Tourist Tuesday: Skamania Lodge

An offer to take my daughter out for a farewell dinner before she heads off to college morphed into a day trip with lunch at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington and stops at two parks on the way home.  She loves to travel, and a simple dinner at Red Robin or Gustav’s just wasn’t on her radar.

She and I had lunch at Skamania Lodge a month ago or so and she wanted to return with Dad and brother in tow.  When she and I went, we practically had the place to ourselves mid-week.  But on 8/18/18 (which turns out is a very popular wedding date) and being the weekend, the Lodge was filled with a large wedding party, as well as summer weekend guests.  Our timing wasn’t good, as the main dining room closes between 2-4, so we ate in the more lively sports bar area.  The Lodge itself has a mini Timberline Lodge atmosphere with large stone fireplace and lots of wood, terrific views of the Columbia River Gorge, has a golf course and zip lines, and plenty of outdoor seating (although the waitress warned us the bees were being aggressive if you ate outside, so most everyone opted to eat indoors.)  The food was pretty standard brew house fare.  I had pizza which was good.  My son had pulled pork sliders which he said were fine. My husband had a veggie burger which wasn’t his favorite he’s ever had, and my daughter had a vegetarian pasta dish which she enjoyed.  I will say we were a bit disappointed there weren’t more walking paths to wander upon (I like to wander in gardens.) It’s more of a lodge for sitting and enjoying the view.  They do have activities for hotel guests available, but as we were just day trippers, there were less options.  Because I wasn’t really planning on a blog post about the lodge, I didn’t take any photos and had to borrow the two images from Google.

the lobby/lounge

The drive from Vancouver is a scenic one along SR 14 on the North side of the Columbia River. Unusual this year were the incredible number of tent caterpillar webs hanging in the trees along the highway. In all my life, I’ve never seen such an infestation!  It looked like every other tree had been TP’d by miscreant teenagers.

Tent caterpillars everywhere!

On the way home, we stopped at Beacon Rock State Park where the kids skipped rocks, and we sat in the shade at a picnic table playing a game of Uno.  We really have epic Uno card games.  They can go on for hours.  We combined two decks so we don’t have to shuffle the discard pile so many times.

Beacon Rock
Across the Columbia you can see the burn scars from last year’s wildfire

Next stop was St. Cloud park, which is a small park easy to miss as you drive past at 50 mph, which is why it was so quiet there.  It must be an old homestead, as the park is made up of an abandoned apple and pear orchard.  The state has added gravel walking paths in a circle around the perimeter.  There is an uneven path you can walk down to the River.  During August, the River is pretty low, so you are able to walk out further along the rocks.  It’s not a relaxing beach atmosphere, but we had the place to ourselves. I was happy to find not a single piece of trash on the ground either. The kids had a ball having a contest to see who could skip a rock the furthest, while mom and dad found flat rocks for them.  My two kids are fairly competitive in that way.

at St Cloud Park
St Cloud Park – an old orchard
at St Cloud Park
skipping rock competition

All in all, an enjoyable afternoon trip much better than a meal at Red Robin.


Day Trip: A Visit to Mount Angel Abbey

Mount Angel Abbey is located in Mount Angel, Oregon in the beautiful Willamette Valley.  My daughter is studying architecture and was on an assignment following her summer internship, “you must visit the library at Mount Angel Abbey!”  The library was designed by a world-renown Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto.  The architect is well known for his modern style. The library was completed in 1970 and itself is a well known theological library.

Visiting the Abbey, one must respect that it is a working monastery and seminary, and not a public park.  Visitors should be respectful. 

The Abbey sits atop a hill with outstanding views on 3 sides.  They have benches set in perfect spots for viewing.  DSCF5194I could have sat on one of those benches for hours, but we continued on to tour the library.  Voices are kept at low levels, as this is a working library, and you will find monks doing research while there.  The library has some Aalto furniture pieces on display, and copies of Aalto’s famous glass vase design, as well as posters available for purchase.  The library’s architecture is modern in a circular, curving format with good natural lighting, and consistent style using vertical light wood pieces – even covering the panel holding the emergency fire hose.  The design takes advantage of the library’s position on the edge of the hill and has a stair-step 3 level design.


