Category Archives: Nature

On Ethan in Oregon and Getting Older

Although I generally accept getting older with stoicism and acceptance (after all, what can I do about it?), sometimes another birthday can bring out the less than stoic and accepting thoughts and feelings about adding an additional number to my age. Last year, I managed those thoughts and feelings with a trip to Hawaii. I’ll be honest, spending a few days on the beach with the occasional tropical drink in hand certainly helped ease the pain. Sadly, that was not gonna happen for this year’s birthday. So I arranged for the next best thing – a visit from my brother. It was his second trip to Oregon and we had just as much fun as the first time. And this time, Brandon got to tag along for our sibling adventures. Spending my birthday weekend (because after all a single birthday day is not quite enough) with two of my favorite guys was just about perfect.

We kicked off our weekend with a day trip to Crater Lake. This was a spot we had not made it to last time Ethan was here, but it was at the top of his list of places to go. So we went. Even though it was a bit cloudy that morning, we hoped that the weather would clear by the time we made it to the lake.

Off on our first adventure! The only thing that could make this picture better would be Evan.

All the catching up and scenic driving worked up an appetite, so we stopped at the quaint and delicious Beckie’s outside of the park. 

And we just couldn’t pass up the homemade pies. After all, we would be facing unknown risks in the still snowy mountains, so we needed plenty of fuel. Rather than choosing a pie of my own (because how can one choose among all that sweet deliciousness), I ate a bit of Brandon’s blueberry pie and a bit of Ethan’s pecan pie. Two kinds of pie instead of one kind of pie? Yeah, I think I made the best choice.

Our appetites adequately satisfied, we eagerly anticipated views of the bright blue lake. Brandon and I excitedly shared how amazing Crater Lake is, how Ethan would be almost unable to believe his eyes, that when one gets a first glimpse of Crater Lake, it is absolutely breathtaking. And then we were temporarily distracted from all this talk by the sheer amount of snow. Although the roads were clear, there were still feet of snow piled alongside the roads and on top of the buildings. In May. It was incredible.

After all of that – the drive, the talk of the amazingness of the lake, Ethan’s anticipation of finally seeing the much spoken of wonder that is Crater lake – this was the best view of the lake that we got:

Yep see that little sliver of grayish blue hidden under the clouds? That’s the lake. And it only got more cloudy from there. This was literally the best view of the entire day.

Sadly, this was actually Ethan’s best image of the lake – the short video about Crater Lake that we watched at the visitor’s center.

Despite the disappointment, we strapped on our rented snowshoes and made the best of the afternoon.

As you can tell, we still managed to have plenty of fun. We played in the snow, threw snowballs, attempted snow angels, and were generally silly.

We had taken a picture by this tree when we were at Crater Lake the previous September. The view was just a teensy bit different.

My first time snowshoeing, which has been on my Oregon Bucket List.

Action shot
The look on my face when I am considering forgiving Brandon for pushing me into the snow…

And the best pic of the day, even if I have no clue what is happening

Even though the lack of lake views was a bit disappointing, Ethan not really seeing Crater Lake means he will just have to come back to Oregon for another visit!

So, perhaps I have sort of given the impression that Ethan came to Oregon just for my birthday. Which he would totally do because he’s one of the two best brothers in the world and I’m certainly the best sister. But I may have left out the teeny, tiny little detail that he chose this particular weekend to come to Oregon because he was running in the Eugene Marathon. Which, of course, meant that I would be there to cheer him on. We headed up to Eugene the night before so Ethan could carb load at Olive Garden and because the next morning would be an early start.

Ethan picking up his race packet

It was that evening that I fully began to appreciate just how much my boyfriend and my brother have in common. Specifically, how nerdy they both are. Sitting between the two of them while watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (and the various previews prior to the movie) was amusing. They would laugh hysterically at the exact same moments. Freak out and demand my attention in their nerdy excitement about the same previews. It was equal parts heartwarming and humorous.

And then there was race day. I was rather surprised by how emotional I was about the whole thing. This certainly was not Ethan’s first race or even his first marathon, but it was the first one of which I had been a part and it brought out my proud big sisterness in unexpected ways.

Like the moment early in the morning when we sat in my car and talked, Ethan staying a bit longer than necessary to calm his nerves, me feeling strangely protective and worried as he walked away from my car to head to the start of the race.

Or when Brandon and I found a spot by the river to cheer him on around mile 18. I think I surprised both of us when I started crying rather intensely because I was so proud of Ethan and watching him do something so difficult and wonderful made me more than a little emotional.

