Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hawaii Day One - Journey to the Big Island

Last January, in the dead of winter, my hubby and I decided we wanted to vacation somewhere new and exotic.  Although we've visited most of the western US states, one has eluded us - the farthest west of them all - Hawaii.

Our resort from the airplane

Due to my fascination with volcanoes, I'd always wanted to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and witness lava flowing from Kilauea's crater.  So I got on Costco's travel website and snagged a great package deal for the big island in early May.  We were told late spring is a great time to visit - crowds are smaller and prices a tiny bit lower.

Lovely tropical flower

Here in Oregon, our cold rainy spring continued into the month of May.  As a matter of fact, I was skiing on Mt Bachelor the weekend before our departure.  Totally not acclimated, I began to get nervous about the sun and heat.  I'm such a winter gal, why did I choose to vacation in a tropical climate?  What was I thinking? 

Lagoon in our resort

It's a long flight to the Hawaiian islands - 5 1/2 hours from the West coast.  I'd never paid attention to Hawaii's exact location before (It's normally placed below Texas on the weather map so you don't realize how far away it really is).  Hawaii is way out west in the middle of the Pacific, and as far south as Mexico.

Celebrating our arrival

After a long, uneventful flight, it was exciting to see the big island's green coastline come into view.  I even spotted our resort as the plane passed over.  After landing in Kona, and ditching my sweatshirt (boy was it hot!) we claimed luggage, got our rental car, and headed north to Waikoloa.

Dolphin pond at our resort

My hubby and I are not fancy people.  Normally our idea of a vacation is camping at a national park, so we were in for a real shock when we pulled into the resort we'd chosen.  It was plush and huge - three tall hotel towers, several pools, a saltwater lagoon, numerous bars and restaurants, and a tram to whisk visitors between buildings.  The place was beautifully landscaped, and even had a pond full of dolphins for guests to swim with (for a princely sum!)

Feeding the dolphins

First order of business - change into shorts.  Second - sunscreen for my pasty white Oregon skin.  Third - to the bar!  Time to celebrate our arrival with some tropical drinks.  I decided right away that Mai Tais were my new favorite cocktail.

Sea turtle

My hubby and I sat in the resort's outdoor bar and grill, sipped our drinks, and entertained ourselves watching a flock of birds terrorize the ladies at an adjacent table.  The little birds perched on empty chairs, the napkin holder, and even the tabletop itself, hoping to snag some french fries.  They kept returning, despite being shooed away multiple times.

Cool palm fronds

First Hawaii lesson - food and drink are expensive at a fancy resort.  So we quit after one cocktail, and decided to explore the lovely hotel grounds.  I admired the many bright colored flowers, but the highlight was spotting our first sea turtle in the lagoon.

The Lava Lava Beach Club

A couple of friends had raved about the nearby Lava Lava Beach Club.  Not wanting to blow all our budget on hotel food, we decided to check it out.

Check the weather!

We found a wonderful beachfront restaurant set right on 'Aneho'omalu Bay (don't ask me how to pronounce it!)  Seeing this tongue and cheek weather station outside the door, I knew right away Lava Lava was our kinda place.

Enjoying a "Lava Lava Flow"

Oh what an amazing happy hour they had!  Drinks were way cheaper.  And their food - delicious!  After trying their signature drink, a concoction called the "Lava Lava Flow," I decided Mai Tais were now my second favorite tropical toddy.

Gorgeous nearby beach

After a very happy couple of hours at the Lava Lava Club, my hubby and I wandered the nearby beach.  Oh so lovely!

The palm trees captivated me

So this is what paradise looks like....

Walk on the beach

We watched a dozen outrigger canoes paddle out into the sea, return to the beach, and head out for another lap.

Lots of outrigger canoes in the bay

Then I noticed the sun beginning to sink towards the horizon.

My first Hawaiian sunset

I'd always heard Hawaii was known for it's fabulous sunsets.  Time to find out for myself.


Oh yeah - the rumor was definitely true!  As the sun slipped below the sea, everyone on the beach stopped what they were doing and stared at the sky.

