Sunday, September 28, 2014

Driving Montana's Beartooth Highway

The Beartooth Highway

Montana is filled with scenic highways, and Highway 212 that connects Billings with the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park is no exception.

Also known as the Beartooth Highway, the 68-mile stretch is filled with curves, steep ascents and panoramic views that have earned it a designation as a National Scenic Byway All-American Road. Although its designated a scenic highway from Billings south, the scenery is just ho-hum (compared to what will come later) until after Juliet. After that the highway starts its climb through the Absaroka and Beartooth mountains where it soars to more than 10,000 feet high.

Driving the Beartooth is a challenge. It just keeps climbing higher and higher. Just when you think you've reached the summit, you drive round a curve to find the highway climbs ever higher. Because the road soars to high into the sky, it's open only during the summer months when snow isn't n issue.

The Beartooth Highway
Motorists who tackle this highway should make sure their vehicles are in good condition, with good braking power. You'll need this for the descent. Large motorhomes or rigs pulling long trailers may find this road especially challenging. Motorcyclists will love it, however.

I've driven the highway in both directions. Driving south is by far the best direction. Coming down off the summit, you can see how far the road stretches in the distance.

For more photos of the Beartooth highway, please see my Youtube channel slideshow, Driving the Beartooth Highway.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Two Northwest waterfalls on "spectacular" list

Two waterfalls in the Northwest are on a CNN list of 10 spectacular waterfalls in the United States.

One is Triple Falls in Oregon along the Columbia Gorge. It is near Multnomah Falls a few miles west of Portland on Interstate 84. The falls are formed when Oneonta Creek splits into three channels. The water falls only 64 feet. CNN says Triple Falls is one of the most beautiful falls in the Gorge area. It's best viewed from an overlook that involves a five-mile roundtrip hike described as moderately steep.

Also on the list is Shoshone Falls at Twin Falls, Idaho. This waterfall is referred to as the  Niagara Falls of the West, though it is 36 feet higher than Niagara. The falls empty into the Snake River. Spring and early summer are considered the best times to see the falls in full force. When the water level is low, the falls turn into "a trickling stream," says CNN.

Bridal Veil Falls in Valdez, Alaska, and Vernal Fall at Yosemite National Park in California also made the list.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Portland bookstore makes "cool" list

One of my favorite bookstores in this big world was recently recognized by CNN as being one of the world's coolest bookstores.

The list contains bookstores from the United States to China to Europe to South America. Tucked away down the list was Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon.

It so rightly belongs on the list. The main bookstore occupies a full city block at 1005 W. Burnside Street. You really need a map to find your way around the building, which is several stories high, crammed with books from floor to ceiling.

CNN says readers need two to three days to take everything in. It described Powell's as the "largest used and new bookstore" in the world. New and used books, including first editions, are comingled on the shelves

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sacajawea's son links northwest with southwest

statue at
Sacajawea State
Park in Pasco, WA
Not too many people have the chance to be members of several expeditions that explored the Western United States, then just a territory, but Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was one of them. He probably doesn’t remember his first trip, however, as he was only an infant when he crossed the northern territory with the Lewis and Clark expedition that went from St. Louis to the Oregon coast and back in 1804-06.

Jean Baptiste was born in 1805 to Sacajawea and her French-Canadian husband, Toussaint Charbonneau.  The family joined Lewis and Clark in 1805 in what is now North Dakota. The Shoshone Indian teenager and her husband served as guides and interpreters for the two explorers. Perhaps the trip inspired Jean Baptiste to become an explorer when he grew up. Or perhaps it was that he lived with William Clark in St. Louis as he was growing up. Clark paid for the boy’s education at a Jesuit academy there.

He was out on his own by age 18, working at a trading post in Kansas when he met a German duke who stopped there during his natural history expedition. Jean Baptiste accompanied him when he returned to Germany where he lived for six years, learning how to speak German and Spanish in addition to the French, English and Shoshone he already spoke.

He returned to St. Louis in 1829 where he became a fur trapper in the West. Later on, he would become a scout, guide and hunter for the Army as it moved across the West.  He served as a scout for the Mormon Battalion that blazed a wagon trail across the southwest in 1846 in an effort to keep Mexico from invading this area. The battalion camped a night in Yuma, Arizona, before crossing the Colorado River downstream the next day. His name is engraved on a plaque that surrounds the statue.

When the journey was over, he returned to the California territory where he served as mayor of a town for a few years. Jean Baptiste eventually returned to Oregon where he died in 1866.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Oregon Caves makes tops list

National Park Service photo of Oregon Caves
The Oregon Caves has made CNN's list of top eight caves to visit in the United States. Having visited a number of caves around the United States. including Carlsbad Caverns (also on the list) and a few in the Black Hills, I would say the honor is deserved.

The Oregon Caves is the first place I experienced "total darkness." You may think a dark night is dark, but it's not. Guides take you deep into the bowels of the cave, then turn off all lights for a minute. For first-timers, this can be a frightening experience as you can't even see your hand even though you may be holding it a couple of inches from your face. You can't see a darned thing.