And then there was the finish line. I was inspired watching so many people complete the challenge of a marathon, but there has been no experience in my life like watching Ethan finish the race. I know it might sound dramatic to be emotional about watching my brother running a marathon, but it was such an amazing experience and I could not be more proud of him.


A completed marathon called for a celebratory meal. We settled on Hop Valley Brewery for burgers and beer. Ethan may have been a bit delirious from exhaustion at this point, hence, the following series of pictures.

The food and drink were excellent and exactly what Ethan needed before passing out in the backseat on the way home. Which I documented in pictures, of course. I may have been a proud and emotional big sister, but I was a big sister nonetheless.

The following day was my birthday and Ethan’s last day in Oregon. Despite his aching body, Ethan was willing to make the drive out to the coast to celebrate. He may have requested Brandon to slow down, though, as his abs hurt each time the car took a curve. If you’ve ever made the drive to the coast, you know that curves happen frequently, poor guy.

We had no specific destination other than “the ocean” in mind when we left. Our first stop was a little seafood spot in Coos Bay. We ordered our freshly caught seafood from the restaurant sitting on the water and had a nice little picnic in a waterside pavilion.

From there we headed to a little spot we call “Secret Beach.” It may technically have another name, but sharing it here would make it rather less than a secret. And I like that there are few, if any, people there. Of course, that might have something to do with the crazily rutted, unmaintained, gravel road that you have to take to get there.

We spent the afternoon as one does on an Oregon beach – exploring, walking, relaxing, carrying logs, throwing a hatchet Brandon found abandoned on the beach. You know, the normal stuff.

And for my birthday dinner? We returned to the spot in Florence where we had found a crazy delicious pistachio drink when we had been there the previous year. Yes, I chose my birthday dinner spot entirely for this drink. It’s that good.

Thankfully, the food at 1285 Restobar was almost as good as that drink.

Steamer clams in a white wine sauce
My choice was a crab stuffed ravioli in a creamy lobster sauce that was absolutely delicious.
And because it was my birthday, I also got to sample Ethan’s fried oysters…
…and Brandon’s seafood pasta.
No birthday dinner would be complete without dessert. Despite being quite full by this point, we did manage to mostly finish off the tiramisu between the three of us.

It was altogether a lovely birthday. Getting to spend time with Ethan for an entire weekend certainly distracted me from turning another year older.

As we made the drive back home that evening, I couldn’t help but feel thankful to have had another year of life, a great life full of love and laughter and adventure, a beautiful life that I get to share with Brandon and Ethan and so many others. Getting older might not be so bad, after all.

 

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Love and Arkansas

Love is setting multiple alarms so I wouldn’t miss an early morning flight home. Actually, love is being willing to wake up this early for anyone, ever.

Love is Brandon braving his fears of tornados and water moccasins to fly halfway across the country with me in order to spend a mere 5 days meeting pretty much every person I’ve ever known. And doing it all with a smile on his handsome face.

Love is friends who are willing to drive through Dallas traffic to meet for a late lunch so that I could share the deliciousness that is Torchy’s queso with my boyfriend while introducing him to great friends and the first of many, many new people he would meet within a few short days.

Love is a favorite meal shared with friends, a meal not only of food, but of laughter and reminiscence.

Love is a friend who is willing to share her home and stay up way too late on a work night simply for the chance to catch up. 

Love is a meal of Whole Hog BBQ, another stop on the mission to eat all the Southern food.

Love is revisiting the campus where so many wonderful memories were made and trying to explain Harding to my favorite Oregonian.

Love is fried chicken and staying up late playing games and breakfast with enough food to feed an army.

Love is Midnight Oil granitas and best friends who are willing to create the time and drive hours just to meet the man in my life.

Love is a weekend spent in my little hometown. It is my dad’s blueberry pancakes. It is seeing the beautiful place I grew up through the eyes of someone to whom it was all new.

Love is time spent with family – in the car, over Easter dinner, and while drinking tea and laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe.

One of my favorite pictures from the entire trip – my people being my people.

Love is the people and places that I call home. Especially the people. People who were so excited to meet Brandon and who welcomed him with open arms and open hearts. Love is, for the first time, visiting the home of my past with the one with whom I am building a future.