Adjoining the library is a room of rare books which fascinated even my two teenagers and is worth a look. DSCF5185

After leaving the library we headed for the church to take a peek.  It was closed due to construction but we could still peek inside at its unusual design.  It is perhaps an homage to the Monastery’s roots based in Switzerland.DSCF5199

Around the corner and below the Monastery rooms, is a basement entrance with a small sign “museum” that I’m sure is missed by many.  But don’t miss it!  I have no doubt my kids were “ugh…a church museum?” but as I overheard a monk explain, it is like the Abbey’s attic.  And what an attic.  The last thing I expected to see as I walked in the door was a still life taxidermy scene of a cougar pouncing on a black-tailed deer. Then a full size moose.  And a goat.  And a polar bear. And an eagle. And a bison.  And so much more.  Tiny preserved birds in tubes.  Insects large and small.  Other cases contained a wild variety of items loosely displayed by region – the Pacific Islands, European, and the Holy Land ranging from 1,000 BC to a can of Coleman’s Mustard in the vintage case.DSCF5201

It is a small, free museum and well worth the visit!

Our last stop was a lovely little coffee and gift shop called “The Press” with is definitely worth a visit.DSCF5209



Daytrip: Oregon Coast and Devil’s Punchbowl

Last weekend my family and I made another day trip.  This time we aimed for the Devil’s Punchbowl.  It is a circular outcrop at the base of a cliff where the center has eroded.  At minus-tide, you can walk into the center of it.  At high tide, it fills about half full.  During storms it can fill all the way to the top.  The viewpoint directly overhead was rather windy, but what a view! My husband and teenagers ventured down inside while I stayed up top to take photos.


My kids looking at the sea anenomes inside the punchbowl.


There are many viewpoints at which you can stop and take photos along the Oregon Coast hwy 101.  We stopped at a viewpoint just north of Devil’s Punchbowl and had a spectacular view overlooking Otter Rock and Devil’s Punchbowl.

My favorite view overlooking Otter Rock
Overlooking Agate Beach with many brave surfers


A bit further north we stopped at another viewpoint with great views.  A group of college aged boys were joking as they headed into the Lookout Souvenir shop “I must buy a refrigerator magnet!”

DSCF5023DSCF5008bridge oregon coast

As we headed north, we stopped for a frisbee-break at Tierra del Mar beach.  We tried stopping for lunch at Pelican Brew Pub in Pacific City, but couldn’t find parking.  We don’t usually go to the coast on the weekends, but wowza! Large crowds there.  There was extra excitement as a group of good samaritans helped lift a Subaru stuck in the sand as the tide was coming in.  They literally had to lift it out of the water and to dry land.  There are just a few beaches that allow cars on them.  (I’m not a fan of cars on beaches.) From Tierra del Mar we headed north all the way to Cannon Beach where we headed back to the heat and traffic of the Portland Metropolitan area.

Tierra Del Mar
Neakhani mountain
Neakhani Mountain
Tide’s coming in…
beach exercise


Tourist on Tuesday

A trip to Oysterville

Last weekend I made a day trip to Oysterville.  What a great name.  I originally took my kids there several years ago on a day trip just because it was a fun name.  What I didn’t realize was that I would fall in love with the tiny place called Oysterville, Washington.

You can’t even call it a town.  It is more like one street.  One historic street.  It is on the National List of Historic Places.  Founded in 1854 (which is pretty old for the West Coast) it once was the county seat.  Located near the very northern tip of the Long Beach peninsula, it is only about 15 miles from the city of Long Beach, Washington, but worlds away in time.  Long Beach is a lively, summer carnival atmosphere.  Oysterville is peaceful. Serene.  There is nothing really to do there except walk the mown grass paths, admire the Willapa Bay, study the wildflowers, and dream of retiring there.  The old school house is now used as a well-kept community building.  There is only one shop in town, who sells their own artisan foods, as well as local seafood and a glass of wine or a bottle of beer.  You can sit out on their deck and look out over the bay. You can enter the beautiful old church if there isn’t a wedding in progress.  In this world of needing never-ending entertainment, many would find this place boring.  I find it beautiful.

The beautiful church
The church door



Day Trip: Ferries and Baseball

This Fourth of July, my family and I decided we’d attend a single-A baseball game in Keizer, Oregon.  The Salem/Keizer Volcanoes are a single-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, and for just $12 you can get up close and have great views. Following the game there would be fireworks.  We could have just hopped on I-5 and been there in about 90 minutes, but we chose to make a day of it and take the back roads.  It’s a lovely drive if you ever have the chance and want to see some of the Willamette Valley’s gorgeous scenery.

From I-205 we exited at Stafford Road and headed south and followed signs to the Canby Ferry.  For $4 you have a quick hop across the Willamette River on a cable-drawn ferry.  They allow you to hop out of your car and onto the observation platform. The road then takes you into Canby where you turn right on Knightsbridge follow signs towards I-5.  You’ll pass by Fir Point Farm on the right which is a nice stop for a milkshake, fresh produce, or go see their pet goats climb the trees.  Continue on to the pioneer village of Butteville and maybe stop in the historic old store.  Follow signs from here to Champoeg (pronounced sham-poo-ee) and stop at the historic pioneer visitor’s center adjacent to the state park.  The large red building contains a nice little museum, free to visitors, which shows what life was like for the early white pioneers who settled the area.  An historic flood in 1861 wiped their newly built town away, but left this homestead intact, including a barn dating to around 1860.

From Champoeg, go right and then left on French Prairie Rd. Right at the stop sign, then left at the next stop sign onto hwy 219 towards St. Paul.  As it was the Fourth of July, St. Paul was filled to the brim for their annual rodeo.  As we crawled through town, the smells of barbecue filled the air, reminding me it was close to lunchtime.  Once past St. Paul, we continued down the back highway (one lane each direction) and eventually turned right on Matheny Rd then right on Wheatland Ferry Rd.  This area is filled with farmer fields growing trendy crops of hops and hazelnuts – for the craft beer and trendy foods found on all restaurant menus nowadays.  We took the Wheatland Ferry – another quick $2 ride across the Willamette near banks of the river filled with families out enjoying the holiday.

We were now on Hwy 221/Wallace Rd heading south. We took a right on Zena Rd where the views changed to the rolling hills of Polk county dotted with oak trees.  There are dozens of wineries here with vineyards growing their famous Willamette Valley grapes. We took a left onto Hwy 99W and continued south as I clicked photos out the window, then at a small little brown sign indicating a right turn down a gravel road to Baskett Slough WLR (wild life refuge.)DSCF3774

From the informational kiosk, there is no wildlife to be viewed, you must do a relatively short 2 mile hike.  I must admit, I am not a hiker.  I am fine on level ground, but my aging feet, recent knee surgery, and overweight body does not like hiking uphill.  I did manage to make it to the top with a few stops for breath, and loved the views there as I could get some better photographs.  We didn’t see much wildlife, as it was mid afternoon, but we did see an extremely slow moving snake. (I would have preferred a deer or rabbit.)  The refuge is dedicated to a local man who loved bird watching, and who was killed in the attacks of 9/11.   Notes on the hike: there is a good uphill climb.  Not for people in wheelchairs.  No jogging, bicycling, or pets allowed. There is poison oak on the sides of the trails, so do not venture off trail.  You will be rewarded with beautiful valley views.DSCF3790

Return via the way you came down the gravel road, but turn right onto 99W.  It soon intersects with Hwy 22 where you can choose to head into Salem like we did to attend the game, or you can head further south towards Corvallis, or head west towards the Oregon beaches.

We headed for the Volcanoes stadium in Keizer where we stopped for dinner, and then attended the game. On the Fourth, they do a big celebration honoring the military, then follow the game with fireworks. As an added bonus, there was a spectacular sunset while we were enjoying the game. DSCF3835

Baseball, History, Scenic Sights.

Willamette Valley has so much to offer and even locals need to remember to venture off the freeway.

The shortest path is rarely the best path.




