Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Last Day of Summer

I took a much-needed vacation from work last week.  A couple of the days were spent with my folks while they were visiting, and another day was spent with my daughter, getting her ready for college.  But the final two days were all mine.  And I spent them hiking.

Click on any photo for a larger view

Mt. Hood in the morning

Thursday was the last day of summer.  I couldn't think of a better way to spend it than on the mountain.  I'd been wanting to hike the trail from Timberline Lodge to Paradise Park.  Usually the wildflowers peak there in early August.  But due to the late snowfall, the bloom was delayed.  I'd heard reports that the flowers were still going strong.  This was my chance to check it out.

PCT trail sign - it's a long way to Mexico!

I packed a lunch, loaded Bear in the car, and headed up to Timberline Lodge.  The trail started out on an asphalt path adjacent to T-line. The surrounding area was rocky and dusty in the late summer sun.  I'm used to seeing the place in winter surrounded by snow, so things sure looked barren. I followed the path up to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. I got a kick out of the PCT sign - it announced the mileages to Canada and Mexico. Only a mere 550 miles to Canada!

Timberline Lodge and Mt. Jefferson

Bear and I followed the PCT as it ambled through the snow-less ski trails of Timberline.   The clear skies showcased great views to the south of Mt. Jefferson and the Cascade foothills.

Colorful flowers

And there were flowers from the very beginning!  The trail was lined with lupine, tiny yellow flowers and small purple daisy-like blossoms.  I didn't have to wait until Paradise Park to get my floral fix.

A busy bee

Dozens of bees were buzzing around the flowers.  I think those bees knew that fall was fast approaching, as they seemed very intent on harvesting pollen.

Bear in the flower fields

The PCT contours across the side of Mt. Hood.  The mountain itself was always over my right shoulder.  The trail traversed a couple of drainages carrying snowmelt down the mountain.  The first, Little Zigzag Canyon, was a snap to cross.  The second, Zigzag River, posed more of a challenge.  Even by mid-morning, water was already roaring down the mountain.  I walked up and down its banks, scouting for a good place to cross.  I finally found the right combination of rocks spaced for my leg span, and did a shaky stream-hop.  Of course, Bear showed me up, wading straight across the torrent no problem.

The wonderful meadow

The trail then climbed out of Zigzag Canyon to a junction with the Paradise Loop Trail.  This path led me up to a huge meadow.  And that's where the fun began.

Yes, this is paradise!

I came upon the most wonderful alpine meadow.  It was chock full of multi-colored wildflowers.  The sheer amount of flowers combined to emit a strong floral fragrance.  Purple, yellow, blue, and white contrasted nicely with the green vegetation.  Mt. Hood provided the perfect backdrop.

Out standing in a field (of flowers!)

A sign in the middle of the meadow announced the Paradise Loop.  It was appropriately named!  This was hands-down one of the best wildflower displays on the mountain.

Bear got lots of rest during my extended photo session

I spent a lot of time capturing images of the meadow.  The scenery was absolutely stunning.  While I was shooting away, Bear was more than happy to take a breather.

Beautiful flower fields

I finally tore myself away from the meadow, and continued down the trail.  But just around the bend was another meadow, and it was just as spectacular.

Floral riot

As you might guess, it took me awhile to hike through the Paradise Loop.

Delicate pink monkey flower

I stopped for lunch at a beautiful campsite.  It was situated next to a small stream.  Colorful flowers lined the stream.  Mt. Hood rose up from the meadow's edge.  The views were wonderful.  Lunch spots don't get any better than this.

Fields ablaze with color

After Bear and I refueled, we continued our exploration of the Paradise Loop.  Further down the trail were even more flower-filled meadows.  These had rose-colored daisies and bright orange paintbrush added to the mix.

Red paintbrush bloom

The trail finally descended back down the ridge and reconnected with the PCT.  Having reached our turnaround point, Bear and I followed the PCT back towards Zigzag Canyon.

Zigzag Canyon

Another crossing of the Zigzag River awaited us.  I'm not a huge fan of fording raging mountain streams.  As the day warms up, snowmelt typically increases the river flow.  With additional water shooting down the mountain, afternoon stream crossings are usually trickier.

