Monday, October 31, 2011

Historic Columbia River Highway

I love scenic byways and whenever there is an opportunity to take one, I do. Therefore, I could not resist the opportunity to drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway, an approximately 75-mile (120 km) scenic highway through the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. The highway was built between 1913 and 1922 and it was the first planned scenic roadway in the United States. From the very beginning, the highway was envisioned not just as means of traveling, but designed to take full advantage of all the natural beauty along the route. As such it was recognized in several historic registries, e.g., as a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

The highway indeed runs extremely close to many beautiful sights, including several waterfalls. We stopped at two of them, Horsetail and Multnomah Falls.

The Horsestail Fall:

The Multnomah Falls:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bridge of the Gods

Would you like to cross a Bridge of the Gods? If you do, there is one on the Columbia River, between Cascade Locks in Oregon and Skamania County in Washington:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Strawberry Island Hike in the Columbia River Gorge

We liked the Columbia River Gorge so much we decided to explore it a little bit more and go for a short hike there. We asked several locals for recommendations of nice hikes in the area and we decided to go on a hike around Strawberry Island.

It was a short, maybe 3-4 mile long, completely flat hike through beautiful, lush green and serene landscape. In the distance, we could see and occasionally hear cars rushing on the highway, and we felt extremely grateful for finding this little island of serenity amongst the urban noise and mess.

The hike was made even better by the “show” of several different bird species: we got to see some of them hunting for food, building their nests, and defending their territory. Some of them flew so close to us that we could almost feel the air¬¬–moved by their wings–bounce off our faces.

I would definitely recommend this hike if you are in or around Portland. It is only 30 miles away from the city and can be accessed via the beautiful Historic Columbia River Highway, which is also worth seeing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lava Canyon, Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

The first hike we did in Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was a short, 2-mile loop hike in Lava Canyon. This hike begins with a wide, paved, wheelchair accessible Lava Canyon Interpretive Trail, which leads to a viewing platform overlooking the canyon and the Muddy River that cuts through it. From the viewing area, the trail loops down to the canyon rim in a long series of switchbacks. At the end of the switchbacks there is another viewing point, which offers good views of waterfalls on the Muddy River.

Soon afterward, the trail crosses a springy suspension bridge, which can give a bit of a scare to people with a fear of heights (like me). After crossing the bridge, you can either loop back to the trailhead, or you can continue into the gorge–a steep descent which includes climbing down a 30-foot ladder. We opted for heading back to our car, but I'm sure the views would have gotten even better if we had continued down the canyon. Still, even the short version of the hike was very enjoyable.

Lava Canyon and the Muddy River:

The suspension bridge:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

After our unsuccessful attempt to hike in Mt. Rainier National Park, we decided to head to Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and try to go hiking there. To our surprise, the upper part of Mt. St. Helens was also under the snow. So instead of one longer hike at a higher elevation, we decided to go for several shorter hikes at a lower elevation.

First we went for a hike in Lava Canyon, to which I dedicated a separate post (it will appear here in two days).

Afterward, we hiked the interpretive "Trail of Two Forests", a 1-mile long boardwalk loop trail through the lava flow from Mount St. Helens' eruption that took place around two thousands years ago. One interesting part of the trail was a small, maybe 2.5 to 3 feet wide, lava tube that hikers were invited to "hike", or should I say "crawl" through. We were set on exploring this lava tube until we saw how small, dark, and dirty it was. But I bet a lot of kids would not have such inhibitions and would have lots of fun there.

We also planned to go for a hike in the Ape Caves–subterranean lava tubes formed in the thick lava beds. There are two of them: the lower and the upper. The lower one is the shorter and easier of the two. It is connected to the upper lava tube by a 1.3-mile trail through the old forest.

The upper and lower caves are 2.5-miles and 1.3-miles long, respectively. Anil and I planned to explore the shorter, lower cave, but after I managed to trip over and almost twist my ankle just after five minutes of walking there, we decided to turn around. Our flashlights were just not strong enough to light our way through this pitch-dark cave. My advice: if you plan to explore the caves, make sure to bring powerful flashlights and an extra set of batteries. Do not forget your jacket as well, as it is pretty chilly down there. And, most importantly, don't trip and sprain your ankle :)

Mt. St. Helens:

The entrance to the lower Ape Cave:

The Trail of Two Forests:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Narada Falls, Mt. Rainier NP

Despite the failed attempt to hike in Mt. Rainier NP and the bad weather that prevented us from taking even a short glimpse at Mt. Rainier, we still enjoyed our short visit to the park a lot. Just driving through the park we could tell that the place must look amazing under better weather circumstances, especially if one is lucky enough to be there when wildflowers bloom. I believe in "typical" years the flowers bloom in August, but this year it will likely take place in late September, or maybe even October. We will try to visit Mt. Rainier NP then, so maybe I will post an update later in the year.

