Tuesday, October 27, 2015

ExplOregon October vacation, part two.

Part One of our ExplOregon October vacation took us through the Umatilla, Malheur, and Ochoco National Forests. After a quick family visit in Bend, we had three days to wrap up Part Two so we headed straight to Deschutes National Forest.

to roads less traveled!

Stops included Newberry National Volcanic Monument and the west end of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. Here's the recap...

The hikes. We considered hiking up to Paulina Peak at Newberry... until we learned you could just drive to the top.

so we did that instead

But we did walk along the Big Obsidion Flow trail and the trail to Paulina Falls. (As an aside - it's "pol-EYE-nah," named after Northern Paiute leader Chief Paulina. Don't be a tourist like me and call it "paul-eee-nah falls.")

youngest lava flow in Oregon

especially low flow for this time of year

On our way back to Eugene we stopped off at Salt Creek Falls (Oregon's second tallest waterfall), where we also hiked back into Diamond Creek Falls - definitely do this side trek if you're in the area!

fall at Salt Creek Falls

Diamond Creek Falls trail

Diamond Creek Falls -
like Ramona Falls on crack

And with clear skies that afternoon, we couldn't help but take a detour over to Umpqua National Forest's Mount June near Dexter.

formerly a fire lookout

It was a bit of a drive up a bumpy gravel road to get to the trailhead, but the panoramic views at the top of the mountain were worth the time.

The campgrounds. We were surprised to find many campgrounds in the forest "officially" closed for the season. We could still camp (for free!), but we'd have to bring our own water and pack out our trash... Small prices to pay for the privilege of two nights in beautiful forests.

We stayed at Little Crater campground in Newberry National Volcanic Monument on our first night. It got pretty cold that night but the lakeside view was spectacular, especially during sunset.

so spacious for an empty campground


We spent several hours the next day driving around Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway looking for the perfect campsite. Some were too crowded, some too isolated and run-down, some didn't have views. We decided to stop for the night at Lava Flow Campground. It may not have been "perfect"... but how often do you get to camp next to an old lava flow?

it was RIGHT there - 
pretty cool!

Davis Lake was just a short walk from the campground and I spent an hour watching hundreds of ducks make their rounds on the lake.

"it's OK, ducks - I'm only armed with a camera!"

(The next morning we heard gunshots... Sigh.)

The food. I was determined not to schlep that can of coconut milk we bought in Portland back to Eugene, so we had tofu curry at Paulina Lake. Without rice or cornstarch it was a bit soupy, but that was okay because it was SO. COLD. that night.

spice list: coriander, cumin, curry, ginger, basil

At Lava Flow we went low-tech, grilling veggies and tofu on the bonfire... I mean campfire.

kale, peppers, onions, tofu, tomatoes, carrots
(not charred this time)

Simple, hearty, tasty.

The end. Nine days later, we'd seen five of Oregon's 13 national forests (six if you count Mount Hood, which we drove through on our way out of Portland), and four of the 11 national and state scenic byways.

near Spray

near Ukiah

near Sumpter

near La Pine

This trip was a great reminder of why we love Oregon. Sometimes everything you need in a vacation is right in your own backyard...

Monday, October 26, 2015

ExplOregon October vacation, part one.

After three months slaving away at our Portland housesit, we figured we deserved a little vacation before our Corvallis gig. We knew we wanted to camp, but did we want to head north to eek out more use of our National Parks Annual Pass at Olympic and Mt Rainier? Did we have time to hit the Steens Mountain Wilderness and Owyhee Canyonlands in southeast Oregon? What was Hells Canyon like this time of year? Decisions, decisions.

With just nine days for our "vacation" we finally opted for nearby parts of Oregon that one or both of us had never seen. Heading east, we hoped for short driving days, lazy afternoons at the campsite, long hikes, and fall colors.

day one, hour one

Part One of our trip took us 600 miles through the Umatilla, Malheur, and Ochoco National Forests where we ended up spending just one night at each campsite. So much for short driving days and lazy afternoons at the campsite!

Oh, right, and hiking in eastern and central Oregon during elk hunting season - what could possibly go wrong?


We also didn't really take into consideration the wildfires that swept through eastern Oregon a few months ago that were still impacting certain campgrounds and forest trails. And we really didn't think it would be quite so cold - some of our destination spots, like Anthony Lakes, were already closed for the season, and some had fire bans which meant even colder nights.

But the fall(ish) colors were nice...!

half out of four ain't bad, right?

We had to laugh at ourselves for being such amateur travel planners. Despite this, we still managed to have a great time, hike a marathon's distance of trails, and finally check those Painted Hills off the list... Here's a recap of Part One!

The hikes. I got in my first six miles at North Fork John Day campsite, where a well-maintained trail runs along the river.


It was rugged, beautiful, and totally flat - the perfect start to the week.

The next day we hiked up to Strawberry Lake and Strawberry Falls, a five-mile hike in the (you guessed it) Strawberry Mountains. The lake was absolutely stunning; the falls were pretty nice too. Along the way to the falls we passed a creek where trout were swimming upstream - very cool to watch!

Strawberry Lake

resting before the next push

Strawberry Falls

From the Strawberry Mountains we headed over to John Day to hike Blue Basin. You can see this from the road, but the four-mile hike into the basin is so worth the effort! It was a bit overcast that day so the vistas were especially spectacular.

blue October

Afterward we drove over to the Painted Hills. It was getting late so we didn't hike around, but we did admire the colors and lament the fact that we'd skipped the Painted Desert on our road trip this summer.

millions of years of history

Day Four included a short hike up to Stein's Pillar...

we stand with Stein's Pillar

... and then a quick sunset hike to Chimney Rock near our campsite on the Crooked River.

it really does look like a chimney from below

I'd been through John Day and did the Stein's Pillar and Chimney Rock hikes back in 2009 but these were firsts for Patrick. It was nice to be able to share this part of Oregon with him.

The campsites. We totally winged it, and for the most part it turned out great - many of the campsites were empty and all were quite a deal at just $8-10/night.

Day One: Shelton Wayside near Fossil
(campsite #5 by the creek)

Day Two: North Fork John Day near Ukiah
(campsite #8 by the creek)

Day Three: Strawberry Mountain near Prairie City
(campsite #1 on the hill)

Day Four: Wildcat Campground near Prineville
(campsite #1 near the exit)

Day Five: Chimney Rock on the Crooked River near Prineville
(campsite #6 by the river)

The campground at Chimney Rock was probably our favorite. It helped that it was really warm that day and we finally had the afternoon to lay around and read. Strawberry Mountain's campground, high up in the wilderness with great trails within walking distance, was pretty great too. Shelton Wayside featured frogs in the creek and North Fork John Day had that nice creekside hike.

The only campground we didn't like was Wildcat. It was a bit run down and our two neighbors were a little shady. On the up side it was just a short drive from the trailhead to Stein's Pillar, and if ever there was a campsite for Patrick's 450-day haircut tradition, this was definitely it.

no, officer, we're not on the lam!
(now where's that hair dye...)

The food. On our way out of Portland we stopped at Sheridan Fruit Company's delicious deli to make our first night's dinner easy. The next few nights featured our standard camping fare - fire-grilled tofu and veggies, burritos, and the obligatory beef franks (also known as the best excuse to go camping!).

um... a bit more charred than usual
(I was clearly out of practice)

cold, rainy night burritos under a tree

semi-healthy veggies and franks this night;
not-so-healthy chili with franks the next night

We also busted into the bottle of Birkir our friends brought us from Iceland. It tasted like tree-infused whiskey. Delicious... and gone before we knew it.

perfect remedy to a cold, rainy night
(or when enduring a night at Wildcat Campground)

After Crooked River we stopped off in Bend for a quick visit. So glad we were able to meet up with our friends Barbara and Tom for their film festival showing!

cleanin' up nice for The House Is Innocent's Bend premiere

Bend was a bit of a family reunion too. Huge thanks to Patrick's sister Suzy who hugged us even though we hadn't showered in five days, fed us lunch, and gave us a warm comfy bed for the night; to Patrick's sister Janice and her husband John who fed us breakfast the next morning; and to Suzy, Janice and Megan for supporting the film festival!

sunny Sunday smiles

Next up - good old Deschutes National Forest to round out our way-too-short ExplOregon vacation... How do you people with two weeks' vacation do this?

Monday, October 19, 2015

For the foodies - Portland eats!

Before we fill you in on the week we spent camping around Eastern/Central Oregon or our current housesit in Corvallis, we have to get the obligatory Portland food post out of the way, right? Right!

Now, with a FUNemployed budget and a bountiful backyard garden, we dined at "home" at lot.

one late summer morning's harvest -
plenty for salad for two

no! more! zucchini bread!
(haha, kidding, didn't make it once all summer)

strange and beautiful crookneck squash
(great with garden-fresh arugula pesto)

But we managed to get out a bit too... It's Portland, home to some of the best food in the country - how could we not?

Starting with breakfast, also known as the Portland pasttime. We enjoyed two meals with friends at Batter, Griddle & Drinkery, one at everyone's NE favorite Tin Shed, and pretty good coffees from Extracto Coffee Roasters. All were dangerously close to our housesit and none disappointed...

Batter's delicious waffles and crepes

Shortly before we left town, we had brunch at Veritable Quandary for a friend's birthday. We used to work near VQ which meant occasional (un)happy hours alongside our (un)happy coworkers, so brunch with friends was a great way to reverse our not-so-happy memories of this downtown Portland institution. It was also nice to eat in the outdoor garden area before the courthouse takes over the view.

