Saturday, December 26, 2015

Raptors

A Cooper's hawk pays us a visit.
A Cooper's hawk...
We live close to a nature sanctuary so it's not unusual to see less common birds in our yard. We keep a lot of bird feeders around to attract them. It's always especially thrilling to see a bird of prey up close.

The bird above is a Cooper's Hawk, one of the smaller members of the hawk family. S/he landed on our patio lamp a few days ago looking around for a small mammal to eat. 

We were once sitting in our backyard on an early summer evening when we noticed a small mouse exploring some of the rocks in our garden only a few feet away from us. The little creature was entertaining us with his scrambling when WHOOSH... one of these hawks came screaming around the corner of our house barely five feet off the ground. The little rodent had only enough time to let out one quick squeak before the raptor snatched it in a blur and flew off, leaving us stunned at how fast it all happened. The unfortunate critter was barely an inch long. I still wonder how the bird even saw it from around the house.

The bird below landed on our garden fence a couple of months ago. It's a red-tailed hawk. They are frequently used for falconry. If you've ever watched any Hollywood movie that featured the sound of an eagle or a hawk, you were probably listening to the cry of one of these birds. We have a lot of fat grey squirrels in our neighbourhood that like to raid our bird feeders. In a weird way they are also bird 'feeders' for raptors like this who come around looking for the squirrels.

A red-tailed hawk looking for a meal in our yard.
A red-tailed hawk...
Finally, here is something I learned while looking up this pair of birds... a group of hawks has many collective nouns, including a "boil", "knot", "spiraling", "stream", and "tower" of hawks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Royale-ty on the Mayan Riviera

Our resort in Playa del Carmen...
Early morning at the resort...
The Royal Playa del Carmen is located along the waterfront resort strip of Playa del Carmen about sixty kilometres south of Cancun on Mexico's east coast.

It's considered one of the smaller resorts although my wife and I found it plenty big. If you're curious about our impressions of the resort, check out my Tripadvisor review...

Sunrise over the Royale...



Friday, December 11, 2015

Sunny Hola-days in Mexico

Carvings celebrate The Day of the Dead.
Carved masks celebrate Mexico's Day of the Dead.
So far Victoria has been having a wild and wet winter. Still it was nice to recently spend a week down on the Yucat√°n Peninsula in Mexico.

We stayed on a resort in the VERY tourist-y town of Playa del Carmen. Many of the nearby tourist shops featured wood carvings of this sort that are a theme of El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), a traditional Mexican holiday that coincides with Halloween in North America.

Whereas our version of the holiday is all about scary things that go bump in the night, their version is more uplifting... it's the time of the year when spirits of departed family members can briefly unite with their still living loved ones.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Overdue thanks...

A pair of Mikes, post-repair...
A pair of Mikes...
Today I need to express my way-too-late thanks to some people who stepped up to help us during our recent trip through Oregon. Almost from the start, our vacation was plagued with technical problems.

On the day we were due to leave Cannon Beach, our bike rack which mounted to the bumper of our trailer suffered catastrophic failure.

Although I'm smiling in the photo above, it was a different situation an hour or so before that. I found myself at the side of the road trying to jury rig a repair while my wife walked back down the road to our campsite to seek help. Four-letter words were flowing freely from my mouth I'm embarrassed to admit.

Suddenly a passing car pulled off the road and in behind me. The driver leaned out his window and asked if he could help in any way. That's how I met Mike and his family.

After surveying the situation, Mike went way out of his way to drive me to the local hardware store. He helped me to locate some of the bits and pieces that I needed to effect repairs. Once we got back to the trailer he also provided the tools and some of the labour to get us fixed up and mobile again.

During this ordeal, his wife Katie and their kids patiently sat in the car waiting for the two Mikes to sort things out so they are equally deserving of a shout-out.

Thanks, Mike, for all your help, patience and advice... you saved us from a vacation disaster...


Friday, December 4, 2015

High over Portland

US Bancorp Tower in downtown Portland...
US Bancorp Tower in downtown Portland...
The 30th floor of the US Bancorp Tower in Portland is home to the award-winning Portland City Grill which offers the best views of the city skyline.

Portland towers...
Portland towers...


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rust Never Sleeps

The wreck of the Peter Iredale on an Oregon beach...
The rusting bones of a ship wreck on an Oregon beach...
Fort Stevens State Park is close to Astoria... in fact, it marks the extreme northwest corner of the state. On the beach near the park, visitors can climb the rusting remains of the shipwreck Peter Iredale.

The vessel ran aground in 1906 while trying for the mouth of the Columbia River during a squall. No lives were lost. All of the crew were rescued.

The captain's final words to the ship were: ""May God bless you, and may your bones bleach in the sands."

