From Yachats to Olympia

23 06 2009

Chris and I just got back from another trip out to the Pacific Northwest, and yet again I am convinced this is the most naturally beautiful part of the country.  We hopped on a plane out of Austin on a Thursday evening, and after a five or six hour delay in Denver due to massive thunderstorms (allowing us to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals), we arrived in Seattle around 2:30 in the morning.  Luckily, I had booked us a room at the Hilton Airport and Conference Center on Priceline (for a grand total of $58!) so we caught the shuttle to the hotel and crashed.  Around 9 the next morning my brother called and said he’d be there to pick us up shortly to begin our adventure down to the Central Oregon Coast.

No great adventure can start without full bellies, so we decided to stop first for breakfast in Olympia at an old favorite — McMenamin’s Spar Cafe.  My brother and I split an order of the biscuits and gravy, and I had an over-easy egg and hashbrowns on the side.  Who would have thought I could get one of the best biscuits and gravy I’ve had outside of Texas…let alone in the Pacific Northwest?  It was delicious.  The thick, dense biscuits were covered in a hearty sausage gravy and topped with crumbled bacon and green onions.  Upon first seeing the plate my brother and I both thought there was no way SPLITTING this dish would fill us up…but how wrong we were.  It was delicious and filling.  Chris got the chicken fried steak and eggs with hashbrowns.  The crispy fried steak was covered in the same delicious gravy and, according to Chris, fantastic.  Again, who would expect delicious chicken fried steak and eggs outside of Texas?  I tried a bite — it was indeed delicious.

After breakfast we made a pit stop at the local camping/outdoors store in Olympia for camp fuel and a few bag dinners, stopped by my brother’s place to load up his stuff, and then we headed down I-5 toward Oregon.  We cut over to Highway 101 through Corvallis, Oregon on 20.  At Newport, we stopped by a grocery store for a few more provisions then headed south on 101 until we made it to the Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park.  They had one walk-in campsite left so we decided to take it.  Although the campsites were somewhat close together, the campground was beautiful, and there were so many big trees and slight elevation changes within the campground itself it didn’t feel too terribly crowded.  I also liked how the drive-in campsites were completely separate from the walk-in sites.  We dropped our stuff at the site, threw a wine bottle and

cork screw in a day pack, and walked over to the beach to take in the sunset on the Pacific.

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We walked all the way down the coast to some rocks covered with birds, then headed back and found a nice little spot to sit and enjoy the sunset with a little red wine.

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It was lovely.  When the sun was almost gone we decided to head back to set up camp.  We munched on chips and salsa as we got a nice fire going in the fire pit, then whipped up some bean and cheese burritos for dinner.  That really hit the spot.

That night I had maybe one of the best nights of sleep while camping ever.  Whether it was the sound of the waves on the coast all night, the softness of the ground in the campsite, the perfect cool temperature, the popping and crackling of the slowly-dying fire, the sound of the light drizzle on the tent in the early morning hours, or the fact that I was really tired from a long day of travel, I don’t know…but it was wonderful.  I woke up refreshed and ready to go.  However, the early morning drizzle turned into a bit more of a heavy drizzle, so we opted to hop in the car and head up to Yachats to look for a good cup of coffee…and find one we did.

We happened to stop into this wonderful coffee shop and bakery called The Green Salmon — great coffee and perhaps even better baked goods.  I was only going to get coffee, but after sampling Matt’s maple croissant, I had to order something too.  I got a cinnamon croissant and it was flaky (but did not just explode into crumbs when you bit into it), buttery, cinnomony, and delicious.  After coffee we headed back to camp and set out on the hike to the Heceda Head Lighthouse.  The hike starts out in the forest just down from the entrance to the park.  This part of the hike is easy and absolutely gorgeous.

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We encountered tons of salamanders in the path and found them quite difficult to see (they either looked like the ground or like sticks on the ground) — that, coupled with the fact that they moved incredibly slowly, kept us on our toes as we tried our best not to step on any.  After a few miles the trail crossed 101 and started into the woods on the other side of the road.  We quickly started going up and found ourselves high above the beach.

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A little bit further, and we were at the lighthouse.

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We spent at least an hour exploring the beach and the tide pools below the lighthouse.

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I had never seen starfish or anemones outside of an aquarium…so cool!

On our way back, we took the Hobbit Trail fork to the beach (the fork is on the beach-side of 101 along the Heceda Head Lighthouse Trail).  The entire hike was around 6 miles and except for portions near the lighthouse, is easy.  The entire hike is incredibly beautiful.  As always happens with me in the Pacific Northwest, I am struck by the green, by the amount of life everywhere…not to mention seeing spruce, firs, ferns, moss, rocks, and sandy beach all in one place.  Amazing.

