Saturday, August 28, 2010

Southern Oregon Coast Treasures

One of the things I love about traveling without a fixed plan is the flexibility it affords us. Sure, sometimes we end up camping somewhere we might otherwise have avoided. But for the most part, we find fabulous off-the-beaten-path spots, local treasures and family favorites that further extend our Great-Places-to-Revisit-in-the-U.S. list.

Beverley Beach
on Oregon's coast was not a planned stop. It was getting toward the end of the day, and with no reservations on the coast route, I figured we'd better pull over before others settled in to the last available spots. We followed the state's signs to this expansive campground just in time and slipped into one of the last available spots. Of course, it wasn't the least expensive spots; those were long gone. But for $27 we got a full RV hookup spot complete with cable, sewer, water and electric hookups. We don't have most of those, but we took advantage of the situation and recharged the trailer battery, used the water to rinse the clothes that had been agitated all day in our trailer laundry tub, dumped our water tank and refilled anew. We were only about 50 yards from Highway 101, and the campground is one of the more tightly-packed parks we've seen in our PacNW travels, so it wasn't particularly quiet. But the trees helped provide a park-like setting, and we were only about 75 yards from the beach. The restrooms were ample and clean, and the beach long with both sand for castles or digging in ones toes as well as river rock for stacking. Despite the relatively crowded camp, I would stay here again. Our fellow campers were polite (we didn't hear a single generator after dark or before breakfast), and the proximity to the beach was wonderful. Oh, and the wild blackberry picking was superb.

Our plan was to hit Bandon the next day, but I was distracted by the views along the way, the great tide pooling at Yachats State Park, and finally drawn off the highway by a small driveway that headed inland, clearly away from the highway, to Cape Perpetua Campground in Siuslaw National Forest. Now THIS was a find! For $22 for our family of four, we found a nice, flat camping spot complete with clean fire ring, picnic table, hedges for shelter, a year-round creek that bubbled serenely and the cleanest flush-toilet bathrooms I've ever encountered in a Forest Service campground. Plus there's a wonderful trail system that lead through old-growth forest, up to a visitors center which provides shelter from coastal weather and nearly 180-degree views of the coast and friendly, knowledgeable, locally raised rangers. We enjoyed our evening in camp with guests from the neighboring site. (The young couple had been SCUBA diving all day and didn't have the energy to put up their fire, so we invited them to ours. Great way to meet interesting people.) It was a shame to leave in the morning without exploring many of the trails and without stepping foot on the beaches here. The tide pooling is said to be fantastic here. But we did make our way to the top of the cape for a short loop hike through the headlands before pressing on south.

In Florence, Oregon, we happened upon the final farmers' and artisans' fair of the season. We picked up some SCRUMPTIOUS boysenberry syrup, walnut vinaigrette dressing and various jams from Grandma Alice at 'Tis Tasty. Along the way, we also found a nice, small-town used bookstore with its own coffee counter, wi-fi, and comfy feel. Unfortunately, in the two floors of books, they didn't have any children's books of note. Their collection was limited to four shelves each about four feet wide full of used bookstore castoffs. Maybe we hit them on a bad day, but we DID manage to pick up an autographed copy of a hardback we'd planned to purchase later closer to the holidays, so our stop certainly wasn't a complete bust.

We made it to West Coast Game Park in time to enjoy lots of the animals before closing. Unlike any other petting zoo we've visited, this one includes far more than the typical friendly goats. Hoofed animals wander the grounds freely, enjoying animal-appropriate treats served in perhaps a little less animal friendly cake cones (more traditionally used for ice cream, but the animals don't seem to mind). I'd never heard a deer "bark" before our visits here. They all begin barking shortly before closing time as they clearly begin heading for the barn 0r nightly feeding area. We also saw a goat begin laboring, but weren't able to stay long enough (thanks to closing hours, not a rush on our part) to see the kids born. Keepers bring out various other animals to areas designated specifically for animal interaction. On this visit, we pet a Caracal cat, fed, petted and played with baby Bengal tigers, pet possums, groundhogs, ferrets and skunks, and played with African black leopard kittens. I'm torn when it comes to zoos and captivity, but any way you slice it, these are magical opportunities.

With our schedule entirely askew, I pulled into the next intriguing campground. Well, it was more like a sharp veer as I spotted the state parks sign, complete with "vacancy" posted. We headed about 4 miles out onto Cape Blanco where we enjoyed a very cold night in the trees, a "night in" rather than around the campfire, chess at the dinner table, and a leisurely dinner of walking tacos. Hot showers in the morning were treats before we set out for California.

Finally, we arrived at E's other intended destination - the feet of Paul Bunyan at the Trees of Mystery. Personally, I think holding the trees ransom and charging $28 for three people to walk the property is exorbitant. On the other hand, it is private property, they have installed a gondola to help just any-ol'-body get to the top for nice views across the forestland and out to sea, and the Paul Bunyan stories entertain families on the way back down, so this time I shelled. But only after E & V got their fill of Bunyan, who, though stiff "due to a hard mattress," interacts with visitors from around the world. He has an easy, hearty laugh and is willing to answer just about any question visitors may pose. (He's also quick to hassle men who stand under Babe's nether regions for a photo. "Hey! What are you doing down there? And why is it always the guys who pose there," he asks with a hearty laugh. If he weren't so stiff, he'd probably reach down and give the guys a friendly,manly, jocular punch on the shoulder, too.)

