Monday, January 16, 2017

the cascade loop


And I'm back! :)

Much sooner than I expected to be actually - perhaps due in part to a new year's intention (okay, so call it a resolution, but "intention" seems to be the word of the moment) to do more of what I love doing - and as this blog was borne primarily out of an intention (that word again!) to write more, here I am, picking up where I left you last, in the general area of Seattle, Washington.

I figured I'd better get this down in writing before all the memories of our PNW (Pacific Northwest) trip start to blur together - we have a tendency to cover a LOT of ground on our travels/road trips, and this one was no exception. Our itinerary was roughly thus: Seattle for two days, then a drive northeast towards the Canadian border through the Cascade Mountains for an overnight stay, followed by a more or less southwest diagonal crossing of Washington state to Oregon's Cannon Beach, then back up the coast (via Aberdeen Washington), to Seattle for another two days - then our flight back home (to the greater Toronto area).  I've already touched on some of the highlights of our Seattle adventures in this post; and I'll cover the Oregon portion of our trip in another - but today, I'll focus on what turned out to be a much-too-short whirlwind of a drive into the Cascade Mountains, following a portion of the Cascade Loop:


So what do you think?  Did you enjoy our trip?  :) 

Haha, how I WISH we had had more time to explore this utterly stunning portion of the U.S. as fully as the above video depicts!!  There is just SO much to see and experience in this relatively small corner of the country.  In fact, it was because of the above video that we decided to explore this area, and ended up staying at one of the region's crown jewels, the Sun Mountain Lodge. (More on that later). Unfortunately however, due to our time constraints, we only had one day to drive from Seattle to Winthrop, WA, (where the lodge is located) an overnight stay there, then back south to the Oregon coast.  Whew.  Ambitious much? 

Ah well, try as we might to change, it just seems to be our jam to road trip like maniacs when we travel, and this trip was no different - so come with me if you will, on our own little Cascade Loop adventure!

We set out from Seattle in the early morning, and after a quick stop for breakfast in suburban Bellevue, WA (birthplace of Amazon.com!), we were soon on the North Cascades Highway (Highway 20) towards some of that gorgeous PNW scenery - and stopped to drink in our first view of it from this roadside rest area near Marblemount, WA:

North Cascade Mountains, Washington
As mentioned in my previous post about Seattle, we had absolutely stellar weather during almost the entirety of our trip - as you can plainly see here. :)

After a brief stop here, we carried on slightly farther along Highway 20 and of course had to stop for a photo op at the park entrance:
Another one off the list :)
...followed by a stop at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center, a lovely log structure that housed many interesting exhibits, including a boardwalk through the forest leading to a lookoff framing the spectacularly rugged Picket Range of the Cascades, including the aptly named Chopping Block peak (on the left):

Almost looks fake, doesn't it?
This is a magnificent mountain range, albeit somewhat...foreboding in appearance?  In fact, many of the peaks have names that instill a sense of unease - Mount Fury, Mount Challenger, and Mount Terror - but nonetheless are indeed something to behold.

Carrying on from the Visitor Center, our next destination was Diablo Lake - but we probably didn't get too much farther along the highway before we had to stop the car again and jump out for yet another random roadside photo op of this stunning vista:


I'm telling you, no shortage of natural beauty in these parts, folks. :)

And then just around the corner to the aforementioned Diablo Lake!


Just keeps getting better, no? :)

Much like our visit earlier last July to Canada's Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (which you can read about here), Diablo Lake gets its brilliant turquoise hue from glacial runoff, which carrys a finely ground rock powder into the water.  The resulting particles suspended in the water reflect the light, and voila! - another work of art courtesy of dear old Mother Nature. Our cameras worked overtime here...


But we had a schedule to keep, and the day was already starting to get away from us - so onward to our next stop...



...the Washington Pass Overlook!

After viewing the video (at the beginning of this post) prior to our trip, we knew this stop would be a must for a view of magnificent Liberty Bell Mountain - and we were not to be disappointed:



(Click here for a pic of me enjoying the view in the pic below from the vantage point in the pic above - trust me, the look of wonder on my face was not posed for the moment - there's just no other way to look upon this scene and not have that look on your face!)

The Washington Pass Overlook
If there is one stop I would recommend to those of you who are considering a trip around the Cascade Loop, I would have to say this is it - the culmination of the area's rugged beauty all in one place - the craggy mountaintops, the cascading valleys, the smell of evergreens permeating the sweet mountain air...ah, it was just SO wonderful here. As it was late afternoon by this time, most of the tourists had left for the day, and we almost had it all to ourselves - quite an experience to stand in the quiet and drink the majesty of it all in, with nothing but the sound of the cool alpine breezes swirling through the ancient trees surrounding us.

But the sun was lowering, and the shadows were falling.  It was time to hit the road below and head to our final destination of the day.