I've found paradise

A perfect way to end my first day in Hawaii!  And the fun was just getting started.  Tomorrow we planned to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Coming up in my next post......

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Memaloose Hills

Sorry for last week's absence from blogland.  I just returned from a wonderful trip to Hawaii (which you'll hear all about very soon).  But for now, it's time to play catchup.

After a successful morning photo session at the Dalles Mountain Ranch, I headed over to an area I'd heard glowing wildflower reports from but had never visited - the Memaloose Hills.

The balsamroot show continues!

Located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, just east of the tiny village of Mosier, these hills above I-84 and the Historic Columbia River Gorge Hwy (aka US Route 30) were rumored to produce a fantastic display of spring wildflowers.

Gnarled oak trees

Intending to start at the rest area along I-84, I took a quick detour up to Rowena Crest below Tom McCall Point.  The yellow balsamroot flowers were blooming in force, but not much else.  So I continued down the Historic Highway towards Mosier.  A large amount of cars were crowded in the scenic overlook pullout.  Taking advantage of a rare open parking spot, I decided to explore.

Yellow sunshine along the trail

Which way to go?  Above the highway or below?  Noticing a user trail amongst the oak forest on the highway's uphill side, I made a snap decision to go high.  As you'll soon see, it was definitely the right choice.

Lovely larkspur

 Right away I spotted Indian paintbrush, Prairie Stars, Larkspur and of course lots of balsamroot. 

Unknown two-tone flower

I ran into a couple of men from Australia, visiting the Pacific NW on a photography vacation.  Amazing that folks from other countries knew about this area that I'd never visited!

Approaching Marsh Hill summit

Climbing higher, through gnarled, mossy oak trees, I struck up a conversation with a local man heading back downhill.  He pointed out a cluster of chocolate tiger lilies that I'd missed.  A rare spring flower, there must've been over a hundred blooms in the vicinity.  (In a good season, I'm lucky to spot a half dozen)

Marsh Hill's slopes were covered with balsamroot

The man told me there were two main trails in this area.  One would lead me to the top of Marsh Hill, while another climbed the slopes of adjacent Chatfield Hill.  Winding between private land, this trail system provided access to some lovely views and flower fields.

Sweeping summit views

Thanking the man for sharing his trail tips, I continued steeply uphill.  The concentration of wildflowers kept getting thicker.  Progress was slow - so many photo ops!

Glimpse of the Columbia River

Crossing a small stream, I came upon the trail junction the man had described.  Having no destination in mind, I made a snap decision to go left towards Marsh Hill.

Prairie Star hanging out with the balsamroot

Winding up the slopes of Marsh Hill, the forest thinned, the balsamroot began to grow thicker, and the vistas opened up.  This was by far the most balsamroot I'd seen so far.  It covered the slopes in a huge patch of yellow.

Big Head Clover

On Marsh Hill's humble summit, other flowers joined the wildflower show.  Tiny white Prairie Stars mingled with the balsamroot's large yellow faces.  And numerous patches of pink Big Head Clover added a nice color contrast to the scene.

Hikers delighting in the flower fields

The views on top were grand indeed.  I could see the adjacent farmland spread out in three directions.  Towards the north, I caught teaser glimpses of the Columbia River flowing beneath the Gorge's steep banks.

Chocolate Tiger Lilies

It was terribly windy on top, making flower photography difficult.  I tried hard to be patient and wait for a break in the gusts.  I managed a few good shots, but ultimately decided the sheltered woods below Marsh Hill provided better photo ops.

Balsamroot group

Back down the slope I traveled.  By now, it was past noon.  Although I'd initially considered also exploring Chatfield Hill's summit, a rumbling tummy was persuading me to head to Hood River for a burger.

More lovely unknown flowers

So back through the now-familiar flower fields I traveled.  Even though this was my second time through, I still found floral subjects I'd missed (or at least thought I had!). 

