Thursday, November 29, 2012

Turkey Day

Ahhh.....Thanksgiving.  When you gather the family together and consume the equivalent of two day's worth of calories in one sitting.  Who doesn't love a holiday that revolves around eating?

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

In all seriousness, I love this holiday.  My kids always come home, I get to make some of my favorite foods (turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie), and there's no pressure to decorate or buy gifts.  Just cook a big meal, and have the family over to eat it.

Roger cleans the turkey

This year, in addition to having my kids home, my parents decided to visit.  With the additional family members 'round the table, dinner would be extra-special.  I picked out a huge turkey for the occasion, and Thanksgiving morn, recruited Roger to help get it ready.  His task was to clean and season Mr. Tom.

Caught with my hand in the turkey's *ahem*

I got the fun job of shoving stuffing in the turkeys hiney.  A sticky, messy bit of work.  But once ol' Butterball was full, it was into the oven to roast for several hours.  This break in the action provided time for a quick field trip.

Future light rail bridge across the Willamette

I took my folks to downtown Portland's riverfront to show them the new light rail bridge under construction in the Willamette River.  I had a small role in the preliminary engineering phase of this project, so it's fun to see the towers finally rising out of the water.  Plus, the geeky civil engineer in me loves bridges - especially watching one being built (c'mon - who isn't fascinated by huge cranes on floating barges?)

My parents pose on the dock

A bike path on the Willamette's east bank provides a nice observation platform to see the emerging towers.  A short distance down this path is a public boat dock.  Thinking we might be able to get a better look a the bridge construction, my parents and I ventured onto the dock.  To my surprise we were treated to a great view of the downtown Portland skyline.

Downtown Portland skyline

Such a wonderful sight!  The dismal gray light of the day doesn't do this picture justice.  I'll have to come back on a sunny day (or maybe at night to capture the lights).

The turkey is done!

Arriving back home, we were greeted with the wonderful aroma of baking turkey.  An hour or so later, Mr. Tom was finally deemed done.  Roger got out the carving knives, and I swung into action, prepping the side dishes.

Bear hopes for a handout

It's rough being a dog on Thanksgiving.  Poor Bear smelled all those yummy scents - and then had to eat dry dog food!  However, Roger poured some of the turkey stock on his kibble, so Bear didn't entirely go without.

Kitchen spectators

It was so nice to have both my kids home!  And they even posed for a couple photos without complaining (too much).

The table is set

Finally, all the favorite side dishes were prepped and ready to go.  Denise and my mom set the table.  Cody said grace.  It was time to enjoy this great feast!

Time to dig in!

What an amazing dinner.  The turkey actually turned out quite nice.  I gorged myself on turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes.  And then came back for pie.  Oh so good!  Now why don't I make these foods more often?

Mom gets the drumstick

Of course, the most important part of Thanksgiving is it's a reminder to stop and be grateful for all the good things we have.  I'm most thankful for my husband, two great kids, and my parents who are still in good health.  It was wonderful to have them all gathered around my table this Thanksgiving Day.

Linking to:  Sunny Simple Sunday.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Skies Above

It's been a few weeks.....but it's time to get back in the saddle with the 52 Photos Project.  This week's meme is The Skies Above.  When you look up in the sky, what do you see?

There's tons of sky photos stored on my hard drive.  The only hard part - finding them!  But when I came across this image, I knew it was the one.

This image was taken many years ago in my husband's hometown of Yankton, South Dakota.  One night at sunset, a thunderstorm rolled in over the Missouri River.  My sister-in-law and I happened to be walking along the riverbank and were lucky enough to witness the sky turning these fabulous colors.  And I was fortunate to have my camera with me.

For more creative shots of the sky check out the 52 Photos Project here.

Also Linking with:  Orange You Glad it's Friday.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rain-Free Day on Cape Horn

Luck was with me last Friday.  Not only was it a day off from work, but the weatherman predicted a break in the rain that had been falling nonstop all week.  Of course, you know what I did....

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Mossy forest

Yep, high time for a hike.  Last year in late November, I'd hiked the Cape Horn Trail on the Washington side of the Gorge.  (You can read all about it here.)  It was such a wonderful area, I'd been wanting to visit again. 

Remains of long-fallen leaves

Cape Horn is a tall basalt bluff that towers over the Columbia River.  The views from on top are impressive, extending for miles east and west down the Gorge.  A fairly new trail, my trek of choice looped around this bluff, past clifftop viewpoints, through mossy woods, under the highway, across riverside bluffs, and by a wispy waterfall.  So much variety, this trail offers something for everyone.

Gorge from first viewpoint

The trailhead was dry but extremely windy.  The overcast skies meant not the best summit views.  No matter, I'd come to hike and a little clouds and wind weren't going to change my plans.

Electric green forest

The trail begins in a lush forest of mossy bigleaf maple trees and abundant swordferns.  Although most of the leaves had already fallen from the trees, the green moss and ferns made up of for the lack of fall color.

Climbing up the bluff began immediately.  A narrow, leaf-strewn path switchbacked for a mile until reaching the first of three viewpoints.

Moss-capped fence post

All three viewpoints are spectacular.  Precariously perched on cliff edges, they offered birds-eye glimpses of the Columbia River for miles in each direction.  The Gorge mountains rising up from the river were cloaked in thick white foggy clouds.  But considering today's overcast skies, sights were much better than expected!

Trees silhouetted against the sky

The blasting wind kept me from venturing too close to the bluff edge.  After the requisite photos, Bear and I headed back into the woods to escape the gusts.  Our track dived into a thick forest, glowing green with moss and ferns.

Nancy Russell overlook

After crossing a country road, and trekking across a broad grassy plain, we entered another maple forest.  The trail resumed here, leading visitors to a wonderful new overlook, named after Nancy Russell, a fierce champion of Gorge preservation.

Tea and cookies - hiking staples

The overlook consisted of two circular rock walls, placed in a clearing.  What trees remained had been trimmed to allow visitors to take in the vistas looking east.  The views here were especially grand, with the entire eastern Gorge spread out before you.  Even though the skies were cloudy, it was still a magnificent sight.

Bear wants a cookie too

I broke out my lunch, and perched on one of the low rocks walls to enjoy a bite.  Of course, no hike is complete without tea and cookies, and I made sure to get my daily recommended allowance of both.

Hiker tunnel under Hwy 14

The wind and cold shortened my lunch hour considerably.  It didn't take long for my hands to get chilled.  Time to get out of the wind again.  Bear and I headed downhill towards Highway 14.  On this trail, we ran into a man and his dog (coincidentally another Border Collie), the only other person I saw the entire day.  Reaching the highway, I was delighted to find the trail now crosses under the road via a brand-new tunnel.

Clifftop trail

Although the path over the bluff is wonderful, the portion of the trail below the highway is by far the best part.  After descending from the highway, it comes out on top of a high cliff overlooking the Columbia River.  Although the views on top were good, seeing the Gorge from riverbank-level was even better.

Birds-eye view of railroad tracks

I'd heard there was an overlook where one could look down on the railroad tracks as they exit a tunnel.  Last time I hiked here, my party somehow missed this viewpoint.  But today, I luckily stumbled across it.  And even better, the sun peeked out from a gap in the clouds right after my arrival.  I waited around on top for a couple of minutes, hoping to see a train.  But a brief sunbreak was all I got (not that I'm complaining!)

Magnificent Gorge view

Heading back from the train track overlook, I came up the most stunning cliff top viewpoint.  The Gorge's vertical walls lined up for miles upriver.  They looked like tall, blue ghosts, keeping watch on the Columbia.  The river spread out, sparkling with foamy whitecaps (it was still quite windy).  And, best of all, the sunbreak I'd enjoyed was still going strong.  The sun's rays lighting up the scene produced vivid colors - icing on the cake.

Cigar rock

One of the tall basalt cliffs sported an unusual rock formation, called cigar rock.  As you can see, it's not hard to tell where that name came from!

Ferns sprout from the rock slope

Leaving the viewpoint, Bear and I wandered across a large rockslide, the path through it lined with neon green ferns.  We came upon a tall, wispy waterfall spilling down a massive rock wall.  There was still a bit of fall color on the adjacent trees, which provided the perfect accent.