His understanding of metallurgy was a bit murky, I guess. For the past 150 years, the bones of the Peter Iredale have been quietly turning to rust.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Re-hearse-ed

A re-purposed hearse...
A re-purposed hearse...
We spent a day and night near the city of Astoria in Oregon. Astoria is located in the northwest corner of Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River.

We spent a morning exploring the beach at the mouth of the river. We came across this re-purposed hearse in the parking lot. Inside and out it was retro-fitted to carry the owner's fishing gear. It was an older vehicle, but in immaculate condition. No surprise perhaps... hearses aren't normally driven very fast or very far.


Astoria itself has a picturesque waterfront that features this old time trolley. It runs from one end of town to the other. What's clever is that at the far end, the seats easily convert to face the opposite direction simply by swinging the back of the seat up and over to the facing bench. In this way the trolley doesn't have to do a turn around... it simply goes in reverse.

The Astoria waterfront trolley...
The Astoria waterfront trolley...




Friday, November 20, 2015

The Magic is in the Hole!

Voodoo Donut in Portland, OR...
Voodoo Donut in Portland, OR...
Voodoo Donut is a popular Portland must-do activity. It is famous for its off-the-wall donut flavours. A few years ago, they even featured a donut flavoured with Pepto Bismal until they were slapped with 'cease and desist' by the city's health officer.

Enthusiastic patrons line up for their sugar bricks...
A street musician entertains the customers...
On any given day, there's typically a lineup of 30 to 45 minutes. Fortunately, on the day that we were there, we were entertained periodically by a shop employee who would circulate among the waiting crowd and entertain us with little bits of comedy.

Voodoo Donut... where the magic is in the hole and good things come in pink boxes! Who could argue with that?  ;)

"Good things come in pink boxes..."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Oregon: Multnomah Falls

Tall falls in Oregon...
the tallest of falls
you can see right here
no taller falls
are anywhere near
Not far from Beacon Rock on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, is the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area which features Multnomah Falls.

At 611 feet high, it is the highest waterfall in Oregon and the second highest year-round water fall in the United States.

The photo below is taken from the span that you can see in the photo above. The lower pool is 70 feet below the span.

Feet dangle over the lower pool of Multnomah Falls...
Feet dangle over the lower pool of Multnomah Falls...



Friday, November 13, 2015

Figures in the Mist

Mist rolling off the sea and into the trees of Vancouver Island...

It's a typical Vancouver Island West Coast scene... tendrils of heavy fog drift ashore from the ocean, slipping between the trees like wraiths and reducing fellow beachcombers in the distance to barely visible silhouettes.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bridge of the Gods

Most awesome name for a bridge, ever...
Just by crossing over it,
you'll feel like Thor crossing into Asgard...
To get to Beacon Rock, we crossed over from Oregon to Washington State via the Bridge of the Gods. Which has to be the most awesome name for a bridge ever, right?

If you saw the movie 2014 movie Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, you've seen the bridge. It's where her character, Cheryl Strayed, ends her soul-searching hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

I had seen the movie and during our trip had mentioned to my wife that I hoped to see the bridge. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the name or the location of it from the movie. It was only AFTER our trip when I was doing research for this blog that I discovered that we HAD crossed the bridge... several times in fact.

The bridge is named after an ancient legend in local folklore.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Beacon Rock

Beacon Rock of Washington State overlooks the Columbia River...
The imposing Beacon Rock...
The Columbia River is the physical boundary that separates Oregon from the state of Washington. 

Beacon Rock is an eye-catching geologic feature that overlooks the river about an hour east of Portland on the Washington side of the river. At 850 feet high, it is the solidified remains of the core of an ancient volcano. The explorers Lewis and Clark arrived here in 1805 and gave the rock its name.

Visitors can climb to the peak via a boardwalk that switchbacks across the western face of the rock. Along the way there are impressive views of the mighty Columbia River in both directions.

Hiking to the top of the rock...
Switchbacks take you to the top of Beacon Rock...
On the day we hiked to the top my wife and I shared the trail with a family of four, including two teenage girls. At the top, we were horrified when the youngest girl jump over the handrail and scrambled down to a ledge below us to peer over the edge. If she had slipped... or a bit of the cliff had given away under her weight... she would have plunged eighty stories to her death. 

Her mother screamed and swore at her to get her back to safety and it was all I could do not to add my own panicky voice to hers. Fortunately, the girl had the sense to turn around and climb back up to us and we were all able to start breathing again...

The view from the top of the rock...
Looking down the length of the Columbia River...


Monday, November 2, 2015

Joseph, Oregon

A dramatic sculpture on the main street of Joseph, Oregon...
A dramatic sculpture on the main street of Joseph, Oregon...
The website for Joseph, Oregon refers to itself as the "Little Switzerland of America" due to its location nestled in the Wallowa mountains of northeast Oregon. That image would seem to be at odds with the distinctly American West sculptures that line the main street of this picturesque little town.
The town itself is named after a historical Native American tribe leader.

One of Joseph's street sculptures...
Another of the sculptures found
along the main boulevard of Joseph, Oregon...

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dark side of the Steens

Parts of the Steens range look other-worldly.
Parts of the Steens range look extraterrestrial.
In some places, the view from the top of the range looked positively extraterrestrial, while other view points were green with vegetation.

Green views from the top of the Steens range...
Views of the valleys from the top of the Steens range...

Friday, October 16, 2015

Meet the Steens

The view from the top of the Steens' range...
Awesome views from the top of the Steens...
The Alvord desert lies in the rain shadow of the Steens mountain range to the west. The range rises to about ten thousand feet above the desert floor.

Despite the smoke from the numerous forest fires throughout the state, we were still able to appreciate the grandeur of these mountains. At one point, we discovered a hidden memorial among the rocks of a viewpoint.

A hidden memorial among the rocks...
A hidden memorial among the peaks...



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cheeky

Sun-worshiping in the Alvord Desert...
Sun-worshiper...
I periodically take photos of the annual Victoria's Naked Bike Ride. I'm always amused and impressed by the riders' complete lack of propriety when it comes to baring all for their cause.

I confine my outdoor nudity to situations such as the Alvord desert where I'm unlikely to be seen by anyone else. I confess that it's a pleasant experience to feel the warm sun and a caressing breeze flowing over inch of your body. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Not hot enough for ya'?

The Alvord Hot Springs next to the desert...
The Alvord Hot Springs... keeping things even hotter...
As if camping on the desert wasn't enough heat for us, my wife and I took a soak in the nearby Alvord Hot Springs.

The springs are on private land and at one time the owners graciously allowed visitors to freely soak in the water. However, as word of mouth spread and the number of visitors started to climb, they were forced to nominally upgrade the facility to something more than a token couple of holes in the ground.

There is now a small charge of $5 for visitors to use the springs. The owners built a tin shack with a small change facility and a manual shower contraption to rinse off afterward.

From the water, you can view the desert in one way or the Steens mountain range in the opposite direction.

Leona after her soak...
Leona, after her soak in the springs...



Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Alvord Part II

The cracked mud surface of the Alvord desert...
The floor of the Alvord desert...
Unlike the salt flats of Utah the floor of the Alvord desert is cracked dry mud. High winds whip up the fine white dust... during our two day stay there the dust got into everything.

Camped out the desert...
All alone on the desert...
Except for two other groups  a few miles away we were alone on the flats. With no lights around us, the night sky was brilliant with thousands -- maybe tens of thousands -- of stars. I couldn't remember the last time I saw the Milky Way so clearly.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Alvord Desert

First glimpse of the Alvord Desert...
"A big-ass flat thing..."
After Crater Lake, our Oregon trip took us to the south-east quadrant of the state in search of the Alvord desert.

It would surprise a lot of people to know how truly deserted this part of the state really is. It's an extension of the Nevada desert to the south. The landscape is flat, featureless... the low lying scrub vegetation is de-saturated of colour... the only things that move are the hawks that glide overhead in search of hapless hare caught out in the open. (Although we did once see a wolf crossing the highway...)

It's very off-the-grid... no cell reception here. Towns are few and far between and consist of single-pump gas stations or a weary-looking restaurant with a smattering of weather-beaten homes or trailers in the background.

Our first glimpse of the Alvord desert was dramatic. As one local described it, it was a 'big ass flat thing', a featureless white expanse stretching off to the horizon.

It was possible to drive out on to the desert floor itself by turning right off the main road onto a rough dirt road called Frog Springs. I think the road name was meant to be ironic.

Directions to the desert...
This way to the desert...





Monday, September 28, 2015

Crater Lake

Smoke obscures Crater Lake in Oregon...
Smoke obscures the finer details at Crater Lake, OR.
Crater Lake is the remains of a long-vanished volcano that erupted 7700 years ago. The caldera of the volcano collapsed creating a huge crater that filled in with water over the millennia.

Crater Lake is the deepest fresh water lake in the United States at 1940 feet... slightly more than a third of a mile.

Wizard Island in the lake was formed by subsequent 'mini' eruptions that created a smaller summit higher than the level of the water.

The lake is also known for its extreme blue colour and clarity. Unfortunately, the smoke from a nearby forest fire didn't allow us to see this for ourselves.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sunset over Oregon

The sun sets over the Oregon coastline.
The sun sinks below the horizon at Cape Kiwanda, Oregon.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Cape Kiwanda

The massive sand dune at Cape Kiwanda, Oregon...
The sand dune at Cape Kiwanda...
Further down Oregon's coast from Cannon Beach is the equally beautiful Cape Kiwanda. It's another mecca for surfers. And not just for surfers on the water either.

