Friday, September 12, 2014

Mount Saint Helens

After leaving the Columbia River Gorge, we drove up into Washington state and headed towards Mount St Helens.  The drive itself was pretty disappointing. First of all, there was no "Welcome to Washington" sign. What?? How am I supposed to make a collage in the future of the kids entering all 50 states?? I even googled this, thinking we might re-cross the Columbia River for a photo op, but apparently other visitors are also frustrated. And then there was the weather - it was POURING rain, and we could barely see the cars in front of us, let alone any scenery. So I fretted for the most part of the next 1.5 hour drive about what to do. We were headed to Mount St. Helens, the volcano that famously erupted back in 1980, where the main reason to go is for the vistas of the devastation caused by the lava flows. At the cutoff from I-5 to begin the hour long one-way drive to the volcano, we pondered what to do over lunch at Burger King (yes, this was a *great* day so far). Since the visitor center run by the NPS got some rave reviews, we decided to go for it. That, and we read that you never know what will happen with mountains, so we could drive up and get lucky.

So we went. And got excited to see signs like these.

We geocahced a few times.

And got to the top to see fog, clouds, and rain. I had the boys pose with the interactive volcano inside the Visitor's Center, joking that they did get to see it, after all.

We watched a movie about the eruption, attended a Junior Ranger program, and learned a lot about that fateful day. The boys were fascinated, Carl was happy (this was his "must-see" addition to our trip), and even though we couldn't see the volcano, we felt the drive was worth it.

And then... during the junior ranger talk... a miracle happened. She pointed out that you could just start to see the right side of the mountain where the avalanche occurred (the sudden melting of the glaciers with the explosion caused an avalanche of water and mud and trees that caused more damage than the lava), and sure enough, there was the start of a mountain view.

As the talk progressed, the sky cleared even more,

And by the time we were outside...


There it was.

Mount Saint Helens.

You can see the lava rivers, the regrowth, the mountain.

The mountain.

We were so very, very pleased.

And a little awestruck over our luck. Fifteen minutes after this picture was taken, the clouds were back, and our views were gone.

We still had  a good 1.5 hour drive to reach our lodging for the night, just outside Mount Rainier National Park. The two mountains are only 35 miles away from each other, but you can't drive as the crow flies, so it takes a while. We didn't mind this last bit of the drive, though. We had seen our volcano.

And a double rainbow to end the day doesn't hurt, either. Just another little sign that someone up there likes us.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge, and its seventy-plus waterfalls, was high on list of places to visit.  its centerpiece waterfall, Multnomah Falls is one of the world's most famous, and at 620 feet total, its the tallest in the state of Oregon, and the second-tallest year-round waterfall in the United States.

It was also seen in one of my favorite movies, that was supposedly set in Washington, but was actually filmed primarily in Oregon (but shhhh.. don't tell Carl that's why I had to see it).

I was all set to enjoy seeing waterfall after waterfall on our drive this day, but, alas, the rain had different plans for me. I hopped out at Latourell Falls, but the rest of the family stayed in the car.

We did all get out for the big one, Multonomah Falls, but I'm pretty sure the only reason they humored me was 1) Ryan saw a gift shop, 2) Alex had to go to the bathroom, and 3) I promised this would be the only waterfall.

This picture cracks me up because we all look so wet and miserable.

I loved seeing Multnomah Falls, rain and all. After all, its the cold, dark, wet spots where I'm most likely to encounter a certain vampire.

Bucket list accomplished!

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mount Hood, Hood River, and the Fruit Loop

The fourth day of our trip was spent driving from Bend up Mount Hood and then down Mount Hood to the Hood River Valley.

Mount Hood is the tallest mountain in Oregon, and the fourth highest mountain in the Cascade range that stretches from California up to Washington. It hosts year-round skiing, a famous lodge where the Shining was filmed with fantastic views, and summertime Alpine sledding. So OF COURSE we were there on a cloudy, rainy day. Here was our view up at Timberline Lodge, where we stopped for lunch.

Just compare that to our view the evening before, outside of Bend, where we had stopped for the night. We had just spotted a buffalo, and its not everyday we see one of those, so we stopped the car and went to take a closer look. When I looked back and saw we had captured the mountains off in the distance, I just about cried. This was what my views were supposed to be like (but closer).

So because of the weather, we skipped Adventure Park, and just went to Timberline Lodge. Its a famous sort of hotel that a lot of guidebooks and travel folks say you should stop at. And it was pretty cool. But the practically freezing temperatures (in the 40s, and for Texans, that is below-freezing) and windy rain kept us from doing anything outside, even appreciating the snow.

After lunch, I tried to keep an open mind about the rest of the day. I was excited to be going on the Hood River's famous "Fruit Loop," which takes you to all sorts of locally-owned wineries, fruit orchards where you can pick your own cherries, and a lavender farm. We did some geocaches, and passed some interesting places, like finding ourselves in the middle of the world.