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California Dreamin’: Trees of Mystery

Although we may have managed to miss this roadside attraction on the way to California, we planned our trip home so that we could stop at the Trees of Mystery on the way back. Apparently the second time was the charm (perhaps, may I add, because we had a plan…). Of course there are many places and ways to see the redwoods. They are one of the world’s magical places and however one sees them, what is unquestionable is that they should be seen.

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. – John Steinbeck

But if you’re in the mood for a slightly kitschy attraction reminiscent of 1950’s roadside attractions that bring to mind family road trips taken in (now) classic cars, this is the place to go. Despite the clearly tourist centered stop, the trees are no less magnificent. There are three general attractions (other than the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, of course): the walking trails, the Skytrail, and the Wilderness Trail. Adult tickets to access the trails are $16.

The trees along the trail are labeled in various ways, a catchy way to highlight their uniqueness.

The real highlight, though, is the Skytrail. Skytrail is enclosed gondolas that take you high above the redwoods with views that stretch all the way to the ocean.

It is possible to hike back to the bottom using the Wilderness Trail, but on this particular day we lacked the time and the appropriate footwear. Once back on the (non wilderness) trail, there was more to see, including a series of Paul Bunyan themed wood carvings.

We also spent a few minutes in the museum and gift shop at the end. Which gave me my favorite picture of the day:

Trees of Mystery, while an obvious tourist attraction, was a fun stop, worth both the money and time spent.

We made one more quick stop that day, technically before the Trees of Mystery. We wanted to drive through one of the several drive-through trees scattered throughout California. The one that happened to be along our path was the Chandelier Tree. Five dollars and a short drive off Highway 101 was this:

That wraps up our super short, super fun, super packed trip to California. I love that even when we do not have much time, we can fit so much doing into our long weekends and short trips away. I am thankful for our adventures and getaways from the everyday and so glad that we get to make those memories together.

California Dreamin’: Road Trip

Things I am good at: planning things, organizing things, following rules when I do things. Things I am not good at: being spontaneous.

So when Brandon suggests that we make the drive to California – where we were going for the weekend for his friends’ wedding – without a specific plan in mind, that we just get in the car and drive, that we make it up as we go along… I go along with it. Because I love him and because I want him to think I’m fun and easy-going.

This is how I do the no plan thing:

1) I insist that we stop for lunch at a place I’ve actually been wanting to stop at for a while. So not really spontaneous.

2) We arrive at the Trees of Mystery, the primary reason we “took the long way,” 20 minutes before it closes and well after the last entry to the trail. It was, however, enough time to take pictures with the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

3) One word: Audiobooks. More words: AKA the savior of being stuck in the car for hours with someone who doesn’t like being stuck in the car for hours. Also not spontaneous given the copious amount of time I spent narrowing down the options of books to one that would be interesting for both of us.

4) When I’m not distracted by the glorious redwoods and glimpses of the coast, I use a combination of Yelp and Google Maps to find a spot for dinner. In this case, we settled upon Salt Fish House in the quirky and charming town of Arcata, CA. This represented some minor progress in “going with the flow.”

It’s amazing what a little sunshine and a few palm trees can do for the soul when the Oregon winter will.not.end.

I loved the style and ambience
Always a fan of melty brie, this fried brie took it to the next level. The hint of balsamic was especially delicious.
The curried muscles were quite good, but recent muscles in Washington still had a slight edge.

5) When I’m not distracted by fried brie, curried muscles, and fish and chips, I use a combination of HotelTonight and Google Maps to find a place to stay for the night. This was my real success with not planning too much.

6) We almost run out of gas in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere California. Because planning. More specifically the lack thereof. On the other hand, it was a great opportunity to practice our communication and problem solving skills.

Please note: Brandon’s car has a 15 gallon tank. Into which we put 14.961 gallons. Did I mention that we were in the middle of nowhere?

7) We arrive at our hotel in one piece, having had a great day together despite the lack of planning.

8) I decide that I still prefer to not be spontaneous.

Baby, Let’s Get Lost

If you’ve somehow missed this fact, I will share it again: I love living in Oregon. I absolutely love everything about it. I especially love the random Saturdays when Brandon and I set out to explore. With no real destination in mind, the chance of getting lost, or stuck, and/or ending up nowhere in particular is great, but what is even more certain is that we will have a good time.

Thus, on a rare sunny winter day, we set out with the vague notion that we would find Golden and Silver Falls. Which we never actually found. What we did find in our meandering exploration was a completely deserted Loon Lake.

With the campground and all facilities closed for the season, we had the place to ourselves after finding a spot to park and walk in on foot.