After the hike we had perhaps our one big food miss of the trip — the greasy eggs.  The plan was to have our late breakfast of tacos back at the campsite, so we cooked up some bacon on our little single burner, and this is where I made my big mistake.  I should have known better.  Even as I type this, I’m getting a little bit sick to my stomach.  For some unknown reason, I decided we did not need to pour out any of the bacon grease before cooking the eggs…so we just dumped 6 eggs into the grease and started cooking.  I can still see those eggs, floating in the grease…Matt had the great idea that we just add six more eggs, and maybe then there would not be so much grease.  So we added more eggs and cooked away.  They eventually firmed up and we mixed back in the bacon and added cheese, threw the mixture in tortillas and topped with salsa…but one bite and, as Matt put it, it felt like you put a thick coating of chap stick on.  Yuck.  But of course we ate them.  And then felt kind of gross for a while…

Once we finally felt like we could move around somewhat, we decided this would be a good opportunity to get in the car and see what we could see along 101.  I had read about the Sea Lion Caves (world’s largest sea lion cave, woo hoo!)  so we drove a few miles south and found the crowded parking lot, looked around at the cheesy signs, and decided to skip it.  Instead, we headed up to Devil’s Churn for a while and then Strawberry Hill.  Both spots were beautiful, and did not cost $11 per person.

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For dinner that night we did our bag meals (even though we had scrapped our backpacking plans, the backpacking dinners came in handy) by another great fire then enjoyed good old-fashioned smores.  Then we enjoyed burning marshmellows for a while…

After another great night of sleep, we packed up and headed back to the Green Salmon in Yachats for more great coffee and pastries, then kept on going until we got to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.  I love aquariums, and this one was very impressive.  First, they had otters, perhaps my favorite animal.  Look at this fat and happy guy!  Second, the indoor deep sea life display was awesome.  Most of the tanks had beautiful blown glass pieces that, together with some creative lighting, made for some impressive displays.  On top of that, so many of these creatures were just so beautiful and interesting…  I was also able to touch (pet?) starfish, baby sharks, rays, and anemone (that was perhaps the strangest to feel — they stick to you).  The shark display was also really cool — sharks along with the bizarre-looking flounder and other big fish swim all around you.

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Once we’d seen the entire aquarium (at a very reasonable $13.25 with a AAA discount, I might add), we got back on the road and stopped for lunch In Corvallis at American Dream Pizza.  While Chris’s and my pizza was only so-so (when you order by the slice it seems like they just throw some toppings on top of cheese pizza), Matt’s calzone looked pretty tasty.  I was also impressed by the photos of President Obama eating there on a campaign stop, and the roof-top table was a great spot in this cute town.  The weather was gorgeous — sunny but cool.  I bet Oregon State is a fun place to go to school…

We made it back to Olympia around 6 or so, got cleaned up, then walked over to Fish Tales for dinner.  Fish Tales is  a casual pub-style place with great beer and good food.  I had the fish and chips, Chris had oysters and chips, and Matt had the portabella mushroom burger.  Matt and I both enjoyed a couple of pints.

The next day, we headed back to our favorite spot — McMenamin’s — for breakfast.  This time I had the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, green onions, and cream cheese.  Chris opted for the biscuits and gravy.  Matt went with a standard eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, and toast breakfast.  As usual, the meal was terrific.

After breakfast we hit the road for our next hike — the Hama Hama Trail in the Olympic National Forest (I’ve also seen Hamma Hamma and I’m not sure which one is right…perhaps the both are?).  It took us about an hour or two to get to the trailhead off of 101 on the Olympic Peninsula.  This hike was intense, but the reward was well worth it.  The trail starts out at a gentle but steady incline for maybe a mile, and then the serious incline starts.  It was probably two or more miles of up, and up, and up…I had to stop and catch my breath and let the burning in my legs die down a bit quite a few times!  There were even a few challenging spots over streams, alongside drop-offs, and up rocks (one where you had to use a rope — very fun!).  Near the top we started encountering patches of snow — much less snow than two weeks earlier, according to my brother (who, incidentally, has seen a bear both times he’d been out on this trail before — both in the past month — while I was a little anxious about a bear encounter, and it certainly seemed likely along this secluded trail, I have to say I’m disappointed now that we didn’t see one).  At the top of the mountains we arrived at Angel Lake, and while I’m trying not to sound like a broken record, I can’t help it — it was beautiful.  Waterfalls all around us, patches of snow on the ground and all over the higher peaks, a serene lake high above the trailhead…just breathtaking.