A national monument located in Southern Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains, the Oregon Caves is one of the few marble caves in the world, probably the reason they're referred to as the "marble halls of Oregon." The caves were discovered by a bear hunter in 1874; indeed the fossilized remains of a 50,000-year-old can be found inside.

The caves are only accessible via a guided tour, which takes about 90 minutes to two hours. Explorers should be reasonably fit with no breathing or walking problems since the tour is considered "moderately strenuous" by the National Park Service. The tour includes a change in altitude of 230 feet and climbing 500 stairs, so comfortable walking shoes are a must. Wearing warm clothing is recommended as the temperature inside the cave is 44 degrees year-round.

The Oregon Caves is located on US 199 that connects Grants Pass, Oregon, with the California border. Turn on US 46 at Cave Junction for a 20-mile drive to the monument.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Seattle's floating bridge

At more than a mile long, the Evergreen Point Bridge, which crosses Seattle’s Lake Washington, is the world’s longest floating bridge, according to a recent CNN article.

The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, which is part of State Route 520, is 7,580 feet long. It rests on 33 pontoons that connect Seattle with its eastern suburbs of Bellevue and Kirkland.

The article notes that Washington is home to four of the five largest floating bridges in the world.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Top spots to visit in 2014

So where are the best places to visit in the United States in 2014?

CNN provided suggestions in a recent article, 50 states, 50 places for 2014.

Here are their suggestions for the Pacific Northwest states:

Idaho: Craters of the Moon National Monument
Located in eastern Idaho, Craters of the Moon National Monument is a 750,000-acre preserve filled with dormant volcanoes that last erupted 2,000 years ago after 13,000 years of activity. Early astronauts trained here in preparation for moon walks. I've been here a couple of times, but never crawled inside the caves that dot the landscape.

Montana: Miles City Roundup
The Miles City Roundup celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. There's the usual rodeo events that attract top rodeo cowboys. The Bucking Horse Sale takes place at the same time. It is 64 years old this year.

Oregon: Hells Canyon
Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America, at some places more than a mile separates the canyon bottom with the area's highest mountains. Hells Canyon offers spectacular scenery (been there, done that) in the eastern part of the state, and is the dividing line between Oregon and Idaho. The canyon is popular with those who like to run river rapids. (The Snake River runs through the canyon.)

Washington: San Juan Islands
It's pretty hard to beat the San Juan Islands when it comes to scenic beauty. CNN suggests taking a ferry ride from Seattle north to the islands, particularly when it's whale-watching time. My preference is to drive to Anacortes and ferry hop between the islands. Ferry hop long enough and you'll end up on Canada's Vancouver Island.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Harris Beach State Park

Harris Beach State Park
Harris Beach State is a gem on the southern Oregon coast. Located on Highway 101 north of and within the city of Brookings, the park makes a pleasant stopover, particularly if you are traveling in an RV. You just can’t beat the winter full hookup rate of $22 per night.

Harris Beach, however, is more than a pleasant place to spend the night. It’s home to the largest island on the coast of Oregon, Bird Island. The island is a National Wildlife Sanctuary and is a breeding site for the tufted puffin as well as other rare birds.

The park also offers great watching of the gray whales that migrate along the coast every year. The park designates a week each in December and March as whale watching weeks.

The park is named after George Harris, who migrated to Oregon in the 1880s to raise cattle and sheep.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cranberry Sweets

Bandon is a pleasant stop on Oregon’s south coast. It has one of the country’s top golf courses at Bandon Dunes. We’re not into golfing, but we definitely enjoy Old Town Bandon with its quaint shops and boutiques as well as getting shrimp cocktails to go and eating them on the city pier while watching playful seagulls. We especially like visiting Cranberry Sweets, a candy shop we discovered on our honeymoon trip to San Francisco.

Lots of cranberries grow in the Bandon area, which makes it a natural for cranberry jelly treats that were first made in 1962. Cranberry Sweets has since expanded to more than 150 jelly candies, cookies, salt water taffy and chocolates. Flavors include marion berries, raspberries, key lime and licorice. Pumpkin pie is a holiday favorite; they even make fudge out of cheddar cheese.

Cranberry Sweets provides ample free samples of almost everything on sale. The array is mind-boggling and reminds me of the old potato chip slogan, “bet you can’t eat just one.” You lose if you agree to a bet like that. You can also watch candies being made almost every day

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Spirit Mountain Casino

Spirit Mountain Casino
Like Indian casinos everywhere, the Spirit Mountain Casino in western Oregon was established to create economic diversity for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. It reportedly is Oregon’s busiest tourist attraction, since more than three million people visit it annually.

Besides 90,000 square feet set aside for gaming, the casino has more than 250 hotel rooms, live big-name entertainment, five restaurants, and an RV park. The casino bills itself as the Northwest’s top casino. If customer service is any indication, I certainly can’t argue with that claim. Every casino employee treated us with utmost respect and went out of their way to make sure we felt welcome. We stayed in their \free RV park, and only did minimal gambling, though we did eat all our meals at their restaurants. The food was plentiful and good. The casino offers free on-demand shuttle service throughout its complex.

The casino is located on Highway 18 between Lincoln City and McMinnville and Lincoln City where it connects with Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Highway.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is made up of 27 tribes from Oregon, Washington and northern California, though not all are involved with the casino