Balsamroot swaying in the wind

By midday I met a steady stream of people trekking up the trail.  Thanks to social media, Oregon and Portland Hikers websites had been inundated with posts from this area.  Beautiful places aren't a secret anymore!

Tons of chocolate tiger lilies here

Still, how could anyone keep such a lovely place as this a secret?

Wonderful spring sunny joy

Truly one of the best wildflower blooms I'd seen this year!  Why had it taken me so long to hike here?

Indian Paintbrush

Near the parking area, I ran into a huge patch of gorgeous orange Indian Paintbrush.  Mixed in with white Prairie Stars and yellow buttercups it made for a colorful forest floor.

Colorful forest floor

I ended my day with a memory card full of vibrant floral images and a happy heart.  Being outdoors in a beautiful place always works wonders for my mood.

Wildflower bonanza!

Yes, this place will definitely go on the "must visit" spring wildflower list for next year!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Back to the Ranch

It's become a spring tradition.

When the wildflowers start blooming at the Dalles Mountain Ranch, I pack my camera for an early morning photo excursion.

Sunrise on the old car

After reports that the yearly flower show was on, I chose a late April Friday to make the annual trip.  This was my fourth season visiting this wonderful place, and every year it seems to attract more people (blame the power of social media.....and those darn photography bloggers!) :)

First light illuminates the fields

The ranch is part of Columbia Hills State Park, located on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, just east of Dallesport.  It features old barns, a ranch house, acres of wide-open spaces, and the main attraction - an old rusted Studebaker in a field of wildflowers.

Sun's rays on the old car

The weather forecast promised a dry, sunny day.  However, driving down the dusty access road my car began to get buffeted by strong winds.  Ugh!  That's not conducive to close-up photography.

I like the light on this photo

In the early pre-dawn light, I parked near the field containing the old car.  Climbing over a hill, I spotted two photographers already in place waiting for sunrise.  They were both hunkered down, bundled up against the strong gusts. 

Surrounding landscape

With the wind blowing the flowers all around, macro shots were out.  So I set up my tripod to capture some wide-angle landscape shots instead.

Nice light on the adjacent hills

The sunrise was spectacular.  It spread wonderful light on the adjacent green hills, which I tried feverishly to capture.  I'd wait between wind gusts to trip the shutter, hoping for the least amount of movement.  Once and awhile it worked.


Instead of the same old car images that I've done for the past three years, this time I tried to capture the rusted auto from different angles.  I particularly liked the shot I took directly into the rising sun (sometimes you gotta break the rules!). 

An old barn

After a couple hours spent in the lovely flowers fields by the auto, I worked my way around the old ranch buildings - always a delight to photograph.


And walked along some trails cris-crossing wide open fields below the ranch. 

The far hill has a tint of yellow

The yellow sunflower-like balasmroot flowers were at their prime.  Although the bloom wasn't quite up to par (the past two years were much better) seeing huge open fields with a tint of yellow was still a spectacular sight.

Trail marker

But the purple lupine flowers were just getting started.  And they were thick near the old car. 

Not so friendly horse

I wandered by an old corral and was surprised to discover a horse inside the fence!  Trying to get his attention for a few photos, I whistled and called out, but he was too busy eating to pay me any mind.

The famous wagon

By mid-morning, I decided to head back to the auto for a few more images with different light.

Backlit lupine

A couple hours after sunrise is a great time to capture the wonderful flower show blooming around the old car.  Of course, by then, several other photographers had set up tripods in the field.

Vibrant flowers

The wind was still whipping, so we all had to wait for a lull to fire our shutter buttons.

Close up

Still, I was able to get a few images I was happy with.

The lupine was just getting started

By late morning, it was time to pack up and head to another destination in the Gorge.  I'd heard the wildflowers were amazing in the Memaloose Hills.  Some place I'd never hiked, it was time to check this place out.  (Stay tuned, it's my next blog post)

Lovely wildflowers

Always a delight to return to the Dalles Mountain Ranch!  It's spring flower show never disappoints.

Past blog posts from the DMR:

April 2014
Post One 2015
Post Two 2015
April 2016