So long, Liberty Bell Mountain!
From the Washington Pass Overlook, it was straight on to Winthrop, Washington, a charming little Old West-themed town, above whose rolling foothills lay our accommodation for the evening - Sun Mountain Lodge.


When we had originally planned our trip, we had fully intended to arrive at Sun Mountain much earlier in the day, but as you can see, there was just too much to see along the way - so unfortunately, our little logistical miscalculation resulted in our time spent at this fabulous destination being far too short.  By the time we arrived it was almost sundown - but on the bright side, that's always one of the best times of the day for that beautiful evening light.  As we climbed the winding road towards the lodge, we stopped to take in this view of Patterson Lake below us:

Patterson Lake, Winthrop, Washington
It was SUCH a beautiful evening.  We had expected SML to be nice - but we hadn't expected just HOW nice it would be.  All the way up the meandering road to the lodge at the top of the hill, we uttered many an "oooh!" and "ahhh!" as we ascended.  I won't get into ALL the details of our stay there on this blog, as I've already written an extensive review on tripadvisor - so please feel free to check that out if you're interested in learning more about my impressions, but suffice it to say, although our time there was short, it was VERY sweet. I'll let some photos do the talking here - first, from a walk around the property on arrival:

Our room was located a short walk from the main lodge in a separate building (upper right)
One of the pools on the grounds of Sun Mountain Lodge

The view from our private balcony

Lone pine at sundown

Well, needless to say, we were kicking ourselves that we hadn't planned more than one night at this beautiful resort, but it was what it was, and we made the most of every minute we had there, including a lovely dinner in the appropriately rustic Wolf Creek Bar & Grill - exactly what these road-weary travellers needed.  But the best was yet to come.

After a heavenly sleep, we rose early to get outside and watch the sun come up over the mountains - but once outdoors, we discovered we weren't the only ones to be up with the birds... :)

Good morning, deer! 



What a wonderful surprise to enjoy the sunrise in the company of an entire family of deer! Okay, so call me a city-slicker, but it truly was such a delight to view them grazing in the dew-sodden grass, and to watch the youngsters at play.  Definitely NOT something we're used to seeing every day (although I suspect the deer were fairly used to seeing humans every day, as they weren't spooked in the least by our presence). We spent a bit longer than we should have with these beautiful creatures - time was a wastin' and the open road was calling our names again.

But first, breakfast!

Breakfast at 3 Bears Cafe, Winthrop, Washington
As difficult as it was to leave Sun Mountain Lodge, we opted to check out of the hotel  for an opportunity to head back down to Winthrop for breakfast, and as luck would have it, we found ourselves a rootin' tootin', mighty fine place to saddle up and chow down - the 3 Bears cafe!

So bear :) with me people - Winthrop's claim to fame is that pretty much the entire town is old-west themed - so what better place to eat breakfast than out in the open air?  And what a delicious breakfast it was, as you can clearly see!  If you're ever amblin' through Winthrop, pardner, make dang sure you git yerself on down to the 3 Bears Cafe fer some tasty grub! Ya hear?

Yeehaw! 
Seriously though - we found this town to be entirely charming.  Unfortunately after breakfast we only had time to literally run up and down the main street for a quick look see, as we were Oregon-bound and had a LONG day of travel ahead of us, but what we saw, we loved (and still with the beautiful weather!):




See what I mean?  C.H.A.R.M.I.N.G!

But...we needed to get out of Dodge - in a hurry. (And so concludes the old-west lingo portion of today's post. Promise.) :)

On the road again...
So here's what the day held for us:


Yeah, it was a bit of an ambitious undertaking, and it meant we had to pretty much drive non-stop in order to have a hope of getting to Cannon Beach before nightfall - but as you may have guessed, "non-stop" isn't exactly something you can do easily in this part of the world.  Especially when we travel with that old time-worn chestnut as our mantra -  "the journey is the destination"...um, yeah.

Mind you, we made pretty good time for most of the ride, stopping briefly to sample some of the area's world-renowned honey crisp apples - SO good:


I was actually rather surprised at the landscape for much of our drive out of Winthrop towards the coast - far from being mountainous and heavily forested (as I had expected), it was all very low-rolling hills for hours on end, and almost desert-like in areas - not what one would expect for an area of the U.S. that is well known for its agriculture. I felt at times like we were driving through parts of Southern California - who knew?

The latter part of the day, however, found us once again back in a landscape more typically associated with the Pacific Northwest along the White Pass Scenic Byway (Highway 12), and we stopped for a much needed leg-stretch (and a run around the parking lot for good measure) at the Clear Creek Falls Overlook in the Wenatchee National Forest:


While stopped here we were surprised by two fighter jets on training runs that came swooping out of the canyon below us and roaring into the wild blue yonder above - so our timing for this stop was very fortuitous!  (They came and went too quickly for me to get photos!)

