Coos Bay, Oregon  8/8 – 8/18

Coos Bay, Oregon: Population = 16,292, elevation = 23 feet, Average January low temp = 40.2º, Average July high temp = 64.5º, Average precipitation = 64.91”

The road from Eugene to Florence wound through the deep, dark and mossy temperate rainforest.  Giant trees formed a green tunnel filled with dappled sunlight that strobed across Gypsy’s windshield.  We emerged from the tunnel to glimpse mountains and rivers, and then ducked back in around the next bend.  Finally, the land flattened out and homes appeared: Florence.  This is where we took a left turn onto Highway 101 and headed down the coast toward Coos Bay.  At a little restaurant in Florence, we stepped out of the car and were hit by the cold wind.  Eugene was a blistering 95º; Florence was a windy, overcast 65º with a tinge of salt in the air.

Coos Bay is a horseshoe shaped bay on the lower Oregon coast.  The city of Coos Bay is on the land within the horseshoe, along with its neighbor, North Bend.  Highway 101 runs along the edge of downtown Coos Bay, providing a never-ending stream of trucks and tourists.  The trucks are moving product for lumber mills and seafood markets.

Get your seafood fresh off the boat, raw or cooked
At the Marina

The tourists are admiring the spectacular Oregon coast.  Every mile or two there is another scenic overlook or state park.  From high sheer cliffs showing the grain of the Earth’s crust to wide, flat, sandy beaches, the Oregon coastline has it all.

A foggy day on the coast
The sea lion chorus is hilarious! Imagine a thousand drunken hound dogs arguing.
Upended tectonic plates reveal layers of stone from millions of years ago
A little cold for swimming, but a great beach

Back in Coos Bay, there is plenty to do to keep a tourist (or resident) busy.  There is a brewery and a distillery.  There are many fine and homey restaurants.  On Wednesdays there is a Farmers Market that stretches 4 blocks long that features a wonderful variety of vegetables and fruits, handcrafts, clothing, and some great food trucks.

Good beers and a nice selection of pub grub
Handmade rum in a variety of flavors and strengths
The Blue Heron features excellent German food and fine European beers
A big, sloppy, delicious torta from Angelina’s
Shrimp and crab tacos from Millers
Fresh veggies at the Farmer’s Market

On a rainy, foggy day there are nice indoor places to visit.  We loved the Egyptian Theater, where we saw a show and listened to a Wurlitzer concert.  Just down the street are history and art museums.  And for a real treat, we visited the Cranberry Sweets Candy Factory.

Pharaoh guards the balcony at the Egyptian Theater
A 1925 Wurlitzer organ plays a whole band’s worth of instruments.
From the History Museum, a Fresnel lens that once topped a lighthouse
Not just tons of chocolates, candies, and flavored popcorn, but also free samples of each!

Coos Bay is a nice little town with plenty to see and do.  There are ocean tours and fishing boats.  Go crabbing or clamming on the beach.  There are many miles of hiking trails through deep forest and rocky shoreline.  Rent an ATV and tear-ass around on the dunes.  Or even check out the many little shops downtown.  If you like your summers cool and salty, this is a great town.

Next up: Eureka, California

Eugene, Oregon  8/1 – 8/8

Eugene, Oregon: Population = 166,575, elevation = 430 feet, Average January low temp = 34.5º, Average July high temp = 82.2º, Average precipitation = 46.12”

The last time we passed through Eugene it was May and the rhododendron forest in Hendricks Park was in full, exhilarating bloom.  Spring flowers were erupting from every lawn and garden.  The weather was perfect.  This year we were just in time for a record-setting streak of hot weather.  Temperatures were in the 100s and upper 90s for our week in a house without air-conditioning!  Blasting fans turned the house from oven to convection oven.  So, to save ourselves from melting, we spent most of the 100 degree days inside movie theaters, breweries, restaurants, and museums.

A fun movie for a hot day. An action packer!

We had some help with the breweries.  Eugene’s Visitor’s Center has a “Eugene Ale Trail” passport with the names and addresses of 17 breweries.  Go to just 8 of the breweries, have them stamp the passport, and collect an (empty) growler.  After just three 100 degree days, we had our growlers. (Note: Usually I take photos of untasted beers.  When it’s 100, the first gulp come before the first photo.)

Besides the heat wave, we were dealing with smoke and pollen.  There had not been any rain for a long time and the greenery was crunchy.  Off in the distant woods, forest fires were burning down vast tracts of tall pines, filling the sky with smoke.  Across the Willamette Valley, a half million acres of lawn grass seed crop pollen was wafting throughout the valley.  A haze loomed over the city, torturing our sinuses and bleary eyes.

Late afternoon in Eugene during a smoke alert

When it got a little cooler (mid 90s) we went to see a museum.  The Museum of Natural and Cultural History has exhibits both anthropologic and geologic.  The cultural history traces the history of indigenous tribes, settlers, gold miners and loggers, trains and roads.  The natural history tells of tectonic plates shifting, converging, and subducting to form mountains and valleys.  A chart of CO2 in the atmosphere predicts future changes to the world.

A fun map of extinct flora and fauna in Oregon
A giant sloth. Good thing these guys are extinct!
A beautiful example of indigenous people’s handcraft

 

A hand woven 1000 year old sandal
650,000 years of tracking CO2 levels in the atmosphere

With the outdoors somewhat livable again, we set off to see some of the local culture.  There are a lot of community events in Eugene.  Every week, the Wednesday Farmers Market springs up near downtown with blocks full of vendors, food, and music.  Saturday is the Lane County Farmers Market.  Parks all around the city have lots of fun weekend events, including movies, plays, and music.  We got to see the One More Time Marching Band perform some classic martial music.  A short ride across the river brought us to the very strange 2nd Star Festival, a sort of arts and craft event by people in fantasy costumes.

The Wednesday Market features handcrafts, foods, and a stage for music. Get your tie dye here.
The band comes marching in.
A fine example of steampunk workmanship
Chatting with the mermaids at the 2nd Star Festival. Get your tie dye here.

Our first pass through Eugene put it firmly on our short list of possible places to settle down.  This trip raised some questions.  We know that a scorching week is just weather, not climate.  It happens.  The annual dry, smoky, pollen-laden skies were an unpleasant surprise.  I guess the search continues…

Next up: Coos Bay, Oregon

Newberg, Oregon 7/25 – 8/1

Newberg, Oregon: Population = 22,508, elevation = 175  feet, Average January low temp = 34º, Average July high temp = 79º, Average precipitation = 39.95”

We visited Portland last April and found a vibrant city with great food, culture, breweries, gardens, and parks.  We also found narrow streets with a severe lack of parking and chronic congestion.  This time around, we skipped over Portland in favor of a little town in the Willamette Valley.  Our rental was perched on a high bluff overlooking the river and the view was cool, green, and quiet.

Overlooking the Willamette River

Newberg is not a large town, but we found lots of things to do to keep us occupied.  There are, for instance, three breweries nearby that we investigated.  Lots of wine tasting shops.  There is a good selection of restaurants.

A good selection of beers, not too hoppy. Great green chili cheeseburger!
There are wine tasting rooms all over Newberg

There is not a lot of old really architecture in Newberg, but there is a house that Herbert Hoover lived in, with his aunt and uncle.  The Hoover – Minthorn House Museum preserves this bit of local history.

Herbert Hoover, the 31st president, held office from 1929 to 1933 during the Great Depression
A little stove to take the chill off on those winter nights.
The simple bed of a future president

To get our architecture on, we had to go visit Salem, the capitol of Oregon.  It was about a half hour drive through farm country.  We saw vast fields of grapes, hops, hazelnut trees, and many other crops.  Here and there we spotted dairy cattle.  At one point we stopped at the Willamette Valley Cheese company and got more cheese samples to taste than humanly possible to consume.

These guys make about 30 kinds of cheese and this lady was determined to give us a sample of each one

The Capitol was the only one we have seen that has a flat top instead of a dome as its central feature.  The interior is simple but elegant.  Walls clad in marble and wood rise up to frame large murals.  Bright new carpeting with state symbols brighten up the chambers.

The Oregon state capitol was completed in 1938
The dome is a simple but stylish work of Art Deco
The Senate Chamber is clad in black walnut. The carpet displays salmon and wheat.

The Willamette (rhymes with dammit) Valley is a huge wine-producing area; home to some of the world’s best pinot noir.  Signs pointing to wineries were everywhere and most pointed to 3 or 4 at a time.  Our hosts, Mary and Robert, are very knowledgable about wines and the local wineries.  We spent a very pleasant Sunday with them, sampling the wares at three of the vineyards and enjoying the scenery.

The Dundee Hills are where the first pinot noir grapes were planted in Oregon.

We enjoyed our stay in Newberg.  There is a small town America vibe that is very easy to get along with.  The locals seemed nice and easy to talk to.  The Valley is gorgeous, brimming with every kind of crop imaginable, trees soaring to great heights, the river sparkling in the midday sun.  We loved finding patches of wild blackberries that are bigger and better than those found in supermarkets.  It was a oood place to sip a pinot and gaze off into the summer.

Next up:  Eugene, Oregon

Olympia, Washington   7/21 – 7/25

Olympia, Washington: Population = 50,302 (Metro area = 269,536), elevation = 95  feet, Average January low temp = 33.7º, Average July high temp = 76.8º, Average snowfall = 10.8”

Getting back across the bay on the ferry takes a few hours; get parked on the pier, show passports, drive onto the ship, find a seat or wander around the ship for an hour and a half.  On the American side, I was expecting the ICE ogres with questionnaires and sniffing dogs and mirrors on a stick.  Instead, we got a kind of jolly guy who did a little banter and waved us through.  Easy.

Black Ball’s ferry Coho

Once ashore, we headed straight out of Port Angeles.  We decided that driving to Olympia would take too long, so we opted to stop at Bremerton for the night.  Heading South, the route was a little different and more scenic than the Northbound route.  Highway 3 follows a few of the bays along Puget Sound.  The trees were tall, the forest deep, the land a mix of steep rolling hills and wide muddy bays at low tide.  The traffic was a steady, unbroken stream that we floated along in, varying speeds from kind of slow to very slow.  It was a nice day for a drive.

Driving Puget sound

Bremerton is a town of about 40,000 people.  What is probably the main selling point for the town is that there is a ferry from there to Seattle.  According to a news show we saw, Seattle is very expensive to live in so lots of people live across the Sound and take the ferry to work.  I can’t tell you much about Bremerton.  We went out for dinner, spent the night in a hotel, had breakfast at The Family Pancake House (great cakes!), and then drove on into the traffic jam that is Interstate 5, under construction, near Olympia.

Our rental was not actually in Olympia.  The local AirBnB rentals are few and expensive, so we booked an Extended Stay in nearby suburban Lacey.  As long as we stayed off the freeway, it was a short drive into town.  And we have to visit the town; it is a Capitol City.  First up is the Old Capitol.  Not much info on the website, but the outside looks like a castle.  Inside is a disappointment.  It has been carved up into office space with bland cubicle walls everywhere.

The Old Capitol was once a courthouse. Now it is office space.
The entrance pay homage to Washington with a nice statue and garden

The new capitol building is a lot more impressive.  It sports an unsupported masonry dome that is the 5th highest in the world.  The light fixture dangling from the dome was made by Tiffany and weighs 10,000 pounds.  One very odd thing about the Capitol Building is that there is no artwork.  There are just big grey areas where it should go.  An artist, Michael Spafford, was hired to do a set of murals but, when he started hanging them in 1981, they were so reviled that they were all removed.

The State Capitol in Olympia
An unsupported dome is built like an igloo. Build layer after layer, each slightly smaller circles than the one before.
The Tiffany Chandelier is enormous. A VW Beetle could fit inside the middle.
The Senate chamber. Notice the grey areas high up the walls where the murals are not located.

It seemed like we were in Washington for a long time; we crossed East to West and then North to South.  It is a beautiful state with lovely flowers and trees, mountains, rivers, bays, and ocean.  It might be a great place to live, but we were uncomfortable with all of the sales taxes.  Liquor is taxed at 20.5% and bar drinks at 13.7%, everything else runs close to 10%.  No Thanks Washington, we are headed to Oregon!

A fine but overtaxed beer
South of Olympia, Mount St. Helens rears its broken peak over the forest

Next up:  Newberg OR

Victoria, British Columbia  7/7 – 7/21 (Part 2)

Victoria, British Columbia:  Fort Victoria founded in 1843, incorporated in 1862, became capitol city of British Columbia when it joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871.

Victoria is not as old and historic as some of the cities on the East Coast, but it is still a city with many classic old buildings.  The British Columbia Legislature Building looms solid and stolid over the wide expanse of lawn, harbor, and tourists.  We took a tour and, while suitably impressed with the rotunda and the many beautiful panels of stained glass, we were a little disappointed that we could see so little of the massive building.

British Columbia Legislature Buildings
The dome over the rotunda
Legislative Chamber
Stained glass panel from stairwell

Just out of the downtown, we found another classic old building.  This one actually lays claim to the title of “Castle”.  The Craigdarroch Castle was finished in 1890.  Prominent businessman and politician Robert Dunsmuir and his wife, Joan, built a lavish home for themselves, overlooking Victoria.  It may have been an ostentatious display of wealth, but to me, the home feels lavishly appointed and furnished but never garish.

Period costume and furnishing from the early 1900s
The table set for breakfast

 

The master bedroom has a unique bathtub / toilet combination
Exquisite stained glass windows are throughout the castle

 

Among the classic old buildings we like to see are the cathedrals.  Maybe it is the English influence, but these did not seem as ornate as many that we have seen in the States.  Instead, we found them simple but elegant; more handcrafted wood than gold leaf.

St. Andrews Cathedral
The altar at St. Andrews
Church of Christ Cathedral
Pulpit and arches

The Royal BC Museum is full of exhibits chronicling the development of Victoria, from the First Nations, to the pioneer days, to the gold rush, to the modern industries.  It is a bewildering maze of displays that wander and branch and climb up and down stairs.  It was fun to explore, but you might need a guide to find your way out again.

These carvings represent old legends of the gods
Military uniforms from the Colonial period

 

Coal mining was once a big part of the economy

 

With civilization comes beer

 

One thing that sets Victoria apart from many cites is that it is on an island.  The downtown harbor is a busy jumble of boats, water taxis, seaplanes, ferries, and cruise ships.  It is also the starting point for whale watching tours.  We booked a tour on a nice big, stable boat and went out to have a look.  We saw humpbacks!  They come to the surface, blow out a big spray, grab a couple of deep breaths, and then plunge down to the deep water for as long as 15 minutes before surfacing again.

Victoria Harbor is also a seaplane airport
A humpback whale diving
It is nap time for these sea lions

The rest of our time was mostly spent wandering about the town.  Victoria seems bigger than it really is.  Downtown is a constipated maze of streets with most of them going one-way in the direction I am not.  Bicycles are everywhere; both part of the congestion solution and a contributor to it.  There is no place to park ANYWHERE, unless you happen onto a lucky spot.

In the chaos that is downtown Victoria, bicyclists have their own lanes and lights

We enjoyed our time in Victoria.  The scenery was wonderful: brilliantly colored flowers; deep, dark ocean; tall verdant forests; oddly attired urbanites.  We met with new friends and fellow travelers, Diana and Larry, for dinner and a nice sightseeing drive around the island.  We enjoyed caesars with our gracious and cordial host, Gary.  Great people, nice city.

Next up: Olympia, WA

Victoria, British Columbia 7/7 – 7/21

Victoria, British Columbia: Population = 85,792 (Metro area = 383,360), elevation = 75  feet, Average January low temp = 38.5º, Average July high temp = 74.8º, Average snowfall = 10.35”

From Tacoma, our route leads us across the famous Narrows Bridge, North through Puget Sound.  On a map, this area looks like a big chunk of Washington is breaking away from the mainland, leaving behind a maze of water-filled cracks.  Up close, there are gigantic tall trees with velvet coatings of moss, rising up out of lush beds of ferns.  Long rows of snow covered mountains loom on the horizon.  We are driving country roads through small towns.

The original Narrows Bridge twisted and turned and buckled under high winds then collapsed. The new bridges seem pretty solid.
A woodland trail near Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

To get to Victoria, we have to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a ferry.  The easiest way for us to do that is to spend the night in an overpriced but shabby hotel in Port Angeles and then catch the ferry in the morning.  We found some passable BBQ and beers and made the best of it.

Half rack at the Coyote BBQ
Looking back over the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Port Angeles and the Olympic Mountains

The next day, we drove over and got in the “first come, first served” line that boards after the (sold out) reserved ticket holders.  No problem getting on.  With Gypsy stowed away on the Auto Deck, we went topside to watch the scenery.  It was sunny and windy and the ship had a roll that made walking a straight line a challenge.  Just 90 minutes later, we were in the harbor at Victoria.  This is a busy little harbor, full of water taxis, seaplanes, fishing boats, sailboats, and now, a big ferry.

The harbor in downtown Victoria

The weather on Vancouver Island provides for a long, moist growing season, so the profusion of flowers and trees is remarkable.  The most famous garden is The Butchart Garden.  Robert Butchart once ran a lucrative limestone quarry.  When the limestone was exhausted, his wife, Jenny, converted the remaining pit into a floral showcase.  Over the last century, the Butchart descendants have maintained and enhanced the gardens.  Today, they are a National Historic Site of Canada and host to over a million visitors annually.

Entrance to the Sunken Garden
Looking down into the Sunken Garden
View from the log cabin in the Sunken Garden
The Ross Fountain dances in the pond
Hostas and ferns abound in the Bog Garden
Stop and smell the Rose Garden
Simple but elegant, the Japanese Garden conveys tranquility
The burbling fountain adds sound to the Italian Garden

And, finally, just because I love flowers, a collage of closeups.

Next up: more of Victoria

Crossing Washington 6/30 – 7/7

Ellensburg, WA:  Population =  19,786, elevation = 1,542 feet, Average January low temp = 18.6º, Average July high temp = 82.7º, Average snowfall = 22.6”

From Spokane, we find ourselves on Interstate 90 again, rolling toward the sunset.  We are past the Rockies and onto the High Prairie.  The land rolls and undulates, here and there sprouts of scruffy pines, over there a little water.  Moses Lake flashes by, surprisingly vacant of human settlements.  Then suddenly, the bottom falls out.  Just off the highway, there is an enormous gorge.  The Columbia River has spent millennia carving out a deep valley here.  The sheer cliffs show layer after layer of rock deposited here then sliced by the patient river.

Pines and ponds on the High Prairie
Columbia River Gorge. That little white spot near the cliff is a motorboat.

Our first stop is Ellensburg.  Kind of in the middle of nowhere, but a nice town for a little break in the driving.  We find a couple of nice breweries and some good food, so we are content.  On Saturday, there is a farmer’s market with wonderful arrays of fresh produce and handmade foods and crafts.  It would be great to have a kitchen so we could cook up some of these treasures.

Death by beer at the Iron Horse
Saturday at the farmer’s market

Strolling around town, we find the Kittitas County Museum.  They have tales and artifacts of the old cowboy settlers, of bankers and bank robbers.  Over in this room, antique cars and a very quaint bicycle.  Over here, samples of petrified wood, identified by species of tree.

Being a cowboy was a tough life
1923 Ford Model T Speedster
The Bear bicycle features stamped metal wheels
Several species of trees, all petrified

There is another “must see” in Ellensburg; the Dick and Jane Spot.  Artists Dick and Jane, and many others, have been decorating this house and yard for the past 35 years.  If something decays, something new goes in its place.  There are over 10,000 bottle caps and thousands of reflectors incorporated into the artworks.

Puyallup, WA:  Population = 38,670, elevation = 46 feet, Average January low temp = 37º, Average July high temp = 77º, Average snowfall = 39.36”

Our route takes us up and over the Cascade Range to our next stop in Puyallup, WA.  This is a suburb of Tacoma, just a quick run through twisting, turning construction detours to get downtown.  The last time we visited Tacoma, there was enough mist so that we never really saw Mt. Rainier.  This time the air is crystal clear and the mountain is stunning in its size and proximity.  Cloud banks actually dash against its lower slopes, leaving the peak afloat above.

Looming over the landscape. And 58 miles away.

We are only visiting for a few days, so we make the best of our time.  My old pals, Kay and Butch, live nearby so we visit with them on the Fourth.  Great seeing you guys!  Then we ran over to Tacoma for food, beer, and another peek at the glass bridge.  We took a look at the State History Museum too, while we were there.

Great happy hour!
Glass creations by Chihuly enliven the Glass Bridge
Ancient petroglyphs tell a story
An amazing bit of engineering… a fish cleaning machine
Pacific Brewing Co. makes a fine red lager

We kind of flew over the Northern states to get to the West Coast.  Now that we are here, we are going to slow down and try to get a real feel for the cities.  We may even settle down in one of them someday so we want to be sure.

But first, a nice touristy visit to Victoria, BC