Friday, November 15, 2019

Big-ass rig

Big rig seen while on our road trip...
One big mofo of a travel rig...
We've seen many big, big RV camping rigs during our travels, but this one still had us dropping our jaws. It started with a full-on semi-trailer with a sleeper cab. On the bed behind the cab it carried a Smart Car. I assume the Smart Car required some sort of external crane to lift it on and off the bed.

Behind all of this it was pulling a good-sized RV with three pullouts.

People watched in awe as the driver -- who appeared to be approximately mid- to late-60s -- expertly backed into the tight space available to him under the professional guidance of his wife. You just had to respect that level of teamwork and wheel skills.

An RV as big as our house!
Pullouts and antennae... 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sporks

Sporks... the ultimate salad tool...
Problems with salad? Not since I said "Fork off" in favour of these...
Sometimes it's the little things in life that are the most frustrating. Like those road signs that tell you "Last fuel stop for 120 kms". They always put these up on the outskirts of the town that you are leaving AFTER you've already passed the last gas station. How does that make sense?

Anyway to my point... one of those annoyances is eating salad. You struggle to get that right mix of leafy lettuce or spinach, and small crunchy fixings like croutons, carrots, nuts, cucumbers... whatever. You struggle to spear the leaves with your fork, and then awkwardly try to scoop up some small stuff without losing the lettuce. Then you have to quickly shovel it all into your pie hole before tumbles to the table or back into your bowl.

Recently I figured there had to be a better way to do this. We can build and launch interstellar space probes...carry around phones that can access the total sum of human knowledge... make Twinkies that can last indefinitely on store shelves... but we can't make a simple tool to eat salad?!

Turns out we already have. It's the overlooked spork. Most of us think of it as some sort of cheaply produced camping implement. Or, we've seen small plastic versions at fast food outlets. We've never really paused to admire the simple utility of this modest tool.

Loosely speaking there are two versions of sporks. One is the version that has a spoon at one end and a fork at the other.

The other version is one which combines a spoon with a fork at one end of a handle. This is the version that I figured might best solve my dilemma. I logged on to Amazon and found these versions... large and functional stainless steel versions that are meant to proudly serve as true cutlery at the family dinner table. Indeed I would go so far as to suggest that they could actually REPLACE the separate spoons and forks we currently use.

They weren't even that expensive. The only minor downside was the two weeks or so that it took them to arrive from China. The people that continued to awkwardly scoop up their food with two small sticks long after forks were invented have now actually leapfrogged us in the race for superior cutlery.

We have four of these and will probably order more for camping. I look forward to eating salads, chunky soups and stews much more efficiently.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Old Perpetual

Old Perpetual geyser near Lakeview OR...
Really?
On the way to the Oregon coast we made a side trip to see Old Perpetual Geyser near the town of Lakeview. It was on our must-see list solely because it was mentioned on one of our favourite travel websites. It was described as a man-made geyser accidentally created by well-diggers in 1923. Supposedly, it erupted with regularity every 90 seconds.

We got to Lakeview and had a good laugh. It turned out that we had camped here four years previously right next to the property which holds the geyser. In fact, I had a hazy recollection that the owner of the RV site had mentioned the geyser to us at the time. We had walked over, couldn't find it and left again, figuring that we had misunderstood.

This time we knew exactly what we were looking for.

Well, the geyser might have been perpetual but it certainly wasn't 'Old Faithful'. We waited for nearly twenty minutes in anticipation. And when it did erupt we were underwhelmed. I've seen bigger jets of water in front of hotels.

Sign marking the location of Old Perpetual...
My response to Old Perpetual...
PS: To be fair, further research on my part since our return tells me that the pressure behind the geyser was compromised by the building of a nearby geothermal energy plant which siphons off some of the same hot water that powers Old Perpetual.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Fields Station

The very small community of Fields Station OR...
No wi-fi, TV or mints on your pillow here...
The nearest community to the Alvord desert is Fields Station. This is downtown Fields Station. I love the spunky ambition on display here. The 'motel' is barely more than a bungalow.

Reviews on Trip Advisor are all over the map. We've been here twice now and always found the staff to be courteous. Their humour can be dry though.

For example, the first time through we asked for directions to the desert. The kid pointed nonchalantly further down the road. "Keep going til you see a big-ass flat white thing on the right side of the road."

This most recent time, we decided to try one of their milkshakes. One of the flavours listed was Nutella and I asked the girl serving if it tasted more like chocolate or hazelnut.

Her reply, also with a straight face. "It's sort of Nutella-y." Upward inflection at the end of course.

In the end I had a 3C (chocolate coffee and caramel) milkshake. Probably the best damn milkshake I've had in my life. We watched as she loaded it up with real ice cream. It was so big and so thick it was a meal in itself.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Desert fun

So WHAT do you do for fun on the desert?