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The hike down was almost as challenging as the hike up — perhaps not as tiring on the hamstrings and glutes, but I nearly went down on loose rocks a few times (okay, I did go down once, but it was a quick down and bounce right back up), and after a while my legs felt like pure wobbly jello.  It was much easier to descend with my knees slightly bent the whole time so as to bob up and down as little as possible, but that was quite a workout.  It was, however, much quicker than the hike up and it seemed like we were down in no time.

On our drive back, we stopped at a burger place right on 101 in Hoodsport.  I can’t remember the name, but it’s a tiny little town and it was right off of 101 with lots of outdoor seating.  The burger hit the spot and the crinkle cut fries took me back to my childhood.

After this late lunch/early dinner, my brother drove us all the way back to our hotel by the Seattle Airport and Chris and I settled in for some relaxing before our day of travel the following day.  The Hilton by the airport has a nice outdoor pool and hot tub — perfect for our tired legs.  The next day we made it home with no real delays — our flight had to hold outside of Denver due to more thunderstorms, but we had such a long layover it made no difference to us (other than cause me slight anxiety).  We made it home by midnight and thus another trip to the beautiful Pacific Northwest came to a close.





Seattle…again

4 03 2009

No matter how many times I visit the Pacific Northwest, I just do not get tired of it.  We have been to Seattle 5, 6, maybe 7 times?  We’ve been to Portland once and Vancouver, B.C., once as well.  Chris and I are both in love with the natural beauty, with how green it is, with the sense of life (meaning, living things…in Austin, for example, I can think of one day in the past 200 or so when it actually rained and the plants do not seem very alive), with the high consumption rate of good coffee and seafood, with the healthy and outdoorsy lifestyle, with the overall vibe…  The one thing we don’t agree on is moving here.  Chris would love to live in Seattle or somewhere nearby, but I also love Austin and the ability to live near my family, so we’re staying put…for now.

That being said, a member of my family now lives in the area.  My brother moved to Olympia about a year ago, so last April Chris and I figured it was yet another good excuse to return to the Pacific Northwest.  As usual, we had a wonderful time.  We arrived around 9 or so in the evening on a Thursday, rented a car, and found our hotel — the Ace Hotel on 1st Street, a block off Bell Street.  Cool, minimal place.  Our room was decorated with various commie propaganda.  It was a small room, but I’ve never understood why anyone would want a big room unless they planned on spending all of their time in the room…and we certainly did not.  It had everything we needed, including bathrobes for the walks to the shared bathrooms, a sink, a small flat-screen TV mounted on the wall, and even a mini Kama Sutra in the nightstand.  It was an interesting place!

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The location could not be beat (except for when we wanted to sleep…more on that later).  After dropping off our stuff, we walked across the street and up the block a bit to Belltown Pizza.  This place was great.  By this point it was probably after 10, but they serve dinner late.  We sat in a cozy, tall booth along the windows and shared a medium Four Seasons pizza (portabella, tomato, black olive, artichoke, garlic and prosciutto) and a bottle of a Washington cabernet (can’t recall the name) and it hit the spot.  Delicious.  We walked back to the hotel and crashed for the night…or at least tried.  It was at this point we learned of the downside to our particular room — it was on the front of the hotel right above a bar, so it was really noisy.  Eh, what are you going to do?

The next morning (Friday) we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast in the basement of the hotel (granola, yogurt, fruit, toast, coffee and juice) and then walked over to Olympic Sculpture Park to visit Wake, a sculpture by one of both Chris’s and my favorite sculptors, Richard Serra.  Though it was a bit cold and rainy and I wiped out crossing the street (it was lovely…stepped on a slippery manhole cover…couldn’t manage to get my hands out of my pockets…I think I rolled around briefly like a helpless baby in front of the stopped cars) we spent a good hour or two wandering around the park.

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And, the obligatory picture of ourselves…

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On our way back to our hotel, we passed a beautiful little garden I couldn’t resist…everywhere I look, something is growing!

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Gorgeous.  We decided to head over to Macrina Bakery and Cafe for coffee and another bite.  This place was outstanding.  I wanted to order one of everything filling the glass cases…I can’t even remember what I finally settled on.  Only that it was great.  We sat for a while drinking coffee, reading the paper, and making contact with my brother.  He had not yet visited Seattle but was on his way in to find us.  He managed to find a place to leave his car and met up with us at Macrina for one more coffee before heading out.

We decided to walk around Pike Place Market for a while — always fun to see.  We went to Matt’s in the Market for an outstanding lunch with great views of the sound.  Matt and I both got the lamb burger on a brioche bun with goat cheese, grilled onions, bacon, and an herb aioli and a pint.  Chris had the ahi tuna sandwich.  The food was fantastic and I think we were lucky to come in when we did and get a table…it got busy fast and a reservation appeared to be essential (even for lunch).  