I’m still not sure whether or not we were technically trespassing, but we did not see anything strictly saying we couldn’t be there. I mean we were not camping. Plus, Brandon likes to bend/break the rules every now and then.

Even though the sandy beach that is there in the summer was pulled in, presumably to prevent loss of sand due to increased lake volume, there was plenty to see. We hiked, we saw a waterfall, we scoped out the best camping sites for the next camping season.

It was an absolutely lovely day that we didn’t have to share with anyone else. The normally crowded campground was still and quiet. The lake, so busy in summertime, gave us an unobstructed view of its beauty. Sydney was free to roam and run to her heart’s content.

And, as we continued to drive around, aimlessly finding somewhere else to go (and finding ourselves driving down a rather potholed gravel road that probably isn’t intended for Honda Civics), we stumbled upon this:

I will happily get lost with Brandon anytime.

Sometimes It’s The Simple Things

2016 was quite a year. It was a year of excitement and adventure, a year full of exploration and fun both across Oregon and in all new places. And it was a year that ended in the most perfect way possible, a much needed day full of the simple things that make life worthwhile.

A day of walking hand in hand along the beach with my love.

A day spent watching Sydney run up and down (and up and down and up and down) the sand with abandon, playing tag with the waves.

A day to appreciate the unparalleled beauty of the Oregon coast, often feeling like the only two people in the world as we listened to the waves and noticed the details of the nature surrounding us.

A day where we got to enjoy the freshest of fresh seafood.

A day when it was easy to find gratitude for each other and the life we live.

He makes my life better

A day, and a year, that ended with a sunset that seemed like it was meant just for us.

A day perfect in simplicity.

 

 

 

 


 

 

A Year and One Post Aren’t Long Enough

When I last left off, Brandon and I were in the middle of our weekend trip to Bend to celebrate our first year together, the first of what will hopefully be many years together. I had fully intended to share the weekend in a single post, but some things are too big for that. I am so thankful to love and do life with someone who can fit so much living into a single weekend.

And I love that, even when we are away on our adventures, we still find ways to incorporate the routines we love when we are home. For instance, one of our favorite things to do on the weekends is to go out for brunch. Unfortunately, one limitation of Roseburg is that there are approximately two places to go. It is a wonderful change of pace to do one of our favorite things in a place with a few more options.

Saturday we began the morning with breakfast at Riverhouse’s onsite restaurant, Currents. I really cannot think of a better way to start a morning than drinking a blood orange mimosa and eating huevos rancheros while sitting next to a river on a sunny day across from my favorite person. Well, maybe the day would be slightly better if that river were in Europe and not Oregon, but only slightly.

It may seem like a lot of food, but really we needed the fuel. I promise.

As you may remember, at the beginning of the year we had also spent the weekend in the Bend area. One of our favorite things that we did that weekend was take a cave tour. We toured the only cave in the area, Boyd Cave, that is open in the winter. The other caves are hibernation habitats for bats and are closed beginning in the fall. Brandon really wanted to see some of the other caves while they were open over the summer.

And that fact – Brandon wanting to go caving – leads me to this: sometimes, I wonder how we are together. Like when he wants me to watch shows about cars with him (which I do, because love) or when he convinces me to do things that require a hardhat. Sometimes we have very different definitions of fun.

Our first stop was Arnold Ice Cave, which is one in the system of lava caves that are sort of, technically, but kind of not really, open to the public. You see. People are terrible and do things like throw parties and leave graffiti in the caves. Which adversely impacts the cave habitat. Therefore, many of the signs marking directions to the caves have been removed to prevent people from finding them. So yes, in the summer most of them are not barred shut (a few are shut all year, although with Wanderlust Tours there are some tours that give you access to these otherwise completely closed caves – we had a great experience with them in January), but you have to do a bit of sleuthing to actually find them. And then drive down a gravel road or two.

Arnold Ice Cave, thus named because it was once a solid sheet of ice inside (and I imagine still is in the winter months) and at one time was even mined for ice to sell in the nearby city. We could tell that there had been some infrastructure in place. For instance, there was a parking lot of sorts along with the remains of a staircase inside the cave.

But any infrastructure was either no longer maintained or had even been actively destroyed. But that just means it is even more fun, at least according to this guy:

The descent to the mouth of the cave was reasonably steep and required a bit of scrambling. The cave did not go really far back. Although I can only take Brandon’s word for that because I got a bit stuck on the climb in because of short legs. And perhaps some unwillingness to further risk life and limb.

