Saturday, September 3, 2011

There's no place like home in beautiful Oregon

8/24/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

We’ve been gone for several weeks this summer and it is good to be home. It is especially good to be home in beautiful Cottage Grove during the months when the blue sky and puffy white clouds are plentiful; the lakes are full and the weather warm enough to grow a vegetable garden. I can’t think of a place that I would rather be.

Others have a different idea of where they’d like to be. The television program, “Good Morning America,” recently asked viewers to submit the names of places that they considered to be the most beautiful in America. People responded with thousands of photos and descriptions of their favorite haunts from sea-to-shining-sea.

In alphabetical order, the top ten winners were: Asheville, N.C., Aspen, Colo., Cape Cod, Mass., Destin, Fla., Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, Wyo., Lanikai, Beach, Oahu, Hawaii, Newport, R.I., Point Reyes, Calif., Sedona, Ariz., and Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mich.

The winning entries used phrases like ‘breathtaking views, natural beauty and jaw-dropping landscape.’ Sounds great, doesn’t it? In fact, many of the places and activities are suspiciously like what we can find in our own Oregon backyard. Sadly, they either didn’t make the GMA cut or weren’t nominated by Oregonians.

So, I made up my own list of some (but not all!) of the most beautiful or interesting places I’ve visited in Oregon. In no particular order, I submit to you places to go and things to see that your family and guests will enjoy and that you won’t have to buy an airline ticket to get there!

1. The Oregon Coast. The spectacular shoreline of the Oregon coast stretches nearly 400 miles from Brookings in the south to Astoria in the north. The vistas along our coast are as breathtaking and varied as those you will find anywhere. Beaches, sand dunes, lighthouses, state parks and wayside walks will enchant you at every turn.

2. The Columbia River Gorge scenery literally defies description. It was formed by an ancient river of lava and encompasses a variety of awesome scenery. Crown Pointe will give you a great overview. Our state’s most magnificent river is home to barges, windsurfing, boating and Native Americans fishing off platforms near the dam at The Dalles. Kids and grown-ups alike can go inside and marvel at the salmon traversing the Bonneville Dam fish ladders. And if you’re not going to England this year, take the short trip across the river to the Washington side of the Colombia where you can observe the 1918 Stonehenge concrete replica of the 4,000 year old original. You can also tour the nearby Maryhill Museum of Art and picnic afterwards.

3. Mt. Hood’s multi-forested areas have something for everyone. Check out Timberline Lodge’s skilled woodwork and spend the night at a nearby campground. At 11,239 ft. it is breath-taking to ride the ski lift without snow on the ground.

4. Portland. This big, multi-cultural city offers more than a magnificent skyline and amazing bridges. During the summer, visitors can roam the fabulous Oregon Zoo and then board a train for a 4-mile ride through wooded hillsides to the International Rose Test gardens, the restful Japanese Gardens and teahouse. Later you can board a train to go back to the zoo. The fabulous Pittock Mansion is a must see.

5. Silver Falls State Park. If you love waterfalls, this is a great place to go. My husband and I hiked the 7 miles through the park near Salem, to see the 10 waterfalls in the canyon. Billed as a “moderate” hike, we were happily exhausted at the end of the day. Other waterfalls closer to the road: Multnomah Falls, Sahalie Falls and Wildwood Falls.

6. Crater Lake. This awesome lake with its intense blue color and Native American legends is a must see. A ranger told us my favorite wilderness bear story here that I’ll save for another column.

7. The Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Located in Baker City, this trip takes some planning. The Center uses exhibits, sound effects, video and live presentations of a 2,000-mile trek on the Oregon Trail. Believe me, you will never complain about your hardships again after you have seen life through the eyes and feet of our pioneers.

8. Boating. If you enjoy calm river cruises check out Columbia River Cruise options. And if you want something a little more exciting I can highly recommend the Rogue River Hellgate Jet boat Excursions.

9. Cottage Grove. We have it all. A historic downtown, a gold mining district (and museum), lakes, covered bridges, trails, friendly people, a charming resort, interesting murals, an airport, and lots of quirky stuff. There’s something for everyone to love here! We should have been on GMA’s list!

10. And finally, my favorite place in Oregon is my own back yard. I enjoy sitting with a glass of ice tea, listening to the boats on the lake, the chirping birds and watching the wildflowers grow. I love the wildlife: mama turkey training her chicks; the deer tiptoeing around the rose garden; the osprey warning the eagles to keep their distance; the Stellar Jays bickering in the trees.

I submit that some of the most beautiful places in the USA are right here in Oregon.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 

Traveling the Canadian Rockies

Visitors to lovely Lake Louise
8/10/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

July is usually a travel month for the Kaisers. This year we decided to chart an RV trip to the Canadian Rockies. We began in Lynden, Washington near the border crossing. We often cross there because it’s convenient, we can shop for antiques and eat at the Dutch Mother’s Restaurant.

We had made reservations in both Jasper and Banff National Parks but were pretty much winging other stops and Lynden is a great place to get organized. Happily we were well fortified and had no trouble finding available campgrounds or restaurants along the way.

The road to Jasper was steep and wide with magnificent views of rivers and mountains. Suddenly we were in God’s country and it was obvious that our planned 3-day stay in that area would not be long enough to see everything.

Jasper is a turn of the century railroad town and resort area that still welcomes thousands of visitors on the VIA and Rocky Mountaineer trains that chug into the old-fashioned train stop. It lies along the Athabasca River within sight of four magnificent mountain ranges and many lakes. It is both picturesque and quaint.

Our campsite was quiet and rustic and teeming with wildlife. The Canadian Parks mantra is that people are visitors. This is the home of the grizzly, elk, moose, coyote and cougar. Visitors are cautioned to give animals a wide berth and all of the trash containers are bear proof. One afternoon a small herd of elk grazed our area completely ignored by our Canadian neighbors. Now that’s privacy.

Due to time constraints we opted to book a Maligne Canyon Tour of lakes, gorges, wildlife and waterfalls. It was a good choice. Early on tour day we joined our fellow passengers from Australia, Switzerland and the U.K. That would be the pattern for all of our tours. Usually we were the only ones from the USA. This time a father and son joined us from Richmond, VA.

Our guide was a trained geologist and we learned more than we needed to know about how the Maligne River carves a gorge through the solid limestone of the Rockies. Along the picturesque road there are six different footbridges and a teahouse. We spent time hiking down trails and marveling at the scenery as we were sprayed with the cold water of magnificent waterfalls.

Medicine Lake was another stop. One of the largest so-called ‘sinking’ lakes in the Western hemisphere, it is actually an area in which the Maligne River (flowing from its lake) backs up and suddenly disappears underground. During the winter months it is a meandering frozen river. Interesting stuff!

After lunch we boarded a boat to tour the pristine Maligne Lake that surrounds the world famous Spirit Island. Even with all the boats coming and going it was a peaceful spot. Another memorable scene was a mama bear and her two cubs playing in a ravine. Wonderful!

Too soon it was time to leave Jasper and head for the Columbia Icefields, Lake Louise and Banff. At every bend in the road, the scenery is simply spectacular. A stop at Athabasca Falls is mandatory. The falls are a thundering sight with a bridge and platforms at different vantage points that gave us goose bumps.

The closer we got to the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier the more glaciers came into view. At the centre we paid our money and boarded a shuttle to the rim of the ice fields. Then we transferred to the Ice Explorer — a space-like vehicle with huge tires — it slowly bumped down a steep incline and moved onto and across the surface of the glacier as digital cameras flashed.

It is almost an out-of-body experience to walk on a centuries old glacier. I wanted to shush people so I could be engulfed in silence and truly enjoy the moment. It was absolutely the highlight of our trip.

Our visit to Lake Louise was shrouded in mountain mist, rendering the color of the lake less brilliant than hoped for. Nevertheless, literally thousands of people were there to gaze at the glacier peaks framing the lake, rent canoes, walk the shoreline path or hike up to the teahouse and beyond.

In the chilly morning air, Chuck and I headed into the massive, cream-colored Chateau for coffee and a delicious, melt-in-your mouth croissant. Later, after walking the trail, we had lobster and shrimp croissants in the dining room overlooking the lake. For us, it’s always about the food!

Still heading south, we were fascinated by the 40 wildlife crossings over the highways constructed to insure safety for the variety of animals that would otherwise be killed on busy roads. They look like mountain trails. Sadly, one day, a young female Grizzly Bear was able to get around the fences where she was hit and killed.

As we entered Banff I really gave kudos to Canadian campers and parks. The people and the quiet, well maintained 2,400 sites and 13 campgrounds were impressive. Plus, they have a great shuttle system to get you almost any place you want to go right from the campground. It runs in 40 minute intervals.

Once again we wanted to get an overview with a narrative of the area so we booked another tour. Our group included visitors from Amsterdam, Australia, Burma, England and of course, Oregon. Over the course of a week we saw and did all the touristy stuff and loved it.

First, of course, we stopped at the Banff Springs Hotel and gawked like the tourists we were at the opulence surrounded by wilderness. We rode around the Minnewanka Loop to Cascade Ponds, Johnson Lake, Bankhead (fascinating former coal mine) and of course, magnificent, historical Lake Minnewanka. Then we headed out the Bow Valley Parkway to Muleshoe and Johnston Canyon.

Too soon it was time to bid farewell to our Canadian neighbors and head home but we’ll be back!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.