Tuesday, December 31, 2013

City of Karma

Portland, Oregon skyline...
Portland skyline...

The last major stop of our late-summer tour through the United States southwest was Portland, Oregon. It turned out to be one of the most  memorable experiences of our trip.

During our one-day tour, we experienced a string of what I can only describe as good karma.
  • At one point, we were looking for the aerial tram, but our GPS led us astray and we found ourselves lost in the suburbs. A landscaper working in a yard not only gave us detailed directions to our destination, he further recommended his favourite ice cream shop, Salt & Straw ice cream to us.
  • At the aforementioned ice cream shop, the cheerful upbeat girl working behind the counter let us sample every flavour of ice cream they had before we made our choice. She also recommended the Portland City Grill to us as a place to have a nice dinner.
  • At the tram we couldn't find any place to park. The attendant at the nearby hospital was nice enough to let the visiting Canadians park in his lot for free despite the fact that it was a pay parking lot for hospital patrons only.
  • Following the tram tour, we decided to ride the highly praised Portland commuter rail to see the city at large. However, the ticket-issue machine was broken at the time. The conductor of the train told us that 'as much as I would love to take your money today I'm just going to have to let you ride for free'.
All this love and good fortune left us feeling pretty good about Portland. We stopped in at Voodoo Donut and picked up a dozen donuts. We ate two, but gave the rest away to homeless people in the area -- our way of paying it forward.

Approached to Portland seen from the tram...
The not-so-mean streets of Portland...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Empress


Victoria's Fairmont Empress Hotel glows with festive red-and-green Christmas lighting...


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Old Town Christmas

Christmas comes to old Victoria...
Old Town is a turn-of-the-20th century recreation of Victoria, BC located on the third floor of the excellent Royal BC Museum.

Santa Claus as we know him today is mostly an early-20th century figure... before that he was known as Father Christmas. In keeping with the time and the theme then, Father Christmas puts in an appearance at Old Town to entertain the young kids.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On the road to Portland

Welcome back to the wild west coast.
We continued to make our way to Portland via the coast, then turned more or less right. As we continued along the coast, I was happy to see the weather becoming wilder and wetter. Although we enjoyed our time in the desert country of the American southwest, I wouldn't want to live there.

The scenery never changes when you live in a desert. Well, except for the clouds going by, perhaps. On the coast though, every day is a new experience between the water and weather, and it felt good to be returning to that.

Our last encounter with a derelict building was this gas station on a lonely road -- they're always on lonely roads -- in Oregon...

Abandoned gas station in Oregon...
No service today...
Rusting gas pumps at a derelict gas station...
Rust covered gas pumps...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

More Oregon coastline

Sea lions cling to a cliff side in Oregon.
Sea lions... nimble when they wanna be...
At one point during our drive up the Oregon coast we stopped to see Sea Lion Caves which bills itself as America's largest sea caves.

Unfortunately, the caves were closed due to maintenance and upgrading so we had to make due watching these sea lions clinging to the cliffs just outside the cave entrance. I was impressed that these marine mammals, normally so awkward out of the water, were able to cling to the nearly vertical cliff wall.

Pacific waves meet Oregon coastline.
Ruggedly beautiful Oregon coastline...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Oregon coast



A lighthouse stands at one end of a beach in Oregon.
See the lighthouse at the far end?
Some scenes from our drive up the coastal highway in Oregon. Only about the first third of the highway is actually adjacent to the coast. The rest is far enough way that you have to take a lot of turnoffs into parking lots overlooking that water.

Rock rise from the water off an Oregon beach.
Rocks rise from the Pacific Ocean off Oregon.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Where a bear? There a bear!

We turned north at the Oregon-California border taking the coastal highway route. We passed through the town of Brookings, Oregon where we had breakfast at Mattie's Pancake House. It appeared to be a popular venue with locals, packed wall to wall with fellow pancake lovers.

In Brookings, Oregon comical bear statues entertain visitors.
Passing through town we noticed a collection of comical and eye-catching bear statues along the main drag. I stopped to take a few of the more intriguing ones that caught our eye, including Samurai Bear!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

No Monument!

