Sunday, December 31, 2017

Our 52-Hike Challenge 2017

On January 1, 2017 as Ann and I were headed to Harper's Ferry WV for our first hike of 2017, Ann told me of something she read about on a hiking site, a 52-Hike Challenge in which participants strive to make 52 hikes in a 52-week period. She asked if I might be up for it. Why not?

Our real challenge is that I work 6 days a week and 7 days some weeks. That leaves fewer than 52 days a year for hiking especially if you factor in days off for sickness and really bad weather. In any case, challenge accepted for the calendar year 2017 and this is our saga.

Update November 30, 2017: We're definitely not going to make our goal this year. With Carter going off to college in early August, we lost our dog-sitter on Sundays, making it really hard to get away. Then we spent a month closing the restaurant and packing for our move to Oregon and another two weeks driving across the country. Then we spent a month getting established at work and then finding and buying a house. That brings us up to the end of November and still no dog-sitter. Here's hoping that we find our routine and can get back to hiking soon.

Hike (click through)
Oct 14, 2017
Oct 10, 2017
Aug 20, 2017
Aug 13, 2017
Aug 6, 2017
Jul 23, 2017
Jul 17, 2017
Jul 9, 2017
Jul 4, 2017
Jul 3, 2017
Jul 2, 2017
Jun 25, 2017
May 21, 2017
May 14, 2017
May 6, 2017
May 4, 2017
May 3, 2017
May 2, 2017
May 1, 2017
Apr 30, 2017
Apr 23, 2017
Apr 16, 2017
Apr 9, 2017
Apr 2, 2017
Mar 19, 2017
Mar 3, 2017
Feb 26, 2017
Feb 19, 2017
Feb 12, 2017
Feb 5, 2017
Jan 29, 2017
Jan 1, 2017


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Willamette Mission State Park

There are days and hikes that sometimes never go as planned. Today was one such that we both wish could have been a do-over at some other place. Being brand new to the area, we still don't know where to hike and we are finding that you can't get from point A to point B with any speed. There is no road infrastructure here so even though we should be only minutes from the Coastal Range, all drives are at least an hour and with about a four-hour window between dog walks, there is no profit in driving over two hours just to walk about two hours.

Making the best of a difficult situation, Ann randomly picked a destination called Willamette Mission State Park near Keizer, about 45 minutes from the house. The site of the first mission in the Oregon territory, the park is also home to one of the largest cottonwood trees in the country, if not the largest. Some historical sites and an awesome tree? Not exactly the mountains, but it could work for a quick flat-land hike.

On approaching the park, however, things started to go really south. First, there was a long line of cars and school buses at the entrance. We would get into the park to find dozens and dozens of school buses, hundreds of cars, and pack after pack of high school kids. Awesome! We spotted a ranger, asked her what was going on, and ultimately bummed a trail map from her after finding out that it was a local high school cross country meet that had all of the more interesting part of the park closed to the public. We almost turned around. We should have turned around.

Trying to make lemonade from our lemons, we headed south up the river along the riverside path that wound in and out of the woods and grasses. Soon enough, we had got away from the crowd, but the hiking was dull and uninteresting.

Stones Along the River Bank

Fox Sparrow in the Grass

Slough on the Willamette River
The further upriver we got, the wilder it got and as we skirted along a little slough shooting off the river proper, I heard a bald eagle give its signature call. I looked up to see one cruising the far side of the treeline along a pasture when another came across the river to join it. Soon enough, a large hawk joined the group and started harassing the eagles.

Bald Eagle, One of a Pair
Just after this and about 2.5 miles into our 4.5-mile hike, I heard Ann scream like I have never heard her scream before. She was crying and slapping at things I couldn't see and it took me a few seconds to understand that she was being stung by some insect. I went over to grab her by the hand to try to get her to run away down the path when all of a sudden, my leg felt like someone had shot a flaming hot nail from a nail gun into it. She would be stung four times and I would be stung three times before I could get her to run with me down the trail. When we got safely away, I found a dead yellow jacket in her shirt. We were in intense pain for the next 30 minutes and would not be pain- and itch-free for a week. Damn, those things hurt!

Needless to say, our day was pretty much ruined and we finished the remainder of our walk without a lot of enthusiasm.

Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare

Purple Jimsonweed, Datura stramonium

White Jimsonweed

Jimsonweed Seed Pod
All along the hike, we kept spotting a plant that looks like a Lonicera with white berries that resembles Doll's Eyes back east. It turns out to be Common Snowberry.

Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
All in all, a pretty miserable experience and not great hiking.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Miller Woods, McMinnville, OR

For our first hike in Oregon, we found Miller Woods, a 130-acre tract just west of McMinnville where we could have a quick walk while not stranding the dogs at home for too long. We walked 4.5 miles on an undulating track through fields and woods, with one brief climb of a couple hundred feet. In other words, it was flat.

