Monday, June 30, 2014

Wrapping Up our Stay in White Salmon, WA

What a great week we've had in the Columbia River Gorge! We've visited the area in the past and had already hiked many of the waterfalls and visited sights on the West end of the Gorge so this time we focused our attention on the Eastern end and mostly the Washington side.

One benefit to this focus area was the ability to avoid wet weather. When scattered showers were predicted in White Salmon, we just drove a few miles East and had blue skies with a smattering of puffy white clouds...perfect!

On one of those potentially rainy days we checked out the Klickitat Trail, just 10 miles East of us in the sunny little hamlet of Lyle, WA. This 31 mile Rails to Trails path includes 10 miles along the Wild and Scenic Klickitat River. (This excellent link details each section of the trail.) We chose to start our hike at the Fisher Hill Bridge.

We walked about three miles up river before turning back and were pleasantly surprised by this trail. After the first half mile the trail changed from wide gravel rail bed to single track, often hardly looking like a rail bed at all. Judging by the number of fishermen, the fishing may be pretty good. There will be a blackberry explosion here in a month or so, I'd love to return with a big bucket!

The Klickitat River flows through a deep gorge at the Fisher Hill Bridge.

What is that strange contraption on the far bank?

It's a screw trap used to trap young fish for tabulation purposes.
Salmon and lamprey run in these waters.

Doesn't look like your typical Rails to Trails trail does it?

On our last full day we had sunny skies and a good bit of wind making it a perfect day to check out the wind water sports this area is known for. I don't know if this was a typical summer Sunday, but the "beach" was crowded and we spent a good long time watching folks windsurfing and kitesurfing, marveling at the strength it takes to operate these devices and the amount of time and effort it must take to get good at these sports.

The shore was a riot of colorful sails.

The beach is a spit of sand in the Columbia River.

This structure seemed to be for large boats to tie up...but this little monkey scaled it easily...

...and fearlessly jumped off to much fanfare from the onlookers.

The beach above was adjacent to Hood River's Waterfront Park. Though not as fully developed as Bend's Mill District, there was a riverfront walking path, a unique kids playground, concert lawn, a restaurant and Pfriem Family Brewpub, where we stopped for a delicious pint.

Pfriem Family Brewers.

Bridge RV Park has been a good location for our week, though the noisy highway 14 right outside the park is a big turn off. If we were to return we'd request a site on the back row, furthest from the highway, but closest to the train tracks. The other problem with this park is it is impossible to walk anywhere unless you want to walk on the highway. The park is right on the Columbia River, and there is a tiny path through a massive blackberry patch to access the river.

River access path from the RV park.
In a month or so you'll want to walk this trail with a big bucket for blackberries!

View of the bridge connecting Hood River and White Salmon from the RV park river access point.

Though there are no cherry trees in the RV park, there are lots of cherry pits on the ground;
this is how they arrive!

We enjoyed watching the bald eagle nest right outside the RV park,
and even caught the whole family hanging out together!

Today we move on to Portland for a week where we'll catch up with friends and hunker down for the holiday weekend.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Day in Hood River Country

Hood River, OR is one of our favorite places; it's got a charming downtown, it's pretty with lots of greenery, mountain and river views and beautiful old homes, and it's a fruit growing capital of the country. The Hood River County Fruit Loop is a good way to immerse yourself in this beautiful countryside. Stone fruits, berries, apples and pears are big crops here, though we've arrived too early for most of them. Still, the drive itself is gorgeous and many farm stands sell items year round such as honey and jams and antiques.

First though, we needed to stretch our legs. The Hood River Visitor Center tipped us off to a neat little hike nearby that overlooked the fruitful valley, they called it the Handy Little Hike.

The hike up to the ridge was through a tunnel of green.

The view from the ridge was amazing, fruit orchards as far as the eye could see
and Mt Hood peeking out from her blanket of clouds.

Back on the Fruit Loop we stopped at a couple of farm stands and even though we didn't purchase anything we enjoyed the bounty hanging from the trees.