Tourist Tuesday: Mt. St. Helens

Sunday Drive

Sunday my family and I took a day trip up to Mt. St. Helens.  It was a beautiful, sunny, 70 degree day that beckoned for a Sunday drive with the sunroof open.  Our path started heading north on Hwy 503 on the Lewisville Hwy through the back communities of Amboy and Cougar, then onto the curvy road up towards Windy Ridge Observatory.  Along the way you’ll pass many rolling hills dotted with small farms and logged mountainsides. As you head up and up, you catch glimpses of beautiful valleys and vistas then the terrain changes to dense forest.

Finally a sign pointed us up towards Windy Ridge where the road winds you up the steep hillsides that surround St. Helens.  It isn’t just one peak standing alone, it is set in the Cascade Mountain Range which means many mountains all close to each other, thus lots of twists and turns on the edges of steep mountains and ravines that showcase the volcanic history of the area.

Valley view below
Mt. St. Helens crater


The drive is worth it.  As you head up and up, notice the trees and plants change from alders and vine maple to Douglas fir to noble fir to finally, barren. Luckily, there are many turnouts on the last leg of the drive, as you WILL want to pull over and stand in awe at the grand landscape before you.  You can see from St. Helens to Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.  We had a debate whether we were seeing Mt. Rainier or Adams, but signage won the day and Adams was the huge mountain in view.  I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest all my life and never realized Mt. Adams was taller than the iconic Mt. Hood.  From the different outlook stops you can see different views of St. Helens as you approach, vistas that overlook deep green valleys, and the steepness of the terrain.  At the end of the road is Windy Ridge Observation.  It is not much more than a parking lot with explanatory signage and some bathrooms, but WOW what a location!

Mt. Hood in the distance

Yes it is windy!

It is called Windy Ridge for a reason. I’d recommend leaving your baseball hat in the car, as it will probably blow away.  We brought a picnic, but opted to eat it in our car instead of outside.  Smart move.  As we sat in the car, the wind gusts were rocking the car.

Our kids chose to climb the stairs to a higher viewpoint (recent knee surgery precluded me from joining them) and they got some beautiful photos from there.  From the observation area, you are facing the gaping hole left when the volcano exploded May 18, 1980 – just a blip in time on the geological clock.  You are really close and can see the new dome that is slowly building inside the crater.  There is an amazing view of the former Spirit Lake, a mere shadow of it’s former beauty.  There are explanations of how the force of the explosion left some areas completely devastated, while others barely scratched.  You can see the pumice fields that pelted the area and left it akin to a moonscape.

38 Years Later and Still Recovering

Many parts of the forest have been replanted to aid in the recovery.  Some areas have purposely been left unaided in order to study how nature recovers on its own.  Many hillsides of trees downed in the explosion all face one direction and were left as part of the natural cycle of a forest’s life.  While I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife other than a crow bravely trying to keep afloat over the parking lot in the strong winds, I hear that wildlife returned fairly soon to the area.

A Different Way Home

On our way home, we wanted to opt for a different way home and avoid the curving roads we arrived on.  We drove back on the same road that clings to the hillsides on the way down and headed towards Randall, Morton, and Mossyrock on the way to meeting up with I-5 about 20 miles north of Kelso/Longview.  This section of the drive is still kind of curvy at the beginning, but drops you down in a beautiful valley where you drive  on lovely paved roads, nice and flat, and it is easy going from here on out.

Icy green waters in Randall

Not for Inexperienced Drivers

A word of warning for those that are considering the drive.  The curvy roads with no guardrails can be a bit unnerving – especially as you drive along roads cut into a cliff with a long way down on the other side.  I don’t recommend doing this with inexperienced drivers.  And please please put away your cell phone when driving!  There are plenty of opportunities to pull over to take photos along the way at designated waysides.  Don’t be fussing with your drink or your music.  The road is not in great condition and there are many places where there are dips, sinking, and crumbling areas.  Drive slowly!  Make sure you have enough gas too, as the nearest gas station is about 25 miles away. From Battle Ground, the trip took about 3 hours to get to the top, and another 3 hours home, so allow at least 7 hours for the day trip.  The roads up to the summit are closed in winter. June and July are great times to go.


Definitely worth the drive.