Sunday, September 30, 2012

Checking out the birthplace of sport climbing: Smith Rock State Park

Sept. 27-30, Bend, Oregon

We made a decision a couple weeks ago to extend our time here in Central Oregon. The early fall weather has been fantastic and there is much to do here to stay active. We also discovered this beautiful campground, the Crown Villa RV Resort, drops its monthly rate by more than half as of Oct. 1. When we are staying somewhere for weeks instead of days, we have a much more leisurely attitude about how we spend our time. Some days we are content just to fill our days with reading, walking the dogs, visiting with park neighbors, and enjoying the little patio under our awning. We have also enjoyed taking day trips to get to know this area better as we are thinking of making Bend our more permanent home someday. Even though we both lived in Oregon for decades, neither of us had spent much time in Central Oregon before and certainly not for more than a few days or a long weekend. 

One of the popular places we had never been to in this area is Smith Rock State Park.  Located in the high desert environment of Ponderosa Pines, Juniper and Sage, Smith Rock is best known as an internationally acclaimed rock climbing destination. Far from being rock climbers ourselves, I really wasn't sure what it had to offer curious travelers. The park is about ten miles from Redmond, Oregon—making it about a 45-minute drive from Bend. It seems to be mostly used as a day park—with a fee of $5.00 per car, but there are some first come-first serve tent sites for what they call “walk-in bivouac camping.”  We discovered it is popular for mountain biking and hiking as well as a school fieldtrip destination—now that brings back memories!

The Smith Rock Park reminded me of the basalt rock formations at Zion National Park, on a much smaller scale, with sheer-faced cliffs, craggy formations, and sparse vegetation. It may also seem familiar to those who have never been here as it has been used as a movie set for several westerns including Rooster Cogburn, a fairly well-known John Wayne movie, as well as a set for the film version of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,  and the more recent films, The Postman and Swordfish.

One of the more beautiful aspects of the park is the presence of the Crooked River which winds around the base of the rock formations. The formations were created from basaltic lava from the Newberry volcano which flowed down the canyon of the Crooked River over a million years ago. These flows created the sheer-faced cliffs which are characteristic of Smith Rock State Park.

The park has well-defined trails that follow the path of the river and other trail options that traverse over the canyon walls giving multiple access points to the rock climber aficionados. The park advertises several thousand climbs to choose from with over a thousand bolted routes (anchored spots for climbers to attach their belaying ropes).

We took the dogs with us on the trail and opted to explore the lower river route. The name of the upper trail—Misery Ridge--sounded too daunting and looked like it would have no shade at all as it led in the direction of a fairly steep barren slope. With temperatures nearing 80 degrees, we also thought it would be good for the dogs to have access to the river for cooling off on our hike.


When we first arrived to the park, we were a little surprised that we did not see any rock climbers, but once we started down the river trail we rounded corners which revealed a variety of places that appealed to both novice and expert climbers.

This smaller cliff is a popular spot for novices to practice climbing techniques.
You can see the permanent anchor for the ropes attached to the wall above the climber's head.

The guy in red is belaying the climber above.

Rock climbing is not something either of us has ever been interested in doing, but it was captivating to watch the technical aspects of this sport in person. The hike itself was pleasant and the dogs had at least three opportunities to cool off in the river. There are a few places along the trail where hikers could take a little swim too, but the water was definitely on the cool side.  When we went down to the water, I was pleased to see a Great Blue Heron also enjoying the riverbank.

We were a little disappointed to learn that the 2 and 1/2 mile river trail only went in one direction, so after about an hour walk, we decided to turn around and head back on the same trail. There was another option to take a trail over one of the steep rock formations and meet up with the Misery Ridge Trail but the elevation and heat convinced us to retrace our steps. Jetta and I were pretty darn pooped by the time we made it back to the car, but the boys,Vic and Rico, still had plenty of energy heading up the last leg of the trail back to the car.

The road out of the park takes you through the small town of Terrebonne, just a few miles away. This small town is home to the Terrebonne Depot, a  charming looking bar and grill housed in a 100-year old train station. I mention this to remind myself that next time we will plan to stop and check out their fare as it looked like a good place to unwind after a day in the park. We were not sure about the place being dog friendly so we made the trek back to our park where we spent a relaxing evening visiting with our neighbors Jerry and Unni (from Norway).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Our first kayaking adventures in Bend

Sept. 19-26, Bend, Oregon

We finally got our kayaks in the water this past week!  A big factor in getting out has been the reduction in smoke in this area due to 75% containment of the Pole Creek Fire. The air quality improved to a moderate rating (one level below good) and you are now able to see the foothills in the distance—something you could barely see a week ago. 

Our first kayaking adventure was the most local—putting in the Deschutes River at Riverbend Park, a park with a public river access in the Southwest part of town.

Vic and I unloaded the kayaks (something we are mastering with the help of a step stool for me) and used our one set of plug-in wheels to roll each one down to the river. My friend Pam came and met us there, so she and I took the kayaks down river through the Mill District area to the Colorado Street dam which marks the end of where you can safely kayak due to the spillway there. We opted to paddle on this leg of the trip since we had the current going with us downriver, but on the way back we were thrilled to have the pedaling option to help navigate upriver and against the wind. It was perfect weather, about 80, but the water was definitely on the chilly side. I was amazed at the number of fellow adventurists on the water on a late afternoon weekday; most were paddle boarders, followed by kayakers, and canoeists. There were also quite a few people just floating downriver on large inner tubes. They would reach the end and then just walk back on the river trail a mile or so and do it all over again. I even saw a few people sculling—definitely all good ways to enjoy the great outdoors in this active lifestyle town.

After Pam and I finished our hour-long trip, we met Vic back at the park and he and I went upriver alongside the Deschutes River Trail.  We discovered we could only go about twenty minutes further before hitting more turbulent water, but it was fun to experience the trail from the water perspective. I thought we would see more wildlife, but mostly it was just a lot of geese and ducks who were joining us on the river. I also learned that what I thought were ducks, were actually Coots--members of the Rail family of marsh birds (not ducks).

We have heard that floating on the Deschutes River outside of town near Sunriver at dusk is the best place to see more wildlife such as river otters, beavers, deer, and elk. Definitely another plan for our to-do list before we leave here in a few weeks.

Two days after kayaking in town, we made it out to Sparks Lake, one of the Cascade Lakes that is well-known for fly-fishing (cutthroat and brook trout), kayaking, and canoeing. The lake is located 25 miles west of Bend about a mile off the Cascade Lakes Highway, along the popular scenic drive of Hwy 46.

Byway Standard Map B

This alpine lake is surrounded by peaks of the South Sister, Broken Top, and Mt. Bachelor mountains, creating a stunning vista for the many hikers, photographers, and water enthusiasts who frequent the area. The lake was formed from the lava flows of the eruption of Mt. Bachelor 10,000 years ago. One of the mysteries of the lake is where the water goes because there is no visible outlet. These signs helped us understand and appreciate the lake’s geological history:


The road leading to the boat landing ended up being 1.6 miles of a very rough gravel  with some pretty big holes to navigate around. The condition of this road explains why access to the lakes ends fairly soon as the entry roads are too rough to stay open year-round. Once we arrived around 11 a.m. on a weekday morning, we found about four or five other groups in the midst of putting in or taking out canoes and kayaks at the boat landing.  After a short wait of about ten minutes, it was pretty easy to back up the Jeep to the landing, unload the boats and walk them a short distance to the water.

One unfortunate discovery for us was the depth of the water. As I later read on their website: “Low water levels at Sparks Lake late in the season can cause difficulties for boaters.”  The biggest difficulty for us was the use of our Mirage Drive Turbo Fins which draw 14 inches of water.  Several places on the lake were less than a foot deep.


We also did not know to head south on the lake where the water is deepest. The first half hour or so of our adventure was in the shallower water to the west which required us to flatten the mirage drive by hooking it with a bungee cord, pull up the rudder, and use our paddles both to move through the water and sometimes to launch ourselves off the bottom—even out in the middle of the lake! Once we discovered where the deeper water was, we were able to pedal again which was good as the wind picked up and would require paddling into a headwind if the water was still shallow. Other than the shallow water challenge, we marveled at the picturesque scenery, the crystal clear water and peaceful atmosphere on the lake. Again, I had hoped to see more wildlife, but the middle of the day is not the best time to see anything other than birds (again mostly ducks and geese).  I packed a picnic lunch which we enjoyed out in the middle of the lake while just drifting around hooked up to each other’s kayak. The weather was a little cooler here than in the town—mid 70s maybe—but warm enough for just a t-shirt and shorts. (Vic’s kind of weather!)


With ten other lakes to explore in the Cascade region, we should have plenty of opportunities to get back to this area before we leave. I am also interested in fishing here, but need to get a fly rod which isn’t in the cards right now. Many of the lakes and rivers here are restricted to fly-fishing catch and release only with barbless hooks. I have to admit I am more motivated to spend the money on a license and gear when I can catch something we can eat, so for now I am happy to enjoy gliding along these tranquil and scenic waters.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Experiencing the transition to autumn in Central Oregon

Sept. 9-18, Bend, Oregon

smokey sunset

With Labor Day weekend behind us, the cycle of another year seems to begin as both Vic and I spent so many Septembers caught up in the hustle and bustle of back to school demands and activities. Last year marked my first year of not having to go back to school in the fall but it had a different feeling as we had just held a celebration of my mother’s life in Northern Michigan and we had just begun our first month of traveling full-time in the motorhome.  This year spending autumn in Oregon makes the absence from the school routine more pronounced as I have not had free time in the fall here since the first year I moved to Corvallis in 1983 with a four-month old and four-year-old. I love the changing of the seasons and while the daytime temps are still in the 80s here, the nighttime lows have dipped into the high 30s and some fall foliage is starting to appear.

One unfortunate part about this time of year in the West is the increased prevalence of forest fires and this year is no exception.  About a week ago, a huge plume of smoke appeared to the west of us marking the start of what is called the Pole Creek Fire, a wildfire that has now burned over 17000 acres with over 1200 crew members working to contain it. The fire is still not under control and the air quality in the whole region has been at alert stages. One evening a few nights ago there was even ash floating in the air in downtown Bend and we discovered a thin coating of ash on our outdoor furniture the next morning. Thankfully, the fire has not destroyed any homes or injured anyone, but some hikers in the area had harrowing stories to tell about finding trails that led away from the fire.

Even with the air a little hazy, it has not deterred us from exploring the trail system around Bend and spending time outdoors watching the sunset or just hanging out on our patio here at the park. Aside from these activities, we have also been busy spending time with friends in the area.  We had a lovely evening with two couples from Vic's “past” eating pizza and salad at their home, and catching up on the joys and challenges of their lives here in Bend. My friend Pam and her husband Scott also returned from a Chicago trip, so we have had a few opportunities to get together with them and their two grown kids who also live here.

dinner at crux
The Bend Trolley making a stop on the Brew and Bite tour

This past weekend we also had visits from two of my former colleagues who are still teaching at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis. Visiting with them really enchanced my feeling of freedom regarding school as I listened to the latest news of the opening days of the 2012-2013 school year. We have also been in touch with a couple that we haven't seen since they left Corvallis eight years ago, Gina and Bob, who moved to Bend a few years ago. Gina was able to join us for a glass of wine and dinner last night here at our Crown Villa abode where we spent a few hours reminiscing on past adventures and new developments in our lives. She and her husband Bob are avid kayakers and mountain bikers so we are looking forward to having them show us some favorite spots in the week ahead.

pam h on riverwalk

On the subject of kayaking, we have yet to hit the water!  We had been waiting for a pulled muscle in Vic’s back to heal and then he came down with an old-fashioned head cold. The smoke in the air has also deterred us a little as we have heard the Cascades lakes area is heavily laden with smoke. This morning we managed to get in a five mile river walk before the smoke settled in too heavily, so we may do best to get in a morning kayak one day this week. We are sure looking forward to exploring this area’s rivers and lakes. The Deschutes has several places that are calm enough to do short runs and with our Mirage Drives (pedal-powered flippers) we won’t have any trouble traveling back upstream (which, interestingly, is north).
In the meantime, we have have discovered we love staying somewhere for a month or more as the push to see and do everything in the area is eased by days with no agendas—often just hanging out on our patio reading or taking short walks in the park and meeting fellow “campers.”

vic sleeping outside

I have also discovered the simple pleasure of having coffee at the clubhouse and sitting in the jacuzzi in the morning before showering for the day. This park has a very peaceful atmosphere and plenty of shade for respite from the warmer part of the day in late afternoon. One noisy part is the whistle and rumble of a few daily trains in the distance, but one of my first memories as a child was hearing the train near our home in Lake Villa, Illinois, so that sound has long been more of a comfort to me than a nuisance.

Today I decided to splurge and have Jana’s Mobile Pet Spa come to our site and groom Jetta, our curly-haired Portuguese Water Dog.  Her son Rico has wavy hair and I find him much easier to groom myself—except he doesn’t like me to clip his nails, so we may add that to her list of requests when she gets here.

Typically, I will bath the dogs outside using a hose attached to the water source in the park, but this water is darn cold. We took the dogs to a do-it-yourself-pet bath place a few weeks ago as the dusty trail walking here takes its toll in terms of dirt.  It is surprising how much dustier it is here than in the valley due to the desert rock (pumice dirt) and low humidity (currently 11% today!).  We also find we need to use more lotions and lip balm to compensate for the drier weather. The dogs seem to be doing fine with the dry climate—maybe just drinking more water as we should be doing too.

At the risk of being too random, another topic related to our stay here has been our fairly recent commitment to eat mostly vegan or at least vegetarian meals. Thanks to inspiration from fellow bloggers Karen (RV Travels with Karen and Al) and Sherry (In the Direction of our Dreams) we have been experimenting with changing our diet. The big influence was watching the documentary Forks over Knives and learning about The China Study. Since watching the video, I have purchased a couple of vegan cookbooks, The Conscious Cook and Vegan Cooking for Carnivores, plus I borrowed a third that I really like called The Urban Vegan. I also joined Pinterest just so I could easily pin vegan recipes online that look interesting. The first part of this adventure involved adding vegan items to my pantry and fridge such as Veganese, Grapeseed Oil, cashews (for making cashew cream), Earth Balance butter, buckwheat and soy flour, various dried beans and nuts, egg replacer, and Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base. I also decided to try some vegan sausages (Field Roast brand) and cheeses (made from almonds) which really weren’t too bad. The one concession we are not making is giving up seafood, so we have had shrimp pasta, fish tacos, fresh albacore and halibut to keep things interesting. We have not ruled out eating meat and dairy products but only on occasion rather than the rule. I have enjoyed the challenge of trying new recipes as I love to cook and Bend has terrific markets for finding a wide range of organic fruits and vegies plus other goodies. In addition to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, there are two local markets that have become my favorites: Newport Market and Devore’s Good Food Store. Check out the vegie display and stuffed bear that greets you at Newport Market—what a beautiful shopping experience!

newport market vegies
newport market bear

To sum things up, we are spending our days with a good balance of being active, eating healthy, enjoying time with friends new and old, and staying grateful for the many blessings we have in our lives. Our plan is to stay here until mid-October (the rates drop by more than half Oct. 1) and then begin our travels eastward with enough time to visit the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains before making a November trek to Tampa and then the Keys by Thanksgiving. It is hard to believe the holidays will be upon us by then, but for now we are enjoying glorious fall days in Central Oregon.

vic and rico on riverwalk

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Checking out the vibe in Bend, Oregon

Aug. 26- Sept. 8, Bend, Oregon

We are now into our second year of full-timing in our motorhome and our second week of a month-long stay exploring Bend. After spending two months in the Willamette Valley and the Oregon Coast, we were ready for a change of scenery but not ready to leave the perfect summer weather of the Northwest.  Another reason for coming to Bend is a chance for us to stay long enough to get a feeling for life here as it is a place we are strongly considering for a summer home. I have a romantic notion of a cabin on the Metolius, but realistically we are more interested in a cottage style home walking distance to town.

The park we chose to stay at here in Bend is Crown Villa RV Resort. What a place this has turned out to be!  Having only seen it on-line, we took the risk of making a reservation and hoping for the best.  Before we came here, we did hear from some travel friends that they loved this park and we concur. The sites are some of the best laid out ones we have been to (minus Willow Tree in S.C), made of brick pavers with about 20 feet in between sites and a green expanse of lawn of about 50 feet behind each street.

 crown villa green space

The designers of this park left a perfect balance of limbed-up Ponderosa Pines which grace the park without blocking out too much light. Other amenities include a tennis court, spa, exercise room, fenced dog park, and a pitch and putt area. Sadly, there are no individual firepits (mostly due to the high risk of fire in this area), but they have two gas firepits and an outdoor cooking area open for anyone in the campground to use. I also must say that this is the most service-oriented park we have ever been too, with daily garbage and recycling pick-up, a local newspaper delivered daily, and a staff eager to help with any questions. We also like the location of the park as it is only about three miles from downtown, but is set in a rural area away from any busy roads. The cost of $1099 a month is high for us, but we decided to splurge a little to experience this beautiful park.

jetta in crown villa dog park

We also have friends who live here in Bend so we get to be social both inside and outside the park—something that makes me happy as I have been spoiled to be around friends and family most of the summer.  Vic has friends here that go back to his days as Ass’t. Principal at Sweet Home High School in the 80s and one of my closest friends from high school days in Crystal Lake, Illinois, just moved here about a year and a half ago. We also discovered some folks we used to know in Corvallis are living here now, so the popularity of Bend seems to be resurging. This area was one of the fastest-growing destinations in the country due to its plethora of outdoor activities which include skiing, hiking, fishing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and golf. As a result, real estate here went crazy until the economy collapsed in 2008. The bubble burst and properties fell to almost half of their peak prices. Since it is now a good time to buy again, especially with interest rates so low, it seems like the prices are starting to rise again, Time will tell! The town itself, about 80,000, also has great restaurants, several brew pubs, music venues, and a wide variety of shopping opportunities. They even have the first Cycle Pub (drink beer while you pedal) I have ever seen.

A fun time for us the first week was having our friends Ann and Don come to stay with us for the Labor Day weekend. This is the first time we have had a couple share this small space with us but it seemed to work out great—except for the slow leak in our queen sofa bed air mattress. They even brought their dog Charlie, a 20 lb. Cockapoo, who made himself right at home with our two pooches. I hope they don’t mind I am including this shot of the cozy crew in the morning.

Over the Labor Day weekend we took a drive out to the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, to visit some of alpine lakes about thirty miles south of Bend.

Boy were we surprised how popular the lakes were on a holiday weekend. The parking areas at three different lakes, Sparks, Elk, and Hoesmer were all filled up with boaters, hikers, and fishermen. After checking out a few of the lakes, we ended up heading back into town for a hike along the Deschutes near the Old Mill District.  It was fun to see the river in full use in the downtown area.

deschutes river fun

After our river walk, we headed back to the RV resort for a potluck barbeque. The park offered hamburgers and hot dogs and provided live music and about fifty “campers” brought various side dishes and desserts to add to the picnic atmosphere. We thought we might stay an hour or so and come back and play cards, but ended up being the last to leave the place at about 11:00 p.m. We joined two other couples at one table and enjoyed several bottles of wine together, finishing off the evening around one of the park’s gas fire pits. We even had a little Crater Lake hazelnut espresso vodka from a local distillery to share around the fire which added to the enthusiasm for storytelling.

The last day of Ann and Don's visit, we joined another couple from Corvallis who live here now, Gene and Candy, for breakfast at one of the more popular breakfast spots in town called Chow. They had a guitar player entertaining you while you waited for a table or enjoyed eating outside. Gene and Candy shared their passion for living in Bend and inspired us to make full use of our kayaks while here. They also have paddleboards—something I have not been interested in trying, but it did look fun on the river (vs. the ones I have seen on the ocean or Gulf). Kayaking on the alpine lakes is high on the list. Vic hurt his back a little last week, so we have been waiting for it to be stronger. We also want to put the kayaks in some of the quieter areas on the Deschutes. It looks like it would be pretty easy to pedal upstream in several places, especially those near the Old Mill and out by Sunriver. We shall investigate.

We were sad to say goodbye to Ann and Don as we probably won’t see them until next summer. I am just saying “see you later” and staying open to other opportunities for getting together that might come our way. 

One place I really wanted to go to during our stay here was the Metolius River at Camp Sherman. I fell in love with this place long ago when my boys were young and we stayed at Black Butte Ranch, another resort near Camp Sherman. Fast forward several years. We took a little day trip there with the dogs and it sure hasn’t lost its beauty. This place holds the ultimate romantic vision I have of retirement in a cabin overlooking a babbling river. I always feel spiritual when I come to this place and it did not disappointment.

Don’t know where the days have gone, This is the longest stretch I have gone without writing a blog entry. It’s been more fun to spend the days outside with such perfect weather (low 80s as a high, 40s as a low), than inside on a computer.  I am also marking the passing of my second year of retirement as a new school year starts up again—it still feels surreal not to be a part of the fall ritual of going back to school. I think I have been reveling in having no pressing responsibilities this time of year.  It sure wasn’t that way for at least three decades or even longer when I include my own schooling.

Yesterday we had a big surprise from our friends Bruce and Sharon who decided to come to Bend on their way from Seattle to LA to also check out the real estate market. They are staying at a resort about thirty minutes from here called Eagle Crest—another place I had wanted to visit on this trip. We had dinner on the balcony of their condo overlooking a canyon on the Deschutes. Here is an example of thinking you were saying goodbye for the year and then we ended up with another opportunity to reconnect. Amazing friendships!

Today was the first Oregon State Beavers home football game against Wisconsin.  Last year this time we went to the OSU vs. Wisconsin game in Madison. The Badgers shut us out; it was brutal. But, I am happy to report that the Beavers defeated them 10:7 today.  Way to go Beavs! It’s even a little bit amazing that football season is already here.  The days are supposed to get cooler this week with high in the 60s and lows in the 30s!  I am fine with the cooler days but I think Vic is going to get antsy to fire up this coach and start heading south. I promise I won’t wait so long to do another update on our stay here; hopefully, it will include kayaking in the alpine lakes!  Ciao.