Apples were originally the largest crop around, but a severe freeze in 1919 damaged trees
prompting a transition to hardier pears.

Cherries are on the brink and just beginning to be picked depending on the warmth of their zone.

Pears are the biggest crop around here; these have a ways to go.

Our favorite stop on the Loop was at Cascade Alpacas and Foothills Yarn and Fiber. Alpacas are incredibly cute and we arrived just hours after a new one was born! The yarn store was just as wonderful and I was able to buy my daughter some wool, she spins and dyes her own yarn, check out her Etsy shop,\: Stitched Bliss.

Just hours old, this baby alpaca stole our hearts!

Everyone was interested in the youngster, it's got a sibling on the other side of the fence.

I just love their faces and they look so funny having just been sheared!

Hans had some company while I explored the yarn store...

Making our way back to Hood River, it was time for some beer! Full Sail Brewing gives tours four times a day so after a pint in their brewpub we took their brief, free tour.

Full Sail Brewery

Thursday evening is farmers market day in Hood River, where we picked up some delicious Cascadia Creamery cheese. Then off to Double Mountain Brewery for beer and pizza. This came highly recommended to us by several RV friends and they were spot on. Double Mountain rivals our favorite breweries in Bend, absolutely worth the stop!

Every one of these beers were complex, full bodied, and delicious!

One of the best thin crust pizzas ever; crispy, not too much cheese, fresh toppings.

And this was just one day in Hood River...!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Exploring the Dry Side: Washington's Columbia Gorge

We're settled for the week at Bridge RV Park in White Salmon, WA. Just across the Columbia River from bustling Hood River, OR; the pace is more relaxed, less traffic, the same wonderful scenery. Our park is small and pretty and conveniently located, with the only negative being the noise from hwy 14.

Right across the street from our RV park is a bald eagle nest.
There seems to be one juvenile and we regularly see an adult as well.

This is approximately the midpoint of the Columbia River Gorge, the point where the trees and green start thinning out and summers golden grasses cover the hillsides. It turns out the Washington side is also known as the dry side due to its Southern exposure. So far we've spent a couple of days exploring some lovely trails just East of White Salmon.

Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail

The big reward on this hike is the Columbia River Gorge Views. In the spring the flowers are supposed to be incredible on these hillsides, we were too late for that. Our destination, the ancient cherry orchard, was kind of anticlimactic, but the views and pretty meadows along the trail were the true highlights of this hike.

There are three things to watch out for on this trail: poison oak, rattlesnakes and ticks. There is no way to get around the poison oak because it is thick along this trail. We wore long pants and were very careful and neither of us were affected...perhaps we are just not susceptible. We did not pick up any ticks, perhaps because we sprayed ourselves well with a Picaridin spray. Lastly, we did see a rattlesnake...Hans stepped right over it and I about had a heart attack when seconds later I saw it on the trail in front of me!

Dramatic lava outcroppings rose above us.
These meadows are full of flowers in April and May.

Nearing the high point of the trail the views of the Columbia River Gorge were magnificent.

Labyrinth Loop

This was a wonderful 5.8 mile loop hike. We climbed gently through a mix of grasslands, oak forests, towering basalt rock outcroppings, even saw a couple of tiny water features. The views up and down the Columbia River were spectacular and Mt Hood was visible in all her glory too. Plenty of unmarked intersections on this trail, you'll need to follow the linked instructions closely, making judgement calls along the way.

The trail starts on an old highway that is now home for fallen boulders.

Towering columnar basalt formations made a dramatic backdrop along the trail.
A sternwheeler slowly makes its way East up the Columbia River.

As we ascended the trail Mt Hood was the prominent feature in our Western view.

Heading back to the truck we spotted this osprey pair hanging out on their nest.

We learned that Hector and Brenda of Island Girl Walkabout fame were staying nearby so we arranged to meet them at Everybody's Brewing, the local brewpub in White Salmon, with a fabulous Mt Hood view from their patio. We had a great time getting to know them and learned they started fulltiming on the SAME DAY we did...what a weird coincidence! Looks like our paths will cross again in the next year too, yay!