It was a fun spot to explore, though, and it was interesting to see how the cave, despite being in the same cave system, was distinct from the one we crawled through earlier in the year.

We initially planned to return to civilization and explore Lava River Cave, part of the larger Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It was, after all, on my Oregon Bucket List. Unfortunately, we were thwarted by white nose syndrome and honesty. White nose syndrome is a fungal growth that affects bats and is believed to be carried from cave system to cave system by human activity. The syndrome is deadly to bats. Who need to not die because they kill mosquitoes. Save the bats! Because Arnold Ice Cave and Lave River Cave are in different cave systems, we couldn’t bring anything into the cave that had been worn in another cave unless it had been washed. We could have lied when the nice ranger asked us about previous cave activity, but that would have just not been cool.

So on to an as yet unformed Plan B. After a bit of googling, we settled upon the short drive to Smith Rock State Park, which was also on my Oregon to do list.

Oh. My. Goodness. This place was beyond, beyond words. And the pictures come nowhere close to doing justice to the immensity of it all. I can’t even.

May I bring your attention to the seemingly tiny bridge that is actually built for humans to walk on even though this picture makes it look like something made for the scenery of a model train track. Also, please do not miss the switchbacks on that trail.

To get to Smith Rock requires a walk down into the canyon. Which was rather pleasant if one could ignore the pressing thought that what goes down must come up and that getting back to the car would require a painfully steep and not exactly brief hike back up the trail. Once at the bottom, there are many ways to explore the park.

One of the most popular trails, the 3.8 mile Misery Ridge Loop, is one that we would love to return and hike. Like, I must return and hike that trail one day. This day, however, we had nonnegotiable (because there was no way I was missing out) dinner reservations for which we were getting all dressed up, so we contented ourselves with walking along the River Trail.

He is just so handsome

Of course, by the time that we got back to the top, we felt like this:

Although hiking is usually our activity of choice, Smith Rock is a hugely popular climbing spot. It is also a popular spot for crazy people. As we pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car, we noticed someone slack lining across the canyon. I was on my way to pay the $5 fee for parking, so I excitedly asked Brandon to hurry up and take a picture of the crazy person walking across a death defying drop into the space between really tall rocks on nothing but a too thin piece of rope. I was sure this was a unique sight that must be captured on camera immediately to document the insanity before the person either fell or crossed to the other side. After all, there could not possibly be more than one such crazy person in the park.

The thing is, this was not an isolated event. The entire time we were there, we saw people doing this. Smith Rock must be some type of magnet for adrenaline junkies with no proper sense of danger.

As much as we would have loved to explore longer, as I mentioned we had dinner reservations. At Brickhouse. It was so delicious last time, that we knew we had to eat there again.

All cleaned up and ready to eat delicious food
Brandon ordered an old fashioned and I tried something close to a lemon drop with elderberry
We shared baked brie and roasted garlic to start, the kind of dish that is simple perfection
Brandon’s choice was the seafood pasta I had ordered the last time we were there. I may have stolen a bite. Or two or three.
Despite kind of wanting to be boring and order the seafood pasta again, I branched out in the knowledge I could steal some of Brandon’s dinner and instead ordered coconut shrimp.

Of course all of this, the amazing food, the even more amazing company, would pale in comparison to how the dinner ended. To fully appreciate this, you must understand that I am an Arkansas Razorback fan. In my family, watching Razorback football on Saturdays is second only to going to church on Sundays. At any given family gathering, at least 50% of those in attendance will be wearing Razorback red. This is not a thing that is taken lightly. Sadly, since moving to Oregon I have not been able to see much SEC football. That is why I hardly paid attention to the TV in the corner of the bar of the fancy restaurant where we were eating a sophisticated dinner, attention lovingly focused on one another as it should be during a romantic anniversary dinner. As I polished off the last of my coconut shrimp (because I’m not so sophisticated that I leave perfectly good shrimp on the plate) I happened to glance up and then return my attention to Brandon because we were, after all, on a date. And having your date stare at football the entire time is obnoxious.

But then I realized what I had seen. Of all things, THE RAZORBACKS WERE ON TV!!!