Wispy waterfall

Past the waterfall, our path continued through the remainder of the woods, finally coming out on a local road.  The only monotonous part of the hike, I had to follow it for 1.3 miles, before crossing the highway via another awesome tunnel back to the car.

A great day to be outside, revisiting a favorite trail.  And I escaped the rain once again!

Hiking stats:  7 miles round-trip, 1300 feet elevation gain.

Linking to:  Sunny Simple Sunday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Retro Photo - Hikin' Kids

A couple of weeks ago while looking through an old album, I spotted this photo of my kids taken in 1996.  This image was from a hike in the Columbia River Gorge.  My family used to have a Mother's Day tradition - we spent the day hiking on a trail of my choice.  Although my son loved being in nature - he could happily spend hours studying the plants and trees along the trail - my daughter had to be bribed with M & M's to keep moving.

My kids on a hike - circa 1996

Although I love that my kids have grown into wonderful young adults, a small part of me misses their younger days.  Taking children outside is so much fun.  They see the world way differently than adults.  I cherish the memories of time spent hiking with my kids.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I'm happy to have both my son and daughter home for the holiday.  I'll have to show them this photo.  It will be fun to hear their memories from this and other past outings. 

I'd like to wish all my readers a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.  May you spend it surrounded by the people you love.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Still Halloween on Devils Rest

Fall is a wonderful time to be in the Columbia River Gorge.  The changing leaves, the mossy cliffs, the waterfalls gushing full, and the pumpkins.


I went for a hike last Saturday and found some unusual things in the woods.  Yes, it has to do with Halloween.  Intrigued?  Read on for the rest of the story!

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

A pumpkin in the forest??

After a week of solid rain, the weatherman promised a dry Saturday.  Upon hearing this, my friend Debbie and I made hiking plans.  I hadn't hiked the Oregon side of the Gorge for months, and was hankerin' to do so.  The trail of choice - the Wahkeena Trail, one of my favorite fall rambles.

Wahkeena Falls

Hiking Wahkeena Trail is an autumn tradition.  (Check out the blog post I did on last year's trek)  One of Gorge's loveliest paths, it begins at the lower chute of Wahkeena Fall's triple cascade.  After crossing a footbridge, the trail climbs up to an elegant stone bridge below the upper falls.

Hiking the leaf-covered Wahkeena Trail

From here, the trail switchbacks steeply up the side of the Gorge.  Most of the autumn colors were past their peak, and many of the leaves had already fallen.  But I still found lots of things to photograph.  Debbie had a new camera she was trying to get familiar with, and didn't mind my frequent photo stops.

Large yellow leaf

The first half mile of the trail is especially scenic.  It's lined by ancient mossy rock walls.  Green moss-encrusted Douglas Firs and big-leaved maple trees tower above.  Ferns sprout from everywhere, including the rocks in the wall.  It's an explosion of greenery mixed with fall colors.

An Oregon slug

Debbie and I kept leapfrogging a young couple visiting from Chicago.  We came upon the pair gazing at something on the side of a wall.  Turned out it was a slug.  They'd never seen one so big!  It was almost the length of my hand.  Of course we Oregonians are used to huge slugs, and this one wasn't the largest we'd ever seen (there's a reason these things are called "banana slugs")

Smilin' doggy

We ran into a ton of people and dogs on the trail.  Everyone and their dog was out. (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun!)  In the Portland area, a rain-free day brings outdoor enthusiasts out in droves.  An Oregonian's definition of a nice day is one where it's not raining.

Colorful leaves decorate this rock

Debbie, Bear, and I continued up the trail, following a cute rushing stream, lined with mossy boulders and fallen leaves.

Fairy Falls

One of the prettiest waterfalls, Fairy Falls makes a pleasant break spot as you're climbing the Wahkeena Trail.  Deciding not to pack a tripod for today, I have to apologize for this crappy image.  It definitely isn't up to my usual standards.

The forest is almost bare

Debbie and I climbed higher until we reached the intersection with the path to Devils Rest.  This trail is a counterpart to a beautiful viewpoint further west called Angel's Rest.  Devils Rest, however, has no views.  The track merely leads to a forested knoll. 