We thought this would be our last stop before our final push into Oregon....but oh hey.......look what was waiting for us just around the corner...

Mount Rainer
Just a little mountain called Rainier, that's all.  We had NO idea that just a few miles further along Highway 12, we would run across this stunning viewpoint from which to marvel at the beauty of Mount Rainer.  My heavens, but what a magnificent mountain this is!  It's just SO. DAMN. HUGE.  I can only marvel at the fact that from SO many parts of this region, this quiet behemoth of a mountain is just THERE, visible from miles and miles away (click here for a distant view of it from downtown Seattle).  All one can do is just stop and stare at its sheer and utter majesty...which is exactly what we did for almost ANOTHER FULL HOUR.  Oh well, Oregon would have to wait...

I like to call this my "Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal" shot... :)
And so concluded our 24-hour marathon in and around the Cascade Loop! Not a bad little surprise to end the day at all.  One obviously  needs at least a week (or more) to see and enjoy all this area has to offer, but you're not hearing any complaints at all from me - I just feel fortunate to have seen what I did see with my own eyes - the natural beauty of this part of the U.S. is truly and utterly stunning.  We left this portion of our trip much richer for the experience, despite the whirlwind nature of it all.

A few hours later we found ourselves on a dark Oregon highway, looking through our bug-splattered windshield at a stunning sunset on the western horizon, as we made our way ever closer to the Pacific coast.  What wonders would await us there?

Stay tuned... :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

a seattle september


Well this is obviously a post rather late in the writing (as the title would suggest) - but last September (2016), we had the lovely opportunity to get back out west - the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. specifically - for our first ever visit to that storied city of mountains, coffee, and music - beautiful Seattle. (Our trip also took us northeast of Seattle into the Cascade Mountains and  further south along the Pacific Coast into Oregon, but I'll save those beautiful treasures for an upcoming post).  

Before I get into the details of our visit however, let me ask you this - what comes to YOUR mind when you think of Seattle?  For me, apparently, it was TV theme songs - I'm really going to date myself here, but who remembers this little gem?


Oh, Bobby Sherman.... (insert heart eye emoji here) :)

And then quite a few years later,  there was this: 


How I LOVED that show - and Eddie. :) 

And then, a few years after that, came this.....


Ok, so that's a bit of a stretch - this one was more like the theme song of an entire generation.  (I'll circle back to Nirvana and Kurt a little later). 

Soooo....all that to illustrate that my pre-conceptions of Seattle were all based on some sort of music - which I believe to be absolutely fitting, considering that Seattle is, indeed, a city that is music not only to the ears, but to the eyes as well:  

The Seattle skyline from the Water Taxi to West Seattle
Literally the first thing we did after arriving in the city and dropping our bags at the awesome Moore Hotel was to walk a few blocks down to the city's waterfront, and grab a water taxi ride across Elliott Bay to West Seattle.  This is a wonderfully inexpensive way to get a fantastic panoramic view of the entire skyline - and as luck would have it, you can see we were blessed with simply outstanding weather - not only on our first day there, but for almost our entire trip.

(Side note:  I have travelled several times to Vancouver B.C., and now to Seattle - both cities which have a notoriously bad reputation for ceaseless dreary, grey and rainy weather - and have been blessed with nothing but sunshine EVERY time I've been there.  I'm beginning to think it's all a ruse to keep these beautiful places to yourselves, west coast residents??????) :)

We had a lovely time exploring West Seattle, specifically the Alki Beach area, where we enjoyed a wonderful Mexican lunch at Cactus - just what we were craving after a long morning of travel.  The food was to die for, the Margaritas sublime:

Not the best shot - I think I was too anxious to just dive into it...but you get the idea :)
So we ate.  A LOT.  Naturally, it was time for a walk along the beach after lunch:

Alki Beach 

A walk along Alki Beach
After a crash-course in all things West Seattle, we ferried back to the city proper and took in the sights,sounds and smells of its world famous Pike Place Market (as the sun sank slowly in the west)...


...and took a selfie in front of the famous gum-wall (yes,it was gross, but also strangely...beautiful?)

Have you ever seen two people look more thrilled to pose in front of a wall of discarded ABC gum?
In short, we walked until we could walk no more, and finally retired back to our room at the Moore to plan the rest of our visit.  A word about the Moore - if you're seeking budget-friendly, smack-dab-in-the-city-within-walking-distance-to-everything, fun and funky accomodations while in Seattle, look no further than this family-owned, historic hotel. The staff was nothing short of fantastic - accommodating, informative, helpful, pleasant...you get the picture. :) And as if that wasn't enough, the adjoining Moore Coffee Shop served what I SWEAR was the best cup of coffee I've EVER had - and THE most amazing homemade waffles ever to pass these lips! It's not a big place, but even if you're not staying at the Moore, do try to visit the coffee shop when in Seattle - dare I say, that OTHER Seattle coffee shop pales in comparison!


So what else did we get up to during our Seattle soujourn, you ask?  Well, like the good little tourists we were, we spent as much time as was allowed at the Seattle Center complex - an area that is home to a HUGE number of Seattle attractions - most notably, the Space Needle, the Frank Gehry designed MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture, formerly EMP Museum), and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. These three attractions alone would be enough - but there is so much more to experience here - you could honestly spend days in this area alone.  We also took a morning to explore the early history of Seattle at the Seattle Underground Tour - a fascinating AND humorous experience which literally takes you beneath the streets of the city to explore what is left of the remains of the early Seattle, upon which the current city is built.

The Space Needle as seen from the Chihuly Gardens


On top of the Space Needle
The MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture)
Inside Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum
Seattle Underground Tour
Each of these experiences deserves its own blog post - and perhaps one day I will take the time to write individually about them - but for now, suffice it to say that we weren't disappointed at all by any of them. The Space Needle was delightfully Jetson-like, and provided beautiful views of the surrounding area; the MoPOP was AWESOME, (we even got to create and play in our own band!), and the colour and creativity of the Chihuly museum was at once both breathtaking and beautiful. At the end of our week we also took the Victoria Clipper out of Seattle on a whale-watching expedition - but again - that's a whole other story for another time!

I must also mention that we ate a lot of wonderful meals while in Seattle - it is a city of MANY fantastic and world class restaurants - but in particular, we LOVED our evening spent on the outdoor terrace of The Pink Door (where we happened to celebrate my birthday).  We  were served a spectacular meal, and very much enjoyed the company of some fellow travellers from Australia, seated next to us.  Another one of the many perks of travel - meeting new and interesting people along the way! (Should you happen to be reading this, hello from Canada!) :)
Dinner at the Pink Door, Seattle
To finish off however, I'd like to return to the subject of Kurt Cobain.  I find that usually when we travel, I'm introduced to something - and it may be the most obscure and surprising thing that we encounter along the way, that captures my imagination and piques my interest, and I return home wanting to delve more deeply into said subject.  As mentioned above, besides Seattle, our PNW trip included a visit to coastal Oregon.  Upon our return road trip to Seattle from Oregon, we noted on a map that we could take a route that would take us through Aberdeen, Washington, past the "childhood home" of Kurt Cobain.  As big music fans, (but admittedly casual Nirvana fans, at best), we said why not - and I'm so very glad we did, as this stop became, for me anyway, probably the most memorable and moving experience of the entire trip.

Of course I was familiar with his story - his seemingly meteoric rise from obscure PNW musician to worldwide fame and adulation as a founding father of the Seattle "grunge" scene, his legendary drug abuse, his tumultuous relationship with Courtney Love and the birth of their daughter Frances Bean, and of course, his untimely and tragic death.  But what I had known of him was just that - the pop culture icon that created and fronted Nirvana, who went on to become one of the most successful bands of all time. Our side trip to his home town, however, moved me to research his past more deeply, and look for the person behind the iconic image.  Without getting all woo woo about it, our visit to "Kurt Cobain Landing" became more than just a tourist stop along the way.


I can't explain it exactly, but there was an aura of such sadness in the air during our visit there. Although the day itself was blue-sky beautiful, and the sun was warm, sitting on a bench in this little parkette dedicated to Kurt's memory had me feeling extremely contemplative.

"Underneath the bridge..."



Our subsequent trip to the MoPOP and its Nirvana retrospective exhibit only served to further whet my appetite for knowledge about Aberdeen's most famous son (or infamous, depending upon the point of view of some Aberdeen residents).

Exhibit at the MoPOP
I found myself listening to a LOT of Nirvana music upon our return home, paying much closer attention to their lyrics, watching a lot of Kurt/Nirvana docs, and reading a most enlightening (though at times disturbing), and very honest account of his life by Charles R. Cross, entitled Heavier Than Heaven.  I would highly recommend it - it's one of those reads that stays with you for a very, very long time.  I know there has been a LOT documented and speculated about KC's life (and death), but above all, despite a lifelong battle with a myriad of personal demons, he was a person, and a compulsively creative and fascinating one at that. Should you find yourself in the area, I'd encourage anyone to visit Aberdeen, and the "Muddy Banks of the Wishkah".

The Wishkah River, Aberdeen, Washington
On that note (no pun intended), I'll conclude my recollections of the Seattle leg of our trip.  I'm hopeful I'll soon also document the Cascade Loop portion, as well as our visit to beautiful Cannon Beach, Oregon.  I thought I'd seen some spectacular Pacific beaches during our California trips - but the wild and expansive beaches of Oregon may just have them beat.  A sneak peek:

Beautiful Cannon Beach, Oregon
Happy travels, and Happy 2017 all!