx. 145 miles) and the entire trip is picturesque with Mt Hood as the focal point. At 11,245 feet, Mt. Hood is the highest point in Oregon, the fourth highest peak in the Cascade Range and one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks. Starting from the west we came into the timberline and this byway lead us through classic Oregon scenery. At the end of this drive we made several stops in the Hood River Fruit Loop, a scenic driving route that takes you around to several local farms where you can pay a small amount for U-pick fruits and other goodies.
We took a quick detour from SR 14 (WA) and drove up Old Highway 8 where we enjoyed more outstanding views of the Gorge and some good wines at the local wineries. Oh yeah, we bought a few bottles too!
We were advised that this area is beset by mountain fires this time of the year.
So have we covered and seen everything? Despite a week stay here, there are still nooks and crannies in the gorgeous Gorge to be explored.
After the Customs officer at the US border confiscated some vegetables we had purchased in Kelowna, we went straight to a gas station and filled Betsy up. The diesel price as we know now was a tad higher as we travelled south but much cheaper than Alaska or Canada. The change in scenery is quite dramatic, reminding us we are back in the Lower 48 with Washington state as our gateway.
As we drove along the highway we noticed the mountains are dry, with parched forest, dry brush and grass. Interspersed are acres of orchards and vineyards. Remember, red delicous apples from Washington – that’s where they are grown. Nearing our destination we noticed smoke and fires coming from the mountain tops and noticed that a haze was already covering the valley.
We decided to forego our original destination, Alta Lake State Park, as it was really close to the wildfires and the area was already smoky. We drove further and found Lakeshore RV park at Lake Chelan and fortunately they had a site available for us. Lake Chelan is a pristine 50.5 mile glacier-fed lake, is 1.5 miles at its widest and 1486 ft. at its deepest point making it the third deepest in the U.S. behind Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe. The Lake Chelan valley is nestled in the North Cascades National Forest.
The haze was quite visible around the town and lake. Despite that we followed their Riverwalk Trail around the lake and downtown area. We learned that Lake Chelan is a destination resort as it is known for its 300 days of sunhine and lots of things to do all year round. The sunset by the lake while we were there was beautifully enhanced by the smoke and dust in the atmosphere.
After three days we decided to move on for the smoke was getting thicker and we could really smell it. But then after continuing for more than a hundred miles, the smoke still covered the mountains and valleys. We learned that the fire started on Sept 7, caused by lightning and the fire still has not been contained. The smoke is blanketing much of central Washington as wildfires remain uncontained with the dry conditions and no rain in the forecast. The highways we were on were supposed to be scenic and picturesque with the view of the eastern Cascades and the peaks of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, but visibility was low. We arrived at Yakima with a layer of smoke lying over the city.
Washington ranks second in the United States in the production of wine, behind California. Here in Yakima is where 40% of it is produced. In addition, the Yakima valley produces an abundance of agricultural products where the famous Washington apples and cherries are grown. We went wine tasting in one of the wine appelations here, the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail, where we noted acres of orchards and vineyards enterwined in the land. Various fruit stands were also visible on the highways and byways.
We also visited the neighboring town of Toppenish located within the boundaries of the Yakama nation and is quite rich with Native American history. We did a short walking tour to view and to admire some of the 73 murals around the city. This is the town where walls can really talk for each mural has its own introduction. Below are few of interesting mural stories.
Yakima also boasts their 10 mile paved pathway called Yakina Greenway, which parallels the Yakima river and in some stretches parallels the highway and overpasses. We enjoyed this walk/hike while our Honda was in for some maintenance work. At the end of the walk we burnt 1200 calories, yeah! And the best part was that the RV park had a nice pool and Therapy Pools (as they called it) where we could dip our tired and sore muscles for a while.
And here is Steve’s good deed for the day.
So we will move on now, hopefully to where the air quality is much better. Columbia Gorge, here we come!
Our next stop took us to Anacortes, the gateway to the many islands in the Pacific Northwest. Among the many things to do and islands to visit, we chose to ride the ferry and and hop to San Juan island.
We decided to check out San Juan Island on Friday the 25th, since it appeared to be the nicest weather day. We’d been wanting to take a nice bike ride, so my brilliant idea was to give it a shot on our bikes. “We’re in no hurry, so we’ll make a day of it, bring our lunch along and save money by not taking the car on the ferry”, I said. Yeah, how tough could it be?
Well, I had my answer a few hours later. Wow, what a hard ride! We rode over 28 miles total and faced several brutal hills – not at all what the web sites I had checked out reported. We were exhausted at the end of the day, but we made it and what a beautiful ride. We checked out Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor, the alpaca farm and the Lime Kiln Point State Park Lighthouse to watch for Orca whales. It appeared they were taking the day off, since we looked for them for over an hour as we rode down the coast and I saw only one very briefly. Even the whale watch tour boats couldn’t locate them on that day. And the best news? Mona Liza lost two pounds from that one grueling ride! Funny, she doesn’t seem very excited about doing it again…despite burning 2546 calories.
Nearby our park was a very nice and popular Tommy Thompson trail which we used for our walk. The real beauty of this trail is a mile long trestle which can be accessed from the park.
Here are some of our biking pictures and nearby beautiful views.
Washington State was not given the monicker “the evergreen state” for nothing! And it should also be called “the wet state”! By this time in CA where I came from the hills are already brown. But here, everywhere you look is very lush and green, and wet. It has been raining now for several days, and I mean pouring rain. Of course we were not surprised, I’m just whining a bit. But that did not stop us from being tourists and visit Seattle, Tacoma and drive to Point Defiance park. We performed the usual tourist duties by posing in front of the Space Needle and the Pacific Science Center.
Steve does not like using an umbrella but this day is an exception in Seattle. Walking in the rain with the one you love made our mile+ walk from the Space Needle to our lunch at the Crab Pot restaurant easy and relaxing.
The trip would not be complete without shopping and buying from the Pike Place Market. We were in heaven seeing all those smoked salmon, beautiful flowers, fresh fishes and all kind of cheeses and every food that you can think of.
Despite the rain, we drove to Tacoma the next day to check out the Musuem of Glass which to our dismay is closed on Mondays. It was a let down but walking the Chihuly Bridge of Glass was amazing. The collection of multicolored glass suspended on the ceiling called the Seaform Pavillion was something to behold. Looking up you can see the interplay of light and the illusion that you are under water.
Walking further at the center were the Crystal Towers which are forty feet tall. Because it was raining and gloomy the glass did not show the personality that we were expecting, nevertheless it was very interesting.
At the end of the bridge closer to the entrance of the museum was the Venetian Wall, an eighty-foot installation displaying 109 sculptures from the Paul Chihuly series. This is a wow, amazing art work, the intricacies of the glass and the play of colors were really impressive. I wished I could take home one of those. This wall is a collection of some of the largest blown-glass works executed in the history of the medium.
We felt like we were walking in a ghost town, for we were the only ones there! As we came closer to the entrance more artwork was on display. I posed in front of the Fluent Steps, where you will see 754 individually hand-sculpted pieces of glass that span the entire length of the 210-foot-long Main Plaza reflecting pool. The glass display looks ordinary on this rainy and gloomy day, but i think with lights and sun it would have been more beautiful.
Tacoma is world renowned for its glass art which we did not know until we got there. So if you like glass art this is the place to be.
Our last stop was at Point Defiance Park. This time it was really pouring so we did not get out of the car. The Barrista at the coffee shop suggested to drive the five mile scenic drive at Port Defiance. We followed the road through a forest tunnel that goes all the way around the point; you spend most of the circuit underneath a canopy of very mature evergreens, breaking out occasionally into scenic overlooks with views in many different directions out over the sound, islands, and across the water. We just viewed this from the car as it was pouring. We noticed there were a few hiking trails which we would have wanted to follow, but it was raining. Maybe next time.
32 years ago on May 18,1980 the eruptions of Mount St Helens changed the whole landscape in the surrounding area in an instant. When we went there to view her beauty, the destruction is still clearly visible, especially the blasted trees that remained untouched. Mount St Helens looked so majestic, serene, and represents something of true awe and beauty, yet underlying is something potentially catastrophic. I stood there and observed it with immense respect for nature itself.
Entering the blast zone on our way to Johnston Ridge Observatory replanted trees can be seen along the highway for miles which was part of the regeneration project. The tree groves are marked by the year it was planted and the year it will be harvested.
Johnston Ridge Observatory , considered the crown jewel of Mt St Helen is located at the end of Highway 504 East and is at the center of the blast zone. This is where you can really be near and be of awe when you see the volcano which is only 5.4 miles away. You can spend hours at the visitor center reading eyewitness stories, the events that happened weeks leading up to the eruption and scientific and geologic facts. Everything you would want to know about the activity before and after the eruption. It was very informative and well done. It was worth the drive up there.
From breathing the ocean breeze to the cool mountain fresh air. We left Astoria and headed to Cougar, Washington which is located 11 miles south-southwest of Mount St. Helens. But before I gush over the fresh mountain air, let me take you first to Cape Disappointment. The cape is just a stones throw from Astoria by crossing over the Columbia river through the Astoria Megler bridge which spans 4.1 miles and connects Astoria to Prince Ellice in Washington state. We hiked to Cape Disappointment which is where Lewis and Clark finally spotted the Pacific Ocean. This 1.2 mile trail took us to upper headland that featured a lighthouse, an artillery bunker, a museum and Dead Man’s Cove, a picturesque chasm in the cape’s cliffs.The views at the top are wonderful. You can see for miles….including the South and North Jetties as well as all the maritime traffic entering and leaving the Columbia River. This is also the best place to view the “bar” of the Columbia River.
After the hike we headed to Long Beach (not California) Washington where a Boardwalk stretches for almost half a mile. We followed this on the south end and came across a real preserved Gray Whale skeleton. The beach is quite expansive and you can see it all the way to the horizon.
We left Astoria and drove to the town of Cougar which is the gateway to Mt. St. Helens on the south side. We checked out Ape Cave, and no, no apes do not live there. Instead it is a lava tube located in Gifford Pinchot National Forest just to the south of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Its passageway is the longest continuous lava tube in the continental United States, at 13,042 feet (3,975 m). I chickened out on hiking inside the tube as it is dark and cold but most of all I was scared and we did not have a flashlight. Instead, we hiked on the upper ape cave trail on the surface, a 1.3 mile walk through the old forest that links the two lava tubes and leads from the trailhead to these underworld entrances. This trail leads through wonderful old forests, walking on snow, a view of Mt. St. Helens and lava rocks.
On our way out of the park and a quick right turn took us to another trailhead the Trail of Two Forest. This is just short hike though a “lava cast” park. The 1/4 mile plank trail winds through a 2000 year old lava flow. As the lava entered the forest, fir trees were surrounded and the lava cooled. The “cast” is what is left. This trail is quite interesting as you try to imagine what happens when hot lava cascade down the mountain and hit all the trees in the surroundings. As we saw there were a lot of devastation but is now slowly growing back creating a new forest.
To top it off, we were breathing fresh mountain air during the whole adventure.