Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Go out with a bang

Waking up last Sunday in southern Wyoming, we finally accepted the fact that our days were numbered. There were a few ways to route ourselves back to Austin, namely through Utah or Colorado…decisions decisions. After reading through our guidebooks and drooling over the Atlas, we picked Utah (for Arches National Park & Moab) and struck out for a full day of driving. It was tough to trade the mountain weather for the desert…one night we’re shivering under inadequate blankets and the next night we wake up sweating. Cest la vie!

We stumbled upon Hittle Bottom campground after dark and had fun trying to decipher our surroundings from the full moon. My new constellation book also got broken in (spare me the jokes). What a nice surprise to wake up to this!

Welcome back to red rock territory!

We rolled into Arches National Park midday, tried to adjust to the 99-degree weather, took a 5-mile hike, and poked around until sunset. The scenery is spectacular. Essentially, it’s a bunch of wild formations made out of this type of sandstone rock, and all of it sits on top of a really hard-packed salt foundation. This somehow contributes to the formations rising and shifting. A geologic description for the books, don’t you think?

Delicate Arch

Landscape Arch

Double O Arch

It rained all around us but not on us…very Truman Show-esque. Storms and evening light make for great photos!

Balanced Rock

Aside from Arches, there is so much outdoorsy goodness in the city of Moab—rafting, mountain climbing, boating, and of course mountain biking—it’s all so tempting. But we really only had one full day of fun left, and this seemed like the best way to spend it:

Now, when I heard you could go “jeeping,” I assumed we’d be on dirt trails and rolling hills, which we’d seen a lot of from the highway. Negative. Here in Moab, they make goooood use of those big red rocks.

 Tracks mark the trail

The Sand Flats area in town is full of marked trails, detailed maps, and good descriptions of what you’re in for. It’s been so impressive to see how different areas of the country embrace their natural habitat and let you play within it—I love it!

We picked a trail called Fins ‘N Things, because it was rated 3.5 on a scale of 1-10...it seemed like a good place to start. It had a mixture of tight curves made of dirt, wide stretches of rocky groundcover, and then of course steep enormous rocks. Three hours and a few heart attacks later, we found out that trail was actually rated on a scale of 1-4. Baptism by fire?!

Our nemesis

Brian’s 4-wheel-drive experience in Colorado got put to the test out there, and I have to say, I was completely confident with him in the driver’s seat. Myself, not so much. But we had a BLAST. Granted, some parts were totally terrifying, but the tire tracks in front of you are good reassurance that it’s possible (if you know what you’re doing behind the wheel). And after you realize what the Jeep is capable of, it helps you gain a little confidence.  A little.

It really was a fantastic end to our amazing trip. We are already going through some withdrawals on the final push back through Texas, but we think the trip has really solidifed what kind of lifestyle we want to live, in terms of access to the outdoors. Who doesn’t want their kids growing up climbing in trees, skiing down mountains, hiking into canyons, swimming through rivers, jeeping over rocks? (Okay maybe not the last one, but you get my drift).

If they are able to pry the Pleasure Way from our death-grip, then we’ll be making our way to Chicago soon, with cat and camping gear in hand. God willing, we’ll be employed and housed shortly! 

We may still throw in another post or two of some things we missed along the way. Either way, thanks so much for reading along…it’s been fun sharing the adventure. 

Monday, August 2, 2010


With the clock ticking on our time left on the road, we booked it from Seattle to Montana, crashed one night, and swooped into Yellowstone in Wyoming the next day. We committed to 3 nights in the park so we could actually see what all the hooplah was about.

To tell you the truth, I had no idea about any hooplah besides that Yellowstone was "awesome." Not a super descriptive word (yet one that I use often...vocab check!). I mentioned in the post on Mt. Rainier that most parks have a few distinguishing characteristics, so here are Yellowstone's:

*Hydrothermal features
*Fly fishing

So this hydrothermal business...we're talking about geysers (which are a result of boiling water underground) and then a TON of sulfuric colorful, boiling pots of water in the ground. Everywhere. It is SO WEIRD.

The color depends on what kind of bacteria is growing on it, and there are muddy ones too. See:

This one was my favorite, Mammoth Springs. 
It's like an infinity pool hot tub that cascades down...awesome.

Don't be fooled. That's boiling water.

One big pool.

 Mudpot spewing out boiling water

I think the #1 word we used there was "crazy" - again, not too descriptive, but very accurate as it stands. The fact that there is an intense amount of boiling water erupting from the ground in the middle of Wyoming is...crazy. But nobody else seemed all that weirded out except us.

Okay, so onto the wildlife. If you're looking for an American safari, this is it.

Bison charging down the road

Trumpeter swan feasting in the rapids

Intimate encounter with an elk

Coyote looking for dinner

Okay dragonflies are everywhere, but how awesome is it that the point-and-shoot took this?

It's worth noting that the Grand Tetons NP, which is connected to the south side of Yellowstone, also sports a ton of wildlife. That's where we saw a moose and an otter, together, bam.

And finally, the fly fishing. There are so many fly-fishing-only rivers in the park, and they are magnificent. It's so peaceful, and the fish jump left and right! (Not that we caught any of course.)

Look carefully - that white blob is a hungry trout!

B getting in there

As a sidenote, we finally took advantage of a park ranger talk (we'd seen them in every park but never been able to time it right). As nerdy as it sounds, these things are great! They have a powerpoint presentation and a campfire outside under the stars and talk about things like wolves and fires. Slightly embarrassing, but hey, who doesn't need a little extra knowledge about how Lodgepole Pine trees contribute to forest fires?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Seattle's wake up call

Going in/out of cities when you’ve been camping feels sort of weird, because suddenly you realize you probably should have opted for the shower, and things cost money again, and it’s not quiet anymore, and you have cell service! Also, the national parks have awesome newspapers that give you tons of information about what you should see and how to get there…they take care of most of your questions. But in a city, it’s a free-for-all—and when you’re not in the market of building itineraries in advance, it can be a little overwhelming. Hence why we wandered around Seattle.

We got some coffee from Tully’s (delish) and spent some time walking around the Pike Place Market, which would definitely be my go-to spot for flowers if I was local.


Flying fish!

During the afternoon, we lazed around in the grass at the Seattle Center, a big public park that contains the science/rock museums, fairgrounds, and the Space Needle. And most importantly, PUBLIC WI-FI! Oh and some pretty cool public art.

From there we concocted our next move…to see the Mariners play the White Sox at Safeco Field a few miles away! We found a $5 parking spot in a lot near the stadium, and the attendant said it was fine if we left our car there overnight (adding that it was the cheapest camping spot we’d ever find…almost true), so we got a 2-for-1 deal J The game was fun*, etc., and then we returned to our home for the night. Completely ignoring the then-desolate train tracks approximately 100 feet away from the van.

Fast forward to 3:11 a.m. when HEY-O THE TRAIN RUNS ALL NIGHT SURPRISE!!!!!!

And we were truly sleepless in Seattle.

*Brian got great seats (for a great price) behind home plate from a scalper, which led to me learning that he once recorded a pilot TV show about scalping tickets. Just married, still learning.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mt. Rainier

Every national park has some sort of distinguishing feature that sticks out about it. Well, Mt. Rainier has this big mountain, yes, but what we’ll remember about it is how much water is everywhere. Not just creeks or waterfalls, but water streaming out of boulders on the side of the road everywhere you turn…like the whole park is about to burst. Perhaps this has something to do with the 25 glaciers on top of the mountain? I don’t know.

The water that does get out in a major format is pure, aqua, and freezing!

We did a little hiking and stayed in the park one night, but were pretty worn out from our extravaganzas in Oregon so didn’t get into anything too big (aside from getting lost for the first time in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest – proof that when your map fails, your cell phone cannot save you). Pretty place though!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

White Salmon River

When you’re on the road, you can only do so much Google-ing before you start to take the first option that you find on each search, hence why we didn’t do any background checking on River Riders rafting company. We cruised past some nice office headquarters for other companies on our way to the RR launch point…bungalows, log cabins, actual parking lots, etc. Then we pulled up to our company—a dilapidated shack that looked like it was one loose board away from a lawsuit. The fact that we were the only people booked for our river trip didn’t make us feel much better. Then they told us their bus, nicknamed Purple Rain for the Prince tape that had been stuck in the tape deck for 20 years, made their “headquarters” look nice.