Zigzag River crossing

But for some reason, the trip back across the Zigzag was no problem.  I immediately found a spot to hop across, and quickly bounded to the opposite shore.  To celebrate, I broke out my last two cookies.  I had a long steep climb back out of Zigzag Canyon, and knew I'd need all the energy I could get.

Fall colors

It was a slog climbing up the endless series of switchbacks.  But I put my head down and kept on trudging.  I ran into a trio of really nice men who were visiting from the East coast (Virginia and New Jersey).  They loved Bear, and spoiled him with treats.  These men said every year they picked a national park to visit somewhere in the US.  This year was Oregon's turn.  What a great way to see the country!

Zigzag Canyon self portrait

I finally arrived at the top of Zigzag Canyon.  From here, Timberline Lodge was only a little over two miles away.  That was the good news.  The bad news was these last two miles were uphill.  It's always difficult to end a long hike with an uphill climb.

Zigzag Canyon is enormous

Zigzag canyon is amazing to view from the topside.  I couldn't fit it all into my camera lens, so I took two separate photos and combined them into this pano view.  Click on the photo above if you'd like to see a larger image.  (However, even my photo doesn't truly capture the magnificence of this canyon).

Bear at the bottom of Little Zigzag Canyon

My dog is now ten years old.  He's always been pretty energetic, but just this year Bear's started to show his age.  And around mile 10, my pup started pooping out.  He stuck with me, and didn't go bounding ahead on the trail.  I hoped this hike wouldn't be too long for him.

The ski runs look barren this time of year

I finally started to see glimpses of the Timberline ski lifts.  Yahoo!  That meant I was getting close to my car.  The late afternoon sun bathed Mt. Hood in some great light.  This slowed down my progress, as the camera came out and I attempted to capture more wonderful mountain views.

Lupine fields

I finally arrived back at my car at 5 pm.  Bear gratefully sank into the back seat and didn't move the entire trip home.  As I arrived at my house, the sun was sinking below the horizon.  The last day of summer was drawing to a close.  I'd covered 12 miles of magnificent mountain scenery and witnessed one of the best wildflower displays I've seen all year.  A perfect way to spend the last day of summer.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Oaks Bottom

My parents were in town earlier this week.  Instead of sitting around the house all day, I wanted to go out for a little Portland sight-seeing.  My folks have visited most of the usual places from previous trips, so I wanted to take them somewhere new.  I had an idea.  Maybe a hike?  Portland has tons of parks and natural areas with trails, so there was lots of places to choose from.  My Sullivan book mentioned a short loop through the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.  The thing I liked about this option was that it was in a totally different part of town, it was near the Willamette River, and it was adjacent to Oaks Amusement Park, always a fun place to visit.

Mandatory sign photo

Getting to SE Portland from the west side is always an adventure, and I love taking people through the maze of roads and freeway ramps.  But we arrived at the parking lot in one piece!  Before heading over to the Oaks Bottom trail, my folks, Denise and I paid a visit to the east bank of the Willamette River.  Sellwood Park is nearby, providing lots of river access opportunities.  We walked out on a nearby dock, and got a great view of the downtown Portland skyline.

My folks and Denise check out the Willamette River

Then we headed over to the Springwater Corridor bike path.  We had to walk down this path for a half mile or so before we reached the trailhead.  The Springwater Corridor connects the east Portland suburbs with downtown Portland, and runs along a good portion of the east bank of the Willamette.  It's a heavily used path, and we had to be on the lookout for passing bikes.

Downtown Portland skyline

The trail begins at a tunnel that ducks under a set of railroad tracks paralleling the Springwater.  We were led down a dirt path that soon meandered into a thick woods consisting of nice big leaf maples.  The day was getting hot, and the shade was most welcome!

Oaks Bottom slough

The vegetation opened up occasionally, giving us glimpses of the lake and slough.  Wildflowers were still blooming, and it was a pretty sight. 

Great Blue Heron sighting

In one swampy area, I spotted a great blue heron, standing still in the murk.  I fired off a couple of photos, but as I crept nearer for some close-range shots, the bird got spooked and flew away.  I got one last photo of Mr. GBH flapping his wings as he took off.

The Springwater Corridor bike path

After a mile and a half, the trail circled back to the Springwater Corridor.  To return to the car, we had to walk about a mile on this path.  By this time, the sun was beating down, and walking along shadeless blacktop wasn't much fun.  I spotted the buildings of Oaks Park up ahead, and suggested we walk over there to get something to drink.

I spotted this squirrel just hangin' out

Unfortunately, it was a weekday, and the amusement park was closed.  However, you could still walk around the grounds, and it was interesting to see the rides all shut down and the place deserted.  I found a vending machine and was able to purchase some water.  Aaahhh! 

On the way back to the car, I spied a squirrel spread out on top of a tree branch, and he looked so cute, I just had to get a photo.

Yes, we still have zucchini!

And of course no blog post of mine is complete without a zucchini update!  Yes, our garden is still producing like gangbusters.  I took my Mom out there, and she was amazed by the number of zukes hiding beneath the leaves.  We picked a couple of big hummers for my folks to take with them.  I think they're intending to foist them off on my brother Dale (who they're visiting next).

It was fun to have my folks in town.  Glad they were able to come out for a visit!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Oktoberfest and More!

The town of Mt. Angel Oregon is well-known for it's annual Oktoberfest celebration.  For one weekend in mid-September this tiny burg is overrun by legions of lederhosen-wearing, bratwurst-eating, beer-drinking, harvest-fest fans.


I never paid much attention to Oktoberfest until last year when Cody began attending Mt. Angel seminary.  Roger and I went to check it out, and I had so much fun, I invited my folks to visit and experience it for themselves.  This year, that's exactly what they did.

Roger and I ready to race

The Oktoberfest hosts many events.  One is a 5 and 10k road race.  I ran the 10k last year, and had a blast (even earned a 3rd place finish in my age group!)  Of course this year I signed up to run the race again.  Roger decided to run the 5k, while I signed up for the 10.  I had hopes of another third place age group finish, and maybe even a PR (you gotta aim high!).

We stuck together at the start

Saturday morning brought everyone to Humpert Park, race HQ.  It was a chilly morning and the sky was trying to spit raindrops.  Quite a difference from the upper 90 degree heat of the week before (but for a race I'll take the cool, rainy weather anytime).  Instead of pre-race rock and rap music, the PA system was belting out German polkas.  Which was great!  Got me in the Oktoberfest mood.  To compliment the race theme, a couple of men and woman runners were dressed up in German clothes.  And one guy was even dressed as a hot dog (or was it a bratwurst?)

Roger finishes his 5k

Roger and I agreed we'd each run our own races.  So when the pack began to move, I took off running at my own pace.  The course of the 5 and 10k were the same for the first mile.  I didn't realize it, but Roger was right behind me until the turnaround just beyond mile one.  After that, I tucked behind a couple of guys who were running a challenging pace, and tried to stay with them.

Me trying to finish strong

Since the Hood to Coast, I haven't been running much.  And during this race it really showed.  Trying to maintain a pace fast enough to break last year's time was tough.  I pushed myself extremely hard, and by mile five I was running on fumes.  I tried to kick it in for the last mile, but there was nothing left.  I crossed the finish line with a time that was 0.04 seconds faster than last year.  So technically I got a PR.  But this year's race was so much tougher I sure didn't feel like it.

Both my kids were there to watch the race

Cody walked down from the Abbey and met Denise, my parents, Roger and I at the finish.  He said that one of the nuns who teaches at the seminary was running the 10k. Apparently she competes in triathlons and is super-fit (aka the "iron nun").  This woman ended up finishing first in my age group (and first overall master's women) with a totally smokin' time.  Yes, I was beat by a nun!  But I did end up with a 5th place finish in my age group.

My kids with their grandparents

Roger didn't have as much luck in his race. With 0.7 of a mile left, his right calf muscle locked up, forcing him to stop and stretch it out. This put a monkey wrench in what would've been a decent time. He hobbled the final distance to the finish line.

How we felt after our races

After our races, Cody took everyone over to Mt. Angel seminary.  While Cody gave his grandparents a tour, I took a quick shower (huge thanks to the seminary staff for use of the women's locker room!).  When I finished and caught up to the family, my brother Dale had joined the group.  He'd driven down from Bend that morning. 