Time for some climbing!

But Devils Rest, at 2450 feet, is a good climb for folks wanting a bit of exercise.  That's exactly what Debbie and I were after today.  We took a hard right, heading towards the Devils Rest summit.

Cool mushrooms on an old log

After a tough ascent, the trail levels out and follows a forested ridge with occasional peeps into the Gorge far below.  Debbie and I passed by a downed tree sporting the coolest mushrooms I'd seen.  So we had to stop and capture some images!

Debbie photographs the elusive wild pumpkin

After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at Devils Rest wooded summit.  I immediately spotted a small garden gnome stuck to one of the rocks.  Debbie and I had a good laugh and she snapped a photo of the little feller.  Then I noticed a flash of orange high up in a nearby tree.  Upon further inspection, we discovered a small pumpkin hanging from one of the branches.

Lots of pumpkins hanging from the trees

Debbie and I walked around the summit, and found a dozen pumpkins strung up in the trees.  Setting ourselves down on some rocks, I spied a pumpkin someone had placed on top of its mossy surface. 

There was even a gnome!

The elusive wild pumpkin!  We had another chuckle and proceeded to photograph these unusual sights.  It's not something you'd expect see to hanging from trees deep in the woods that's for sure!  I guess Halloween isn't over yet on the summit of Devils Rest.

Trying to stay warm while having lunch

It was a chilly day, and the temps got even colder the higher in elevation Debbie and I climbed.  By the time we arrived at Devils Rest, it was near freezing.  How did we know?  Small, white pellets started drifting down from the sky.  At first, I wasn't sure what to make of them, but it didn't take long to realize it was snow.  Grabbing a quick bite to eat, I put on hat, gloves and some more warm layers to help ward off the cold.

"Dr Seuss" mossy trees

The freezing temps meant no lingering at the top.  Debbie and I ate, drank some hot tea (a staple for these fall hikes!) and set off again.  For our descent, we decided to make a loop, and followed a different trail.  This path was one we'd taken just once before with someone else leading.  Although Debbie was a little worried about getting lost, it ended up being easy to follow.  Our trail of choice wound through more dense forest and past some moss-covered trees, worthy of a "Dr. Seuss" illustration.

Dense forest

After a steep downhill trek, our path popped back out onto the Wahkeena Trail.  Now all we had to do was retrace our steps back down the Gorge.  It was getting late in the day, and I was a little worried about beating the sunset.  I'd forgotten my headlamp and didn't want to try and pick my way through the dark.

Gorge view at sunset

About a half mile before trail's end is a wonderful overlook.  It gives visitors a panoramic vista down both directions of the Gorge.  On our way up, foggy, overcast skies didn't make this spot worth a stop.  But on the way down, things had cleared up enough to highlight steep cliffs on the Washington side.  Light from the setting sun illuminated these high mountains. Lucky me, I arrived in the nick of time and was able to snap off a couple of shots before the last rays faded.

Hike stats:  About 8 miles round-trip, with a 2400 foot elevation gain.  Great to be outside on a frosty fall day.  And bonus pumpkin sightings at our destination!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gillette Lake

This is the photo that started it all.

Back in the fall of 1996, my son and I took a hike on the Washington side of the Gorge to a stunning teal-blue lake.  The light was perfect, and the golden leaves at their peak, when I snapped this shot.  The image was enlarged, framed, and hung in my home.  It quickly became one of my favorites.  Since then, every time I look at this photo, it reminds me that I want to go back.  To Gillette Lake.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Gillette lake, circa 1996

For some reason it took me 16 years before I finally did.   Last Sunday I had time to hike, and was trying to decide where to go.  Then I remembered this trail.  High time for a return trip!

The trailhead is just across the Bridge of the Gods

One of the fun things about hiking on the Washington side of the Gorge is it involves a trip across the Bridge of the Gods.  This bridge connects Oregon and Washington at the town of Cascade Locks.  The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses this bridge, and there are amazing views of the Columbia River as one motors across.  Sadly, there's no place to stop mid-span and take pictures.  But once on the other side, I did pull over for a photo of the sign.

My hike begins....