But (the magic word!), our guides were as skilled as the next, it was 70 degrees, and since we were the only 2 people, they let us stop whenever we wanted and go at our own pace throughout the afternoon.

Since Brian used to physically float down the creek in CO where tourists took rafting trips, I would say our comfort level in rapids is pretty different. Which explains why I was terrified when we got rushed at the launch point by some boats behind us and had to skip the paddling lesson and jump straight into a class IV rapid—weeeeeeee!

I loosened up after a few minutes and the rest of the afternoon was just straight up fun…and by fun I of course mean scary. We got to see a Great Blue Heron and an Osprey (yes, I have become a rare bird nerd on the trip), go inside caves, see lots of lava deposits, watch other boats flip, and do a little swimming in the 42 degree water.


River Riders gets 5 stars from us!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A porter in Portland

We cruised into Portland with no plan. After a little googling, I figured out that the Oregonians are big on their microbreweries, and there are a ton in downtown P, so I picked one out for lunch. While looking for parking, we realized that there was a festival going on. Interesting. We looked closer and realized it's the Beer 'N Burgers Festival. Now you're speaking my language!

Our tickets got us 5 different burgers and 7 different local beer tasters, and we got to chat with lots of locals (who informed us that it was unusually beautiful weather, thus confirming that we are good luck weather gods). So fun!

Broiled slider stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoncini, and beer-braised onions.

On our way out of town, we started looking into white-water rafting and an hour later had a trip booked for the next day just outside of Hood River (about an hour east of the city)! We started scoping out a place to spend the night when we realized that the Naked Winery was in Hood River, which is where our friend Kim ordered our wedding gift from (bottles of wine, naturally). What are the chances? After dinner in the town, we popped into the winery to check it out!

It was such a cute place, with live music and lots of young people. The staff was really sweet and friendly, and they seem to have a strong company culture. A culture that involves giving us free wine glasses and wine tastings! Ah, it's good to be a newlywed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Oregon Coast

We navigated our way back to the coastline by way of Eugene, an idyllic little college town where we had lunch with Brian's old friend from camp, Leslie. It's been fun to randomly connect (or try to) with people along the road, especially ones like Leslie, who Brian hadn't seen in 10 years. Crazy!

The Oregon Coast is everything you've heard of and more - strikingly beautiful landscapes (seascapes?) mixed with tiny towns hawking cottages and fresh oysters...too bad neither of us really like seafood. The whole coastline is truly endearing, though, and one of the best parts is the millions of state parks and campgrounds! We stayed at one just off the beach - pretty awesome location.

What they don't mention in guidebooks is a little thing called wind.

Unfortunately, that wind is what kept us off the beach and on the road. It is FREEZING out there, and in some spots the sand whips up and smacks your face or sends you running down the beach to catch your hat (Brian). Turns out the vantage point from the car is pretty nice :)

However, the northern coast did have a fantastic unexpected gem...the Tillamook Creamery.

By now you may have realized that I love love love cheese. And factory tours. Which makes Tillamook, Oregon's dairyville, one of my favorite stops on the whole trip.

The creamery had a really impressive setup with tons of history and information about the processes, and several viewing rooms. I was in cheese nerd heaven!

The best part, obviously, was the tasting. We got to try six different cheeses and then hit up the ice cream station, where I discovered one of the best chocolate ice creams I've ever had.

Tough decision.

The mild cheddar cheese was definitively the best cheddar I've ever had, which made me Tillamook's #1 fan.

Future Tillamook marketer.

One more word on Things to Love About Oregon: free roadside camping. We left the factory and headed inland towards Portland looking for a campground when we learned that you can kick it anywhere in the woods for free (at least in that area). There were lots of other people doing the same, so we felt good about it. After spending up to $35 on a campground site with no hookups, let me tell you, spending $0 on a site with no hookups is way better. What a great way to cap off our delicious day!

Brian's best fire yet.

Local artichokes and BBQ chicken.

Extra large marshmallows pilfered from our friends back in Mammoth. So giant that you can melt the entire outside and still have a solid marshmallow core left to enjoy.