Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cheese and Carrots

"A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be over sophisticated. Yet it remains cheese, milk's leap toward immortality."
--- Clifton Fadiman
Tillamook, Oregon is a cheesy kind of town, and they'd be the first to proudly tell you that. The countryside is surrounded by fence-to-fence dairy farms -- enormous dairy farms with fields and fields of bovines, medium-sized dairy farms tucked into corners, and dairy farms so small they consist of two cows in the front yard. Wherever you go, you can smell Tillamook's "dairy air" (say it out loud for maximum impact).

Even the visitor center's bench gets into the spirit of things:

The cornerstone of Tillamook is, unsurprisingly, the Tillamook Cheese Factory. They give tours. And free samples. What's not to love?
The actual cheese cutting and bagging can be viewed from windows high above the factory:
The cheese "whizzes" from station to station, machines cutting the cheese (a better job for machines than people!) and wrapping it while happy and cheerful workers sort and monitor a seemingly endless stream of yellow blocks:
After the tour we enjoyed free samples of cheese and had an ice cream in a waffle cone. Did we buy some cheese? You bet! Good thing it is freezable, because we got curds, cheddar, swiss, pepper jack, and their newest, cheddar-garlic-chilli pepper (yummy).

Carrots are devine... You get a dozen for a dime, It's maaaa-gic!
-- Bugs Bunny

Our campground is plethorized by a huge slew of bunnies. Most are brown with white cottony tails, but a few are all black. They have obviously been well fed (and the campground encourages this as long as they are not fed around buildings). They are so tame they will eat from your hands -- as John found out when he took a carrot outside and was immediately surrounded by a furry, hopping crowd of lapine cuteness:

And here's the video proof:

So what do you have if there are 100 rabbits standing in a row and 99 take a step back?
A receding hare line, of course!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Images from the Northwest

Mount Rainier in Washington State is a part of a string of active volcanoes called the Cascade Range, a 700 mile line of mountains that runs from British Columbia to California. It is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. It last erupted in the 1800s, but when it erupts again it will most likely be much bigger than the deadly Mt. Saint Helens' eruption -- and Seattle is in the potential danger zone.
Here is a detailed image of the summit of Mt. Rainier and its glaciers. It makes its own weather, but also has an almost continuous venting of steam.
Mt. Saint Helens, another volcano in the Cascade Range, is on the right in this photo. You can see the southern flank, where the side of the mountain blew out in the massive 1980 eruption.
Water is plentiful in the Northwest. In Washington, this waterfall runs through the center of a fallen tree.
In Oregon, the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash into the shore. Here, some waves are so large that the make it over the top of these huge rocks. Note the depression on the top of the rocks that was created by waves cresting the top.
Oregon provides lots of pull-out viewpoints with spectacular views.
The surf rushes out, leaving foam on the beach.
A photographer watches the surf, waiting for the perfect shot.

Monday, September 19, 2011

John Searches for a Pony

A Story For Our Times:
A group of psychologists were testing the most pessimistic and optimistic children they could find. They finally narrowed their search down to two 8 year-old boys. They set up two rooms: one with every toy imaginable, the other with a pile of horse manure.

The first boy, the pessimist, was put into the room with the toys. No sooner was the door shut when he began to throw the toys against the walls. Smashing, and throwing, he wasn't finished until he had broken every toy in the room. When asked why he did that he said, "When I saw all those toys, I knew they'd never be mine, and I didn't want some other kid to get them, so I broke them."

The second boy, the optimist, was put into the room with the manure. The boy's eyes lit up and he dove into the pile, flinging it in every direction. The researcher, wondering if he'd made a grave error, interrupted the flinging fest and asked, "What are you doing?"

The boy said, "With all this poop, there's got to be a pony in there somewhere!"

John has been trying to win a scratch and sniff contest for many days. Each day, when he makes his "Happy Hour" libation, he takes a new plastic Solo cup, pulls off the outer "peel and scratch" label, and carefully scratches off the black "stuff" to see what he has won.
He thought it was odd that he never won anything, not even a free beverage, nor was there an encouraging message like, "Try Again!" or "Better Luck Next Time!" Still, he persisted, cup after cup, night after night.

Until tonight when he actually read the cup.

The contest instructions were not there. Then the truth dawned -- that chalk-boardy scratchable rectangle was meant to be a place where one could fingernail-engrave one's name, ostensibly to be sure that one's cup was not accidentally appropriated by a reckless partier who would either infect it with any manner of pestilence and disease, or in the swap leave one with something undrinkably dreadful -- like a Mad Dog or a light beer.

So John learned: there is no contest, no pot of gold at the end of the red plastic rainbow, no free beverage, and no pony at the bottom of the manure pile.

A sadder, but wiser John will attend future Happy Hours with just a little less optimism at the core of his soul. Damn, you, Solo Cups!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Port Townsend, Washington

I've had a bit of trouble getting into Blogger the last few days -- I kept getting a page that told me I had to have Cookies enabled (they were) and then listed several tweaks to play with to try to fix the problem. I fiddled with settings and the cache. Nothing. So I decided to delete all my google cookies, and voila! Access again. I did notice that I had a cookie from Google.CA (Canada) which I suspect was the culprit.

In the last blog, we had just left Hyder, AK in the middle of a torrential downpour. The next day at 8 AM the single road out of Hyder/Stewart was closed, the rain eventually washing out a bridge and tearing out huge hunks of the roadbed. The time span until reopening? Unknown. About 16 tourist rigs were stranded, but they eventually were rescued when supply barges were sent in by sea, and their RVs put on the barges for the return trip. The road just recently reopened, sort-of -- there is only one lane open, and only 2 or 3 trips per day are allowed, tagging behind a "follow me" vehicle. We just barely missed being stranded there, too.

We were glad to get back to the U.S.A, although we did have a 50 minute wait at the border. Once we made it to the agent, we passed through in record time. On to the State of Washington!

Northwestern Washington is a beautiful, watery, hippyesque place with lots of muffins and coffee, coffee, coffee. One of our favorite towns was Port Townsend, self-described as a Victorian Seaport and Arts Community. Old historic buildings, friendly people, and lots of artsy-fartsy interesting shops were everywhere.

The first thing you may notice about the town is a huge cloud of steam rising above the skyline. This is a paper mill near the water:

Our "lunch" was eaten in a 1950s cafe with a juke box that still played 45s, a soda fountain that served phosphates and egg creams, and a hispanic waitress who seemed very out of place but was extremely nice. John had a banana split, and I had a turtle sundae:

They apparently have some customers who aren't clear about those new fangled Seat-Cover-Thingies:

The town has a lot of docks lining the waterfront:

And people go to the parks for walking, biking, or photo sessions:

They had a "Speakers Corner," where this fellow was speaking to passersby. We expected a a religious message -- but we got instead the glories of Freedom of Speech!

Art was predominantly placed on the street:

And our favorite browsing store was this antique auto supply store -- headlights, mirrors, manuals, and all sorts of miscellaneous parts for antique cars were for sale, along with some antique cars:
When we had first reached the town, we had parked at a two hour meter just as the tire chalker/ticket writer was approaching our car. We stopped to chat, and he asked us about our domicile in Texas. When we left, he told us not to worry about the time -- he would make sure that our car was not ticketed or towed. How nice is that! We found all of Port Townsend to be a colorful, fun, and friendly place to stop for the afternoon. And we did make it back in just under 2 hours.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Bears, Smart; People, Not So Much

Bears rule in Hyder AK. They fish for salmon in the river, they forage along the roads, and they are master thieves when it comes to garbage cans.

We were in Hyder for three days, during which it rained every day. Days one and two were showers; day three was an unending downpour that extended all through the night. Our trip to see the bears feeding on salmon was during a relative dry spell. The next morning, we were drinking our coffee and watching the rain from our front-row seats behind the windshield, when two bears meandered into the campground and helped themselves to the trash. They had been doing this thievery for a while -- they walked directly to the trash bin, knew exactly how to get in, and one stood guard while the other tore through bags of goodies:

On the day we left this rain-soaked bearidise, standing water was everywhere. It had rained constantly all night, and the gravel streets were flooded, the water having no where to go.
The town of Hyder sits on the end of Route 37A, a spur of Route 37 that winds through a valley and canyon to connect Stewart, BC and Hyder AK with the rest of the world (air flights to Ketchikan also happen if the weather is good, which it often isn't). Stewart is the "big town" of the two, and once you pass through Stewart the road only leads to the Canada/US border and Hyder. Hyder has 100 residents, a bar, a couple of general stores, a restaurant, several gift shops, and one RV park. It gets its money from two sources: a water bottling plant and tourism. The buildings are old and saggy, and the roads are pot-holed and washboardy.

There is no American customs at the border (there is no where to go once you reach Hyder), but there is a Canadian customs, in the center of the photo:

Note the over-the-road sign that says, "The Friendliest Ghost Town in Alaska." This is the sign you see as you are leaving Hyder.
"Welcome to Hyder, Alaska" is on the other side (note the raindrops on the windshield -- of course it was raining as we came in!)

We crossed into Canada (at Stewart) without incident. The rain was still falling, and the amount of water in the river along the road was much higher than it had been when we came in. What had been a bubbly stream was now a raging torrent:

There had been several waterfalls along the way, which were now extremely full of water and it was all rushing towards the river which was rapidly filling. We traveled this stretch in the early morning; we found out later that day the road was closed in both directions due to flooding. 24 hours later, it is still closed. We got out just in time -- there are no alternate routes out of Hyder!

On our way out, we came upon 2 small RVs stopped in the middle of the road, one going our way and the other going the opposite way. It was a "bear jam" -- a bear by the side of the road and assorted gawkers. Having already seen a lot of bears this trip, we threaded our way through the stopped vehicles, and when we got opposite the bear found the vehicle's humans doing really stupid things. The woman from the first vehicle had her back turned to the bear so she could get a photo of herself with the bear in the background while, at the same time, the two guys from the second vehicle were throwing rocks at it so it would stop eating and look at them (yes, we did yell at them to stop).

The bears here do what they do very well. The humans? Not so much.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Hyder, Alaska

Hyder, Alaska, sits at the end of nowhere. From the British Columbia town of Stewart, it is a spur off the main road, a 10 mile-ish trip into the United States that goes so far into Nowhere that the U.S. doesn't even bother having a customs station. It is called the "Friendliest Ghost Town in Alaska," and it has only two sources of income: tourism and a water bottling facility.

Hyder is known for its salmon-fishing bear, which is the main reason tourists come here. The bear are so numerous during the salmon runs that the Fish And Wildlife have built a wooden walkway just for the homo sapiens to safely watch them.

We got here in early September, at the end of the Silver's run, in a gentle rain that was a nuisance for the homo sap saps, but unnoticed by the ursines. We saw some salmon spawning in a last ditch effort to perpetuate the species -- but they were few, the season being almost over. Some bears were still taking advantage of the Meals on Fins-- we saw a black bear sow and her yearling grabbing a few of the remaining Silvers and Chum as they tried to make their way upstream to their breeding ground:

The river was clear and swift. Behind the river was a beautiful pond, the rainy mist settling on the water in a gentle fog:
After bear viewing, we drove up the road a ways where numerous waterfalls were evidence of still-melting glaciers. The road eventually reached the Canadian border, where we turned around.
For dinner, we went to The Bus. The Bus came to Alaska 13 years ago as living quarters for a wanderer. The current owners traded a snowmobile for the bus, and then turned it into a hippiesque diner where dinner is the day's catch, and the following Bus Rules apply:
  1. No Worry
  2. No Hurry
  3. Relax
  4. Enjoy
We got an order of crab and an order of sauteed shrimp: both were amazingly excellent, especially with a glass (or two) or Merlot.
The Bus's other claim to fame is the movie "Insomnia" which was filmed here. Our table had a remnant from that historic moment: Robin William's autograph!
Hyder may be small, but it is an authentic small town in Alaska. I don't think I could live here, but it sure is fun visiting!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Sourdough Campground

Sourdough Campground in Tok, Alaska is one of those "must stop" places on the Alaska Journey. In June and July they have nightly shows, but we arrived too late in the season to see them. We did, however, get to experience the infamous "Pancake Toss."

Dave of Sourdough Campground explained the rules as he set down a fresh batch of sourdough pancakes that smelled, well, yummy:
  1. Everyone gets two tries.
  2. You can roll the pancakes, ball them up, frisbee them -- anything you want.
  3. The entire pancake must go into the bucket labeled "Buckit." Hangers-on don't count.
  4. You must stand behind the line drawn in the sawdust.
  5. Winner gets a free breakfast. Wimps get ridicule.
I got mentally and physically prepared. I rolled my sourdough pancake into a baseballesque approximation. I visualized it arcing gracefully into the bucket. I channeled Madonna in "A League of Their Own."
I felt the energy -- I could actually see the pancake soaring through space to land precisely in the center of the bucket. I launched my pancake into the void.

It landed two feet behind the bucket.

I took my second try, and repeated everything, including the overthrow. Doughy crumpled bunches of pancake now littered the floor like tiny "agonies of defeat." Dejected, I gave the floor to John.

John stepped up to the plate. He stared at the target, his expression one of determination and will. He aimed. He threw. He missed. He also repeated -- everything. No free breakfast for us!

So we may not be the best sourdough pancake throwers, but the second part of the evening was just beginning -- the bonfire.

Our friends, Harlan and Sue, had unexpectedly selected this same park on a night when we were there, along with a father and son from Switzerland and two tent camping women from Germany. Harlan, Sue, John and I had some educating to do -- none of the others had been in North America long enough to learn about toasting marshmallows! We took this duty very seriously, and soon had them gobbling gooey, flaming cubes of caramelized sugar, the perfect accompaniment to a light, golden, and ultimately tasteless American beer:

Sourdough Campground was a lot of fun. We did have breakfast there the morning we left, which was sourdough pancakes and reindeer sausage. Here is John sampling a "Reindeer on a Stick":
And John shared a very special photo with the owners. When he was here in 2006, someone had rearranged the letters on a Sourdough Campground sign:
The woman who owns the campground laughed when we showed it to her. She said she vividly remembers that night -- they had an extraordinary amount of business! I still can't figure out what the sign originally said -- "Free Show, Free Wi-fi, Laundry" are obvious (and confirmed by the owner), but there are too many letters left over. Any guesses?