Veritable Quandary's awesome eggs Benedict

Next up: lunch. Our first social outing was at our old favorite, Yuki Japanese Restaurant in NE, where we spent way too much time and money back when we lived in Portland. Sadly, we only went once but the crispy tuna wrap was just as tasty as ever.

old picture
same great sushi

We had burritos from Laughing Planet for lunch one day, and again for take-away dinner after an evening documentary in NW. Plain, simple, wholesome, hearty... And pretty affordable too.

boring but delicious grilled chicken and beans

One cold, overcast afternoon we were craving comfort food so we stopped by MeKha Noodle Bar & Cafe. The pho and bun cha gio were tasty, but not like we remembered from our time in Vietnam. Alas.

No stay in Portland would be complete without a visit or two to the food pods, so one day while I was downtown running errands I stopped by SW 3rd & Washington's D.C. Vegetarian for their "chicken" salad sandwich (which I had to bring back to the NE after suffering a mild panic attack being so close to our former place of employment - seriously, it was weird). And one day we had lunch over at The Ocean's Slowburger/Uno Maz with friends. Neither really wowed us; our friends' lunches from 24th and Meatballs looked pretty tasty though, and more fun to order too.

Our last lunch stop was on our way out of town when we grabbed two made-while-you-shop deli sandwiches from Sheridan Fruit Company. So, so good.

We had lots of free afternoons for happy hours around town. (As an aside, exploring the food scene during the lunch hour and happy hour spared us from long waits, noisy crowds, and spending heaps of money. It's a great method to employ when you're traveling in any expensive city.)

First up was Hawthorne Fish House, our go-to before we left because of their rice-flour batter (I was GF at the time), their deep-fried cheese curds, and their amazing crab pepper cheese soup.

heart attack pending... we're OK with that

We met some fellow traveler friends at Green Dragon for beers - this place may have ditched Hawaiian-shirt-Tuesday-free-pints, but it's still always a good time.

twelve sheets to the wind

In Sellwood one afternoon, we stopped by Laurelwood Brewing Company for a beer and some people-watching. (Oh, and tots!)

Red Elephant on the left,
Warhorse on the right

Patrick helped HUB harvest hops one day and got free pints of that particular brew as a "thank you." We only made it to Hopworks Bikebar once to cash in on this, but his beer was awesome and so was my grapefruit (lager? belgian?).

enjoying the fruits of his labor

Just a few steps away from Bikebar is Las Primas, boasting traditional Peruvian cuisine. I'm always dubious about "authentic" food from places I've traveled because the US version always disappoints (or at least isn't the same - see MeKah above). But we were hungry, and we had a BOGO empanada coupon, so we tried a few and a glass of chicha morada...

flaky, savory perfection!

Las Primas for the win! We liked the food and ambiance so much that we took my Peru travel buddy and her partner back when they were in town.

pisco sours all around!

There were also a few afternoon Spielman's Bagels and we finally made it over to the annual Greek Festival where we sampled sausage (gone too fast to photograph) and some wonderful baklava.

flaky, not-too-sweet perfection!

Dinner usually revolved around feeding and walking the dogs so we didn't get out too often. When we did, we often regretted the money sink - like that evening we went to Pok Pok Noi hoping for a familiar delicious plate of Thai food. Most of the menu items didn't really appeal to us (or look familiar, either). Almost $30, a tiny bit of food, and a tiny shot of nostalgic rice whiskey later, we left pretty disappointed.

sadly, only the papaya salad was worth it

Thanks to the Chinook Book, we gave Tapalaya another try... and decided not to do that ever again. The food was fine but nothing remarkable or memorable, and when that happens I'd rather just cook at home.

But our Chinook Book Cha Cha Cha (Fremont) coupon was worth its weight in gold - not only did we enjoy a delicious meal and excellent service, we also sent Patrick's nephew off to his South African internship with a belly full of delicious Mexican food he's not likely to enjoy for the foreseeable future.

good luck, Christopher!

By 9pm we were usually in our PJs but we did venture out a few times for late night fare... Like the night we walked over to Hot Lips Pizza after our disappointing snacks at Pok Pok Noi.

nope, that's not coffee

Mixed feelings about Hot Lips. We ate a lot of free pizza back in our cube days, and it's definitely the best free pizza around. But to pay for it... eh.

One night we took some visiting friends to see the bathroom and enjoy the ice cream at Rimsky-Korsakoffee House. Of course.

And with one night left and a Chinook book BOGO coupon, of course we had to hit up Salt & Straw just up the street from our housesit. Amazing that it took us three whole months given how close it was!

left: pear and blue cheese
right: freckled woodblock chocolate

A few regrets - no fried chicken from Screen Door, no pie from Apizza Scholls, no pint of Fred from Hair of the Dog. Next time...

This post is not sponsored by anything except our taste buds, and maybe the Chinook Book (which we were gifted from a friend, which is why we visited many of these places), and definitely our friends who funded a lot of our meals, for which we are eternally grateful - we ended up shelling out just $275 for three months of dining out in Portland.

What's the one food spot in Portland you wouldn't miss if you were only around for the summer? (I know, I know, it's like asking a long-term traveler what their favorite country was, right? Right!)