The trailhead is near Bonneville Dam.  It has a really nice parking area, complete with a restroom!  From here, a short path (the Tamanous Trail) takes one to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

A golden world

The Tamanous Trail was a delight.  From the beginning, I was treated to a full display of multi-hued trees.  A thick carpet of downed leaves covered my path.  The autumn foliage created a colorful walk-through kaleidoscope.

A large yellow leaf

Some of the leaves were huge!  Like this one - about twice the size of my hand.

Explosion of yellow

Climbing through the forest, I entered an area of thick trees with vibrant color.  An explosion of yellow.  Great photo subjects - but low light.  I braced myself against a tree to steady my camera for this photo.

Old clearcut growing back

After 0.6 of a mile, the Tamanous Trail merged with the PCT.  From here it was 2 miles to Gillette Lake.  Shortly after, I met up with a lone female hiker on her return trip.  After exchanging hellos, I hit her up for trail beta.  The woman said she'd travelled through two clearcuts, one fairly old and partially regrown, but the other very recent and particularly ugly.  She thought the prettiest scenery of the trail was the beginning part I'd just hiked.

More fall finery

Well, I had to find out for myself.  The first clearcut came up quicker than expected.  I remembered this area from my '96 hike.  Happily it seemed to be much more vegetated than when I'd last seen it.  Everything had regrown nicely.  Lots of low bushes and a few taller trees now covered the once-barren hillsides.  There were still some fall colors around, mostly oranges and browns.  And slopes devoid of trees meant I could get glimpses of the Gorge's mountainous Oregon side.  Well, through the fog that is.  The weather, although dry, was very cloudy and foggy.

Gillette Lake, circa 2012

Another lovely wooded area separated the two logged areas.  Leaving clearcut #1, I dived back into a forest thick with Douglas Fir and more yellow and orange-leaved maple trees.  It was so enjoyable, I almost forgot about the second clearcut.

Another lake view

But suddenly Bear and I emerged from the dark forest into a moonscape.  We'd come upon clearcut number two.  Every bit of vegetation had been sheared from the hillsides ahead.  The only things left were dried gray root stubble and rocks.  We picked our way through the scalped land, trudging up a dusty slope.  Although I took a photo of the devastation, it's way too ugly to share here.

Last of the flowers

I was surprised to see that logging is allowed along the PCT.  And that it's allowed so close to the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.  However, I later learned this logging was done on private lands.  (The PCT must pass through some private land, I guess)  All I can say is I hope the owners will replant more trees.

Blazing yellow leaves

Clearcut #2 lasted all the way to the edge of Gillette Lake.  As I crested the last hill and spotted it's waters, I was disappointed to see many of the trees no longer lining the southern shore.  Those trees provided a buffer from a huge powerline above the lake.  With camera in hand, I tried as best I could to capture the lake, while keeping metal towers out of my viewfinder.

Cloudy skies didn't help either - bright sun would've enhanced the lake water's beautiful teal color.  It's the color I captured long ago, and was hoping to encounter again.  But under an overcast sky, the water's surface appeared a dull greenish-gray.  I attempted a shot from the same location as my 1996 photo, but didn't even come close to matching the lovely image from back then.

A happy doggy

My photo attempts falling flat, Bear and I trekked down to the lake's shoreline for a quick lunch break.  The few trees still sporting autumn colors made feeble reflections on the water's surface.  But it was nothing outstanding.  With just so-so scenery, there was no lingering this time.  I ate quickly and headed back.

The sun's evening rays hit the forest

The return trip was much quicker.  I realized the lady hiker had been right.  The best scenery really was the first half mile of trail.  When I again re-joined the Tamanous Trail, it was like entering a tunnel of fall colors.  Walking through the "yellow zone" I stopped for one last photo session.  The lowering sun's rays peeked through the clouds and projected a final blast of light through the forest.

Although it was great to get out on a warm, rain-free fall day, I don't think I'll be back to this trail anytime soon.  Not a fan of clearcuts, I've had my Gillette Lake fix for the next several years. 

Linking to:  Share Your Cup Thursday and This or That Thursday and Orange You Glad it's Friday and Camera Critters.