An effigy protests the northern California monument proposal...
The Constitution and a gun... touchstones for the home of the brave, land of the free
From Reno we turned west and north heading for the coast. At this point we were winging it, but we decided to return home via the coastal highway. That's how we came to discover the beautiful Klamath River in northern California. It was a slow drive though as the route is not a major highway.

Along the way we kept seeing signs on lawns or attached to trees along the route - 'No Monument'. Or we'd see effigies like the ones seen here.

We had no clue what it all meant and it was several days later before we found an American who explained it to us.

In the States, a monument is a tract of land set aside by special designation by the federal government for environmental protection. It's an extreme designation, however, that severely curtails ALL human activities within the protected area. No development of any sort, no mining, no fishing, no hunting, no camping, no hiking... no body allowed in except via special permission. It's environmentalism carried to an irrational extreme

In this case, the US government wants to set aside about 600,000 acres of northern California and southern Oregon and locals are vehemently opposed to it. It would severely curtail their recreational pastimes and the right to manage their own resources.

Effigies of protest carrying the flag and a gun...
The Stars and Stripes and a gun... yup, we're firmly in America
Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, a.k.a KS Wild, is the organization behind the research and preparations leading to the proposal.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The patina of memory...


A  couple share conversation and coffee at Georgie's Cafe in Saanich, BC.
she remembers him...
his youthful love strong and hard
 where did that boy go?

My poetry is not reflective of this couple specifically. They are actually regulars at the same Sunday morning coffee shop that my wife and I visit and seem like very nice people.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ferris wheel

Victorian ferris wheel...
Round, round we go...
For the second Christmas in a row the city of Victoria is hosting a ferris wheel ride in the square adjacent to city hall. Along with free horse drawn trolley rides, it brings some old school Christmas charm and ambiance to downtown and takes some of the stress out of shopping.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Future Past

Uptown Centre in Saanich, BC
Remember science fiction comics or movies as a kid? Or perhaps your sci-fi experience was limited to The Jetsons?

Remember how in all those books and movies, buildings in the future were always these weird shapes? Domes or tetrahedrons...Sort of like this.

This is one of the buildings at our nearby new-ish mall called Uptown. It's pointed at one end... from the air it would look like a triangle pasted to the end of a rectangle. It's glass construction and blue exterior make it look very futuristic and all, but all I can think is how awkward it would be to furnish.

Essentially, one end of the room would be inaccessible since it narrows to a point where you couldn't fit any furniture in it. Except maybe bean bags.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mosaic-al

is it god? demon?
whatever, one thing is sure
awesome poker face

One of the mosaic faces that form part of the water feature at Uptown Centre in Victoria.

The Mothman Cometh

The Mothman of Ross Bay Cemetery...
When I was a kid, I was transfixed by a book called The Mothman Prophecies by author John Keel. It described the spooky appearance of a mysterious creature in and around the Point Pleasant area of West Virginia from 15 November 1966 to 15 December 1967. The creature was variously described as a "large bird with red eyes", "a flying man with ten foot wings", "a large white creature whose eyes glowed red"... It became known to locals as the Mothman.

The book also introduced Men in Black, mysterious men in black suits who drove around in vintage cars that looked like they just came off the assembly line. They would appear to interview witnesses, but unlike Tommy Lee Jones or Will Smith they were described as noticeably odd in their behaviour... almost as if they were unfamiliar with Earth customs. Yikes!

You can read more about Mothman here.

The Mothman Prophecies is a pretty creepy little movie with Richard Gere that fictionalizes the events (that themselves were probably fiction to start with  ;)  ). It makes for a good Halloween flick.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Castle

Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, BC...
Eerie Craigdarroch Castle...
Victoria's Craigdarroch Castle is more of a large ch√Ęteau than a true castle. It was built by one of Vancouver Island's coal barons in the late 1800s. It's a novelty in that it sits right in the middle of an urban neighbourhood surrounded by older homes only a few minutes from downtown Victoria.

For the past decade or so a local theatre group has staged Halloween-themed plays in the castle making good use of its dark corridors and vast rooms. The audience follows the actors through the castle as the action unfolds in and around the building.