The hills just west of McMinnville, approaching the Coastal Range, are an intriguing mix of deciduous and coniferous woods, some containing old growth. I saw some vast Western Red Cedars, Big-Leaf Maples, Oregon White Oaks, and other Hemlock-looking trees. I can't wait to spend some time out in the woods figuring out what all these western trees are.

Pasture at Miller Woods

Hiking Under an Oregon White Oak

Crown of a Huge Oregon White Oak

Under a Big-leaf Maple

Big-leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) Leaf

Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea

So Not Virginia Anymore!

Ferns and Moss in the Understory
We had descended into a creek valley covered in old growth trees and were just making our way up a hill through a stand of planted Ponderosa pines, when I caught movement just ahead of me as a Great Horned Owl turned its head directly at me. I don't know that I would have seen it if it hadn't moved. It is most unusual to see an owl being active at high noon. They're usually crepuscular to nocturnal creatures and you hear them much more often than you see them. I was really excited for Ann as this was her first owl.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl on the Wing
It being mid-October and us being mostly in the woods, there weren't a lot of flowers to be seen. We saw a few cranesbills, a few purple, white, and yellow asters, and not a whole lot else. I'm really looking forward to spring and learning a whole new set of flowers. The Pearly Everlasting above is one flower that I do recognize from back east.

Random Yellow Aster

Another Pasture

Small Pond on the Property
Given that it was high noon and that we were having typical Oregon October weather, sunny one moment and raining the next, we didn't see a lot of birds. As we arrived, we saw one accipiter flying away from us and now and again, a Scrub Jay would yammer at us from the brush. Most of the little birds were limited to Oregon Juncos. We did hear a pair of Flickers talking back and forth to each other and flying from fencepost to snag to fencepost. I finally got a halfway decent picture of one on a snag. I did get to show Ann the golden blush of the feathers (Yellow-shafted) as the birds flew, which is a totally different look from the red blush of the eastern ones (Red-shafted) that we're used to.

Yellow-Shafted Flicker

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Oregon Trail

We had the time of a lifetime moving across the country from Virginia to Oregon. The map below shows our route and some of the places that we visited. Many of our friends called us crazy or asserted that we have really big balls and most said that they were envious that we were doing something that they had always wanted to do. Like most things in life that are extremely challenging, it mostly just takes an unwavering conviction to accomplish a journey such as this, a journey that requires leaving the comfort of an established life on one coast to face a total unknown on the other coast. Call it what you will, here it is.

Index of Posts by Day

  September 15, 2017: Oregon Trail: Moving Day
  September 16, 2017: Oregon Trail: Ohio to Lake Michigan
  September 17, 2017: Oregon Trail: The UP
  September 18, 2017: Oregon Trail: Michigan to South Dakota
  September 19, 2017: Oregon Trail: Badlands National Park
  September 20, 2017: Oregon Trail: Custer State Park SD
  September 21, 2017: Oregon Trail: Wyoming Day 1
  September 22, 2017: Oregon Trail: Wyoming Day 2
  September 23, 2017: Oregon Trail: Yellowstone and Idaho Falls
  September 24, 2017: Oregon Trail: Idaho
  September 25, 2017: Oregon Trail: Oregon!

Oregon Trail by the Numbers

  13 states
  11 days
  4300+ miles
  3.5 days in EDT
  3 days in CDT
  3.5 days in MDT
  1 day in PDT
  3 cameras
  1200+ photos 
  7 bald eagles
  1 great grey owl
  countless hawks and falcons
  sandhill cranes
  50ish wild turkeys
  thousands of pronghorns
  4 bighorn sheep
  7 elk
  hundreds of bison
  some mule, blacktail, and whitetail deer
  a solitary bull moose

I had not been to Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Montana, or Idaho before.
South Dakota takes the prize for being the most beautiful state.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Oregon Trail: Oregon!

It's Monday the 25th and the final day of our adventure in moving from Virginia to Oregon. It's been a lot of fun and its been tiring living in a cramped car and an endless stream of hotel rooms with two dogs. Grace doesn't seem to mind the life, head hung out of the car window and snoozing in the sunshine in between, but it's been tough on Charlie, he who hates to travel. He hasn't eaten well but he has managed OK despite his anxiety. It has seemed like a small victory each time we have been able to persuade him to eat.

Final Day on the Road
Why is Chuck Getting Breakfast in Bed?
Finally in the Pacific Time Zone after crossing into Oregon—how weird is it that this is home now?—we would make our final push to Yamhill in the Willamette Valley, 28 miles as the crow flies (and an hour in the car) southwest of downtown Portland. We're aiming to meander along the Columbia River, bypass Portland traffic, and arrive in Yamhill late afternoon. But first, coffee in Baker City before hitting the road. One of the great things about the PacNW is coffee, good coffee, everywhere. The roadsides are littered with tiny little drive-up coffee shacks.