With all apologies to Brandon, who handled the situation with much grace, I became rather distracted. I was disappointed that they were losing to TCU, but thrilled to be watching the game. And then, with seconds left in the game Arkansas tied it up!!! I mean just picture this. I am all dressed up, in a nice restaurant, celebrating my one year anniversary and it is all I can do not to stand up and call the Hogs. As one overtime became two became a Razorback victory, I was inhibiting all kinds of noises that would have been entirely inappropriate. I would say that Brandon became acquainted with an entirely new side of me that evening. He even put up with the post-game texts between my brothers and me. Oddly, it was just so perfect. Of all the things and of all the days.

Because I was hyped on adrenaline by then, the only thing we could do was go back to the hotel and order dessert at the lounge. Because I so needed to add sugar to the mix.

It was another perfect day and the trip was not over yet.

Remember the Lave River Cave that we couldn’t see the day before? We returned on Sunday to visit there before heading home.

It has definitely been more developed than other caves in the area, but for good reason. The mile-long lava tube is the longest continuous lava tube in Oregon. The bridges and stairs at the beginning get you over the uneven and steep parts rather painlessly and then the cave continues on, the floor flat and alternating between sandy soil and rocky areas. In order to explore, you must have some type of light. We brought our own headlamps, but lanterns are available to rent if you don’t happen to keep headlamps in your trunk like Brandon. But really, who doesn’t keep headlamps in their trunk? It gets completely dark quite quickly and although the walk for much of the cave is relatively flat, there are unexpected rocks and dips in the floor that have probably caused a sprained ankle or two.

I think Lava River Cave is certainly worth a stop. Plus, it’s two miles of walking in what is essentially perfect climate control, even when it is hot outside. With temps in the 40s, you will want to bring a jacket, but it is actually quite pleasant. It was the ideal last stop before the drive home.

Brandon planned the perfect weekend. And then the last minute changes in plans and the unexpected surprises made the weekend even better. I look forward to many, many more adventures together!

A Year Isn’t Long Enough

Fair warning: This could get mushy. Proceed at your own risk.

We had a lovely summer: hot afternoons spent floating the Umpqua River or relaxing half in and half out of the river’s pleasantly cold water, weekends of camping and hiking that were over before they began, my first music festival, and, most of all, falling even more in love with this man whose adventurous and fun-loving nature had pushed me out of my comfort zone and whose kindness and substantial love created a safe place for me to be myself. This had been the most absolutely wonderful summer of my entire life. I even managed to buy a house and move into it almost exactly two years to the day after arriving in Oregon. It was simply perfection.

But the summer, as do all good things, ended. September snuck in with its subtly cooler nights and a hint of frantic energy as the world around us returned to routines and regularity. We could not let the summer end without one last hurrah and our one year dating anniversary  provided the perfect excuse. Our destination a secret until almost the last minute, I anticipated our weekend away and reminisced on what a summer, what a year, it had been.

Brandon planned a weekend full of the things we most loved to do – appreciating beautiful scenery, preferably by foot, having adventures with at least a slight possibility of injury or death, exploring new places, eating an almost embarrassing amount of mouthwatering food, and most of all, spending time together.

We began the weekend with a stop by Crater Lake. A place I have visited and written about multiple times since moving to Oregon, I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing the unbelievably blue water and incredible views to be found in the national park.

We arrived right at lunchtime and decided to eat lunch in the lodge restaurant before setting out to explore. The lunch was delicious, especially considering that Crater Lake is in the middle of nowhere and that bringing in supplies cannot be the most straightforward matter.

Staying here is on my Oregon Bucket List. Maybe next year.
We shared the soup of the day, which was a flavorful, brothy soup with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts.

Brandon’s choice of the frittata was, no surprise, shockingly similar to breakfast food.
And I chose the crab salad in avocados because everything is better in a bowl made out of an avocado. And because calories do not count on vacation.

After lunch, we set out to explore a bit of the park.

At this point we needed to burn off at least part of our lunchtime calories with a hike. Plus, the day was absolute perfection with blue skies and sunshine for days and a temperature in the low 70’s. It was the kind of day that makes you happy simply to be alive to witness it. Such a day should never be wasted indoors. After considering our options, we settled on Watchman Lookout Trail.

See that teeny, tiny building at the top? That’s where we were going.

It was short enough, less than a mile to the top, to easily fit with our other plans for the day. Plus, it was challenging enough to feel like an actual hike, not just a walk, with a steady uphill climb, but the switchbacks were not so steep as to make you regret your life (I’m looking at you Garfield Peak). And then there were the views.

The hike offered open views of the surrounding scenery with glimpses of the lake. Once at the top, which is an old fire lookout (hence the name of the trail), there is an unparalleled view of Crater Lake, the kind of view that makes it hard to breath because it is so beautiful.