A few years ago my wife and I saw War of the Worlds here. This year's offering is Dracula and it's a repeat of last year's successful event. My wife and I will be seeing it soon and are eager to compare it to a version that we recently watched at the Chemainus Theatre north of Victoria.

Monday, October 14, 2013

BRAAAAINS!!!



On Saturday about 1200 undead shuffled and ambled their way through the 2013 Victoria Zombie Walk...


Friday, October 11, 2013

Dragon Dance

Robert Amos is a local artist and art columnist for our local paper. I know him primarily as a painter, so I was surprised to learn that he is the artist behind this piece of art that hangs off the side of a building near Chinatown.

The name of the piece is Dragon Dance. If you want to see what it looks like in colour, you can check it out here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Biggest little city in the world

Reno welcomes you!
Like Las Vegas but with more taste...
That's the official motto of Reno. Following our course through Death Valley during our summer American southwest tour, we had intended to drive through Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, significant forest fires in the park resulted in the eastern entrances being closed to visitors.

Instead we continued up to Reno. During the entire drive a heavy pall of smoke from the fires to the west hung over the landscape.

Reno is like Las Vegas' older more sensible sister. The glitz and gaudy excess are dialed way down compared to Vegas.

At the same time as we were there people were returning to the city from the Burning Man Festival. They were easy to spot... they were driving clapped out cars or van carrying camping gear, loaded with bicycles and all of it covered with fine white desert dust.

Dusty Love Bug...
Dusty Love Bug...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Roadside mystery

The grave site of the McKellips children...
A cross in the wilderness...
After Death Valley, we turned north to with the intention of going into Yosemite National Park. The mountain scenery to the west was reminiscent of parts of BC. At one point, we passed a roadside memorial that caught my attention for two reasons:
  • The large white cross overlooking what appeared to be an actual gravesite;
  • The memorial was some distance from the highway shoulder. If it was meant as a marker for a car accident or a pedestrian struck by a car, I would have expected it to be closer.
I was intrigued enough to stop and go back for another look. It did appear to be a grave and not simply a memorial. There was a wooden plaque with two names on it as well as a collection of weathered toys and assorted gifts sprinkled over the site.

Lorenza and Larkin's grave site...
The final resting spot of Lorenza and Larkin...

When I returned home I looked for information via Google not expecting to find anything. Wrong! I quickly found three sites that provided me with an answer to this roadside mystery.

From this site:
"In the 1870s, the McKellips ran a way station near the current gravesite. Managing a way station was usually a family affair. The wife of the manager would prepare food and lodgings, while the manager would tend to the animals and any repairs to the stages and wagons. The children would help whichever of their parents they could. In January of 1874 a dreadful sickness came into the valley [Diphtheria, we think] and entire families took ill at the same time. There was none left well to care for the sick. Larkin & Lorenza McKellips died and of necessity had been buried very close to the house. After the family had gotten well, they must have carefully tended the little grave sites. The father had the dreadful chore of carving their names and dates into a grave marker. When the time came for the family to leave the area, the way station was no longer needed, the mother's heart must have been heavy with anguish.
For over half a century the graves laid forgotten. In 1947, Bill James, who leased the "White Swan" talc mine was wandering over the desert and found two grave markers. It was impossible to discern what was originally carved into the worn and weathered wooden boards. The mystery intrigued Mr. James and by inquiring with all of the old-timers in the area he was gradually able to piece together the story of the children and their untimely deaths. Mr. James carved new markers and the James family and the Wallace Campbell family of Darwin maintained the graves until the road department crew took over."
These days, the California Dept. of Transportation is responsible for maintaining the grave. When the road was set to be straightened in the 1980s, they re-engineered it to go around the site.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Death Valley Part II

The dunes of Death Valley...
Death Valley is damn hot. We had the air conditioning cranked to the max while driving through it. According to our van's external thermometer, the temperature peaked at 40 degrees C during our day there -- 104 degrees F

What's even more amazing is that there are actually two communities in the valley. They are appropriately named Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells. Those are some bad-ass names...