After lunch we decided to go check out the Seattle Public Library designed by Rem Koolhaas, an avant-garde steel and glass building.  What a great example of forward-thinking city planning and a fun place to wander…

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After winding our way down from the top of the library, we met up with another friend who had recently moved to Seattle and decided to go check out a few more sights before dinner.  We drove up to the Experience Music Project but decided not to go in…instead, we checked out the cool artwork outside…

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We headed back to our friend’s house with the most amazing view of the the skyline and sound (I think we stared out his living room window for at least an hour) then headed back in to town for dinner at a place he recommend called Quinn’s Pub, a “gastropub” located at 10th and Pike on Capitol Hill.  WOW, was dinner good.

Our group of four shared two rounds of “small plates” and everything was fantastic. T he roasted marrow bones were to die for…rich, delicious flavor…as was the seared foie gras.  The rabbit pate with fresh mustard was amazing, the oxtails and gnocchi divine, and the “duck, duck, mousse” plate was just outstanding.  Even the frites with melted gruyere were delicious. Our waitstaff was wonderful and the atmosphere was fun and casual.  The bread pudding at the end was a great close to a fantastic meal (I never thought about putting macademia nuts in bread pudding…so lovely).  I can’t say enough how much we enjoyed experiencing all of the new, delicious tastes on our well-prepared plates.  We got there early on the recommendation of our friend and were seated immediately– otherwise, it looks like there might be a wait at dinner time. I’d say it’s well worth it though…

The next day after a bit more random wandering, Chris and I had lunch at Wild Ginger, an old favorite.  We ate here (or there — it used to be in a different location) on our very first trip to Seattle several years ago, and make it a habit to eat there once every time we return.  I think Chris even orders the same thing — the Tuna Manada.  I tried a few different satays — the scallop, boar, and shrimp.  Each one came with a little rice cake and had its own sauce.  Each one was delicious (though I think the scallop was my favorite).  I also had the braised baby bok choy and one or two of their specialty cocktails — and both were fabulous. 

After lunch we relaxed a bit, drank some coffee, then wandered around the Pioneer Square area until we found a sports bar where we could catch two Final Four matchups — Memphis/UCLA and Kansas/North Carolina…the battle of the Number 1 seeds!  We enjoyed bloody mary’s and munched on bar food…the bar was a really random mix of rocker types, biker types, and then the occasional drunk guy who would run up to the life-size screen shouting, all excited, as if he was trying to actually get into the game or make a call or something.  Later that night, we went to the Showbox SoDo and caught a fantastic FANTASTIC show by the Black Keys.  Love the band, and the setting was good — small enough to really feel the music.  I’m still amazed by how large of a sound those two guys can put out.  I actually bought a t-shirt (but Chris made me get a large so he could wear it too…and really only he wears it).  I never buy concert t-shirts. 

On Sunday we headed out to Olympia to stay with my brother.  After we got to his apartment and drank a little more coffee (surprise!), he drove us out to the Olympic National Park for a hike.  He took us on the Duckabush River Trail.  It was so beautiful.  We hiked in about 6 or 7 miles to a vista, had lunch, then headed back.  The natural beauty of the park was breathtaking…everywhere I looked something was growing.  The rushing stream was gorgeous, and in the distance you could see snow-capped peaks.  There were still patches of snow on the ground.  The hike was only difficult toward the end when the switchbacks started, and even that did not last long.  This has to go down as one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done.  Here are a few shots along the way…

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Our drive back home looked like this…

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Once we got back to Olympia, we showered and headed into town for dinner.  We ended up at a place called Mc Menamins and it was perfect.  Great low-key laid-back atmosphere, good beer, I had a burger with blue cheese and seasoned fries…hit the spot.  We ended the night watching a movie back at my brother’s place with some ice cream we picked up at the grocery store…it was a perfect day.

The next morning we had to wake up early and head back to the Sea-Tac airport.  We drove through a little drive-up espresso shack — why do they not have these in Austin?!  Fully caffeinated, we headed for the Interstate, and I have a tip for you here — fill your car up with gas well before getting anywhere near the airport, because if you think there is gas nearby, you may not find any.  I didn’t.  That was expensive.

As you can see, in a few short days we managed to pack in a ton of great food, great music, great hikes, sports, sculptures, tons of walking, hanging out with my brother who I don’t get to see nearly often enough…it felt like we were actually there for a week.  It was wonderful, and I’m already ready to go back.