At one end of the beach is a massive sand dune. How high is it? Check out the photo above… see that barely visible spot of colour about half way up the dune? That's a person.

For $20 you can rent a sand surfer and surf the dune. Sadly, no lifts will take you to the top. You have to hike up on your own and the shifting sand turns it into a serious workout for your calves.

My wife and I struggled -- without much success -- to master carving with our boards. Otherwise, there are just two speeds… stopped and balls-to-the-wall straight down the slope.

Two critical things to know about sand surfing:

i. Wiping out on sand hurts; and

ii. Wiping out on sand will leave you scraping sand out of your eyes, ears and nose for days.

View from the top of the dune at Cape Kiwanda...
The view from the top of the dune...

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tillamook Rock

Tillamook Rock off the Oregon coast...
Tillamook Rock... a story of the macabre...
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is visible from the main beach at Cannon Beach. It's located on a rock outcropping about 1.2 miles offshore.

It's de-commissioned now, but it has a macabre history. One of the initial surveyors of the rock in the late 1880s was swept away by a wave. His body was never recovered.

The construction of the lighthouse was plagued with bad luck. Shortly before it was completed a ship sank off the rock after coming too close in thick fog. Sixteen men were killed.

After completion it was significantly damaged by rough weather over the years. The ghosts of two former lighthouse keepers are said to haunt the lighthouse.

Creepy, eh? Well, it gets better.

After it was de-commissioned, it was bought by a private company that turned it into a columbarium, a place where the ashes of the dead are interred in urns. The ashes of about thirty people are still interred there.

Why is some Hollywood studio not all over this already?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Sunrise over Oregon

An early morning surfer meditates on the day's conditions...
Contemplation on an Oregon beach..
An early morning surfer at Cape Kiwanda beach takes a break to meditate on the waves...

At Cannon Beach, a couple enjoy some together time over fishing poles...

Early morning fishing...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Goonies 'R' Good Enough

Somebody was nostalgic for The Goonies...
Nostalgia on an Oregon beach...
That's what Cyndi Lauper sang in 1985. Large parts of this quirky adventure movie were filmed in and around Cannon Beach and Astoria, Oregon and clearly inspired someone recently near Cannon Beach.

Haystack Rock near Cannon Beach, Oregon...
Haystack Rock attracts the beach visitors..
Cannon Beach' main beach is dominated by Haystack Rock, said to be the 3rd largest intertidal structure in the world. (What does 'intertidal' mean? I'll leave it to readers to discover that for themselves...)

During the summer, Cannon Beach' population triples as tourists and locals alike are drawn to the sand and dramatic surf of the waterfront. In 2013, National Geographic labelled it as one of the world's 100 most beautiful places.

Oregon's award-winning beaches...
One of Oregon's world-class beaches...


Monday, September 7, 2015

Sea Stack: 2

A sea stack off Cape Kiwanda, Oregon...
Oregon sea stack
Here's an example of another sea stack... this dramatic formation can be found off Cape Kiwanda in Oregon.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Two Towhees

A power of watchful towhees at Swan Lake...
Towhees watching me curiously at nearby Swan Lake...
Towhees are a type of sparrow, much more colourful and full of personality than the ubiquitous standard grey-brown things often found at bird feeders.

This pair watched me with curiosity at nearby Swan Lake one morning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

East Point

Saturna Island's slice of New England...
A slice of New England at the end of Saturna...

The de-commissioned Fog Alarm Building above sits at the far end of Saturna Island overlooking East Point.

Despite the fact that East Point is supposed to be one of the prime locations for sighting orcas in the Gulf Islands I have yet to seen them after three visits to the site.

However, I was lucky enough to see porpoises and some lounging sea lions (below)  -- probably the reason for frequent orca visits -- on a nearby rock.

Sea lions lolling on a rock off Saturna Island...
Sea lions (and one eagle) enjoying the salty breezes...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Active Active Pass

Mayne Island on the right, Galiano Island on the left...
Galiano on the left, Mayne on the right...
Possibly my favourite camp site on the southern Gulf Islands is on Mayne Island. I try to stay at the 'honeymoon' site that is on the periphery of the grounds overlooking Active Pass.

Active Pass separates Mayne Island from Galiano Island. Twice an hour, a BC ferry passes through as they travel between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Other traffic routinely includes smaller ferries traveling between the islands, floatplanes, pleasure craft and -- if you are lucky enough to see them -- the occasional pod of orcas.

Passing ferries in Active Pass...
Ferries passing in daytime Active Pass...