Monday, September 29, 2014

Oktoberfest! pa!  Strike up the tubas, tune those accordions, dust off your dancin' shoes, and break out the bratwurst.  Oktoberfest has arrived in Mt. Angel, Oregon!

Abbey Church - Mt. Angel Seminary

Mt. Angel is known for putting on the best Oktoberfest celebration around.  Ever since my son Cody began attending seminary in this tiny town, going to Oktoberfest has become an annual tradition.  Held in mid-September, this year I met my brother Dale and his family for the festivities.

Waiting for the bells to ring

Cody was more than happy to show his aunt, uncle and nephews around the seminary.  Located on a hilltop just outside of town, it's a beautiful, peaceful place.  Well.....except when the bells in the Abbey church ring.

Bratwurst time!

There's lots of interesting things to see at Mt. Angel seminary.  The Abbey church is stunningly beautiful.  The library, designed by a world-renowned architect, is an amazing building.  And they even have a museum, showcasing not only religious artifacts, but also a huge collection of taxidermy animals, and the world's largest hairball.

Cody enjoys his brat

After touring the seminary grounds for an hour, our stomachs started to rumble.  High time to head into town for some bratwurst!

The food at Mt. Angel's Oktoberfest is always top-notch.  We stood in a long line, mouths watering, watching the coils of bratwurst cooking on huge griddles.  After enjoying a delicious sausage, curly fries, and an amazing dark German beer, I was ready to peruse the rest of the festival's offerings.

"Party size" kettlecorn

Mt. Angel's streets were lined with booths, hawking every kind of food imaginable.  There was onion rings, funnel cakes, deep-fried oreos (ugh!), and marionberry cobbler (my personal favorite).  One sweet girl was promoting a "party size" bag of kettlecorn.

Der Weingarten

Huge buildings were set up as beer and wine gardens.  For a small fee, one could go inside, enjoy an alcoholic beverage (or two), and enjoy lots of German-themed entertainment.

Harvest decorations in the city square

The town square was decked out in harvest decor.

Time for the chicken dance!

My favorite part of Oktoberfest is the music and dancing.  One intersection is blocked off, ringed by bleachers, with a bandstand on one corner.  There's almost always a band playing, someone singing, or a group dancing.

These girls were great dancers

About the time Cody and I walked by, the band struck up a familiar tune.  It was the chicken dance - my favorite!  A group of young girls in traditional costumes led the crowd in a rousing rendition.

Everyone was having fun

There's nothing I love more than bopping along to a happy tune.  I wiggled along on the sidelines (totally embarrassing my son, tee-hee!)

Max even got in on the dancing

My brother and his family arrived just as the chicken dance was finishing up.  We all took a seat in the bleachers to enjoy more of the show.  The band was great - they launched into another cheerful German tune.  My oldest nephew Max was even brave enough to get up and dance a few jigs (with some bribery from his parents!)

These men performed a traditional dance

Then the band struck up music to a traditional men's dance.  I don't remember the name, but it involved slapping the side of your feet, and there were supposedly contests back in the old world, where men completed to see who was the fastest.  Two guys in lederhosen hopped into the dancing circle and showed us how it's done.  They put on a great show. 

They were very fun to watch

Even if I didn't come from German ancestry, I'd still love Oktoberfest.  Great food, entertaining dancing, and lively, upbeat music - what's not to enjoy?  A happy, fun festival, I look forward to every fall.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shorthorn Trail

Late summer is a perfect time to explore the Cascades' high mountain meadows.  The bugs are gone, trails are snow-free, and sunny days are almost always guaranteed.  Last September I'd visited Mt. Adams for the first time (read about it here).  I discovered jaw-dropping mountain scenery that left me wanting more.

The grand dame herself - Mt.Adams

Fresh from my South Dakota journey, I was hankering for a hike one of my beloved PNW mountains.  The Portland Hikers website posted a trip report on Mt. Adams' Shorthorn Trail.  The photos and description were so enticing, I knew I had to pay a visit.

The trail started in an recent burn area

Mt. Adams, located across the river in Washington State, is a long drive from Portland.  It took me nearly 2 1/2 hours to reach the trailhead.  But I woke up early, put in some good music, and in no time was bumping along the rough gravel road near my destination.

Blackened bark peeling from the trees

The Shorthorn Trail starts at the Morrison Creek Campground.  The entire area, including the campground, was charred in a 2012 wildfire.  I noticed the campsites all had new picnic tables, and the bathroom looked like it had been recently installed.  But the trees left standing were all gray and dead.  It appeared the Forest Service had been cutting down the burned trunks, as there were piles of logs scattered throughout the area.  Not a very scenic place to camp, but on the plus side you'd have unlimited firewood!

Beautiful marshy meadow

I hit the trail, climbing through the blackened forest.  Although the trees were dead, I saw many birds flitting about.  I even spotted a pair of woodpeckers combing through the gray trunks.  The path climbed, steeply at times, offering occasional tiny glimpses of Mt. Adams through the trees.  A carrot to keep me going!

Happy to see this sign!

It was a long, nearly viewless three miles.  At first I enjoyed checking out the burned trees, all shedding their blackened bark (it was like the trees were all stripping off their clothes!)  But aside from that, the only excitement was traversing a vivid green marshy meadow, and then crossing a steep, gravelly stream bed.  But soon after this creek, I climbed one last slope, and there before me was the Round the Mountain Trail.

Amazing Mt. Adams view from Round the Mountain Trail

It was here I got my first grand view of Mt. Adam's bulky summit.  Spectacular!

One of many creek crossings

Thankfully, the Round the Mountain Trail is fairly level, with minimal elevation gains and losses.  I headed westward on this trail.  Mostly above treeline, I was treated to some great panoramic views of the adjacent hills and mountains.

Vibrant pink monkeyflowers

I crossed several gushing mountain streams, all originating from melting glaciers.  Each crossing offered stunning views of Adams as you looked up toward the rocky banks.  A couple creeks were also lined with green vegetation and vivid pink monkeyflowers.

Every creek crossing had stunning mountain views

Stream crossings are not my favorite part of hiking.  I always get nervous when I have to rock-hop over cold, fast-moving water.  But through the years I've discovered the crossings always look much worse than they really are.  Such was the case with all the creeks I encountered this day.

Looking back towards Mt. Hood

Two miles down Round the Mountain Trail was a path leading to a tiny mountain pond - Lookingglass Lake.  The hike recap I'd read described this little lake as incredibly scenic.  When the wind wasn't blowing it was supposed to create perfect reflections of Mt. Adams on it's glassy surface.

Friendly butterfly

It took longer than expected to reach the spur trail to Lookingglass Lake.  I was starting to think I'd missed the turnoff when I spotted the sign.  One more mile!  The path dived downhill through a lush meadow.  I noticed remnants of a large wildflower bloom.  Then I spied bright orange butterflies flitting through the shrived flower petals.  It took a few minutes, and a lot of patience, but one friendly butterfly did stop, and lingered long enough to allow a few images.

I finally spy Lookingglass Lake

This trail wound steeply downhill, recrossing the same stream multiple times.  I began to tire of rock-hopping and started to wade through the water instead (it wasn't very deep).  This last mile seemed to take an eternity.  More than once I questioned if this was the right trail.  But then I spotted a lovely blue-green lake through the forest.

Green grass brightens the lakeshore

Ohhh.....was it ever beautiful!  Surrounded by lush green grasses, the lake itself was a shining teal color.  Although surrounded by ghostly gray dead trees (sadly the forest fire passed this way too) it was still very stunning.

Perfect mountain reflection!

Following the shoreline to its opposite end, I was happy to discover that perfect reflection I'd come so far to find.

Gentians blooming around the lake

Lucky for me, the winds were calm.  The lake's glassy surface gave a perfect mirror image of Mt. Adams, towering high above.  The burned out forest, although not as scenic, did open up more views of this mountain.

Mt. Adams fills the sky

After taking the obligatory dozens of photos, I sat on a log, ate my lunch, and enjoyed the scenery.

More great reflections

I could've lingered at Lookingglass Lake all afternoon.  But, after a peaceful hour, I knew it was time to head back.  I finished the loop around the lake, following a faint trail until it petered out into a marsh.  Not watching where I was going, I ended up stepping into knee-deep water (cleverly hidden by a bed of thick moss).  My boots filled with water.  Although my feet got wet, the icy cold water felt good on my tired feet.  The day was getting warm, and anything cold was most welcome!

Colorful creek crossing

I climbed back up until again reuniting with Round the Mountain Trail.  Retracing my steps, I crossed back over the same streams.  Now that my feet were wet, stream crossings became a snap.  I didn't worry about rock hopping, and instead plowed right through the water.  One particular stream was lined with rust-colored rocks (must've been some iron minerals in them) and was especially scenic.

Rock cairns mark crossing points

A few stream crossings were marked with cute little rock cairns.  This one, with it's multicolored rocks, was my favorite.

Clear, glacial stream

I enjoyed my trek back on Round the Mountain Trail.  Although it ducked back into the forest in a few places, for the most part, I was treated to endless open views, of the surrounding foothills, Mt. Adams, and the adjacent peaks of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens.

Back through the burn zone

Hitting the last junction, I began the final leg of my journey, down the Shorthorn Trail.  Trekking back down through the viewless burned-out forest seemed endless.  My feet were hurting, the temps toasty.  Dust billowed up from my footsteps.  This part wasn't much fun at all.  I was never so happy to see the campground and my car. 

A wonderful place!

I've discovered another magical place on Mt. Adams.  Lookingglass Lake is definitely another jewel on Mt. Adams' crown.

Stats for the day:  12 miles, 1800' elevation gain.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday and Wednesday Around the World.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Growing up in Southwestern South Dakota in the 70s and 80s, I was well aware that nuclear missile silos existed on the prairies east of town.  In college, my friends and I met lots of air force guys stationed at these places, who described themselves as "missile cops."  (Supposedly one of the most boring jobs in the Air Force)  We'd make somber predictions about how, in the event of a nuclear war, due to all these missiles, the Russians would likely wipe our state off the map.

These missiles could reach their targets in 30 minutes

In it's heyday, this corner of South Dakota contained 150 Minuteman II Missiles, and 15 launch control centers.  The entire facility covered 13,500 square miles.  The silos and launch centers were built in the early 60s, and remained in service until 1991, when the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed by US and Russia.

Main HQ - just a glorified trailer house

Shortly after 1991, I'd heard all these silos had been removed, and the missiles decommissioned.  But I didn't realize that the Park System saved an abandoned silo and launch control center.  Using these Cold War-era facilities, they established a National Historic Site aimed at educating the public about this period of history.

Missile silo site

During last month's South Dakota trip, when I proposed visiting the Badlands, my brother suggested we visit the missile silo site too.  It was on our return route, so we'd be in the neighborhood.  Truthfully, I wasn't all that interested at first.  But I decided to keep an open mind - it might be alright.  After all, growing up, I'd heard so much about these silos, but never got to see one for real.

Checking out the silo

After spending all morning touring the Badlands, my family and I stopped by the headquarters of the Minuteman Missile National Historic site, which was merely two glorified trailer houses set next to a roadside gas station.  A couple of interpretive signs flanked the entrance, and inside was a small theater showing movies.  The real attractions - the launch control facility and the actual missile silo were located further west.  The missile silo was a self-guided site, but tickets were required to tour the launch control facility.  The tickets were available from the historic site HQ each day, on a first-come basis.  Unfortunately, by the time we arrived (well after noon) the day's tours were already full.

What's inside?

Since visiting the launch control center was not a possibility, my dad instead pointed his car towards the missile silo.  The silo was located directly off of I-90, on a patch of barren grassland in the middle of nowhere.  A huge chain-link fence circled the site, but the gate was cracked open just enough for people to slip inside.

Diagram showing inside of a silo

There really wasn't much to see.  The launch tube was surrounded by a concrete pad.  It's cover had been replaced with a glass viewing enclosure.  Inside was a decommissioned missile, pointing blankly towards the sky.

These silos were in the middle of nowhere

At one time, these silos had been scattered throughout this grassy plain.  A nearby launch control facility would have been responsible for a certain number - not only to activate them, if the circumstances directed, but also to keep an eye on the security of each site.  If an alarm was tripped, the "missile cops" had to come investigate.  They didn't mess around, and were instructed to use deadly force if any of these silos were threatened.

Back side of the silo

Yeah, we spent a grand total of maybe 10 minutes poking around the silo, until everyone agreed we'd seen enough.  Although it was good to see once, I don't feel a need to return.  But someday I'd like to tour the launch facility.  That's probably more interesting.

Wall Drug!

Our trip ended with lunch at the world-famous Wall Drug.  A large drug store/gift shop/tourist attraction, it's the home of free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and the largest collection of kitschy attractions ever.  You can even get your picture taken atop a giant jackalope! 

This ends the recaps of my South Dakota trip.  Next post I'll return to regular Oregon hiking reports.....

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Picture a desolated, arid plain.  Brown brittle grasses, dry sagebrush, devoid of trees.  The hills eroded into numerous craggy spires and crooked dusty gullies.  Blistering hot in the summer, frigidly cold in winter.  A hard, lonely landscape.  Who would visit a place like this?

Why me, of course!

Obligatory park entrance sign photo

I've always had a fascination with the Badlands of Western South Dakota.  The artfully weathered hills, sculpted by wind and rain.  The colorful layers of rock uncovered by erosion.  The wide-open vistas.  There's beauty to be found in these "bad lands."

Lone tree amid endless grassland

The local Lakota people called the rugged moonscape Mako Sica, which means "land that is bad."  Early trappers and settlers steered clear of this dry, desolate area. 