Tiny Coffee Shop in Baker City, Quintessential Oregon
Northeastern Oregon is really cool high mountain desert of a type that I have never seen before. The mountains are really tall, pretty rugged, and totally treeless, quite the alien landscape for a guy from Virginia. Across in Washington state, it looks exactly the same. Google "Blue Mountains" if you've never seen this kind of otherworldly landscape. Further west, the mountains get more rugged and covered in what looks to be ponderosa pine for the most part.

Between La Grande and Pendleton on I-84 sits Deadman's Pass at 3631 feet in the mountains. We climbed more than 2,000 feet on some steep grades with a bunch of double-hairpin turns. It was unnerving to be on the outside of a logging truck going through some of these beastly curves. This section of I-84 follows the old Oregon Trail wagon road, a fitting place for us to be on this trip. There must be a lot of accidents involving trucks (likely brake overheating and failure). On the western downgrades, we saw one sign restricting truck speed to 18 mph.

At the pass, we stopped at the rest stop and to go to the scenic overview. The scenic overview is down a frontage road along the interstate and then along a dirt track winding through the woods for a ways. It is open range here and cattle were everywhere.

Off-The-Beaten-Path Scenic Overloook
The Columbia River even at this point hundreds of miles from the ocean is a serious river with tugboats pushing barges and here and there, buoys and floats for gill nets. We saw a lot of gill nets deployed; I'm not sure of the salmon seasons here, but this seems very late to me and the fish are likely to be a little thin from their trip up the river.

The Columbia River Gorge is spectacular and to see it closer and at slower speed, we got off I-84 at The Dalles and took the scenic US 30 through the hillsides covered in grasses and Oregon white oaks interspersed with huge ponderosa pines. We climbed the very twisty road up to Rowena Crest where we had great views of the river and Washington state across the river.

The Road Less Traveled

The Rowena Crest Viewpoint

The Columbia River and Washington State

Barge on the River

Brown Dog Loves the View

Black-tailed Doe
US-30 winds down through beautiful oak savannah, farms, and orchard land into the tiny town of Mosier where we picked up I-84 for a couple of moments until we exited at Hood River.

One Last River View
We left the Gorge at the town of Hood River and followed the Hood River up to Mount Hood which we never got to see fully for the abundant cloud cover. We got some teasing glimpses of it here and there, but nothing worth stopping for especially since it had started raining about the time we left Hood River.

On the back side of Mt. Hood, we picked up US 26 and headed back for the Portland area to pick up 99-W into the valley. Traffic on 99-W was terrible and that is all I will say about that. We were so frazzled by the traffic that we stopped at Chehalem Valley Brewing in Newberg on the way to the house in Yamhill, another 15 minutes down the road.

Final Road Beer
And there you have it. It was a long eleven days and we got to see some of the most spectacular scenery that this country has to offer. Now on with our new lives in Oregon.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Oregon Trail: Idaho

Tomorrow we arrive at our new home in Oregon. We're ten days in at this point and the sightseeing is mainly behind us. We have to get clear across two states in two days. It is 750 miles no matter how you slice it, so we buckled in for a couple of long road days. Still, at 75mph average speed (most of I-84 is posted at 80mph but there are constant construction zones), we did have a little slack in our schedule to get off the highway for a few minutes.

The first thing I noticed was lava. There are lava rocks everywhere and we have driven through a few cuts in lava beds. The rest of the place is flat, dead flat, and I have the distinct impression that there is but a very thin veneer of topsoil over lava beds. I also notice that it is very arid: just about every field has big irrigation rigs. Good thing the Snake River, which keeps getting wider every time we encounter it, has a lot of water.

The ever present irrigation rigs prove to be excellent perches for raptors. We see hundreds if not thousands of raptors. Every fence line and every irrigation rig has at least one if not more raptors perched upon it. Every couple of minutes, we see a kestrel hovering over some prey. As the Snake River came close to the highway, we saw four bald eagles perched right alongside the highway. Remember my U-turn in Wyoming to see two eagles in a tree and my thinking that I might never see such a sight again in my life? Never mind. Life is good.

But the most prominent sight? Potato fields. Mile upon mile upon mile of potato fields. And potato barns. Some are tiny, some are acres and acres under roof, but they all have one thing in common: the lower side walls are insulated with mounded dirt, rigid insulation, or some combination. I have never seen anything like this before, huge above-ground root cellars. Some of the larger warehouses have monster condensing units outside with refrigeration lines going inside. Potatoes are huge business here. We also saw row after row of potato harvesters, giant rolling conveyor belts that loosen the earth, scoop the potatoes and dirt onto an open conveyor that lets the dirt falls through and transports the potatoes to a truck or hopper.