It is moments like this, where I am in a place almost too beautiful to be believed, arm in arm with the man I love, that gratitude comes most easily. It presents as a sense of overwhelming joy that tangibly wells up inside of me until I am full of emotion, inexplicably crying because I am so perfectly, so undoubtedly, happy.

What a way to start the weekend!

After Crater Lake, we headed toward our ultimate destination for the weekend, Bend. As you may recall, we had started the year in Bend amid the snow and the cold. Brandon wanted to return in the warm weather and while the caves were still open for the year.

At the last minute, the vacation rental he had reserved for the weekend fell through. The silver lining of that is that we ended up staying at Riverhouse on the Deschutes.

As an (obviously relevant) aside, the Deschutes is the major river in this area of Oregon. Thus, there are many places and things with Deschutes in the title, much as you find with the Umpqua River in Roseburg. Although my southern accent is generally not too noticeable, when I pronounced Deschutes, my accent was not just present, but entirely unmistakable. Which meant Brandon took every opportunity to have me say “Day-shoots.” Apparently my elusive accent is both endearing and quite funny.

But back to the hotel. It was lovely. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, with understated design that fit with the hotel’s overall modern-with-a-hint-of-rustic feel.

Built along both sides of the Deschutes River, river views were plentiful. Although our last minutes plans prevented maximizing the trip with a river view room, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to enjoy it while we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the main part of the hotel or to the pools.

I should probably mention that immediately prior to the trip, Brandon had spent 2 days singlehandedly moving 10 yards of dirt that had been delivered unceremoniously onto my driveway to the backyard so that we could plant grass. Not only did that effort make me feel incredibly loved (I mean, the guy literally moved a mountain of dirt for me), but it also meant Brandon was really in need of a hot tub to sooth aching muscles. Good thing Riverhouse delivered with not just one, but two, hot tubs.

Here is the point when I would normally tell you about the amazing dinner we had after settling into our hotel. You know, the usual unique spot with locally sourced food that we tend to frequent when we travel. However. Upon consulting some of our usual sources for finding the previously mentioned type of restaurant, I happened to notice that there was a Johnny Carino’s nearby. Brandon had never been to Carino’s and I had not been since I moved to Oregon. In that moment, I knew that if I really loved him, I would allow him to have Italian nachos in his life. And by allow, I mean freak out and demand that we go to Carino’s for dinner despite all of the other amazing options available in Bend.

True love on a plate. We both felt good about this decision.

So perhaps our day did not end on a typically “gourmet” note, but it was pretty much a perfect day full of beauty and love and, yes, delicious food. I can’t think of a better kind of day and this was just the beginning.

 

When Guests Come to Town

I love exploring Oregon. And I love having company. Getting to explore Oregon with company? Maybe one of my favorite things. When my parents visited over the summer, I took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a couple of nearby attractions.

The first is literally just down the road in the small town of Winston. Wildlife Safari began in 1972 as a conservation facility and has grown into that and more. The major attraction is the drive-through wild animal park, featuring dozens of species that can be seen from the car.

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We saw zebras, giraffes, hippos, bears, and elephants, many of which get to roam completely free throughout their area of the park.

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There is a spot to feed some of the animals (buying feed is an additional charge and the vehicular line is even slower than the drive through the rest of the park).

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Wildlife Safari is especially known for their cheetah conservation and breeding program.

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An adult ticket is $17.99 and kids up to 12 years old are $11.99 per ticket. However, I’ve noticed that there are usually specials available, so you may check out Groupon before you go. In addition to the drive through portion, there is the Safari Village, which houses additional animal displays. There are special events throughout the year, as well. It was a fun way to spend a sunny, summery morning.

The other, super fun, thing that I did with my parents was Hellgate Jetboat Excursions. This was seriously one of the most fun things I have done in a while. We chose to do the dinner tour. With our $66 tickets booked in advance (I would recommend this – our tour was completely full), we arrived at Hellgate’s check-in desk (which not so subtly requires one to walk through a rather large gift shop) and then to the line to get onto the boats.

We started the tour with a lovely, relatively tame, mostly dry trip down the river.

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The scenery along the Rogue River was spectacular. We went all the way to Hellgate Canyon, with a few exciting spins and minor splashes thrown in.

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We then turned around and stopped by Hellgate’s own restaurant, The Ok Corral, on the river for dinner. Despite the fact that there were almost 300 people present, dinner in the open-air restaurant was delicious and well paced.