Bocce. Normally we play it on our local Vancouver Island beaches where my wife is the usual winner. She was unable to handle the near-perfect flatness of the desert floor though and suffered a crushing defeat at my hands.

Bocce on the playa...
Tossing some balls on the playa...
The Alvord Hot Springs. You wouldn't think that hanging out in some hot springs next to a hot desert would be comfortable. You'd be wrong. It was very comfortable. What WASN'T comfortable were the small group of adults soaking sans any clothes. It's fine that some people are completely comfortable in their skin, but the rest of us aren't necessarily interested in seeing your flappy bits.

Soaking in the Alvord Hot Springs...
Hot enough for ya'? No? We can fix that...
Wildlife. Our tow operator told us that it was possible to see scorpions at night with a UV light. We didn't have one handy but we made a game effort to find them anyway. No luck but we did find this guy/gal in the shade of our trailer.

A praying mantis on the prowl at night...
Six legged predator on the prowl...

Friday, November 1, 2019

Dragon He(art)

An imposing dragon sculpture in Saanich...
Now THAT'S a lawn ornament!
Strolling through our neighbourhood one day a few weeks ago, I came across this imposing ten-foot-high welded metal sculpture in the front yard of a house.

The artist is artist and welder Dan Iocchelli. He assembled it over the course of seven years before moving it from his workshop to his yard. It has a 12-foot wingspan. Each the wings alone weigh 350 pounds.

Currently, he is hoping that someone will come by with suggestions for a name.

Personally, I would suggest the name Sean, after actor Sean Connery who convincingly voiced the dragon, Draco, in the movie DragonHeart.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Adios Alvord

The sun rises over the stark emptiness...
The morning sun's rays spread out over the white flats...
On our last morning on the Alvord, we were treated to a stunning sunrise. Or rather I was. My wife is not a morning person and was sleeping soundly while I took this photo shortly after 6 a.m.

Steens Mountain lights up in the early morning..
Steens Mountain glows with the sunrise...
To the west, Steens Mountain glowed orange as it was lit by the sun's rays. I went for a short hike along the 'shoreline' where I saw numerous jack rabbits. No doubt they are a major food source for the coyotes that had serenaded us the night before.

I don't know if we'll ever make it back here... there are so many other places to see on our bucket list but our times here will always remain one of our favourites.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Peaceful easy feeling

Gazing out over the Alvord Desert...
Despite the grey skies, the breeze was warm...
We live on Canada's West Coast. Our landscape is lush with snow-capped peaks, tall trees swaying in the wind, ocean waves sliding up or crashing over rocks and beaches... It's a colourful and often chaotic backdrop that we wouldn't trade for any other place on earth.

Nonetheless, we love the unchanging nature and wide open landscapes of places like the Alvord. For me, the visual simplicity of it is relaxing. Spiritually, it appeals to the minimalist within me.

I think the other appeal is that we were completely alone out there. It's getting harder and harder to find places where you can enjoy true solitude. Out here there were no other people, no cell phone coverage, no radio stations... All that...quiet...gives you a chance to reflect and recharge.

Skies of bluest blue over the Alvord Desert...
A vast and empty expanse...

Friday, October 25, 2019

Windy Wickaninnish...

Windy Wickaninnish beach...
Wild and windy Wichaninnish Beach...
During a recent surf trip to Tofino, I spent an hour or so flying my kite on a particularly windy day. It was so windy that I was frequently pulled through the beach sand no matter how much I tried to resist.

No resisting that wind!
Resistance is futile!
I managed to get some air time in though.

Getting air with the high winds at Tofino...
Up and away!


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Alvord: The Unstuckening

Thanking our desert rescuer...
Matt was the man! Rescue accomplished.
After sleeping in the desert overnight during a howling wind storm, we used our binoculars in the morning to locate our trailer about three miles distant. We were relieved to see that it had survived the storm unscathed. Based on our previous visit to the desert, I had taken the precaution of lashing down the roof with extra lines.

Fortunately, our small travel bikes were in the trailer with us. My wife bravely set out on a bike to get help, while I remained with the trailer to have another stab at digging it out. Periodically, I would watch my wife's progress with the binos until she was too far to discern.

She returned about eighty minutes later with Jeremy from Salt Lake City who just happened to be camping nearby with his daughters in his van on the desert. He made a valiant effort to pull us out but when he risked digging in his van into the soft sand, I called it off.

Jeremy drove us to a nearby farm where it turned out the owners had a bit of a side business rescuing people in our situation. The total cost, they explained, would be $150 US (about $200 Canadian). That was a hit to our wallet, but not nearly as much as the $800 it would have cost to have a tow truck come from the nearest town two hours away.

We sucked it up, paid the bill, and in no time at all our rescuer Matt had us pulled out of the sand. He was a pretty interesting guy to talk to. His tales of growing up and living 'off the grid' in that part of the state were entertaining and eye-opening. For example, he mentioned that just going out on a simple date involved either a two-hour trip to the nearest town -- a small town with not much to offer -- or a four-hour drive to the big city of Boise, Idaho!

The trench we left behind...
Leaving our mark in the desert...

Friday, October 18, 2019

Alvord: The Stuckening

Stuck in the sand...
By dawn's early light...
Our first night on the desert, we thought it would be fun to drive across the desert at night... maybe do some donuts with no fear of hitting anything.

Big mistake...

We paused at one point to take some photos of small plants growing out of the white mud. When we started the van to get going again, we ended up sinking the front tires of the van into the soft sand. Eventually the van bottomed out so that the tires were spinning uselessly in the air.

In the pitch dark we didn't dare risk trying to hike back to our trailer. The odds were pretty good that we would end up hopelessly lost. So we settled in for the night in the van.

It was a rough sleep as temperatures dropped throughout the night. At dawn we awoke to survey our predicament.

What happened next? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Alvord: Part 1

Approaching Oregon's Alvord Desert...
The expanse of the Alvord Desert...
About three years ago, we camped on Oregon's Alvord Desert, and knew then that we wanted to return. At that time, wildfire smoke hung heavy over the landscape. This time though, skies were clear and the scenery was fantastic to see.

The first night we were there, winds were high. That's the reason that the Alvord is popular with lovers of wind sports, such as landboarding. Like the proverbial Boy Scout, I came prepared for this possibility with extra lines to keep our trailer roof securely tied down.

Sunset on the Alvord Desert...
The sun sets over the hills to the west...



Monday, October 14, 2019

Steens Mountain

One of Steens Mountain's breathtaking vistas...
Steens Mountain is actually just one mountain, although to my eye it looks like a range of peaks. Who decides such things anyway?

It rises to about ten thousand feet at its peak and offers panoramic views of Oregon's south-east landscape.

The Alvord desert seen from on high...
The Alvord desert in the distance...

Friday, October 11, 2019

Diamond Craters

One of a dozen Diamond Craters...
Craters but no jewels...
A bit off the main road, we came across the Diamond Craters on the way to south-east Oregon.

The craters -- there are about a dozen of them -- aren't marked very well and they don't stand out from the landscape until you are at the edge of them looking down into the pit.

They aren't the product of meteors though. These craters are the result of ancient volcanic activity.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The End

End of the trail for hikers...
This isn't a good sign!
In the intense mid-day heat of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, this sign had an ominous overtone...

Rock formations at John Day...
Some of the dramatic landscapes at John Day...

Monday, October 7, 2019

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Approaching Cathedral Rock...
Cathedral Rock
Continuing further east of the Painted Hills, you'll come across the harsh landscapes of the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument.

On the day we hiked these trails the temperatures hit 37 degrees C, or 98 degrees F. But it was a dry heat so it was (barely) bearable.

Taking a break from the heat...
Trying not to wilt in the heat...



Friday, October 4, 2019

Painted Hills

Oregon's Painted Hills...
Hues of yellow and red...
Oregon's landscape changes dramatically as you head in from the coast. East of Prineville, you'll find starkly beautiful landscapes such as the Painted Hills.

Oregon's Painted Hills...
Bands of rust and tan on the sides of the Painted Hills...



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Back in black

Surfing at Vancouver Island's Jordan River...
Warm weather and warm water...
Surf season is slowly starting again off the south end of Vancouver Island...

Carving left on a small wave...
Pulling to the left on a wave...

Monday, September 30, 2019

Stone Guardian

Stein's Pillar in Oregon...
Mysterious and imposing Stein's Pillar
Similar to Washington's Beacon Rock Stein's Pillar is the remains of the core of an ancient volcano. As tall as a 35 story building, it sits off the beaten path not far from Prineville in Oregon.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Crowded


Taken during a recent weekend in Parksville BC.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Surfin' USA

The Deschutes River runs through Bend OR...
Bend residents float down the Deschutes River on a warm day...
If you've ever been to Kamloops in BC, Bend in Oregon will seem familiar. Bend has a comparable population to Kamloops. Like Kamloops, Bend is located in an arid part of the state. It has a river running through the heart of it just like Kamloops.

Bend has something Kamloops doesn't though. Surfing!

Yup, you can surf in Bend. They've created a whitewater park in the river which includes standing waves. Local surfers politely take turns riding waves just like we do here on the west coast.

You can watch the surfers in real time via this webcam.

Wave riding in Bend's whitewater park...
Surfers at Bend's whitewater park

Monday, September 23, 2019

Bend it Like Blockbuster

The last Blockbuster is still going strong in Bend OR...
Have I slipped through a bend in time?
See what I did up there in that caption?

Bend Oregon is home to the very last Blockbuster on all of earth. At one time the video chain -- with its instantly recognizable yellow and blue logo -- had 9000 outlets.

The end of the chain came in the form of digital media which supplanted DVDs and BluRays as the media format of choice. Combined with streaming services such as Netflix video stores disappeared quickly.

That said, this Blockbuster still has a steady and loyal customer base. It also survives on its reputation as a must-see tourist attraction in Bend.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The art of Springfield

Regal faces painted by artist Bayne Gardner...
Some of the art of Bayne Gardner...
Springfield has a lot of colourful murals amid the streets of its downtown core. Some of them are in back alleys off the main roads so you have to hunt for them.

They even have tours organized around them. One of the most impressive murals celebrates local author Ken Kesey who was the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Large mural celebrates local author Ken Kesey...
Ken Kesey immortalized in a mural...

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Springfield

Springfield OR's commemorative Simpson's mural...
The gang's all here in Springfield...
Anyone who has any sort of passing knowledge of the long-running The Simpsons animated series knows that it is set in the town of Springfield.

But is there a real Springfield? Well, it turns out that there are about 33 of them in the United States, but the one that is the inspiration for the series is Springfield OR. The creator of the series, Matt Groenig, grew up in nearby Portland.

The real-life Springfield commemorates this fact with a large bright mural on the side of their oddly named Emerald Arts Center downtown.

The very tan coloured Emerald Arts Center in Springfield OR...
"Emerald... you keep using this word.
I do not think it means what you think it means."

Monday, September 16, 2019

Spruce Goose

The Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum...
Too big to get it all in one frame...
In McMinnville OR you'll find the excellent Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Two large hangars hold all sorts of interesting aircraft and you can even try your hand at a flight simulator.

One hangar is dominated by the Spruce Goose, built by Howard Hughes in the mid-1940s as part of the war effort. This thing is huge... like really really BIG.

The wingspan is longer than a football field. The tail is eight stories high. Even by today's standards this is a massive aircraft, all the more remarkable when you consider that it is constructed almost entirely of wood.

The Spruce Goose dominates the hangar.
The Spruce Goose dwarfs everything else around it...

Friday, September 13, 2019

Twedes again

Sombre clouds strike the appropriate Twin Peaks vibe in North Bend WA.
A gloomy cloudy day over North Bend in Washington...
Whenever we go through Washington state, we try to make it a point to stop in at Twedes Cafe in North Bend. It's a popular gathering place for visitors, particularly those who are fans of the quirky and spooky cult series Twin Peaks.

Although it's famous for its coffee and cherry pie as a result its appearance in the show, on this particular trip I decided to try their banana creme pie instead. I can reliably report that it too is very good... and VERY filling.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

La Conner cute

Main street La Conner WA...
The residents of La Conner even park artfully...
On our recent trip to Oregon, we stopped in at La Conner WA. We discovered this picturesque community two years ago.

If you are an art lover, La Conner is your town. The main street features numerous shops selling art in quality from pricey fine to mass produced 'lifestyle' and everything in between. We have some of it sitting in our home as I write this.

A wrap around veranda catches the eye...
All stair rails, veranda and posts...





Monday, September 9, 2019

LOST

A curtain of green...
What mysteries does the ISLAND hold?
During a recent trip to the surf town of Tofino here on Vancouver Island, as I emerged from the water, I was struck by how much the beach and lush canopy looked similar to something you might experience on a tropical island.

Take away the telltale tall evergreen trees and you could be looking at the jungle of some mysterious island off South America. It was an effect enhanced by the call of the many birds hidden in the trees.

White sand and thick vegetation of Vancouver Island's outer beaches...
The beach at Florencia Bay...

Friday, September 6, 2019

She sees seaweed by the seashore

Fields of seawood waiting to be buried on a Mexican beach...
 Burying seaweed in the hot sun... not fun.
We'll be heading back to Mexico's east coast this year, after three vacations on the west coast.

I can't complain since the trip is free for us, but I'm less enthusiastic about the east coast. They have a growing seaweed problem there. Each day, vast mats of seaweed wash ashore on the resort beaches. In the heat of the day, it rots quickly, producing a pungent smell similar to sewage.

Who wants to spend time on beach like that? It turns out -- unsurprisingly -- no one.

During our last stay in Playa del Carmen, we witnessed teams of labourers sent out each morning from the hotels to clean up the beach areas in front of the resorts. Their job was to dig deep holes in the beach sand and bury the seaweed.

In some places the problem has become so acute that they've had to resort to earth-moving equipment to dig the trenches.