We drove to the parking lot of Badwater Basin -- another bad-ass name -- and hiked out onto the salt flats. Badwater Basin is located 282 feet below sea level. Here my wife demonstrates sea level against the canyon wall behind here.
Practicing her Australian crawl?
The lonely hitchhiker...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Death Valley

Flash flood in California...
Scary encounter with a desert flash flood...
From Las Vegas, we drove west to California. The intent was was to reach Death Valley National Park around sunrise for the best photos so we drove through the night. At one point, under a black sky with no light visible in any direction, we crested a small rise in the highway. On the other side we saw what appeared to be a large hole so deep that it was pitch black.

We were driving too fast to stop and for a split second I held my breath thinking we are about to plunge into an abyss. Instead we saw a spray of water shoot up in the glare of our headlights as we hit a shallow patch of water.

After we braked hard and stopped -- and started breathing again – we got out to survey the scene. During the night, heavy rain had created a flash flood. In the van headlights we could see the dark water flowing swiftly across the highway, carrying uprooted shrubs and the occasional bit of garbage with it. It appeared to be about a foot or so deep so we proceeded slowly. I was worried about sinkholes but we didn’t encounter any problems.

We arrived at the doorstep to Death Valley shortly before sunrise. We parked beside the highway for a brief nap as I didn’t want to arrive too soon. When I awoke the sky was getting light. I left Leona to sleep in the van and hiked to the top of a nearby hill to watch the sun rise.

Soon after, we continued on our way, arriving at the national park early in the morning. We drove to the top of a scenic lookout with fabulous views of the valley laid out before us. Similar to Utah, the landscape of Death Valley is barren of plant life but rather than the Martian red landscape of Utah, Death Valley resembles the moon.

Sunrise over Death Valley...
The sun rises over Death Valley...
I sneaked a quick pic of this couple sleeping in the warms rays of the rising sun...

Catching early morning rays...

Friday, October 4, 2013

Stratos-fear

The view of the Vegas strip from the Stratosphere Tower...
The view of the Vegas strip from the Stratosphere Tower...
I have always had an intense fear of heights in my life, probably related to some negative experiences as a child. Several years ago, however, I decided to face my fears starting with a bungy jump on Vancouver Island. That eventually led to a challenge to myself to jump from the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas.

From Arizona, we drove up to Vegas especially to do the jump. Initially the jump attraction was closed due to the storm activity that you can see to the left in the photo above. We went for dinner and by the time we finished, the attraction had re-opened.

Yikes! Now I was committed and there was no turning back.

Nearly 900 feet over the streets of Vegas...
GULP! 880 feet over the streets of Vegas...
The jump is the highest controlled freefall in the world. You step out onto a small platform 880 feet above the streets of Vegas. The view straight down is unnerving. See the small blue square with the white dot in the middle in the photo below? THAT's the target where you land.

Don't look down...
You step off the platform, freefall for a couple of seconds and then fall at 40 mph all the way to the ground, landing about 17 seconds later.

I'm not going to be humble here. This jump took every bit of my willpower to follow through and I did it through a combination of self-talk and meditation techniques. If you watch the video on YouTube, you'll notice that I don't appear overly afraid, but I have the most intense look I've ever seen on myself.

My wife also did the jump. In fact, she jumped before I did. Just as I was about to go, she stepped forward with an almost maniacal gusto. I'm not sure what her motivation was to go first but it seemed important to her so I figured it was best to let her take the lead.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

More Chloride

Junk passes for art in Chloride, Arizona.
Hate my junk? You must be one of those anti-American Taliban lovers!

More photos of the unique town of Chloride.

As I mentioned in my last post, locals pile all sorts of junk in their front yards or hang it from trees and pass it off as art. Eye of the beholder, I guess. I like how the person above makes a patriotic statement out of their crap. There's a joke there somewhere...

Derelict gas station in Chloride, AZ.
Another derelict gas station...

We learned from a local of murals painted on rocks a few kilometres outside of town. The road there was so rutted and strewn with rocks though that we had to park our van and hike to them.

The murals of Chloride, AZ...
Somebody's been smoking peyote!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Chloride

Colourful abode in Chloride, AZ...
Vintage Chloride, AZ...
After our rafting trip we pushed westward to reach Death Valley, CA. We stopped at a Walmart in Kingman, Arizona to stock up on food and ice. I'm going to go on record as saying that we have never seen so many morbidly obese people under one roof ANYWHERE. Seriously. It was disgusting/shocking at how many people were waddling about wearing bib overalls because that was likely the only thing that would fit them.