By the time we were down in the valley, the rain had mostly stopped. It was drizzling off an on, but for the most part, we could still have fun. Except that the only way to pick the cherries is to climb a ladder, and you had to be 18 to climb the ladder. Way to build it up for Team Danger.

We drowned our sorrows at a wine tasting, and let the boys play on their tablets for a good half hour.

Then it was time to make our way to a lavender farm, where you can cut your own lavender.

The rain had stopped, thankfully, and it was lovely.

Over 70 varieties of lavender, and I loved getting to smell and cut all sorts of different varietals of my favorite herb.

The lavender helped keep our car smelling nice for the rest of the trip.

The boys weren't as in to the lavender picking as I was.

Carl definitely wasn't as in to the lavender picking as I was (he grudgingly came out of the car to take this picture).

And it was a lovely experience, and I came home with a nice souvenir bottle of Hood River Lavender lotion, but... I can't help it. My views were supposed to look like this while we were in lavender heaven.

Also on the Fruit Loop: a llama farm and yarn shop.

The boys enjoyed the llama farm.

I think it was their favorite part of the Fruit Loop.

I wanted to stop at some more wineries or fruit farms, but then I remembered I was with Team Danger. The fact that I got Ryan to hop out of the car and snap this photo when we passed a particularly lovely vista is a miracle. He's smiling because he knows he's about five minutes away from the hotel.

So off to the hotel we went. Our hotel was right along the Columbia River, and the views were lovely. We loved looking across at Washington, a state we had never been to and which was SO CLOSE, and yet we still had to wait until tomorrow to cross over.

The restaurant inside the hotel was listed as one of the town's best spots, so we just camped in.

We were given fantastic spots outside, and despite the earlier rains and clouds, the view was incredible. (Yep, still bitter about earlier)

The boys swam for a long, long time, and the adults read on our kindles with a some new Oregon wine, enjoying watching the sun set. A great, relaxing evening.

The first part of our day was my least favorite time on our trip. But the end was so nice, it almost made up for it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park is one of those places I've dreamed of going to for decades. When I originally added Oregon to my Top 40 Travel Bucket List, Crater Lake was pretty much the reason I included Oregon. Would it live up to my really, really high expectations? Especially with Team Danger in tow?


And, wow!!!

Crater Lake is a giant volcano (Mount Mazama) that erupted thousands of years ago, creating a giant caldera, and forming the deepest lake in the United States.

Its also reputed to be the cleanest and bluest lake in the United States.

No boats are allowed on the lake other than the one run by the national park service, and it only has limited runs each day.

We were soooo excited to have our fist glimpse of snow here at Crater Lake.

That's right. Snow. In JULY.

My Texas family didn't know what to do with themselves. Besides a snowball fight, that is. With another family hailing from a southern state.

We had bought sandwiches for a picnic at the lake, and we found what I think had to be the best picnic spot EVER.

We didn't eat at the official picnic locations, because those tables didn't have views of the lake. I mean... why? Why would you want to eat there when you could be here?

That little island in the lake is known as Wizard's Island, which is its own volcano, cleverly forming a volcano inside a lake inside a volcano.

Our picnic here, with Carl and I sitting under a tree, and the boys on these rocks, looking out at this lake... wow... this will go down as one of my top memories of all time.

We drove the whole rim of the lake, which is 33 miles around. It takes a while, because there were waterfalls to see.

Falling rocks to avoid (and to wait in a non-moving line for 45 minutes while they cleared the roads from falling rocks.)

Visitor Centers for Junior Ranger programs.

And more unbelievable views to see. Look at those clouds!

Even the views of the other side of the road, away from Crater Lake, were spectacular.

Although just maybe they could have a few guard rails?

I'm so happy when reality exceeds my expectations, and it did here at Crater Lake.

What we didn't do - the boat ride. I was a bit nervous about the walk down and up to the lake, which they website warned you was only for the most physically fit, and that it takes several hours to go back up the steep climb (the rim is at an elevation of 8000 feet high, and the lake is at 6000 feet... that's a lot of feet). We also didn't do the official tour bus that gets good reviews. But it would have cost us around $80 for the four of us, and I just felt that money could be better spent elsewhere, and that the kids would be happier in their own car.

I wasn't able to get us a room for the night inside the park. Since most of the rim's drive is only open for 2-3 months a year due to snow, the times it is open the park is packed. Crater Lake is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so our lodging options for the night were few and far between. The drive to Bend was long, but only about 45 minutes further along our drive than my first available rooms, and I thought Bend looked like it was worth that extra drive (it was). If I ever plan another trip out to Crater Lake, I'll definitely do my best to book at the one year mark for rooms inside the park.

But even without staying in the park, and without doing the bot or bus tours, we still felt like we had a good chance to experience Crater Lake. Its a true wonder of the world.

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