The muddy gravel road

The Badlands were created eons ago when a large ocean covered the western plains states.  Over time, sediments deposited on the ocean bottom, creating the colorful layers that eventually became rock.  Volcanic activities created uplifting of the nearby Black Hills.  From these mountains, steams flowed, carrying more sediments that deposited over the old seabed.  Finally, wind, water and ice combined to erode the softer sediments, leaving behind tougher sandstones.  Nature sculpted the rocks into fantastic shapes - spires, pyramids, castles, and wrinkly gullies.

My mom takes in the view

But that's not all - within these colorful rock layers lie a wealth of fossils.  Three-toed horses, prehistoric rhinos and pigs, saber-toothed cats, and all kinds to sea life - the remains of these animals and more have been unearthed in the Badlands.

Amazing striped hills

Now, this wonderful area is a National Park (very deserving of its status IMHO).  It had been a couple of years since my last visit, so this time I was bound and determined to get out here.

Tiny yellow flowers still in bloom

My parents, brother, myself, and Denise all piled into my mom's car, and we drove east on South Dakota Hwy 44.  Shortly after passing the tiny town of Scenic, my dad turned onto minor road 590, a back way into the west park entrance.

Craggy, eroded slopes

This year, Western South Dakota has had a very unseasonable cool, rainy summer (it's like Oregon and SD switched weather patterns).  The day I chose for my Badlands visit was cool and cloudy with intermittent rain sprinkles.  By far not typical weather for late August!  But all that moisture did come with a silver lining - turning the adjacent plains a lovely shade of green. 

Well-placed overlook

Road 590 was a well-graded gravel track through wide open grassy rangeland.  On our way to the park, we passed a few farms, and a couple of huge sunflower fields.  Then the terrain began to get rougher, with scattered buttes and gullies.  And then we came upon a park entrance sign.

Colorful hills

The morning's light rain had softened the gravel road just enough to create a thin layer of mud.  Exiting my mom's car at the first viewpoint, I noticed the entire body was splattered with silt.  Usually this time of year the only thing that coated cars was dust. 

More colorful layers on display

We traveled along the park road, stopping at a couple of nice viewpoints.  I'd hop out of the car with my camera and start capturing the expansive landscape before me.  I wished the weather wasn't so cloudy and blah - I'd really hoped to photograph the Badlands against bright blue skies.

Another great viewpoint

At one of the pullouts I accidentally stepped into a small mudhole.  Thick, sticky clay clung to my shoes.  Try as I might, I couldn't quite knock all the mud off.  Now my poor mom's car was not only dirty on the outside, thanks to my shoes it got muddy on the inside too.  (Sorry mom!)

Lots of color in those hills!

Finally our endless gravel road intersected with Road 240, directly south of the town of Wall.  Here was the park's Pinnacles Entrance, and from this point we traveled east on smooth, newly-paved asphalt.  Most visitors enter the park via this road, and travel east to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Family photo op

The first major overlook, appropriately named the Pinnacles Overlook, gave us an amazing view of the tiered, sculpted hills.  Their sides wrinkled from numerous rainstorm runoff, their tops shaved into thin fins.  They looked almost castle-like.  But the best part was seeing the various layers of colorful rock, each marking a different era in geologic history.

Very amazing sights

On photo overload, I spent lots of time wandering around, photographing the hills from as many angles as I could think of.

Don't worry - no snakes were spotted

Although the Badlands look desolate and incapable of supporting life, all kinds of fauna live in these hills and gullies.  Mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bison, coyotes, prairie dogs, and the endangered Black-footed ferret (thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in 1981, thirty-six ferrets were released in the park in 1994).  And, of course, slithery critters such as the rattlesnake also make the Badlands their home. (Luckily we didn't see any!)

These craggy hills go on forever

The Badlands do have several short hiking trails.  I was tempted to take a quick ramble on one of them, but after stopping at one parking area, I noticed the rain had turned things to muck.  I saw a family playing in the creek bottom, and all were head-to-toe covered in mud.  Not wanting to mess up my mom's car any more than I already had, I opted to get my photos from the parking lot.

Busy bee

Luckily, the park has several great viewpoints strung along the main park road (sporting mud-free wood boardwalks).  The road from the Pinnacles Entrance to Ben Reifel Visitor Center is a lovely scenic drive.  My dad stopped at a bunch of these pullouts so I could capture more of the amazing landscape.

Road through the ruins

Although the weather wasn't the greatest, I still managed to get a lot of images I liked.  Coming from Oregon I know full well that a cloudy sky is not always a bad thing when it comes to photography.  Although I missed out on blue skies, I did enjoy saturated colors and no shadows!

Mother nature is a great artist!

We ended our drive at the Northeast Entrance, and headed towards I-90.  But our day's exploration was not quite over yet - on the way home, we planned to stop by the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  I'll tell ya all about it in my next post.

Stay tuned!

Sharing with: Our World Tuesday.