Mustard in Eastern Idaho, A Rare Non-Potato Field

We Agree. Portland Beer in Idaho
Because we had a little slack in our day, we started looking for things along the interstate to amuse us and we quickly latched onto Shoshone Falls on the Snake River at Twin Falls, ID. The pictures we saw on the internet were amazing; they don't call it the Niagara of the West for nothing and at 208 feet high, it's taller than Niagara Falls. And bonus, it is perhaps a 10-minute detour off the highway to get to the park managed by the City of Twin Falls. As we were navigating the back roads to the park, we got a great view of a prairie falcon as it winged right in front of our windshield.

Shoshone Falls. Detour Number One

Snake River at Shoshone Falls
As you can see in the photo below, we didn't see the massive Niagara of the West that is shown in all the photos of the place. Waterflow was restricted to a trickle, the usual state of affairs at this time of year. Still, as a great place to get out of the car and stretch our legs, it was well worth the detour off the highway and the $3 entrance fee.

Where are the 208-Foot Falls?

Looking Downstream of the Falls

Small Waterfall at Park Entrance

Creek Spilling Into Snake River Canyon

Another Trickle

The Main Falls, Just About Dry

Butte Overlooking Canyon
I took leave of Ann to scramble higher on the canyon walls to get a different angle for my shots and at one point when I looked down at her from a couple hundred feet above, I saw this shot of her warming herself in the sun.

Warm Sun, Chilly Morning

Hillside Covered in Gutierrezia sarothrae, Broom Snakeweed
For the last week at least, we have been driving past clematis plants covered in their fuzzy seed heads. This is the first place that I have actually been able to walk up to a plant to see what it was. And to my surprise, it was still blooming, making the identification that much easier.

Clematis Seed Head

Invasive Clematis orientalis, Oriental Clematis
As I was scrambling on the hill sides, I came across a lot of prickly plants blooming pink. I was guessing they were Euphorbias, but that turned out not to be the case. I had no idea that I was looking at Prickly Russian Thistle aka Tumbleweed. It's a pretty undesirable invasive in most of the western US.

Salsola tragus, Prickly Russian Thistle (Tumbleweed)
We all recognize sunflowers when we see them, but when those of us back east see them, it's almost always because they've been planted in somebody's flower bed. And the ones we see are likely highly selected and bred for color, shape, and height. I find it really cool to see the native plants growing in their native habitat. It's fun to be where they grow just naturally. Of course, I am reminded of the vast fields of sunflowers grown as a crop in South Dakota.

Annual Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
After visiting the falls, we headed back to the highway for points west. There wasn't a lot to see along the road at this point, just mile after mile of high desert. West of Twin Falls the land becomes much more rugged and then the interstate dives down inside the Snake River canyon for a while. Off to our north, we had good views of the Sawtooth Range, some 60 miles distant.

About 1pm, we started getting really hungry so we looked for a nearby town. The next town of any size (there's a whole lot of nothing between Twin Falls and Boise) was Mountain Home. We were looking for a sit-down meal to get us out of the car, rather than fast food, of which we were totally sick.

We came across a Singaporean restaurant named Shiok. With visions of Singapore noodles running through my brain, we left the interstate to find the restaurant which is about 15 minutes south of the highway, right near the main gate for Mountain Home AFB. In other words, the restaurant is smack in the middle of nowhere, BFE to be exact. We wondered exactly why such a restaurant would be this far out in nowhere. The Air Force base, we guessed.

Pavement Mirage, Mountain Home ID
The food was well worth the effort. Of the four dishes we ordered, three were really good. Only a hot pot was not good, the worst kind of American-Chinese glop in a dish. We ordered extra Singapore Noodles to take with us for dinner.

Laksa Curry Noodles

Singapore Style Vermicelli

Salt and Pepper Calamari
After lunch we headed to Ontario on the Idaho-Oregon border. This is the point where we needed to decide which route to take across Oregon. We could go through the back country on either US-20 or US-26 or we could continue on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge. It was the traveling with dogs deal that decided for us. It was tough enough finding a hotel that accepted dogs along the I-84 corridor. Traveling the backroads did not look like a win, so we stayed on I-84 until we came to a town with a hotel that accepted dogs, Baker City OR.

Northeast Oregon. Golden Brown Mountains with Zero Trees
After our dinner of leftovers, we turned in for our final night in a hotel, equally looking forward to our last day on the road and a bit sad that our great adventure was coming quickly to a close.

Our 52-Hike Challenge 2017

On January 1, 2017 as Ann and I were headed to Harper's Ferry WV for our first hike of 2017, Ann told me of something she read about on ...