My family enjoying cookies at Mt. Angel Seminary (photo by Jesus)

The Abbey was geared up to receive Oktoberfest visitors.  We met one of Cody's seminary brothers, Jesus, (pronounced "Hay-soos") stationed at the cookie and coffee table.  We enjoyed refreshments courtesy of Jesus, and he was nice enough to offer to take a group photo.  So I was in the picture for a change! 

With our bodies energized, the family group (aka "Cody's entourage") continued the tour.  We happened to arrive at the Abbey church in time for the monk's noon prayer.  Cody suggested we sit in on the service.  He said the monks had beautiful voices and it was worth it just to hear them sing.  He was right.  Those monks voices blended as if they were one and it was most amazing.

The organ in the Abbey church

After noon prayer, we were able to walk around and admire the gorgeous Abbey church.  It had a huge pipe organ towering above the seats in the choir loft.  The church also had eight bells in a tower high above the roofline.  I learned that each bell has a name, a specific weight, and a designated musical note. 

Waiting for the noon bells to ring

The bells were due to chime at the noon hour, so we took a seat outside the church to watch the action.  It was cool to watch the bells swinging, high up in the tower.  And when they tolled, it sounded like angels singing.

Mt. Angel seminary campus tour

We toured Cody's dorm, the library and the dining hall.  By this time, it was well past lunchtime and everyone's tummies were growling.  It was time to head into town to find some bratwurst!

It's not Oktoberfest without bratwurst!

Oktoberfest draws huge crowds, and parking spaces can be difficult to find.  But, lucky for us, there was a shuttle bus that ran between the seminary and downtown Mt. Angel.  So we were able to leave our vehicles parked at the Abbey.  The shuttle dropped us all off in the heart of the action.

Cody enjoys brats with his grandparents

First order of business - find some brats!  The Mt. Angel sausage company had a huge kitchen set up and were frying sausages by the case.  They also had some epically long lines.  But my family was determined.  It's not Oktoberfest without bratwurst!

Cody enjoys some deep-fried oreos

After braving the lines and the wait, each family member was rewarded with a hot, delicious bratwurst.  We all scarfed down some great sausages, and inhaled loads of curly fries.  Then it was time for dessert.  The festival had a plethora of food booths, all selling every kind of food and dessert imaginable.  The kids snagged my last $20 bill and came back with an elephant ear and a basket of deep fried oreos.

Don't these look yummy?

Those deep fried oreos looked disgusting.  They were coated with breading on the outside and then tossed in a deep fat fryer.  Cody insisted they were really good, so we all had a taste.  Some people liked them, but I didn't care for 'em at all (and I usually love all things cookie). 

Hangin' out by der weingarten

Our tummies filled, my family wandered through the streets of Mt. Angel, taking in the sights.  I really wanted to get a beer, but it cost 9 bucks to get into the beer garden, and on top of that, you had to pay extra for your brewski.  I suppose that's the festival's way of confining the alcohol to certain areas, but it was too expensive for me.  So I went to Oktoberfest, but didn't drink any beer!  :(

This sign made me laugh!

But it was fun to walk around the streets.  Many of the buildings in Mt. Angel are decorated with a Barvarin theme.  Bands were playing in the town square.  People danced to polkas.  Men in lederhosen were a common site.  The crowds were thick everywhere I went.  It was people-watching at its finest.

We hit the streets of Mt. Angel

After an hour of wandering around fighting the crowds, everyone was ready to go.  Poor Roger's leg was feeling mighty sore after all that walking, and he needed a break.  So we caught the shuttle back to the Abbey and our car.  But our day wasn't over yet.  My Dad's cousin Al, who lived in nearby Salem, OR, had invited us all over for dinner.  So we headed to Salem for a delicious dinner and good conversation with Al and his grandson.

Modeling a chicken hat

Yep, it was a full day!  First a race, then an abbey tour, followed by a festival, and finally a nice dinner.  Whew!  But I was happy my folks were able to be here for Oktoberfest.  Not only my parents, but also both kids, Roger, and my brother too.  What a great excuse to get family together!

Now I've gotta brush up on that chicken dance for next year......