From here, south to camp at Patrick's Point State Park. We know we're back in California when the parks become more crowded, unfortunately less well-kept, and 30 to 50 percent more expensive. Welcome home.

Share this post with:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry: One of the Nation's Best

OK, I'll admit we haven't been to every science and industry museum in the U.S., so I probably shouldn't make a claim without great comparisons. BUT, we have been in some of the most expansive science museums in the Western States and I have to say Portland's OMSI is the best in the West. Sure, I love the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the St. Louis Science Center certainly distracted us from our intended route, and Santa Ana's Discovery Science Center was a pleasant surprise. But with its fantastic tradition of hands-on learning, variety of exhibits, expansive space, friendly and helpful docents, a IMAX theater and planetarium, OMSI is tough to beat.

The first time we visited, we were there for a half a day. The next time, we amended our stay plans to accommodate three full days in OMSI - enough time for a pair of very young children to take in most of the exhibits that interested them, plus a couple of the IMAX offerings and a planetarium show. Three full days for three people - that's worthy of purchasing a membership, and that membership helped us afford lots of other science center entries on our 2008 trip.

This year, we introduced a former classmate and longtime friend to the pleasures that awaited her daughter, until our visit an aficionado on the toddler discovery room, but completely unaware of the pleasures that awaited her in the Turbine Hall. Oh, what will she do when she discovers the Life Sciences wing, the puzzles downstairs near the cafeteria, the chemistry lab and, oh yeah, the little section upstairs with OH so much to do. Kassie, We give to you - OMSI!

Share this post with:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Portland Haunts - Something Old, Something New

We really enjoy ourselves in Portland. The city really has a lot to offer, but the park-like feel provided by the ample water (streams, rivers, lakes) and trees (parks and private property alike) is what sets it apart for me. One of the cousins, largely raised in the Portland area, has a particular affinity for the city's historic bridges, and all seem to have taken great advantage of the outdoor opportunities that abound. When not attending or taking part in performing arts functions, the family may be found water skiing or kayaking, or hiking or biking trails that feel like forest but are, in fact, greenbelt reserves amidst residential properties.

This trip, we opted to return to Portland's Saturday (and Sunday) Market at Skidmore. I'm not sure whether I was in it more for the food (there's a FANTASTIC African food vendor there, not to mention Rogue Brewery - try the Hazelnut Brown Nectar if you get a chance), or the music (always live, always eclectic) or the vendors (vetted local artists and artisans). You can read more about my favorite finds here. It was a beautiful PacNW day, but not quite warm enough for our California girls to run through the fountain like the soaked local preschoolers we saw enjoying the place. I'd hate to think they're already growing out of that stage, so I'll blame their disinterest in running through the fountain on the cooler weather.

We also managed to see a good portion of the Oregon Zoo. We'd passed this up on previous trips because there's a lot of unique stuff to see, one of my favorites being the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). But it was time to give it a go, and the cousins are always up for exercise. Fortunately, I'd packed (for some unknown reason) our family membership to the Santa Barbara Zoo. The card carried reciprocal entry agreements with the Oregon Zoo, so our $32 entry fee was waived, all for the price of a family membership at our own neighborhood zoo.
I'm tellin' ya', if you're going to visit zoos, museums and parks on your travels, be sure to look into your local memberships. Many have reciprocal agreements that provide either free entry or reduced-price entry. Memberships you'll use can save you a bundle in the long run.

Share this post with:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Northwestern Oregon - Do It Yourself Bouquets

After a week of kite flying and relaxing on the Long Beach Peninsula, it was time to start heading south. We've driven the Columbia River route several times, so this time I opted to head down the coast route a bit, then cut inland toward our next destination, Tigard, a suburb just south of Portland. While the traffic along the coast route was certainly more heavy than anything we're used to along the Columbia Route, I attributed part of that to the fact we'd taken off at the close of a summer weekend. I suspect, however, that this popular route (Highway 101), particularly at the Warrenton end, is typically pretty busy. There were lots of traffic control devices (stop signs and stop lights) along the way that really slowed us down, too. But I wasn't exactly in a hurry. We'd left in plenty of time, I figured, for our scheduled early afternoon arrival.

It was a beautiful day as we cruised down the coast, but began turning gray as we headed south and inland. By the time we were in the thick of the coastal mountains, it was raining outright; none of this California-style rain. This was real rain, with road mist kicked up by vehicles all around us and wipers running front and rear. But it was short-lived, and by the time we were on the inland valley side of the mountains, things were already beginning to dry up. That was ideal for a quick stop at Jim Dandy, a produce stand which also allows self-pick flower arranging. What a novel idea! The girls each took a pair of shears in hand and headed out to rows upon rows of flowers, and each chose their favorites, which were combined into a single bouquet for delivery in Tigard. The stand owners also caught us with their "soup pot" flat of various vegetables. None were showy, some showed natural damage like scars or odd shapes, but all were ready for the soup pot. "We grow a lot of perfect produce, but it can't all be perfect, and I can't take all the flawed ones home. We can only eat so much, so I package 'em for soup," the owner told me. The stuffed box included potatoes, carrots, onions, purple peppers, yellow peppers and purple tomatoes. For $3.50, it was hard to pass up, so, four pounds of veggies and one large bouquet later we were out the door - $8.50 total for a hostess gift and what turned out to be a scrumptious dinner for six with leftovers.

When we arrived in Tigard, we enjoyed not only the company of my second-cousin and her family, but also her additional visitors - her own sister and nephew who had flown out from Utah for the weekend. I haven't seen that Utah cousin in more than a decade, and had never met her son, so was particularly pleased to have the opportunity to get back in touch. We picked right up with the game V, E and Cousin T so enjoyed last time: Apples to Apples. The game is a great ice breaker, fun for all ages, and hardly objective which is probably part of what makes it so fun.

V, my animal-loving girl, was particularly thrilled to be reunited with Nala, the squirrel-obsessed family dog. Nala jumped into our trailer at one point. I might've just taken her home with us, but I knew she would be terribly missed by her true family.

Share this post with:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Horses and Bears and Kites, Oh My!

Just a short note on today, our last full day in Seaview and Long Beach, Washington. The girls and I cruised back up to kite festival center to take part in the Teddy Bear Drop. There were probably close to 200 kids under the age of 10 who put their names in the drawing for a chance to take part in the Teddy Bear Parachute Drop. Fifteen kids' names were chosen, and while V wasn't one of those lucky ones, we all enjoyed watching the process.

Volunteers first put a medium-sized sled kite up in the low winds. Another volunteer hooked the bear into his parachuting harness and linked the parachute to an apparatus which allowed the kite flier to slide the 'chute up the kite line. When the audience hollers "Bear in the Air," the kite flier lets the bear drop. The parachute inflates and the kid on the ground runs for it. The littlest kids had help from their parents, and volunteer helpers on the ground made sure each bear made its way to its proper new owner while the parachute was returned for another jump. All in all, it was very fun to watch.

Later, the girls and I headed to Skipper's for an hour on the beach on horseback. Skipper doesn't hear well anymore, and if you're not a smoker you probably want to stay out of the office shack. But he's a good-hearted guy who keeps his business running, his horses fed, watered and shod, and his employees apparently happy. We've always had great luck with getting wonderfully friendly guides at Skipper's. (We also blogged about our ride in 2008.) It's $25/hour per rider, and the horses are definitely used to the routine. I got a kids' horse and it rebelled whenever I tried to take it out of its routine (like passing the rider in line in front of me to catch up with V & E), but V was particularly happy with the ride.

We returned to the kite festival center again to try our hands with our new kite - a Bebop two-line beginner's stunt kite. There wasn't enough wind to keep it up, so we dug in the sand and enjoyed the heat before grabbing an Elephant Ear for our cousin and headed back to the house. Tonight...fireworks. Tomorrow...we hit the road.

Share this post with:

Gangster Thug Kitten Available for Adoption - Long Beach, Washington

Gangsta Kitty (aka Stubby) prepares to take advantage of his next innocent victim.

But seriously, this little guy being fostered here this week is as cute and social as can be. He's very playful, box trained, cuddles well, loves children and adults alike and is looking for a good, permanent home. He's one of many wonderful pets waiting for new homes. You can find them at the South Pacific County Humane Society, a community supported and funded, no-kill shelter in Long Beach, Washington.

Share this post with:

Washington State International Kite Festival - Cellular Kite Day

Today we returned to the WKIKF with the addition of two more California family members for the mass ascension of the cellular kites. These are very unique creations all of which are "three-dimensional structures with the wind flowing through channels formed by the sail surfaces which are also lifting surfaces." Still photos really don't do them justice. The beauty of kites, I discovered today, is that they're not static toys, but are affected constantly by the wind. For kite makers who take this into consideration, the end result can be both entertaining and beautiful.

One of V's favorites was, of course, the enormous black-and-white kitten. As the wind flowed through the cells, it caused the kitten to leap and gambol just above the sand. On one of my favorites, the lobster, the wind-shake on the kite caused the legs to wiggle as if the giant orange crustacean were skittering toward his next meal. And follow your gaze up the string of fish to find the SCUBA diver. The dude was a fantastic creation largely for the forethought that went into him - the wind caused him to dip and semi-roll while his legs kicked with their long black flippers.

We returned to the house to help wrap up the finishing touches on my favorite meal - Thanksgiving dinner with the fixin's. Thanks, Mom, for thinking of it and seeing it through. It was a wonderful meal, and the leftovers are going to be fantastic!

Share this post with:

Blog featured with: