Columbia Gorge Hikes: Eagle Creek

12 06 2017

 

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A typical trail side view.

 

 

No visit to the classic Columbia Gorge would be complete without a hike up the Eagle Creek Trail. Only 30 minutes from downtown Portland, Oregon, Eagle Creek offers complete refreshment for urbanites in need of a re-set, and amazement for tourists in search of views, waterfalls, ospreys, bald eagles, salmon and more.

Starting at its confluence with the Columbia River, Eagle Creek Trail gently ascends, reaching more than 800 ft in elevation, connecting with other Mt. Hood National Forest trails. The trail could be characterized as canyon-climbing and forested, with waterfall views dotting the way. It contains the classic Punchbowl Falls, often seen in kayak photos.

 

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Punchbowl Falls

 

Eagle Creek Punchbowl Falls

On virtually any day in any season, a Columbia Gorge hike can be great. But it gets more complicated than just heading into the Gorge. Some hikes like Coyote Wall (in previous blog) are good for early spring. On warmer days these trails – with little shade – can become like solar collectors. Hikers roast. So when it heats up,  Eagle Creek Trail is a good choice.

 

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On the steep canyon face, Laura enjoys the fresh water cascading from above! There is a cable to grasp for safety.

 

It offers a forested canyon with a north-south orientation. So, while it might be a bit cool on rainy spring days, it is sublime on hotter summery days.

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Wildflowers take advantage of our wet spring.

 

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One of the side creeks the trail crosses.

 

 

OK – I’ll let this blog be brief. Eagle Creek is a must for a visit to the Columbia River Gorge! Don’t miss it. You’ll be greatly rewarded.

 





Columbia River Gorge: Hiking the Coyote Wall / Labyrinth Area, WA

1 06 2017

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Like the Lower Deschutes River area, the Washington side of the eastern Columbia River Gorge offers beautiful spring hikes with lots of SUN, whereas it might be cloudy in the Portland, OR area. This spring, I discovered the Coyote Wall / Labyrinth trail system.

To reach this beautiful area, take I-84 east from Portland, and cross the Hood River Bridge to the Washington side. Head east on Hwy 14 past Bingen. In about 3-4 miles you’ll encounter a lake on the left. That’s Locke Lake. To reach Labyrinth you’ll have to walk along the north lake shore road maybe a mile to get to its trailhead.

The Washington side of the Eastern Gorge is ideal in early spring because like a solar collector, it faces south, it is sparsely treed,  so it gets lots and lots of sun. This trail system climbs some 1,775 to max out at 1,895 ft elevation. It is shared by mountain bikers and hikers – and their canine friends.

If you like waterfalls, sparse trees, immense views, and wildflowers – and who doesn’t? This system is for you. But if you cannot handle some climbing be warned. It may be that the beauty will just carry you through.

I had recently been to the next-door Catherine Creek trail system. Catherine Creek is so open as to be boring in comparison. Catherine Creek has vast open fields which seem to go on forever. Alternatively Labyrinth has countless micro “worlds” filled with little canyons, trees, flowers, waterfalls and views popping out. Each one different.

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It’s possible to lose one’s way up there, so I suggest consulting an online guide with detailed instructions before heading out.

Laura and I encountered countless wildflowers along the trail.

 

One after the other, these little canyons keep coming, and then, the trail leads to an eye popping view of the entire eastern Columbia River Gorge. The trail eventually leads to the Coyote Wall, which is an escarpment some 70 feet above a valley and goes along a mile or so.

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Now, that’s a time to pause, relax, and take stock of life for a bit! On this day, we were really fortunate to be treated to calm winds. And, the hills were literally “flowing,” draining the burden of the spring rains!

In mid-summer, like many places in the eastern Gorge, this place bakes. So at that time of year, I’d probably pick another hike. But perfect in spring!

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That’s 11,240 ft Mt Hood!





Hiking the Lower Deschutes Canyon, Oregon in Spring

30 05 2017

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The winter of 2016-17 brought record rainfall to many parts of the Pacific Northwest, including Portland and Seattle, which saw all-time records for the October – April periods. It was great for skiers. Great for replenishing reservoirs. But it. Just. Kept. On. Raining. Sometimes, the only way to escape Portland’s gloom is to head east, past the Cascades. There, the clouds part and it’s likely a sunny hike can be had!

There are many good springtime hikes in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Wildflowers start coming out in March and peak sometime in late April. One nice choice are the trails along the Lower Deschutes River Canyon. There are three main trails leading from the mouth of the river. One is an old railroad bed converted to a bike trail. Another follows the riverside, snaking along. And a third is in between these two. It is possible to go many many miles upstream following the old railroad bed.

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To get there, take I-84 east from Portland, past The Dalles, to Deschutes River State Park. Park at the area in the southern part of the park.

Laura and I decided to do this hike as it’s a rolling terrain hike and doesn’t involve lots of elevation gain. A loop is possible by taking the river trail about 3 miles to where it climbs and connects with the railroad bed trail.

We had wonderful weather. It was warm in the sun. A train on the opposite side slowly made its way, stopping for a time.

The river was flowing swiftly, emptying Central Oregon of all the excess water from the spring rains.

We saw the occasional balsam root flowers starting to emerge, plus some others I couldn’t identify.

Total hike mileage was 6.5 miles, a good conditioning hike.

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Laura photographs some emerging flowers

The Deschutes River cuts through some of Oregon’s interesting Geologic features. So the trail offers some natural interest. Along the way one can view layers of basalt and ash laid down over millenia. In some spots natural lava bridges formed.

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Weather plus the river have carved some interesting shapes into the rocks here. For wildlife, we saw mostly ospreys and buzzards. Supposedly there are deer and rattlesnakes in the area as well. It’s popular with anglers for the trout and salmon. And backpacking is possible along this trail, too.

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For me, spring and fall are the best times to hike this canyon. Obviously it offers sun when Portland is cloudy. But in the midst of summer, this canyon has three things I don’t like: Intense heat, little shade and often punishing wind. In the summer, it just bakes here. And that heat, which makes air rise, means something has to displace it. And that is air from the Columbia River and the Pacific. In the summer, by afternoon, it can be like a convection vortex here. I have even seen a kite torn from its string! Rafters cannot make progress against this force – often being forced to spend the night and start off in the morning.

So for me, it’s all about the seasons, and this hike is just GREAT in spring!





Snorkeling in Nha Trang, Vietnam

17 01 2017

Our destination after Saigon was the coastal town of Nha Trang. After the noise, congestion and pollution of chaotic Saigon everyone was looking forward to some quiet time by the sea. Well, we were completely unprepared for what a mega town it is. Nha Trang is far from a sleepy beach town! It’s got 35-story hotels and boasts a population of over 400,000! So much for the Margaritaville experience. More like Atlantic City New Jersey or something! Nevertheless, I was able to get some decent snorkeling in.

The week prior to our arrival it had rained hard. So hard that runoff turned the sea brown that week. I was concerned the water would be too cloudy for good snorkeling. More than water clarity, I’d heard that many reefs in Asia were damaged due to dynamite fishing. In some places, people are so poor they don’t use nets or lines. Instead they blow up everything and haul in whatever floats to the surface. By doing that, they destroy entire ecosystems. Years before I’d snorkeled in Bali and it was tragic. The coral was dead. Only a few fish to see. I feared the worst.

 

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Well, well! Took a chance and was rewarded!

 

Nonetheless, six of us booked a boat to go out beyond the bay to Moon Island. We all said to ourselves, “Even if the water’s cloudy, heck at least it’s a boat ride, right?” Well, much to our delight, the water was clear. And the reef? Healthy!

The boat, which was also equipped with scuba gear, took us to a secluded spot maybe 50 feet from shore. I donned the mask, snorkel, and did my customary snorkel/scuba back flip into the water. The water was beautiful. Warm. Pretty clear! And the corals were so close to the surface, one only needed to drift along to view.

I’d been to Belize in 2014 and learned how to free dive. That skill came in handy in Vietnam. You simply take a breath, turn completely vertical, and allow your weight to sink you down. Sometimes having a rock or two in hand takes you down faster. This way, when you arrive down some 15-20ft, you have not expended energy to get there. My tour-mates were all amazed to see me down that far. Once down, you have a maybe half a minute to swim amongst the wonder. I found I got so intrigued that, when I needed air, I was suddenly freaked that I had 20 ft to rise!

It was a good day. We were all delighted we’d taken the risk because it paid off. Not only had we taken in some good snorkeling. But we’d escaped the busy hum drum of the Nha Trang waterfront!





Biking in the Rain in Hoi An, Vietnam

9 01 2017

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On our bucket list for our visit to Hoi An was a morning bike ride. Hoi An is pretty flat, and the traffic moves at a pedestrian pace, so the slower, easy-going bike is a good way to enjoy the city and surroundings. But in November, Hoi An is known for biblical downpours, and we were not disappointed!

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Cindy gets all custom fitted

The route would include gliding past wetland agricultural areas, villages, a food market, and then back along the Hoi An waterfront.

We’d been advised to carry water for rehydration, and to bring along at least a rain jacket.

Although we left by 9 a.m., it was already very humid.

It doesn’t take long in Vietnam to get sweaty. We got our bikes, moved the seats into correct height, pumped up the tires, and we were on our way.

We began pedaling along streets in town and soon headed out to some submerged farmland, where we rode along paved berms in between fields. I was unsure to call them fields or paddies. They seemed to be growing rice here, but also there were other crops, too.

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We encountered a farmer riding his water buffalo. The water buffalo was very much focused on his breakfast of grass.

And then, without warning, the fire hose turned on! When it rains in Hoi An, all you get is one or two drops notice before the bucket is thrown at you! It rains so hard that no technical outdoor gear can stand up to the humidity, your perspiration and the volume of water coming from the sky. You are going to get soaked, and anything in your pockets, too.

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Kristi and Cindy at the market

Instantly every local is donning ponchos. Rain doesn’t slow them down one bit. We paused for a visit at a local fresh food market and holy cow rain was cascading down on everything. I had a waterproof camera, but the lens got droplets on it!

Regardless of the monsoon, business must go on! They were selling everything. Produce, fish, chicken, pork. I saw a wahoo, lots of crab and some oysters, too.

Once the rain let up we got back on the bikes and headed back to town. But my bike broke down. The right pedal crank arm just slowly weakened and fell off! Metal fatigue. So I limped back using the left pedal only, until a replacement bike could be found. Back at the hotel, soaked, I just jumped in the pool. It was quite refreshing! And while there, another sudden downpour fire hosed me from above. But, since I was in the pool, it seemed refreshing.

If you are visiting Hoi An Vietnam, definitely try a bike ride. It’s a nice way to go!

 

 





Overnight in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

6 01 2017

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No visit to Vietnam would be complete without a visit to the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay. For many, their only familiarity with it comes from the silver screen. Ha Long Bay has been depicted in “Pan,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “Indochine,” “The Quiet American,” and the soon to be released “Kong: Skull Island.”

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The many “junks” carrying visitors.

A World Heritage Site since 1994, Ha Long Bay is some 2,000 limestone islets, most rising vertically from the sea topped with rain forest. They are eroded through countless eons into fantastical shapes. This archipelago forms the most popular tourism attraction in northern Vietnam.  The islets have been taking shape for 500 million years.These islands are literally like giant rocks rising from the sea. Some of them have big caves and grottos.

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While most are uninhabited, there are a few with beaches and residents. It is beautiful. And ethereal. I felt like I was on another planet altogether. There are activities, rock climbing, snorkel and scuba, cave viewing, hiking, kayaking and beach combing.

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The best way to view the islets is by kayak!

Although there are day trips one can book, Ha Long Bay is best visited as a complete overnight. This allows for some activities but also to see the light bathing the islets at different angles. There are all sorts of overnight “junks” one can take. Most have very good dining.

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As  you can see, everyone is BUSY chowing down! Fried whole fish, steamed shrimp, and stuffed crab were on the menu.

Some are only 10 guest rooms, others are 4-decked monsters with pop-out stern docks from which inflatable skiffs and kayaks can be launched.

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My room was plenty big.

Thankfully, the beauty was never spoiled by the noise and smell of wave runners or jet skis. And in the evening none of the party boats had loud karaoke playing. And the stars came out.

 

We were really looking forward to some time on the water. Not long after our boat launched, we took advantage of the roof top lounging area!

It is true Ha Long Bay is popular with tourists. Don’t expect to have it all to your boat. Your boat will share with dozens of others. But it’s still worth a trip. For a more intimate experience with the limestone islets, book a two-day trip to Bai Tu Long Bay. You’ll spend more, but the extra Dong will buy you more solitude.





Hoi An, Vietnam: City of Lanterns

28 12 2016

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Our Vietnam trip began with big cities, and we were in need of relief. Saigon, with over 10 million population, biblical traffic congestion and pollution was becoming exhausting. It made us yearn for something more intimate. But up the coast, what we imagined to be a peaceful seaside town, Nha Trang, turned out to be more like Atlantic City New Jersey, its beach lined with 40-story hotels and booming boardwalk. Hoi An would be the antidote we needed.

Hoi An was once one of SE Asia’s most visited ports. Its docks hosted ships from as far away as India and Europe. The architecture has roots in Japan. If its river had not shallowed due to silting after a major flooding event in the 1800s, Hoi An would no doubt still be an industrial magnet. Once the river became too shallow for big ships, other ports took up the trade and Hoi An’s economy collapsed. But its historical significance and beauty caused both sides in the Vietnam War to agree to declare the city off limits to fighting. As such, it retained its character until the 1990s, when Vietnam opened up again. It’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourism  opportunities were realized, and Hoi An Town was declared a walking-only district. Today, one can stroll the streets free from choking, honking motorbikes and cars. Of course, that means the tourists come in throngs. Nevertheless, especially in the morning, Hoi An can be quite relaxing and charming.

We lodged at the Hoi An Lantern Hotel, conveniently situated walking distance from the vehicle-free zone.

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Its rooms surround a nice pool. And I availed myself of its cool waters twice. One day, we had monsoon-like downpours which came without notice, completely drenching us on a bike ride. I returned soaked, and simply jumped in the pool!

In Hoi An, there are a number of top activities. Walking has to be numero uno. Just strolling around taking it slow is a good way to spend time.

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Along a canal

Renting a bike is another, and I’ll cover that is the next blog post. It’s easily pedaled. Sampling the cuisine, and taking cooking classes are not to be missed. Seafood, especially crab and dumplings are specialties. Some opt for a sampan ride. And of course the tailors. Supposedly Hoi An has 600+ tailors. So, if tailored clothing is your thing, you’ll love Hoi An. I don’t have much need for tailored clothing, and shopping is not my cup of tea. And frankly, the goods to buy in Hoi An are repeated over and over again all over the city. So walking early in the day, and just people watching were enough – plus some nice food!

I walked and walked, hunting for a crab lunch and boy did I find it! Two crabs with lots of to die for veggies. I risked a total stomach melt down on that lunch but it went well. There was no penalty for all those veggies! In SE Asia, you take risks when eating fresh veggies. You never know what might happen a few hours later!

A famous sight in Hoi An is the Japanese covered bridge. Reminded me of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, with lots of tourists, and an exhibit inside. There, I was treated to some Vietnamese hospitality. I had an extra large umbrella from my hotel, and when I saw a friend, I dueled him with it. After some conversation, we were walking about two blocks away and I realized I didn’t have my umbrella! I headed back to the bridge, where I asked two police hoping to find it. Guess what? They actually had it for me!

There are some 800 designated historical buildings in Hoi An. Some are Buddhist temples of Chinese architecture, and entry to these is partially covered by a ticket folks must purchase to enter the vehicle-free zone. They’re worth exploring.

I kept walking back alleys, across the canal, to the part of the city nearer the sea. I was hoping to find a kayak rental facility, but when I got there, all that remained was a shell of an old boat. So, I stopped in for a hair cut.

 

$5 later, I was on my way. If you’re in Vietnam, I’d say you’ve got to visit Hoi An!