Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The difference between a fall and a fail...

Doing anything to move toward a goal means that you have succeeded to some degree.

Put another way, the only way you can fail is if you do nothing.
Success is like scaling a mountain. The goal is to reach the summit.
Sometimes your path may lead to a dead end. Sometimes your path may require a detour or re-tracing your steps. Sometimes you have to stop for a breather. But as long as you're still climbing... you haven't failed.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Smoke gets in your eyes... and in your food

Thick clouds of anti-bug spray envelope our resort.
Nope, not a fire...
Every night at our resort a staff member wandered the grounds, spraying for mosquitoes and leaving thick clouds of chemical fog in his wake.

The backpack contraption he wore sounded as loud as a gas-powered leaf-blower... which I guess it was in a way.

Even more alarming, he wore a respirator even as he sprayed the area around the open air restaurant. Although it was an all-inclusive resort, and all the restaurants were free, we gave that particular eatery a miss. 😒

Thursday, December 26, 2019

More scenes from the ruins...

Some of the ruins at Chichen Itza...
The real deal... not a Hollywood set.
More scenes from the ruins at Chichen Itza...

Not seen here is the ball court in which the Mayans played a unique form of soccer. The ball was played from the hip and thighs as opposed to using their feet. Games could last for days.

As their reward for winning, the victors were sacrificed to the gods.😲!

Although it was considered an honour, they were essentially killing their best athletes in favour of the genetically inferior losers... which might help explain why the Mayan empire went extinct.

Rows of pillars at Chichen Itza...
Rows of stone pillars signifying ???


Monday, December 23, 2019

Mayan mojo...

The main pyramid at Chichen Itza...
A nearly perfect structure...
My wife and I toured the fascinating Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Essentially, the central pyramid and structures are huge calendars of a sort which used the alignment of the sun and planets to determine their growing seasons.

It boggles my modern mind how these ancient people were able to construct these structures to such precise dimensions.

The main temple at the site...
El Castillo, a.k.a. the Temple of Kukulcan
Our one and only disappointment was the huge number of people hawking their wares on the site, although you don't see them in these photos. Tourists are forced to run a gauntlet of sellers running scams, using noisemakers, shouting out... all to get your attention. It certainly cheapens the experience.

As a result, the heritage site is in danger of losing its UNESCO World Heritage Site, something the local government doesn't want to happen.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The lights of Christmas....

The bright lights of Victoria's Bay Centre...
It's not snow but it's still magical...
Recently, my wife and I took in the display of Christmas trees at the nearby Bay Centre in downtown Victoria. Strings of lights hanging from the ceiling create the illusion of snow... something we don't see often here, if at all.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Cancun love connection

A display of lights sets the mood for romance...
Tables, settings and lights await the wedding guests...
Our resort near Puerto Morelos in Mexico was a popular wedding destination. I think that every day we were there, there was at least one weddings, sometimes two.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Caribbean sunrise

The eastern sky glows with the rising sun.
Dawn comes to the Cancun coastline...
Switching things up, we move from Oregon to Cancun, Mexico where my wife and I recently spent some time.

Personally we enjoy the west coast better, particularly for its spectacular sunsets.

However, there is something to be said about the beauty of an early morning Caribbean sunrise.

Palm trees line up for the sunrise...
The sky morphs from black to blue...



Monday, December 9, 2019

Big bird(s)

An emu gives us the evil eye...
Weirdly innocent looking but threatening too...
I've mentioned before that birds are the modern descendants of dinosaurs. Looking at this emu(?) at the Oregon Wildlife Safari, it's not hard to see the connection. It looks menacing.

This guy/ gal was extremely aggressive about plucking food from our van. At one point it lunged forward, startling my wife so badly that she jerked in fear and tossed all the remaining food pellets around the inside of the van.

When I tried to shoo it away, it made this weird grunting noise that made me pause.

On the other hand, the ostrich below was pretty benign by comparison.

An ostrich gives a lookover...
Taking a gander...


Friday, December 6, 2019

Cats in cages

Assorted felines behind bars...
Pretty kitties...
Despite the fact that most of the animals are allowed to roam freely among the grassy hills of Oregon's Wildlife Safari, the wild cats are confined. It wouldn't be good business to have the assorted herbivores being attacked and devoured by the apex predators.

But, man, it sure would make it a way more exciting attraction...

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A visit to the zoo...

A giraffe meanders down the road at the wildlife safari...
Depressed giraffe is depressed...
From Crater Lake we drove to the Oregon Wildlife Safari near Winston, Oregon. It's one of those zoos where the animals are more or less allowed to roam free in large outdoor enclosures. Visiting humans are confined to their cars as they drive slowly through the compound.

Rhinos get into a pushing match at the compound...
Rhinos get pushy...
We watched these rhinos mix it up a bit on nearby hill. No idea if they were being aggressive, or just giving each other the friendly rhino equivalent of a 'fist bump' 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

House of Mystery

The Oregon Vortex is good kitschy fun. The cheese factor is near the top of the scale for this attraction, but it's done with such sincerity and earnestness that my wife and I just went with it and had fun.

Located (sort of) deep in the woods it's essentially a series of optical illusions that appear to show people changing height based on where they stand at the various stops of the tour. The centerpiece is this wonky house (aka The House of Mystery) where there are no right angles. Everything... walls, ceilings, floors... is tilted in strange ways, and both my wife and I found it disorienting when we were in it.

It's all attributed to a mysterious 'vortex' that exists here. Our energetic guide spent a lot of time tossing out some pseudo-science, even invoking Albert Einstein to explain it all.

As a physics major, I can tell you it's all nonsense, but the illusions themselves are pretty interesting. The house and the various walkways, upright posts, etc probably contribute to the optical illusions as everything is set at odd angles to everything else.

Inside Oregon's House of Mystery...
Apparently, the House of Mystery can cause you to sleep spontaneously...
In the photo above, it would seem that my wife is taller/larger than me despite the fact I'm about five inches taller than her.

Optical illusions in The Vortex...
Which version of my wife appears taller/larger? (I've added the white line to prove that both photos are at the same scale.) Most people think she appears larger in the top photo...

Friday, November 29, 2019

Leaving Crater Lake...

Leaving Crater Lake behind us...
A ribbon of highway beckons...
One thing we find fascinating about Oregon is the variety of topography, and how quickly it changes. Almost as soon as we left Crater Lake park, the pine trees started to thin out. The landscape became more arid.

Soon though we were back among deciduous trees in our search for Oregon's mysterious House of Mystery of which we'll learn more next week...

The Oregon Vortex and the House of Mystery...
What would we find beyond the entrance?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wildlife on the crater's edge...

Chipmunks make cute for tourists...
Chipmunks of a different sort make cute for tourists...
Most Canadians would probably call these critters chipmunks. However, depending on where we have been in the States, we have heard them referred to as ground squirrels, or -- in the case here -- yellow squirrels.

In fact, they did have a patch of yellowish fur just behind their ears but, otherwise, they don't look much like the ones that turn up in a Google search.

A Crater Lake bird eyes the popcorn.
What is this mystery bird called?
As for the bird, no idea what it is, but I would guess a jay of some sort.

People seemed more fascinated feeding these enthusiastic eaters than admiring the fantastic panorama of Crater Lake before them.

Except for one woman with a German(?) accent. In cold and clinical tones she told her young boy not to feed them because "they are wild animals and have diseases."

Talk about a killjoy...

Monday, November 25, 2019

Crater Lake blues...

Wizard Island and Crater Lake...
Wizard Island in the middle of Crater Lake
The last time my wife and I saw Crater Lake was three years ago. At the time wild fire smoke lay over most of the state so we only saw it behind the haze.

This time we saw it under a sun-filled cloudless day... and it left us gobsmacked. My wife waited in the van -- we parked illegally on the side of a main road -- while I ran back to get a first glimpse and take a photo. When I saw the lake I ran back to the van and nearly shouted at her: "You have GOT to see the lake right now!"

Crater Lake should be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The colour of the water is impossible to believe. It's freakishly blue... almost a royal blue... so BLUE it almost seems to be glowing.

Crater Lake's rocky shoreline
The moon-like shoreline of Crater Lake...
The Internet tells me that the intense colour is the result of the lake's extreme depth and its extreme clarity. At nearly 2000 feet deep it is the third deepest freshwater lake in the world for average depth, and the deepest in the United States.

Because the water is so clear the sun's rays are able to penetrate deep into the water. This water absorbs the red end of the sun's spectrum. That leaves the blue light to be reflected which is why the water is that amazing shade.

Science!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Scenes on the way

A deep canyon on the way to Crater Lake...
Scenery on the way to Crater Lake...
The next leg of our Oregon trip took us to Crater Lake. On the way there though we passed some noteworthy scenery, including deep canyons and picturesque waterfalls...

Toketee Falls, Oregon...
Toketee Falls, Oregon...
We'll take a good look at Crater Lake next week... stay tuned.

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 it 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.