Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “vacation”

Freeway-Free down the Left Coast

For the next two days we amble our way down the Left Coast, hugging the coastline, stopping once in a while to admire the sweeping surfline, the white sand dunes, the rock stacks, the redwoods. We spend a night near Florence at Honeyman State Park, one of the largest campgrounds in Oregon, we are told, but still offering fairly secluded hookups for our trailer and, I suppose, a hundred others.

We stop at Bandon to visit our nephew J, who is living a bachelor life in a fixer -upper in the charming seaside town of Bandon. When he has finished the re-hab, he will rent the cottage out as an AirB&B. On the day we visit it is still missing a fence, kitchen counters and appliances, but he assures us that his first renter will find it habitable when he arrives the following week. We can see what a nice seaside pied a terre it isgoing to be – but not quite yet.

J breaks for lunch and takes us for seafood sandwiches at Tony’s Crab Shack, and gives us a brief tour of Bandon’s interesting spots. That orange globe in front of the house facing the ocean? It’s a tsunami escape pod.

We continue down the coast, crossing into California, where the highway swings inland to introduce us to the towering trees of the Redwood Empire. More on this next week!

Freeway-Free in Oregon: Beach Town

Our next day was spent in Astoria and Ft. Stephens, and I have written about Astoria and its wonderful Maritime Museum in an earlier blog. The following day M and I set off early, determined to cruise the Oregon coast quickly, pay a call on our nephew in Bandon halfway down, and make it to our campsite in the redwoods across the California border in good time.

But we were derailed en route by a sign for Mo’s Seafood and Chowder, and M’s memories of her student days in Corvallis when a bowl of Mo’s chowder was the high point of a weekend. There was a branch of Mo’s in Seaside. So we stopped.

Seaside is also a claimant to being a final stop on the Lewis and Clark trail. Certainly their statue to the adventurous explorers is the most elaborate we had seen, with bas-reliefs around the base and a commanding view of the Pacific at the end of Seaside’s main street.

It was a gray, foggy noontide, but as we walked to and from the car we spotted some enduring signs of the beach party culture that would animate Seaside on a sunnier day, and since the bumpercars, the tilt-a-whirl, and the carousel ware all indoors as a concession to Oregon’s variable weather, why not buy a bug-eyed beach toy to invite the sun to play?

Freeway Free in Washington: Camping by the Cowlitz

Off to Cowlitz Falls County Park.  This park is maintained on behalf of the public by the Lewis County Public Utilities District. There are actually no falls here, as the river has been dammed for hydroelectric power, and the only access to the river, the boat ramp, was destroyed in a flood and is being repaired. Aside from the misleading name, this is a lovely quiet place with lot of shade, lots of woodsy trails between sites and restrooms, a sunny meadow with a volleyball net, a horseshoe pit (equipment for both available from the ranger) and a playground.

We set up in adjoining camp spaces, our tiny teardrop next to C&C’s Trailer Mahal. Instant conversation starters with folks strolling through the camp.

Then, just to make sure we meet everyone, we walk the dog, an adorable little white mop of a thing. Nothing like a cute dog to make instant friends along the trail.

The next morning we are just finishing a tremendous breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast (Thanks to C&C’s full kitchen) when our nephew P arrives with his wife T and five lively children. 

Fortunately Cowlitz [no]Falls has lots of distractions to offer. A walk to the river.  Fallen trees to climb. Back at the camp, Grandma C has provided plenty of hot dogs, sodas, chips, and watermelon, while Auntie M has a box of trailer games. Five-year-old G is surprisingly deft at removing blocks from the Zenga tower!

I’d forgotten how exhausting family gatherings can be for us empty nesters. M and I tumble into our trailer while C&C are still admiring the moon over a last glass of wine.

Tiny Trailer Travel 2 in 2022 – Day 3: Stayin’Alive up the 5

After the heat of our second day, the cool of the next morning at Schroeder County Park finds me up early. I find a small hotel soap cake in my dop kit and take a shower, even washing my hair with the soap.  Feels wonderful.  M wakes, sees my wet hair, and follows my example. Breakfast again of strawberries, blueberries, granola, yogurt.  We both feel great.  What could be nicer, with the river sparkling, the air fresh, and the heat wave broken!

Locked, loaded, and leaving by 10 ,  we are proud of the improvement in our getaway time. We think we have an easy 3.5 hour drive up to our brother’s house straight up I-5 in Washington state, so we are open to a scenic detour. M calls friend in Corvallis to invite them to meet us in Corvallis’s central park for lunch – M is eager to show her old haunts, and the detour would be pretty.  but the friends are on their way from Corvallis down to Winters along with another couple that M knows well, and are on I-5 headed the other way.  We rendezvous at a Wendy’s in Eugene and the five friends are soon in full catchup mode, with lots of exclaiming, explaining, and suggesting.  I feel like a hat rack, but it’s ok.  I use the loo.

On our way again.  We stop for lunch at another rest stop.  We stop for gas and check the GPS. Hmmm.  What was a 3.5 hour drive at 10 AM is now, at 2, after driving 2 hours all told, still a 3.5 hour drive.  What had been a clear blue shot through Portland is now blood red.

It takes us two hours to get through Portland. We are delayed a bit by M’s fear of the electric connection coming loose again, so we pull off on Swan Island, home of rail yards, lovely homes, and lot of homeless encampments. Vagrancy and loitering used to be crimes, but certainly there should be a better alternative to jail time than these ugly shambles.

A homeless campsite on Swan Island’s Lindbergh’s Beach. (KATU)

Once we clear the Columbia it’s an easy half-hour to Kid Brother’s house. We get a warm welcome, a bedroom for each of us and a tour of the latest quilts, wall hangings, glitter dot pix, and other crafty things which KB’s wife has put together since our last visit. .the fully de-frosted salmon in our cooler provides the centerpiece for a fine meal, with side dishes from KBW’s well-stocked fridge, and wine from KB’s well-stocked cellar.

KB plans to retire in March of 2023, and he and WBW are planning some long long trips in their long long trailer. There are sights to see north of the border, relatives to visit in Idaho and Montana and Texas and California. When vagrancy comes packaged in a 30-foot trailer, it becomes a lot more glamourous.

Tiny Teardrop Trailer Travel 2 – Day 2

Up by eight in our RV Resort near Castle Crags, hoping to beat the heat on a hike up to a waterfall and scenic viewing platform touted as not to be missed on the Camp brochure.  Turns out the trailhead is up the highway a bit, so we lock and load, out by 10:30.  We locate the trailhead, but the parking lot is already full of earlier birds than us, and there is no easy spot for the trailer, so we forego, and head up I-5 for Oregon

We stop in Ashland and lunch with M’s college roommate and her partner. Allison is a retired lawyer and her partner Madge is a retired CPA.  They live in a craftsman bungalow remodeled tastefully and surrounded by a lush garden of fruit and flowers and art objects, a dream of retirement come true.  The conversation is focused on the artistic life of Ashland, the lively drama scene and how it accommodated to the pandemic, and the advantages of bungalow life vs condo life.

Three of us decide to walk to Hither, a cute-as-can-be brunch/lunch spot about a 10 block walk away – the dog needs exercise and so do we. It is HOT.  The trip there is downhill, and we are in no hurry. I stop often to admire some interesting old house or flowers or pretty art thingy, but by the time we get to Hither’s shady outdoor patio we are ready for iced tea/beer/iced coffee. They are out of avocado toast, but herbed scrambled eggs are delicious.

The walk back is even hotter. And more uphill.  We pick the shadier sides of the street, and don’t stop as often.  M and I are sweltering by the time we get back to the house.  Maybe Ashland is not the perfect retirement paradise after all. We worry about the next few days, with 100 degree temps also predicted for our destination.

Brief goodbye’s and on our way again in our air-conditioned cocoon, which we now appreciate even more.  We stop for gas.  Still hot.  We look for the closest Baskin-Robbins. Tucked around a corner we find it after cruising the hot asphalt parking lot from one end to the other.  Thank goodness for the walking option on GPS!  Mint chocolate chip, very berry strawberry, and triple mango swirl do a lot for our attitudes.

And much cooler weather as we arrive at familiar-from-last-trip Schroeder County Park west of Grant’s Pass does even more.  We set up painlessly, put our camp chairs at the edge of a rise which wafts a cool breeze directly up from the river, and relax. Later we go down to the river and wade again, waving at rafters and kayakers as they pass. Then we bring out wine, hummus, cheese, crackers, and veggies to dip, and by the time we have nearly finished the wine we realize we don’t really need to cook dinner.  Bed and books look good.

Freeway Free in Texas: Another Houston Civic Garden

The time to visit the McGovern Centennial Gardens in Houston is definitely in April, when the magnificent azaleas are in bloom.

The entrance to the garden opens to a walkway lined on either side with bronze busts of notables, framed by (on my visit) luxuriant azaleas. It’s a bit difficult to figure out how the notables were picked. Texas historical figures such as explorer Cabeza de Vaca or Sam Houston are expected, but why the president of Chile? and why Robert Burns?

The centerpiece of the garden is a tumulus with a pathway spiraling upward to give you a view of the whole garden as well as the Houston skyline rising beyond. There is no marker to tell you who might be buried beneath this ceremonial mound, but it is precisely reminiscent of burial mounds in China, along the Mississippi, and in Britain.

The pathway is lined with shrubbery and ivy-covered walls. It seems to be a desirable habitat for lizards: I spotted six skittering away from me on my way up, in different shades of yellow, gold, and red. (California lizards are so dull and dirt-colored.) A fountain at the top of the tumulus sends water down a pebble -lined incline to a pond at the bottom; the pathway skips across the stream several times on narrow bridges. The effect is cooling, which is good, as there is no source of shade other than the ivy walls.

At the top of the tumulus are three benches inscribed somewhat cryptically: “In terms of one year, plant a seed. In terms of ten years, plant a tree. In terms of one hundred years, teach the people.” And, one could add, “In terms of one hour, have a seat!”

The rest of the Centennial Garden is still a work in progress. The beginning of a traditional rose garden is visible, but the bushes on my visit were neither labeled nor blooming. Eventually there will be benches shaded by blooming arbors, but not yet.

There is also a family garden, colorful during my visit with lush kale in many shaded of green, magenta, and yellow, and showcasing flowers, vegetables, and fruits which can be grown successfully in the Houston area.

I was charmed to find a Little Free Library conveniently positioned next to a picnic area in the Family Garden, offering books for children, but with a garden theme.

The Centennial Gardens are located within Hermann Park, also home of the Houston Zoo, a lake with paddle boats, and other family attractions. But the Gardens feel quite removed from the more commercial recreations also available in Hermann Park, and provice a lovely place for a quiet walk alone, or a walk-and-talk with friends.

Freeway Free at Pfeiffer Big Sur

Day One:

We had had a rare rainfall two days earlier, and nothing could have been a fresher, more electric green than the hills of the Santa Clara Valley as we headed down toward Monterey. We went off the freeway at Lamplighter Drive to take advantage of relatively cheap gas near the Army base, and otherwise sailed uneventfully down Highway 1, slowed only by roadwork as crews narrowed the road to one lane periodically as they constructed subterranean aqueducts to prevent washouts and landslides along the perennially unstable coastline.

After setting up, as it was only 3PM, we decided to walk to Pfeiffer Falls, as we had seen the trailhead as we were entering the park.  The trail to Pfeiffer Falls had been closed due to fire damage and landslides the last couple of time I had been there.  It has now been reopened thanks to extensive reconstruction efforts by a team of conservation groups, and the trail is now a cascade of bridges and staircases crafted of thick wood beam designed to resist erosion, vandalism, earthquakes, and storms. (Fires, maybe not so much). It’s a challenging climb, but there are plenty of landings, and the final destination is a lovely fern-draped hollow with a spring-fed cascade shooting down a rock face, and a couple of wide benches suitable for catching your breath and resting your quads after the staircases.

Downhill was faster.  We took a shortcut back to camp, and M brought out a bottle of wine, snap peas and carrots, and minted yogurt and hummus.  We polished off the peas and i put together the pre-cooked meal that my PTA had provided – 20 minutes to assemble and cook in a single skillet (recipe below) .  We finished off the wine with the casserole, while for entertainment we  watched a fellow camper maneuver a HUGE trailer backwards into the campsite across the way. (Trailers seem to come in two sizes, either tiny teardrops like M’s or humongous, with pop outs and canopies and rooftop patios.)

A quick washing up and cleanup of the camp, and we tucked ourselves into the trailer.  Everything is as carefully arranged as in a well-crafted yacht, with no nook or cranny left without a purpose and a content, and the aluminum sides and insulation making it much cozier than a tent. We have a plan for tomorrow involving a hike to a viewpoint, a couple of bag lunches, and maybe a trip down to the beach. But nothing scheduled.

Next: Hiking Boots to Buzzards’ Roost and Beyond

Goodbye Tahoe: Shuttling back to Real Life

If I can’t be Freeway Free, at least I prefer to let someone else drive. So taking the shuttle from South Lake Tahoe to the Reno Airport is a no-brainer. C is up and running by 9, and the nearest pickup point at 10AM is only 10 minutes away, at the Hard Rock Cafe/Casino/Hotel just this side of the California line.

The Hard Rock Cafe at 9:45 is a sleepy place, adorned with campy pix of Elvis, artifacts of Johnny Cash, BB King,Sly Stone, Elton John – lots of sequins and glitter, even for BB – jacquard jacket in purple and black shot with silver.  I guess that’s Vegas overflow.  Lots of donated guitars, maybe the second string?

Slowly other shuttle-goers arrive, some young folk going to whoop it up in Reno, some snow-bunnies returning from a girl’s outing, some young guys.  Bus (Amador Stage Lines) arrives only a few minutes late (10:10 vs 10:07) loads quickly, stops at Harrah’s, where we add an older crowd of evident retirees, mostly in couples, a few more of the same at Harvey’s and no one at Montaigne Bleu to the driver’s puzzlement.  And then off up the east side of the lake.

California definitely commands the most scenic lakefront.  Mountains on the CA side loom high and snow-covered, while the NV side is lower, more tree-covered and nearly glitz free.  When the bus turns away from the lake toward Reno towards Carson Valley, the landscape becomes all sandstone and sagebrush, and at the valley floor the view is still bleak, with winter-drab pine trees the only hint of color beyond dry grass, leafless deciduous trees, and building of stained wood blending neutrally into the surroundings.  A few immobile black Angus cattle add no sense of life.

Dropoff at the Reno Airport is at the furthest remove from my carrier, United, but I don’t mind a bit of leg-stretching. Checking in and checking bags are handled smoothly and smilingly, security is a breeze, and with almost two hours until my flight I wander off in search of a restroom and water station.  Oddly, all signs point toward A and B gates, none toward the newer C gates.  It’s quite a walk down to gate B3 to the restroom, and after emptying what was full and filling what was empty I find an almost-deserted room  with stools and tables for eating, big armchairs for massaging, and rows of seats where one can plug in a laptop, make a phone call on an actual public telephone, or request a page.  I decide to squat until time to leave for the gate at the other end of the terminal.

In the newer C gate wing, of course there are rest rooms right there! but I don’t regret my walk and my quiet refuge in the old wing. Flight is on time, weather fine for flying, and I am rested, refreshed, relaxed, and best of all, returning.

Thoughts about the travel:

If you are planning to go to South Shore (or, for that matter, any town which depends on tourism for its lifeblood) don’t trust the internet to tell you the status of a “recommended “restaurant – Call first!  Half a dozen times we arrived at a restaurant that said online that it was open, only to find it empty and dark.

Where casinos used to promote shows and poker tournaments and all-you-can-eat buffets on their neon/digital LED entrance signs, pride of place is being given to Help Wanted.  You should probably stay away from any restaurant advertising for a Lead Cook.

Freeway Free at Lake Tahoe: Fusion Feeding

Busy at Harumi Sushi bar

After our first night of hamburger casserole cooked at the timeshare, C and I felt we should be more adventurous at dining. Not wanting to drive far, we decided to try the sushi place across the highway. Harumi Sushi – good choice!  The place was packed on a Monday night (not that many restaurants open in a tourist town on a Monday) but we managed two seats together at the end of the sushi bar. Although most of the workers and chefs are not Japanese and the tea was not matcha, the edamame was tender, and the White Dragon roll (salmon, spicy tuna, avocado, and more) was only surpassed by the Gabrielle roll (snapper, fried asparagus, sweet sauce, and more.) C had some sake – I tasted, and we split an order of fried cheesecake – a very peculiar sweet which I’m pretty confident is not traditional Japanese.

Toast Tahoe – lower level

For our third night we had planned to dine in South Lake Tahoe, but the Thai restaurant we had hoped to eat at was CLOSED for remodeling, and its sister restaurant at the other end of town was simply CLOSED, and as we had started our culinary search late, we headed north to Zephyr Cove again, to Toast Tahoe. This large restaurant on two levels is obviously equipped to handle large parties, but tonight the upstairs is closed and down in the bar C and I are almost the only diners. Our server is the owner, her daughter buses dishes, her mother and husband are in the kitchen.

No sushi here, but delicious and unusual menu items.  We shared Calamari breaded in toasted coconut, Cindy had crab cakes and roasted Caesar salad, I had mussels in curried coconut milk and rice. Yum.

Since we had failed at finding Thai food previously, we were delighted to find one listed back in South Shore and made Thai on Ski Run our destination. We discovered that this was only one of a little nexus of attractive restaurants off the US50 track – a Japanese, a Nepalese, and an Italian in addition to the Thai, all brightly lit with Christmas lights still up, and all welcoming.  But C had checked out the Thai restaurant online and had drooled at the pix, so we kept to our original plan.  She had a beef curry, I had a not-very Spicy Thai Eggplant/vegetable mix, and we shared, with enough for another meal boxed up afterward for the condo. The restaurant is not as pretty as the pix of its closed rivals, but the friendly and quick service more than made up for the rather bare-bones decor. And I’d come back to this corner of Ski Run to sample the other three restaurants.

Thai on Ski Run beckons on a cold night

Hidden Treasure at Lake Tahoe: LTCC Nordic Center

C and I had promised each other that vigorous exercise would be part of each day at Tahoe, so what to do while my hiking boots were drying out? (See previous post). C had never been cross country skiing, and I had not done it since my children were small, so we set out with a bit of trepidation to find equipment and trails suitable for brittle-boned ski bunnies.

C is a tiger when it comes to locating options. After a short internet search, she discovers that the Lake Tahoe Community College campus includes a Nordic Center with over five kilometers of “groomed trails.” After some misdirection we were in touch with Meghan, who not only welcomed us with the news that we could have a day pass at the Nordic Center for only $7.50 each, but also referred us to Gary at the nearby Sierra Ski and Cycle Works to rent equipment. We set off just before noon.

Gary lives up to his recommendation, giving us well-fitted boots, skis, poles, and clear and succinct instruction on how to don and doff our skis. We head up the road to the LGCC campus, beautifully draped in snow several feet deep. The Nordic Center office is in the Campus Library, the entrance to the trails is just across the parking lot next to the Gym. We park, purchase our day passes, sling our skis and poles over our shoulders, clamber up the snow bank, and set off.

Good news:; the sky is blue, the snow is white and clean, the trails are clearly marked (no falling into the creek here!) Bad news: there has been no fresh snow, and the trails are quite icy.  The ice makes for easy gliding on the flats, but more speed than we can handle at first even on the gentle slopes, so we each take a couple of falls on the first couple of downhills.  Ice is a lot harder to fall on than snow, and a lot harder to get up from as the skis kept wanting to sail away downhill.  But we gradually get the hang of it, shuffling along easily and enjoying the beautiful mountains and snowy woodlands scenery.

Gary had told us that we could keep the boots, skis, and poles if we wanted to use them for a second day, and we decide to try a different loop at LTCC the next day, going in the afternoon when the ice might be melting and the going (and falling) a bit less crusty. A good long soaking in the time-share hot tub has kept the bruises at bay, and we are confident that a second day will see vast improvement, especially since we have both watched a couple of YouTube videos on beginning cross-country skiing.

Well, a bit. The trail is still icy, and the downhills are still too hard and slick for our attempts at snowplowing to slow us down noticeably. It isn’t that I fall less often, but I fall smarter and get up faster. And today we have role models to inspire us: the LTCC Nordic Ski Team is practicing for a meet. The young skiers, helmet-less, long-hair flying, bright-colored tights and sweaters glowing against the snow, must have lapped us at least eight times, swooping and darting past like a bevy of dragonflies. We do our best to stay out of their way, but no worries – they use us as if we were obstacles in a slalom course, and toss us words of encouragement as they see us tumble. Who needs the Olympics?

Waiting for you!

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