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The family style dinner included barbecue, salad, and delicious sides. I had preordered the vegetarian option, which was a surprisingly edible vegetarian lasagna.

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And let’s not forget the classic Oregon summer dessert – berry crumble.

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After dinner, there was time to wander around as the evening began to cool. Relaxed with the content feeling that only comes after dinner with good friends, little did we know what was in store.

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The real fun began with the ride back. What had been lively spins on the first part of the tour became wildly fun spins and splashes, sometimes in conjunction with another one of the boats that had everyone soaked and laughing by the time we arrived back in Grants Pass.

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There was literally no way to stay dry, even if you tried to use your child as a human shield, not to name names. My mom did her best to hide behind my dad. That too was unsuccessful. We had an absolute blast. As we pulled up to the dock to disembark from the tour, I felt a mix of disappointment that it was over and a strong desire to put on dry clothes. Too bad I hadn’t thought of that beforehand…

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If you are looking for a delightful summer activity in southern Oregon I highly recommend Hellgate. They have a number of tours, including one that goes further into the canyon and a brunch tour that probably needs to be a part of my plans next summer.

And with that, another successful weekend with out of town guests was completed.

 

 

 

Twin Lakes: The Third Time is the Charm

Those who know me well know that, at times, I have a tendency to forge ahead with a plan despite obvious contraindications. One could generously call this determination, but in reality it is simply stubbornness. Not one of my best traits. A perfect example? My “determination” to hike at Twin Lakes.

First attempt, April: I knew that it was probably a little early for the road to the trail to be open for the year, but I thought I would check it out anyway. I got about halfway up the 9 mile gravel road to the trailhead before running into snow, convincing me to turn my car around. I hadn’t exactly had good luck with driving in snow in the recent months.

Second attempt, late May: I had given the snow 6 weeks to melt and it was a nice warm day. Surely this time I could make it to the lakes. Weeellll, maybe not. I managed to make it a little further than last time before hitting the snow. One moment, I was slowly making my way up the gravel road, the next, I was driving in this:

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I again attempted to turn around, but this time was not so lucky. In the process of turning around, I managed to slide backwards and get stuck in the ditch. That’s right, for the second time in 6 months, I had managed to get stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Except this time I was alone.

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After several panicked moments involving imagined ways to harness Sydney to pull out the car and perhaps a few curse words, I pulled myself together and began figuring out a plan. I was beyond thrilled to note that I happened to be in a miracle-pocket of cell service (I’m not exaggerating when I say that is a miracle). Given that I did not have to hike myself out of there, my first plan was to call my boyfriend, who was working in Alaska, which was obviously helpful. He didn’t believe me, which is apparently becoming a trend when I tell him things like “My flight was cancelled and so I’m landing in Eugene instead of Medford” and “Hello love, I know you’re working, but I’m stuck in the snow and don’t know what to do so I’m calling you and trying not to cry.” I texted him a few pictures to assuage his doubts. Despite my love and confidence in him, you’ll be shocked to know that he couldn’t actually help me from far away in Alaska although to be fair, he called everyone he knew to see if anyone could come try to pull me out. I then began investigating other options, like calling a tow truck. While that would be an option, it would be an expensive one at almost $500. I then contacted my insurance and learned that I had roadside assistance. Apparently getting your car towed out of a random ditch on a snowy mountainside is considered “roadside assistance.” Relieved that a tow truck was on its way, Sydney and I settled in to wait the couple of hours it would take to get there.

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Once the truck arrived, it was a relatively simple matter to get my car unstuck. And the tow truck driver was considerate enough to hold in his laughter at my predicament and to follow me to ensure I made it safely back to the main road.

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My car was a little worse for the wear, but I was otherwise unscathed.

However, I was no less determined to visit Twin Lakes.

Third attempt, July: This time, I ensured we would be able to access the trail and I took along my two favorite hiking companions – Sydney and Brandon. This time, I actually made it to the trailhead.

img_0966From here, it is about a mile to the first lake, a lovely mile with lush green fields and panoramic views.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the two lakes, jumping into the cool water with its soft, ashy bottom for a swim, and simply relaxing in a beautiful place. img_0995

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We may have enjoyed swimming, but Sydney wasn’t such a fan.

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This was another perfect Oregon summer day. A warm, sunny day, spent hiking and swimming and exploring a gorgeous place with my love. It just took a few tries to get there.