Great Alpine Lakes of the West: Crater Lake

There’s no swimming here.  And only boat at a time is allowed on the lake.  But man, the view is something.  At a little under 2000′ deep, Crater Lake is the ninth deepest lake in the world.  Really it is a completely flooded dormant (we hope) volcano.  It blew its top off and rain filled in the spaces.  That is probably an overly simple way to put it but we never claimed to be geologists.  In late July 2011 we visited this marvel and half the crater was closed to traffic due to snow.  The last of the icebergs had melted in the lake and the first boat tour of the season was the next day (usually they begin in mid-June).  The three of us threw snowballs at each other at each overlook and made a half-hearted ascent up a mountain to get a better view of the lake.  Corey and I had been to this spot before and we had taken the boat tour.  This time though, with half the park closed and more of the trip behind us than ahead, it felt pretty good sharing it with Henna.  Even if we only stayed for a few hours.


Great Alpine Lakes of the West: Lake Tahoe

As you can tell by our count down icon, the trip is coming soon.  Where are we headed?  West.  And in going west we hope to revisit some of our favorite spots.  Many of those spots combine two topographical features we hold dear:  altitude and water.  Some allow a little work to get there, others not so much.  A few, like our dear friend Lake Tahoe, are even overcrowded.  Its banks are lined with timeshares, casinos, parking lots, and other man-made entities (we have heard rumors though that there are quieter spots away from the crowds).  But man, those waters are beautiful to swim in.  And if you float on your back and glance sideways to the cliffs you can feel all alone out there.  Then you dry off and walk into town for a drink.

Some Great Playgrounds Out There

Sure, nature makes a great playground, but so does man (and woman).  Here are some of our favorite mechanical attractions.

The Missoula County Fair

Corey and I have been there twice, but only once with Henna (the first was as newlyweds on our return trip from Alaska).  In the ten or so years between visits we changed much, the fair not so much (although we did miss the horse racing present on our first trip).  That is a good thing.  Both times there we wandered through prize cows and llamas as well as other questionable western livestock and dined on funnel cakes and other tasty fried treats.  Corey does not like things that spin her, but Henna does and the two of us enjoyed watching rainbows from the Ferris wheel.

St. Jospeph, Michigan

Where there was once a religious retreat there is now an awesome beach, playground, and carousel.  All of it sits below the down town area where ornamental cannons stand guard.  Upstairs (at grade level) is an OK children’s museum as well as several ice cream shops.  Parking is cheap or free, no beach fees at all, and the carousel will not cost you more than a few dollars.  What is there not to like?

The Carousels of Oregon

Salem and Albany Oregon both have sister cities near the east coast and love things that go round and round.  In Albany volunteer workers have been spending the last several years carving and painting works to complement a restored 1909 Dentzel machine that will ultimately power their creation.  Donations and visitors are always welcomed and our short time there felt like being in a dream factory.

Salem residents and tourists have been enjoying their carousel for some time.  The carousel is housed in a small building within a larger green park a short distance (but a busy street crossing) from the downtown area.  Incidentally, the Salem visitor center is the only center I know that sells bottles of wine from a nearby winery. 

Millennium Park, Chicago

We have not made the final selections yet, but I think we are going to omit this park from our Great City Park list (the Lakefront though is still in the running).  As consolation prize, we will mention our hometown park on our great man made attraction list.  The reason for this lofty honor, the cool off factor.  Not much in Chicago is free, but standing under a giant waterfall and dodging underground sprinklers is.  And we love it.

Do you have a favorite playground?  Please, Hennacornoeli minds want to know.

Great City Park: Washington Park, Portland (OR)

Portland’s parks as a whole deserve an entry in our Hennacornoeli listing of the Great City Parks.  Like everything out west, Portland’s park system is larger than their eastern counterparts.  A real challenge to us then is picking which park to profile.  Forest Park, per Wikipedia, is the largest “wilderness” urban park, (it may be a little wild, but when I think wilderness I imagine a place miles from people and a road system), Mills Park is the smallest park in the U.S. (at 2 square feet it makes for lousy tag), and Mount Tabor with its very dramatic views would all be good picks.  We, however, chose Washington Park as being most worthy of the Hennacornoeli Great City Park award.  Maybe we will send the park a statue.

Things to do in Washington Park:  visit the Children’s Museum (a truly great playhouse for children of all ages to explore), go to the zoo (we did not but I am sure it is a fun time), smell the roses at the International Rose Test Garden, sit for a concert on the terraced steps immediately below the rose garden, contemplate the destructive nature of war at the Oregon Vietnam’s War Memorial (we found the layout, an extended and windy walking path leading past a time line of the war, powerful and engaging) or take in the trees at the Hoyt Arboretum.  Although the park itself is away from the urban center, there is great public transportation available to whisk you both to and away from the park.  The park even has a large and affordable parking lot making it a great base camp for further city explorations.  And like all great parks, the boundaries are a bit muddled and seem to spill into the bordering neighborhood. 

As for the city itself, many people think of Portland as a smaller San Francisco.  We see the city more like San Francisco’s somewhat scruffier but more endearing younger cousin.  Like San Francisco, Portland has a lot of rain, a green feel, and a sophisticated urban feel.  But both the wealth and poverty in Portland is less pervasive than in the bigger city.  Whereas eating out in San Francisco can be quite pricey, we ate well and relatively cheap at smaller sushi places, coffee shops, and one food truck that served up mighty tasty crepes.  The homeless in Portland also have a quaint, just doing this for a lark feel in contrast to the more professional San Francisco pan handlers.  Corey and I were amused by all the youths with smart phones, a hip dog (usually with a bandana), and an extended hand asking for money (probably to help pay for their data plan). 

Although we really loved being in Portland, I just felt that Portlanders did not always get me.  For example, while picking up a bottle of wine I said something like “Man, you guys have it good here.  I just miss pumping my own gas” which was met with a dirty look and a sarcastic “yeah, that must really suck.”  Other residents told deeply personal stories such as the young man on the MAX who told of his recent struggles with a heroine addiction.  He also told us about his plans to fight forest fires in Montana (good money) and how he dreaded the resulting separation from his young daughter.  Still other residents, with little encouragement needed, talked about the need to further legalize pot, how much they disliked Chicago, and the virtues of Portland.  Hopefully some time soon we will be able to get back to Portland.  I will refrain from talking about the joys of pumping your own gas and will be ready to counsel all who need counseling.

Great City Parks: Golden Gate Park

Of the Great City Parks on our Hennacornoeliday list, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco fits most perfectly to its host city.  Whereas the National Mall is infinitely greater than D.C. and, in our opinion, Boston deserves a greater Common, Golden Gate is a perfect fit for San Francisco.  Although 20% larger than Central Park (in a city many times smaller than New York), Golden Gate Park never appears intrusive to the city as a whole.  Rather it is like many opposites in the Pacific Northwest (water and land, mountain and valley) in that it is often hard to perceive the true border of city and park.  The homeless sleep in semi-permanent tent cities and office buildings have green facades.  The iconic Haight- Ashbury neighborhood is surprisingly kid friendly and upscale while some parts of Golden Gate Park seem to turn its back on families.  It is these contradictions that ground the park into its urban setting (and at the same time green the concrete).

Our two days wandering San Francisco were spent mostly on the perimeter of the great park with frequent crossovers and explorations.  Within or close to the Golden Gate Park exists the nations oldest Japanese Gardens, a children’s museum , wonderful playgrounds, the majestic Palace of Fine Arts, the Conservatory of Flowers, museums, stadiums, and walking trails.  Also periodically a menacing fog can be viewed advancing into the park to chill your summer bones and obscure any city or mountain views.  Several residents informed us that the warmer it is in Sacramento, the colder it is by the bay due to the interior heat drawing the fog toward the coastal mountains.  The summer we visited San Francisco we drove over a couple of weeks to the most northwest corner of Washington and saw exactly one sunset due to the blistering heat east of us.

Other things beside the Golden Gate Park that make San Francisco great are book stores, coffee shops, China Town (thus far my favorite China town in the U.S. and Canada), restaurants, and the friendly and sophisticated city folk who seem to appreciate their city as much as the tourists.  Public transportation is wonderful and even thrilling as the light rail system complements the assorted trolley and buses.    Also every corner seems to be a trolley or bus stop which is a great thing when the terrain suddenly becomes too steep to walk any further.  In San Francisco, distances between points are less relevant than the existing grade as it is always easier to walk a flat mile than a mountainous quarter-mile.

Quick travel tip:  Look into Berkley as a base to explore San Francisco.  The train ride in goes under the bay which we thought was pretty cool (and Corey and Henna enjoyed pretending to look for sharks out the train window) and takes only a few minutes.  Hotel prices are of course much cheaper and parking in Berkley is not too difficult.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and had no complaints.

A quick thought

I am really posting this in order to share the photo below.  I tried to do so last night, but the wifi would not let me do so.  But, since I have your attention I may as well give a brief comparison between camping in the US vs. Canada.  First, the people:  Canadians are much nicer and friendlier than us.  Last night I mentioned that we are at a happy, family filled campground.  What I did not say is that our neighbors, despite almost being on top of us, do not return conversations.  Walking to the bathroom this morning only a few people returned my good morning.  In Canada several people introduced themselves to me.  A RCMP sought us out just to give us directions.  When we asked directions (and we did that a lot) people often stopped what they were doing and then led us to where we had to go (I should say that this also happened once in MN).  Second, it is much cheaper to camp here but you do not get as much.  At Waterton we had showers and teams of teenagers patroling the grounds for our comfort (and I am guessing a chance to escape their boss).  In the US you pay between $12 to $20 for a campsite (at Waterton it was $27) but you may not get soap in the bathroom.  No showers.  Usually one older man in a golf cart patroling a 100+ site campground.  You get what you pay for.  Finally, a quick word about camping.  Last night was our 15th night sleeping in a tent.  We also spent 4 nights so far in KOA Kamping Kabins which are small cabins where you supply the bedding and do not have a private bathroom (I think this would be the perfect way for a non-camper to camp; you can see America via these cabins and save a lot of dough, eat better, meet more people, etc).  So far the roughest nights were at Pacific Rim where we had a walk-in site a decent walk from our car.  I felt we were in our own private little rain forest and it did rain almost the whole time we were in our tent.  Last night and Waterton were probably our least wild nights- here we have wifi, little privacy, a nice bathroom with showers, friendly people working here, and are not to far from an overpriced store that could supplement our needs.  There also is a small resteraunt here.  Most of our sites have been inbetween these two extremes.  If you have not guessed it, we love to camp.  I like sleeping in my own portable home that I can set up almost anywhere (with a different tent Corey and I once set it up on a ship headed down the coast of Alaska).  Unlike an RV, we can still go anywhere we want.  I also love the ease at which I can make my own food via the small propane stove we have and/ or grill that is often at our sites.  I think I eat better on the road than at home.  Anyways, enjoy the pic below.  We are headed to the Tetons and Yellowstone and may not be able to post for awhile.  I promise lots of photos when we do (post).

The Mountain

Even on a trip some basic house keeping must be done.  I am waiting on the wash cycle while Noel and Henna swim in the pool, we finally found some blue skies and warmer air.  I know at home ya’ll are having a hot spell, so I won’t talk too much about the cold weather we’ve been through.  This pit stop is in Albany Oregon, and we’ve been here before.  This trip has taken us to many old haunts from a trip ten years past.  Some have felt the same, while others I’ve totally forgotten and get to simply experience again.  I realized that my mind can only hold onto memories that have struck me somewhere deep.  We just returned from one of those places and I am glad to say that the same feeling came back to me as it took hold of me 10 years ago.  Mt. Rainer National Park still makes me feel larger than life inside.  When I am here I feel like home.

 We drove from the coast yesterday through more of the same misty rain, just under Seattle and down into the park.  As we travelled through towns along the way, the earth was level but began its wonderful ascent into the lower hills that surround the mountain.  Mt. Rainer sits in the middle of the park at 14,431ft. and if your lucky you can see it’s snow-covered peak, when spied upon it just takes your breath away.  We were only planning on staying in the area for two days, so I knew my odds of seeing the mountain were slim.  But as we drove the only park road closest to the peak, we saw the clouds move to reveal it through the tall mountain pines.  We quickly pulled over, I pulled Henna out and we stood on the side of the road to watch it.  A ranger told me to talk quietly or it’ll go into hiding again.  The air was cold and crisp and smelled deliciously of the pine that surround this dormant volcano.  It’s a beauty of a park, and we realized as we reached the visitor’s center at the top of this winding road that the trails were all still snowed in.  Yikes.  Record snow fall and early travels to mountainous regions can leave some hikers sad.  We back packed this park ten years ago, and I was instantly in love.  A trail called the wonderland trail surrounds this park. Noel and I have said that we’ll do it for our 40th birthday, which is in two years.  Better start training now, and getting Henna ready.  She’ll be coming too. 


We camped at her feet, (I think of her as a female) and it was a glorious night.  When we awoke rain clouds were threatening us, but we cleared camp and just made a 3 mile hike before the rain fell.  We left for drier weather and to begin our decent homeward.  We never saw the mountain again as clouds of her own making concealed her.  Maybe next time, because I know I’ll be back here.


Olympic National Park

We are headed home.  Hennacornoeli style.  Sunday night we were dropped off by car ferry at Port Angeles.  We hit the Safeway, got some gas, and then bedded down at the Port Angeles Inn.  The price was high, but it had a wonderful view of the town and the dock.  Late into the night I heard teenagers whooping it up just out of sight.  Or maybe they were vampires- this is Twilight area.  Today, Wednesday, I woke up only 135 miles away.  Although further south, we were also further west and in road miles further from home than when we dropped off in Port Angeles.  But we squeezed every ounce out of those 135 miles.  We circled the perimeter of Olympic National Park and hiked in the Elhwa Valley, camped at Mora, saw a sunset at Rialto beach and marveled at the distant sea stacks, were able to play on and around the sea stacks at Ruby Beach, hiked in a rain forest at Hoh (Santa’s favorite rain forest, Hoh, Hoh, Hoh), and then camped on a ridge almost overlooking the ocean last night.  We also scavenged for drift wood for a fire, collected crab parts and interesting stones, and watched driftwood houses being built.  Henna, although decidedly homesick, was asked if she wanted to book home or take this detour and she decided on the detour.  A chip off the old block.