We got our goods and left pronto, but it was late in the day and we had to stop soon. I saw a highway sign for RV and tent-trailer camping and on a spur of the moment we followed the directions and soon found ourselves in Chloride, Arizona.

It turned out to be one of the most unusual and entertaining stops along our route.

It's one of those off-the-main highway backward towns that might feature in a Stephen King novel, or maybe one of those giant bug sci-fi movies from the 50s. The entire town consists of only a few hundred people and maybe eight square blocks of dusty unpaved streets and beat up homes.

Our campsite was a sweet deal, or so we thought at first. For $10 we found ourselves in a large gravel lot that backed onto the hills surrounding the town. Except for a row of empty RVs being stored we had the lot to ourselves. The amiable owner did tell us to expect to hear wildlife and he wasn't kidding. The coyotes passed by all night long just a few feet from our tent-trailer, yipping and howling constantly.

We spent the next day exploring the town. It was a photographer's dream, full of old and abandoned homes and businesses. What was unusual was the art junk that was hanging from trees and piled up along the front yard fences. Broken glass bottles, old appliances and cookware... it was all thrown together in such a way that it was clear it was considered 'decor'.

At one point, a local -- looking every bit the vintage hillbilly with his missing teeth, scraggly facial hair, and unkempt hat and clothing --  came hobbling up to us on a cane. He regarded my camera then said to us:"If you go around that gas station you can get a real nice picture of a cactus in a bowl." He smiled a semi-toothless smile, then shuffled off down the street.

Leona and I glanced dubiously at each other, but we decided to check it out. On a crappy green plastic table in small chipped blue pot was a half-drowned cactus barely clinging to life. We're pretty sure that Festus was having fun with the 'city slickers' but, you know, we found it funny just the same.
A cattle skull hangs outside a home in Chloride.
Looks like an album cover...
Rusty pots and pans hang from a Chloride tree.
Hang your crap from a tree and call it art...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Seligman

Main street on Route 66...
Main Street,  Seligman AZ...
Seligman, Arizona is one of those throwback small western towns that looks like it stopped evolving sometime in the 50s or early-60s. This is a deliberate decision on their part to capitalize on their status as a  destination along the famous Route 66.

The main street is a collection of tacky tourist gift shops and restaurants that would look at home in Happy Days or American Graffiti. We had lunch at the quirky Roadkill Cafe -- their motto: you kill it, we grill it. The food was standard burger joint, but we were too busy staring at all the memorabilia on the walls and the stuffed animal dioramas to care

Battered colourful car outside a tourist shop in Seligman, AZ...
A car outside the historic Seligman Sundries building...

Monday, September 30, 2013

... and back out again.

The crew poses at the top...
We spent four days rafting the Colorado River. At the end of it our crew dropped us off at Phantom Ranch early in the morning. We were looking at an eight mile hike out, including a one mile change in elevation with about twenty-five pounds of gear on our back.

The crew urged us to get as high as we could before the rising sun cleared the canyon walls as temperatures in the canyon can hit over 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) during the hottest part of the day.

I'm proud to say that Team Canada -- represented by my wife and I -- made it to the top in 3.5 hours. It was a tough slog and the thighs were definitely complaining near the end, but it was made easier by the fact that we had deliberately trained for it. One Brazilian girl in our group made it up nearly as fast as we did but the next members didn't arrive for another three hours!
The Kissing Rock...
A river runs through it....

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chocolate milk!!

Incoming!
This is the muddy Colorado River about to smack me in the face. This photo was a lucky fluke. I was trying to take a video as we went through a rapid and I hit the wrong button by mistake.

Much of the upper run is fed by side rivers such as the Little Colorado River which flood the main river with reddish-brown mud. The result is that it seems like you are travelling down a river of chocolate milk.

Colorado mud...
The first night we camped it rained, but it was a warm rain so we weren't bothered by it. The only annoyance was the fine red sand that stuck to everything.

Camping in the warm rain...