Sunday, August 26, 2012

There and Back Again

I chose that title because it was the one used by Bilbo Baggins for his memoirs, and this hike had me feeling very hobbit-like. Today's trek was to Larch Mountain (and back) and started on the historical Columbia Highway at a spot a mile or so east of Multnomah Falls (I've always felt like Multnomah Falls was like the Wizard of Oz; it looks impressive and sounds thunderous from below, but when you get to the top it's rather placid and dull). From this trail head, you are dropped off at the second of the 11 switchbacks leading up to the top of the falls. All the way up the trail you are taunted at every other turn with a sign telling you which switchback you are on. You would think after walking over a mile you would at least come out at number seven or eight. This is the hardest part of the hike to me, mostly because there are often large numbers of people to pass and because it's rather monotonous. But once you are past the top of the falls, it turns into a part of the shire with beautiful ferns, waterfalls, and looming trees. Mossy fingers seemed to reach down in places as the sun slowly made its way to the top of the ridge. I had forgotten how shady much of this hike is and my sunglasses spent most of their time on top of my head. Parts of the trail were very rocky, and I  imagine even hobbit feet would soon grow weary of the rocks. As the trail continues along the

river, it reverts for a time to soft dirt and pine needles. Unfortunately, that doesn't last long. There are numerous rock slides along the trails in the gorge and the Larch Mountain trail is no exception. The good thing is there are only two rock slides to worry about, the bad thing is that one of them is quite long. This part of of the trail reminded me of Mt. Doom, with its steep slopes covered in jagged loose rocks. Luckily for me there weren't any unpleasant creatures like Gollum waiting on the other side. After what seemed like miles but was probably the same distance as my apartment door to the street, I was back on more stable ground. Then it was a long trek at a steady upward angle for another mile or so. This part went by fairly quickly. Near the top of this first upward
pull is what appears to be an old rock wall. I would love to find out the history of it. Usually there is a handy dandy historical marker nearby with such helpful bits of trivia as "site of first picnic with plastic forks" but alas, nothing like that is to be seen. The trail splits here and my speculation is that the right-hand trail goes to the middle parking lot of the Larch Mountain trail. I didn't take the time to find out as the trail went downhill and I had no interest in going down only to have to come back up. Speaking of up, I discovered that on this trail whenever there was a choice to be made as to which direction to go, it was the trail that went uphill 99% of the time. That must be one of Murphy's lesser known laws. As the trail continues up (notice a trend here?) the trees seem to change and suddenly it feels as if you've wondered into a part of some elvish forest. I felt very small here and it was all I could do to say "Toto, we're not in the Shire anymore."  I know, wrong book, but you get the idea. From here, it's not that much farther to the parking lot (yes, civilization is always lurking nearby) and then up to the viewpoint at Sherrard Point. On a clear day, one can see Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Jefferson. All the peaks were out today except for Jefferson. There was just too much haze in that general direction. Finding the trail to head back is rather interesting. You have to go down the paved road until the first guardrail appears. About 2/3 of the way through the turn, there's a break in the guardrail and the trail starts up again. It's very intuitive. I mean, I always look for trails near guardrails, right? From here it's a mostly straight shot down with occasional forks in the trail that are fairly well marked. And again, any time there is a fork in the road, it's always the trail going up. One note about the trail markers, some of them must have been put up by a Paul Bunyan type because they are way above eye level.

The Shire makes another appearance as the trail winds through more normal sized trees. After awhile, you can hear the sounds of the river again and soon you're walking alongside mini-falls and across several log bridges (with a handrail on one side) until you come upon Triple Falls. The trail continues down until there is another fork. This time, going straight down leads to Horsetail Falls and continuing on the more level path leads back to the same trail head you started at. Coming down this trail from the opposite direction was almost disorienting, until I saw my car parked across the road and knew I really was back again.

PS I can't explain the spacing in this post, maybe someday I'll learn to speak HTML.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Little Color on a Gray Day

After two weeks of glorious sunshine it finally happened: the mostly cloudy skies of the northwest made a comeback. I had hoped to go hiking in the Columbia River Gorge this weekend, but when the idea is to take pictures of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, etc. there's no point in trying if not even the sun is visible. So, to keep myself from grumbling about the weather too much (and those few sprinkles of rain this morning didn't help),
I went exploring amongst a few of the very colorful neighborhoods on the edge of downtown Portland. When I say colorful I mean just that. Many of these homes were built in the late 1800's and the exteriors range from several shades of blue, to yellows, browns, reds, purples, and everything in between.  A plain ol' gray or white house would stand out like a sore thumb in this area. The goal was to find flowers within a reasonable range of a brightly painted house and get a picture of the flower with the house as the backdrop. I was prepared to employ whatever methods necessary whether they be contortion, standing on my head, or holding my eyebrows just right. I was lucky in that the recent heatwave (90 something is considered a heatwave, especially when it lasts all of, gasp, a week or 10 days) didn't melt the roses, which made up the majority of what was blooming. Although, there were some lovely gladiolas hanging around just begging for their picture to be taken. The biggest problem was avoiding things like gutters (and cars) or finding something to stand on to get just the right angle. There were some lovely blooms I just couldn't use because a picture of roses in front of a window or house numbers just doesn't do anything for me. One house in particular caught my attention. The house itself was almost cobalt blue and the trim was a cross between rust and red. I really had to work at finding an angle where the roses were in front of the house and avoid the other foliage growing around them.
It wasn't until I looked closer that I could see that the buds were wrapped in spider webs. I guess no one thinks about dusting real flowers, only the silk ones. There were also some hydrangeas that wanted to get into the act. I had to do a bit of cropping to get rid of the gutter. I mean a blue gutter is better than a regular one, but it's still a gutter. The rosebud in front of the lattice work is actually quite some distance from the house. I've wanted to take pictures of roses in front of this house before but they've always been all dried up or just consisted of one pitiful petal so I didn't bother. Nothing was blooming next to the house this time either so I experimented with what was growing near the curb. 

Finally, one of my favorite houses has this extremely colorful staircase leading up to the front porch. After visiting this neighborhood several times in the last few years, I've decided if I ever own a house it will need to be at least three colors and be surrounded by flowers. And yes,  I know the pictures are in a wonkier than usual arrangement but to preserve my sanity I let the computer win. No matter what I tried they either wouldn't move or moved where I didn't want them. And now that the sun has finally come out to play, I really want to go outside!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Back to School

This past week was an entire escape from reality and into the world of Scottish Country Dancing. Each year, the Teachers' Association of Canada (TAC) puts on a week-long event called Summer School that involves daily dance classes, afternoon electives, evening social dances or concerts, and culminates in a banquet and ball. This year was the first time Summer School was held in the U.S. More importantly, it was in downtown Portland on the Portland State University campus (don't ask me why it's called Portland State when Portland is not a state, I guess it just sounded good at the time). When I found out about Summer School last year I knew what my next vacation was going to be. I arranged to take off a week from work and made carpool plans with good friends who live directly across the river from the downtown area. I enjoy downtown but traffic-wise it is not for the faint of heart during morning and evening rush hour.

My friends and I quickly fell into a routine that got us to the campus in time for the 8:45 class and then back across the river in the late afternoon for a few hours of rest before driving back for the evening events. The weather was unbelievably cooperative and visitors from the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand enjoyed the sunny skies and perfect temperatures, well almost perfect. It did hit 90 something on Saturday but one hot day out of a whole week isn't bad.

In between the morning and afternoon classes there was a break for lunch and then elective dance classes began at 1:15. During that time I found ample opportunities to look for anything worth taking a picture of. I kept waiting for someone to ask me what country I was from since I had on my best tourist costume, including backpack and camera.

One afternoon I was particularly in need of some chocolate. I didn't pack a whole lot of lunch because I didn't want to have to carry it around all morning so I felt perfectly justified in going in search of dessert. I got out my trusty GPS and looked for some likely places that would carry fresh chocolate chip cookies. Cookie Cabana sounded like the perfect spot and it was only about half a mile east of  the campus. I started off for SW Market St. positive that I would shortly have cookie in hand. It soon became apparent that finding 105 SW Market was going to be harder than I had anticipated. I was almost to the river and it still wasn't in sight so I decided to try for Plan B, after making a plan up that is. But just so the detour wasn't a total loss, I found a couple of sights that were photoworthy.

Old and New
The Cookie!
After wandering around a bit and deciding the restaurants I was looking for were not stand alone establishments but in one of the many office buildings, I was even more determined to find the elusive chocolate chip cookie. After all, I had burned up all those calories and didn't want it to be for nothing. Finally, after going out the rear entrance to one office building so as to avoid going past the information station again (people who work at those have a knack for spotting someone who looks even the slightest bit dazed and confused), I came across a local deli called The Spicy Pickle. And there it was, a small basket with fresh cookies wrapped up inside. The guy behind the counter asked if that was all I wanted and it was hard not to tell him how much effort it had taken just for one chocolate chip cookie. I had a feeling he wouldn't understand.