The park altogether is beautiful, its most spectacular feature is the abundance of waterfalls. The most easily accessible, and therefore, the most popular, are the Narada Falls. They are located just a few yards off the central road passing through the park. As Anil pointed out, Narada is the name of one of the Hindu gods/sages, so we were a bit surprised to see a waterfall with such a name in the US.

The waterfall is quite spectacular as it drops 168 feet (51 m) down a nearly sheer cliff:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mt. Rainier National Park

After seeing the beautiful pictures that my friend Nicole took a year ago in Mt. Rainier NP, I was truly looking forward to hiking there. However, this year winter decided to linger for much longer than usual on the West Coast, and, as a result, even in July many mountain ranges were still quietly sleeping under a blanket of snow, and patiently waiting for the summer sun to wake them up.

After we arrived at the Paradise Visitor Center (located at 5400 feet/1647 meters) and saw how much snow was still there, we decided to abandon our initial plan of hiking the 7-mile long Skyline Paradise Loop and instead geared up for a short and easy (1.2-mile round trip) hike to the Myrtle Falls. This hike was described in the park's brochure as "wheelchair accessible with assistance." Hence, we assumed that we would be able to do it, despite the snow.

We put on several extra layers of clothes (including gloves and caps), packed water and some snacks into our backpacks, and off we went to the trailhead, where we took this picture:

As you can see, just after seven stairsteps the trail became impassable. As soon as we stopped laughing at our own naivety, we turned around and went back to the car with a strong resolution to come back to Mt. Rainier later in the year, after some of the snow melts away. Let's hope we will manage to revisit it before this year's winter arrives.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Seattle Experience Music Project

Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle and it is where his music career started. To commemorate him and his music, Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft), founded the Experience Music Project Museum. After a few years the focus of the museum has changed, and it started displaying memorabilia and artifacts commemorating other Seattle-based artists as well (e.g. Nirvana). A part of the museum is also dedicated to science fiction and technology, especially those technical elements behind some of the recent famous movies/TV series (like Avatar and Battlestar Galactica).

We enjoyed the exhibits dedicated to Nirvana and Avatar, but we were not at all interested in the exhibit dedicated to Battlestar Galactica. I guess you have to be a fan of the movie to enjoy it. We also had a lot of fun exploring the Guitar Gallery which documents the history of electric guitar development, and an interactive Sound Lab, where one can have fun learning the basics of playing various instruments and mixing music.

The building in which museum is located is also quite a sight, thanks to its architect Frank Gehry:

The Avatar Gallery:

The Sky Church:

The Nirvana Gallery:

The Guitar Gallery:

Neal Potter's "Roots and Branches" statue:

The Sound Lab:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Space Needle in Seattle

The Space Needle is a major landmark of Seattle. I would estimate that 99% of visitors to the city go up the Space Needle, so normally that would not be a place that we would visit. However, as the day was gorgeous, we decided to follow the standard touristy route and take an elevator up the Needle to see Seattle from up above.

The views from the top are indeed fantastic. The observation deck of the Space Needle is located at 520 feet (160 m) and the highest point of the Space Needle is at 605 feet (184 m). Therefore, on a good day, you can see as far as 100 miles from there and enjoy the views of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and surrounding islands. We could not see that far, as the sky was overcast outside of Seattle. Still, we got to enjoy the views of the Downtown Seattle, which made it worth going up the tower.

Seattle Skyline from the Space Needle:

Space Needle during the day:

Space Needle at night:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Seattle Skyline

Seattle is a quite lovely city. It is about the same size as Portland (six hundred thousand residents in the city proper, and three million in its metropolitan area), but it feels much bigger than the latter.

In many ways Seattle is a combination of San Francisco and Portland. It has some skyscrapers (like San Francisco), but it feels a bit more suburban (like Portland). It also has good restaurants and beautiful nature around it (like both of the cities), and a reputation for heavy coffee consumption (like Portland). In fact, several famous coffee companies (like Starbucks, Seattle's Best Coffee, Tully's) were founded in Seattle.

If only the weather were better there, it would be a very nice place to live. However, Seattle averages only 71 sunny days a year, so I don't think we will move there any time soon :) The bad weather did not seem to discourage students from hanging out at the Alki Park Beach, which has a similar vibe to the Pacific Beach (PB) in San Diego. For us, it was too cold, so instead of hanging out at the beach, we went to a nearby restaurant for a nice Thai meal.

After the dinner we went back to the beach to take some photos of downtown Seattle. It was slowly starting to get dark, so my hope was to capture a few good shots of Seattle both during and after the sunset. This turn out to be a several-hour-long photographic assignment and despite wearing a jacket and having eaten a generous meal, I was still freezing cold. But I think the pictures were worth it.

A few shots of Seattle Skyline, shot over a span of four hours: