Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Seattle is Cool!

July 20, 2016 - 11:33 am 2 Comments

After checking into my Seattle hostel, I set out to explore the city. Compared to Portland, this is a proper city. And with the beautiful weather, friendly people, scenic skyline, I got a great vibe from Seattle from the very beginning.

I walked around a bunch, hitting the famous Pike Place Market a few times. It’s a crowded collection of outdoor stalls and indoor shops filled with art, photography, fish, produce, flowers, and lots of other great stuff. Kind if a neat place, if not a little claustrophobic with all of the tourists cramming through there.

Pike Place Market (more…)

The Train from Portland to Seattle

July 17, 2016 - 1:48 pm No Comments

Woke up early this morning and made one more attempt to hit Voodoo Doughnut, but again found the line around the block. At 7am. Crazy.

Keep Portland Weird (more…)

A Gorge, a Mountain, and Some Roses

July 17, 2016 - 1:11 am No Comments

So at night, all of the shuttered storefronts transform into bars with live music and booming nightclubs. Portland’s social youth get dressed up and pour onto the streets. And the ruckus doesn’t scare away the homeless people. They hang out and watch or go to sleep right there on the sidewalk in front of the club.

At 1am, I visited Voodoo Doughnut and found the line around the block. Are the doughnuts really that good?

Voodoo Doughnut (more…)

A Zombie in Portland

July 15, 2016 - 11:09 pm 1 Comment

That last night before leaving, I didn’t go to sleep. It was a mad crush of house chores, laundry, and packing. Somehow, perhaps irresponsibly, I managed to condense two month’s worth of essentials into a single suitcase. We shall see how that works out for me.

My flight to Portland was with Southwest, an airline I’ve had some problems with recently but compensated me with some travel vouchers. But the vouchers didn’t make me feel any better about the airline’s “no assigned seating” policy, which I find very frustrating. Just like the last time I flew Southwest, I found myself pacing up and down the aisle looking for a window or aisle seat, with each person looking at me awkwardly as they wondered if I would sit down next to them. When you choose not to sit next to them, do they take it personally? Or are they relieved? Or some weird combination of both? Alas, the best option was an aisle seat next to an athletic-looking guy with a massive, V-shaped upper body that surged over the armrest and invaded my space. He looked comfortable, but for me, acute scoliosis set in at 15,000 feet. That, and the emergency row seats don’t lean back. That, and my inflatable airline pillow became soggy and pathetic after about five minutes. (more…)

I Had Breakfast in Venice this Morning

August 28, 2011 - 9:25 pm No Comments

Almost immediately after sitting in my familiar chair at my familiar desk in my familiar room, the trip I just took seems like it was all a dream. Did I really spend the last 10 days in Europe?

It was truly a whirlwind tour of Europe. The pace was challenging, the walking destroyed my feet, and I got really damn tired of being hot and sweaty. But trips are like relationships. When you’re in it, you tend to focus on the bad, but after it’s over, you only remember the good. Memories of being hot and sweaty and tired have been replaced with the memories of being in great places doing great things with great people.

Of the cities we visited on this trip, my list from best to worst might be:

  1. Prague
  2. Berlin
  3. Venice
  4. Český Krumlov
  5. Bled
  6. Krakow
  7. Vienna
  8. Budapest

Not having to worry about the daunting task of organizing accommodation in cities or transportation between them made it all possible. Intrepid took care of everything, allowing us to spend most of our time enjoying ourselves. I’d definitely consider taking another trip with them in the future.

I’ll be busy for the next few months, if not years, finishing this blog and working on the thousands of photos I took on this trip. It’s a lot of work, but I know that when I’m old and gray (well on my way), I’m going to love looking back at this stuff.

No Regrets.

Jackson and the Trip Home

September 22, 2010 - 11:56 pm No Comments

With green ski slopes surrounding the town and streets lined with empty bars and restaurants, I could tell that Jackson really hops in the winter. For us, it seemed quiet and sleepy.

Welcome to Jackson

After checking into our room at the ironically named Virginia Lodge, we headed back to the center of town where Stef treated me to a fabulous birthday dinner at Snake River Grill. After consuming some delicious pork shank, we strolled into the store next door called By Nature Gallery that sold upscale fossil relics. Very cool!

Arch of Elk Antlers

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

The famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar was pretty empty, but we took a moment to sit in the saddles by the bar before leaving.

Stef in the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

The Silver Dollar Bar was packed and had a great band. We sat and chatted with some fellow travelers for a moment, but we couldn’t stay out too long as our flight home was scheduled for early in the morning.

At dawn, I headed over to the reception desk at the lodge to catch some wifi. I plopped down in a giant, overly soft leather couch on one side of the. I’ve always felt a little weird about public leather furniture. Do people’s germs stick and fester on leather more than on velour or wood or plastic? I get skeeved out when public leather touches my skin.

Checking our flights, I noticed that our flight home was delayed for a couple of hours. A great thing for Stef, because she really needed another couple of hours in bed.

Outside, the sun slowly rose behind the mountains, turning the sky blues from dark to deep to cheerful to pale. When I start sensing the end of a trip, I start thinking about home, about what may changed while I was away, even though in this case I’d barely been gone a week. As I cling to my last few hours of adventure, I wonder what mundane things my friends and family are doing at home, and I get depressed knowing that I’ll be doing those same things very soon.

It’s been one of those trips where everything just works out perfectly. We always missed the crowds, doing hikes and seeing sights and finding wildlife before buses full of tourists showed up. Wrong turns resulted in tremendous viewpoints. We’re quite satisfied with the wildlife we saw without even trying. Except for a night in the car in Yellowstone, we booked rooms where and when we needed to. And the weather was perfect. There was no rain despite a continuous forecast for it, and the sun always came out when we stopped the car.

When we dropped off our rental car at the airport, the odometer revealed that we had covered a total of 1703 miles on our trip, an average of 213 miles a day. Sounds like a lot, but it seemed quite manageable.

Our Ride Home

Before we knew it, we were home. We headed straight to the bar, where Stef and other friends had organized a surprise birthday happy hour for me. My friends are pretty cool sometimes. 🙂

Now, it’s back to real life…

The Grand Tetons

September 21, 2010 - 6:01 pm No Comments

The alarm went off. It was still dark and cold. Stef and I made our way to the lodge’s observation deck to watch the sun rise over the Tetons. Hot chocolate kept my hands warm as we found a spot on the edge of Willow Flats, the huge expanse of mushy scrubland between the lodge and the mountains.

Elk bulls pierced the cold morning air with passionate bugling. The mountains slowly changed color as the sun came up behind us.

Dawn at Mount Moran

Sunrise in the Grand Tetons

Sunrise on Grand Teton

Sunrise in the Grand Tetons

We returned to Horseshoe Bend for some more scenery.

Mount Moran

Mount Moran

Mount Moran

Up to this point, Stef and I had seen bison, elk, and bighorn sheep, but we agreed that moose and bears were the coolest animals and were disappointed that we hadn’t seen any.

As Stef drove is up the winding road on Signal Mountain, Stef screamed out “Holy fuck, a bear!” Sure enough, about 50 yards ahead of us, a black bear was crossing the road. I fumbled with my camera and tried to get a few quick shots.

Holy F, a Bear!

We stopped the car and I hopped out. The bear was quite small, so I looked around for a large, mean Mommy bear and gingerly took a few more pictures before the bear disappeared into the foliage.

Black Bear on Signal Mountain

Vans and cars stopped around us. Camera-toting tourists curiously crowded us to ask what we had seen, but the bear was already scampering off. Stef and I were proud to have had our quiet moment with the bear.

Loud-ass Cricket Thing

A short walk up the Signal Mountain trail took us to the Jackson Point Overlook for an impressive view of the park. The air was crisp, the scenery was a lesson in geology, with every conceivable landform within view. The spot would be cool field trip for a geology class.

View from Signal Mountain

Stef & Jeff on Signal Mountain

Thistle Couple

From there, we headed down to Jenny Lake for a short ferry ride and a couple of highly rated hikes. Hidden Falls was surprisingly dull for something hidden, and Inspiration Point offers a surprisingly uninspiring view of Jenny Lake.

Toe Socks & Chaco's

Inspiration Point

Boats at Jenny Lake

Bridge Over Jenny Lake

We hit the road again and made our way across the rather flat interior of the park. The maps are deceiving. The park is tiny, and you could very easily drive through the whole thing in a day. Stef, always the outdoors type, groaned every time she saw a runner or biker, wishing she were doing the same. What a glorious place to be active.

Road to Grand Teton

At one of our stops, I ran into a Trek America driver. I worked for Trek America in the summer of 2004, and I tried to strike up a conversation with him, but he wasn’t interested or even friendly. Was he threatened by the fact that I had already done what he’s doing? Scared that I might be critical of him? Or did he just not like my toe socks?

We came upon a group of people gathered along the bank of Snake River. A moose bull was resting in the foliage on the opposite bank. Everyone was taking photos and waiting for the rest of his family to show up. We had seen a bear and a moose on our last day!

Sleepy Moose

Just before saying goodbye to Grand Teton National Park, we drove up to the Snake River overlook where Ansel Adams took his famous photograph. I wanted to pay homage to Ansel and take a similar photo, but conditions made it difficult. I tried my best.

Snake River

We’ll be spending our last night in Jackson. We fly home tomorrow morning.

Colors, Colors Everywhere!

September 20, 2010 - 10:42 pm No Comments

The hike up Geyser Hill to the observation point was a bit strenuous and cold first thing in the morning, and it felt even colder when Old Faithful didn’t erupt as scheduled. Bracing ourselves against brisk winds, Old Faithful teased us with tiny queefs.

Finally, it erupted. It’s much less impressive when viewed from far away but an interesting perspective nonetheless. From such a distance, the geyser’s signature whooshing sound cannot be heard. With similarly freezing tourists on either side of us, we watched in silence.

Old Faithful Erupts

After hiking back down, Stef and I followed the wooden boardwalk across Upper Geyser Basin. It was still early and chilly, but nasty fumes from the geysers and steam vents kept us warm as we walked. It was surprisingly busy, with families and camera-toting Asians crowding around geysers and waiting for the next scheduled eruptions.

Geysers dribbled and burped but were mostly gray and boring. The geothermal pools were more interesting to me. Their dazzling colors and mysterious stillness made me want to stick my hand in, but I held back. Unfortunately, people have been throwing garbage into these pools for decades. Trash settles and blocks the natural underground plumbing, disrupting microecosystems and diminishing their color. Shame.

Geothermal Pool in the Sun

Beauty Pool

Morning Glory Pool

Sawmill Geyser

Stef Walks the Upper Geyser Basin

From there, we dashed over to another geyser hot spot, the Black Sand Basin.

Runoff at Black Sand Basin

Emerald Pool

Before leaving Yellowstone, I wanted to get one last look at Grand Prismatic Spring. I knew that somewhere, there was vantage point to see it from above, but I didn’t know where it was, and park maps for the area were useless. Following the advice of a park ranger, we drove to the Fairy Falls trail and followed it a bit before veering off to hike up a hill.

From above, the view is spectacular. A gentle breeze silently wafts away the steam, revealing a full spectrum of colors that you never get to see on the ground.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

Stef & Jeff at Grand Prismatic Spring

The trail is not marked, but this hike should be required on any visit to Grand Prismatic Spring. Truly amazing, and a great way to finish Yellowstone.

We hit the road and headed south. On our way out of Yellowstone, we learned that the Antelope Fire had closed down a good chunk of the park up north. Once again, we lucked out.

Jeff at the Continental Divide

As we approached Grand Teton National Park, the grasses became thicker and more golden. The area around Lewis Falls was particularly beautiful. The purple Grand Tetons (French for “big tits”) greeted us in the distance.

Lewis River

Lewis Falls

When you first enter on John D. Rockefeller Parkway, the scenery is spectacular. Jagged, picturesque mountains resemble the massive stone peaks of Glacier National Park, only with less snow and vegetation. Trees are awash in fall colors, and late afternoon sunlight fills everything with a golden glow. Yellowstone had none of this! Yellowstone may be good for wildlife and geysers, but for landscapes, Grand Teton National Park is where you want to be.

Colors of Grand Teton

Colors of Grand Teton

Colors of Grand Teton

After a few phone calls, we learned that many of the lodges were closed for the season. I know it’s the end of the season, but why is everything closing down when these parks are still so busy? Jackson Lake Lodge was pricey, but it was the cheapest available room in the area, so we grabbed it. After checking in, I asked the lady at the front desk if there was a good spot to go for sunset, and she recommended Oxbow Bend, a small lake just down the road.

We arrived there to find dozens of photographers with their huge tripods and lenses pointed at the bushes on other side of river. Apparently, a moose family had been out the evening before, and they’d been sitting there for hours just waiting for it. Wildlife photographers have a patience I can’t even begin to understand.

Stef at Oxbow Bend

Oxbow Bend

Oxbow Bend

Back at the Jackson Lake Lodge, we relaxed on the deck overlooking the meadow and watched the sun disappear behind the Grand Tetons and felt night slowly descend over us. Quite a view.

Sunset at Jackson Lake Lodge

Pink Fluff on Mount Moran

While waiting for a table at the lodge restaurant, we sat in the Shining-esque lobby and struck up a conversation with an older couple from Columbus, Georgia. My friend Rob lives in Columbus, but they didn’t know him.

Stef has been having some stomach problems, but that didn’t stop her from ordering elk at dinner. It was very lean and delicious, but I’m not sure exotic meats are what Stef’s ailing tummy needs. I had the duck, which was also quite delicious.

Moose Butter

Along with the gastrointestinal issues, Stef’s legs are killing her and her feet are covered with blisters. We both have sunburned faces and chapped lips. All this adventure is taking its toll. Vacations are rough!

Tomorrow’s the last day of our adventure. We’ll start the day with a hike around highly recommended Jenny Lake and then head further south to Jackson Hole for our last night.

Early Morning at Old Faithful

September 20, 2010 - 7:20 am No Comments

We were uncomfortable and cold and stinky, but we didn’t get busted.

Woke up at dawn, just in time for this morning’s first Old Faithful eruption.

Old Faithful Erupts #1

At the moment, I’m trying to warm up with a blueberry muffin and hot chocolate in the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn. Looking out the giant windows, I see better-rested tourists with hot coffees gathering around Old Faithful. Stef and I are about climb up Geyser Hill to view Old Faithful’s next eruption from above. It’s scheduled to blow at 7:50am, so we have to book it.

A Day in Yellowstone

September 19, 2010 - 9:25 pm No Comments

Before setting off, we worked out a plan for the day. The main roads of Yellowstone are shaped like a figure eight, so there’s no way to avoid backtracking if you want to see the whole park. It’s kind of a pain.

We drove into the park and found a giant elk waiting for us in the parking lot. A ranger worked frantically to keep warning cones up in a circle about 200 feet from the animal, warning people to stay back and running around to reposition them every time the elk took a step in any given direction.

Bugling Elk

Every few minutes, the elk would stoop his head and make a loud, dinosaur-like sound that was something between a squeal and a groan. Turns out that this is called “bugling,” and elks do it to mark their territory and attract females.

Due to some faulty map-reading and a wrong turn, we didn’t get to the Lamar Valley for wildlife watching. Not a big deal, since it seemed like the Lamar Valley was on fire. Smoke filled the air, and many of the smaller roads and trails were closed.

Morning Mountain Sunshine

Smoky Drive Through Yellowstone

We came across a herd of bison on the side of the road. These animals are huge, and they’re not shy. While we drove slowly, I gingerly leaned out the window to take pictures.

Roadside Bison

Stoic Bison

Skipping the Lamar Valley meant that we arrived at Mt. Washburn earlier than scheduled. The sky was perfectly clear, and the air was cool and crisp. At 10,243 feet, Mt. Washburn is the highest point in park. The hike to the top climbs 1,491 feet from parking lot and took us about two hours. I’m not a hardcore hiker like Stef, and that’s about as much as I can handle. Clicking noises and conversation all the way up kept any bears away.

Stef on Mount Washburn

From the cold and windy top of Mt. Washburn, we could see the extent of the forest fire. Turns out that Yellowstone fires are given specific names, and this particular one was called the “Antelope Fire.” Literature in the lookout tower said that it was caused by a lightning strike and now covered 600 acres. Rangers were working to control it.

Forest Fires in the Lamar Valley

Lookout Tower on Mount Washburn

The Top of Mount Washburn

Shadow Monster

Path on Mount Washburn

The Mt. Washburn hike was moderately scenic. Aside from a few angry crickets that attacked Stef, we didn’t see any wildlife. If Mt. Washburn is the best hike in the park, then this is not a good park for hiking.

In contrast to Glacier National Park, the trees of Yellowstone are almost exclusively evergreen. Things are greener, but it also means that things are more monochromatic. Photographically, it’s a little less interesting.

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to geysers and hot springs. Our first stop was the Norris Geyser Basin, a windy, stinky moonscape with ribbons of color.

A wooden walkway takes you past geysers that are oozing, spurting, bubbling, erupting, splashing, leaking, steaming, gushing, trickling, and simmering. Geysers that aren’t doing anything are really quite boring. Baseball caps blown off the heads of unsuspecting tourists litter the basin. In the cold breeze, the warm steam from the geysers feels good, but the pungent smell of rotten eggs means that you can only stand in it for a moment.

Pinwheel Geyser

Porcelain Basin

Porcelain Spring

Porcelain Pools

Geyser on the Firehole River

Bacterial Mat

Artist Paint Pots

Shallows of Firehole River

By far, the most colorful and active feature was Grand Prismatic Spring. Because steam filled the air, it was hard to appreciate its true size.

Bridge Over the Bacterial Mats at Grand Prismatic Spring

Orange Bacterial Mat of Grand Prismatic Spring

Orange Bacterial Mat of Grand Prismatic Spring

Excelsior Geyser Runoff

Excelsior Geyser Runoff

We arrived at Old Faithful as the sun was setting, just in time to watch it erupt. Pretty cool. The eruption is surprisingly quiet, sounding a bit like a waterfall from a distance.

Old Faithful at Dusk

We went back to see another eruption under the stars. Just enough ambient moonlight and illumination from inside the Old Faithful Inn to see the eruption.

Old Faithful at Night

As the most popular attraction in Yellowstone, Old Faithful is quite commercialized, with three overpriced lodges, a giant visitor center, and huge parking lots all around it. For dinner, Stef and I treated ourselves to a luxurious meal at one of the lodge restaurants. Stef’s wild boar was porky, tough, and seasoned a bit too sweet for me. I had lamb.

Night. We needed a place to sleep. We wanted a room at one of the lodges, but they were all booked. We are 20 miles away from the nearest campgrounds. They’re probably full, anyway. What can we do? We know it’s against the rules, but Stef and I have decided to sleep in our car in the Old Faithful Inn parking lot. It’s cheap, it cuts a lot if driving out, and it gives us a great starting point tomorrow morning.

We’re right by the front door of the lodge. Stef thinks that park rangers are less likely to check a car that is parked so conspicuously. I hope we don’t get busted.