Friday, September 28, 2012

Home Leave Part 4 - Oregon and Beyond

None of us had ever been to Oregon, so we didn't have much of an idea of what to do. We knew that we wanted to check out Portland at some point, but beyond that, we were lost. I'd been reading Wild, so I really wanted to see some of the volcanic features of Oregon like Crater Lake and Mt. Hood, but I also recognized that we didn't have that much time to hang out in Oregon, especially if we wanted to see friends in Idaho and Colorado. Besides, we'd been surrounded by volcanoes in El Salvador, so what's the big deal anyway? So, we did what any tourist does - we bought a Lonely Planet guide to Washington & Oregon, the first time I've done that for a place in the US.
With our guide in hand, we decided to head down the Oregon coast and see what differences there were between it and Washington. The beaches seemed similar, but we were blown away by the feeling of natural-ness on the Oregon coast - something that is really hard to find on the east coast, save for a few places like Cumberland Island. Our first stop was at the Short Sands beach in Oswald West State Park. We had a grand time checking out the sea life living in the tidal ponds: starfish, sea anemone, small fish, algae. Although the weather was a bit cool for beach-going weather, we still enjoyed the beach immensely. After the beach, we were thinking about potentially heading inland to do some hikes the following day, but it just seemed so much easier to stay at the beach and relax, so that's what we did. We drove down to Nehalem Bay State Park and spent the night just on the other side of the dunes from the beach. This is a huge state park and it was almost entirely full, but it was still pretty relaxing.

We got up the next day to head to Portland. We checked our Lonely Planet and decided to go to the Kennedy School, since it seemed like the most Portland thing we could find. It's hard to describe what this place is - it's an old school building that has been repurposed into a hotel with pool, gym, a few bars, a few restaurants, a theatre that serves beer, and a few other amenities. It's really well done, and I think if we lived in Portland it would have been a pretty cool place to grab drinks. However, going there in the middle of the day is a bit weird. For one thing, it's an old school building, so that means it's in the middle of suburbia. Also, we weren't hungry and it felt too early for beers, so we just ended up checking it out and moving on.

We parked in Portland and walked around. None of us really felt like doing a tour or anything formal, so I ended up texting a few friends who have been to Portland, and that is how we found our way to the Dechutes brewpub. They have a tasting option, so we spent the next few hours eating great food and drinking great beer. It was pretty chill. Although I wanted to continue our beer tasing escapades by heading to the Rogue brewpub, we ended up grabbing donuts at Voodoo Donuts. The donuts at this place are pretty out there, both in names and in content.

Sophie's sister left us the next morning, flying back to Tennessee in the wee hours of the morning. Our next stop was Boise, which was about a 9 hour drive from Portland. I used to play The Oregon Trail a lot as a kid, so it was pretty fun driving through all these places that were in the game. As we drove through The Dalles, I imagined myself guiding my overladen wagon cart through the rapids as I sought to keep my family safe - the same family that had escaped dysentery, snake bites, and starvation. Fun times.

We got to Boise in the early afternoon. Boise is gorgeous, and our friends there were quick to brag about how they can mountain bike from their door and be on a great trail within 10 minutes. I was definitely jealous, although we didn't have time for them to prove it to us. Instead, they gave us a tour of their house before we headed out to the pedestrian mall in Boise. We dined at a place that had locally-sourced ingredients and beer in red text, and everything else in black. I think I had a really good burger, but since I forgot to take my camera, my memory, now a good 2.5 months later, is a bit hazy. I do know that we tried some beers from the Boise area that were fantastic. We were sad to leave Boise after just a single night there, but Colorado was calling.
Lovely Boise
Our drive to Colorado was very trying. At about 13-14 hours, it was the longest stretch of driving that we'd had so far, it was hot, and it was everything we could do to not go crazy as we drove across flat, flat Wyoming. Don't get me wrong, Wyoming is a beautiful state, but I-80 can drag on forever. We were both extremely happy when we finally arrived at my sister's house in Denver.