Good times with fellow full timers, Hector and Brenda.

It's hard to see Mt Hood in the photo above...this is your view from the patio...AWESOME!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hitting the Trail Near Elgin, OR

We stayed in the small town of Elgin, OR and the focus is more farming and ranching, not hiking. The local visitor center was no help in the trails department and the La Grande Forest Service office did not have printouts of very many trails in the area. We aren't interested in buying forest service maps of every area we much research ensued based on conversations with rangers and some hikers at a La Grande sports gear shop. Here's what we came up with for hikes relatively near Elgin:

Umatilla Rim Trail/Nine Mile Ridge Trail

This turned out to be an easy hike with big views from the Umatilla Rim and a walk through some very pretty forest. We hiked North on trail 3080, nice and flat for about 2 miles with excellent views and wide open meadows with loads of flowers (and more to come in the next few weeks), then about 1.5 miles West on trail 3072 with a slight downhill grade through lovely green forest. Below is a photo of the map at the trail head because I couldn't find much info on the web about this particular trail head.

There were hundreds of elk tracks, but no elk to be seen, just one deer. We also kept our eyes peeled for bear, and had our bear spray handy, but did not see any. This link tells of a bear sighting here a few years ago.

Directions to trail head: From Elgin drive North on hwy 204 about 14 miles. Turn left (West) onto Summit Rd., aka FR31, and go a few miles until you see a sign for the Umatilla Rim Trail. Turn right and park at the trail head which says it is the Nine Mile Trail Head.

Big views to the West.

Strange fungus...the largest bubble is still a little smaller than a dime.

Bear Creek Trail

For our next hike we headed East on Hwy 82 to the tiny, cute town of Wallowa, then into the mountains to Bear Creek Trail. This trail follows raging Bear Creek for many miles, we hiked about 3.5 miles before we turned around. The trail runs through pretty forest, with a few ups and downs always within sight or earshot of the "creek"...this creek is huge. Perhaps the person who named it saw it at the end of summer during a dry year! A tasty finale to this hike was an Oregon Berry Shake at the Little Bear Drive-In in Wallowa.

Bear "Creek" surrounded by lush forest and some pretty steep rock walls.
Lots of neat fungus on this trail!
A Rubber Boa! We saw two of these...had we known how docile they are we might have picked one up!

For our last adventure in NE Oregon we took the advice of our host at Hu-Na-Ha RV Park and checked out Growiser, a native plant conservation area. We were a few weeks late for peak bloom viewing but the grounds themselves turned out to be an interesting, unexpected delight. If you go, look for the small Visitor Parking sign just North of the large wooden Growiser sign.

When we parked at Growiser the sun hit the truck in such a way that Hans saw some prints on the right rear of the truck bed. It looks like a small bear must have tried to peek in the bed of the truck while we were out on our hike the day before at BEAR Creek!

Those are definitely small bear prints...nothing else looks like that!

Though there were still some blooms on the meadows, a few weeks ago this was exploding with flowers.
The views into the Elgin and La Grande valleys were excellent.

We discovered several stone circles on the property.
Each of these stones were topped with a beautiful crystalized rock.

This chunk of pink crystal had to weigh at least 200 lbs.
It stood in a lovely forested setting with log benches all around.

A serene sitting area in the blooms.

It's been a wonderful week in this quiet, rural part of NE Oregon. We stayed at Hu-Na-Ha RV Park, a small city owned park in Elgin on the banks of the Grande Ronde River. At $145/week it was a bargain for full hookups, inexpensive laundry, peace and quiet, and 3 bars of 4G Verizon.

This week has only whetted our appetite for this area, we will definitely return. Both Joseph, OR and Wallowa, OR had decent RV parks in stunning settings with low monthly rates, that just might make it into our plans for next summer/fall.

Tomorrow we're off to the Columbia River Gorge where we'll spend a week in White Salmon, WA.