Our time in Denver flew by. We slept in and then met up with a friend in Boulder for lunch. For dinner, my sister had set us up with reservations at a new, super-hip restaurant in Denver that served street food from around the world. I don't think they had pupusas, but we did eat a ton of other great street food, too many different things to name. Oh, and there was good beer, of course. When the dessert menu came, I just about jumped out of my chair in excitement because there, on the menu, was coffee from El Salvador! Sleep be damned - I loved my double espresso at the end of the night.

My sister took the next day off so we could all go for a hike. We drove west for about an hour before stopping at a parking lot that was literally just off the interstate. After about 15 minutes of mostly uphill hiking, we could not longer hear or see the interstate, and we were walking among majestic mountains, tall trees, and beautiful streams. Our goal was Herman Lake, a small glacier lake tucked in the mountains. About 2/3 of the way there, it started hailing. Luckily, we were still below treeline, so we just waited for the storm to pass, about 20 minutes. When we got to the top, the weather had cleared and we had great vistas. It was a perfect day to be up there. As we headed down, it was starting to look like a storm was coming in. It hadn't rained in Denver for a long time, so none of us had brought our rain jackets, so we were a bit worried about how unprepared we were. However, we ended up timing things perfectly because about 30 seconds after we got into the car, a deluge of rain came down. My sister rejoiced at the rain as we carefully made our way out of the mountains, unable to see much in front of us since the rain was coming down so hard.

my three favorite ladies
That night, we ate dinner with my sister, her boyfriend, and one of the groomsmen from our wedding, who I hadn't seen since the wedding. Once again, great food and great beer. We were sad to leave Denver, but our next destination was the Royal Gorge in Cañon City, Colorado, where Sophie's brother was working as a raft guide.

We had a great time rafting down the Arkansas River and going through the Royal Gorge. The sheer walls of the gorge are very humbling. Simply beautiful. After rafting, we got dinner with Sophie's brother before finding a hotel room. The hotel looked pretty simple from the outside, but little did I know that many famous people had stayed at this hotel. A significant number of rooms in the hotel had placards next to the rooms saying "Goldie Hahn stayed here" or "John Belushi slept here." Our biggest mistake was not knowing to ask for the Belushi room. Hopefully it'd been cleaned up in the past 40 years.

Cañon City marked the end of the destinations for our road trip. We then had to make our way back to Tennessee. It was a long haul, but we decided to take a quick side-trip to 'Garden of the Gods' in Colorado Springs. It would've been fun to climb or camp here, but we just did a quick hike and were on our way.

If you've ever made the trip through the middle of Kansas on I-70, then you know there ain't nothing there for you to see. We made it half way through Missouri before stopping. After spending the night, we decided to try to take a trip up the St. Louis Arch. The arch itself is really pretty since it's surrounded by a huge park and the Mississippi River. Going up in the arch is quite an experience - they ask you if you're claustrophobic or afraid of heights before selling you a ticket, and, well, those are two good questions to ask, since the pod that carries you up is really small. It fits 5 people in it, all sitting. Even though I was sitting, I still had to hunch over. It's a pretty cool experience and I'd recommend it to people who are passing through.
the highlight of Kansas - wind turbine rotors!
inside the pod
the view from the top

After St. Louis, we made the long haul to Nashville, where we stopped and saw a few friends from high school who are now parents. We came, we ate, we danced, and then we decided that we were tired of traveling and finally got on the road for the final 2 hour push back to Chattanooga. It was good to be home, even though we had only a few days left before we would be making the long flight to Israel.
She's going to be a dancer

1 comment:

  1. I love Portland! I have only been once but it was to run the Portland Marathon and I ate a ton and had lots of good beer. We went to Dechutes, Laurelwood and Bridgeport breweries. And also Voodoo Donuts. And also this place for breakfast that my husband claims to have dreams about still it was so good: Pine State Biscuits.