Saturday, September 29, 2012

Weekend Getaway - Astoria, Oregon

For Labor Day weekend, we looked a little bit farther out of our normal range of outside activities to find a place to spend the weekend.  My wife and I both loved the movie Goonies when we were kids, and we decided to go down and check out Astoria, Oregon.

Before we went there, I kept calling it "Uh-story-uh."  After spending the weekend there, I have learned everyone down there calls it "Ass-story-uh."  It's a pretty little seaside town right at the mouth of the Columbia River.  It's only about 3 1/2 hours drive from Bremerton, so it makes for a nice not-too-far weekend getaway.

View from Holiday Inn Express

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express right under the Astoria bridge.  It was a pretty nice place - and the prices reflected it, but we got some sort of weekend getaway discount deal.  They serve a pretty decent continental breakfast in the lobby, too.

It turns out there are several movies that have been filmed in Astoria, not just Goonies.  Some of the others we recognized were Kindergarten Cop and Short Circuit.  If you stop at the Chamber of Commerce, for $1 you can have a paper map and an audio CD that takes you through a tour of the town and past all the movie locations.  We went by the Goonies' house, the winding road where Mikey's older brother chased them on the little girl's bike, the window where Chunk smashes his milkshake while watching the police chase, the museum where Mikey's father worked and was taking down the flag at the beginning of the movie, and the jail.

They have turned the jailhouse into a film museum and will let kids film their own movie inside.  Out in front of the jail they have the black Jeep Cherokee the Fratelli family used in the movie, complete with bullet holes in the back, and the cast of the movie all autographed the dashboard with a black permanent marker.

Driving that winding road that Mikey's brother rode the little girl's bike on takes you up to the top of the hill overlooking Astoria and the Astoria Column.  The view here is truly spectacular and made it worth the drive down from Bremerton.  Heck, even if you didn't want to pay for a hotel to stay overnight, you could make this a day trip - drive down, go to the top of the tower, see the Goonies locations, and drive back in one day.  This picture is looking south from the top of the Column toward the Lewis & Clark River.  The picture at the top of this post is the view toward the Columbia River and the bridge from the top of the column.

They sell balsa wood gliders in the gift shop at the bottom of the column.  They will hand you a Sharpie marker to write your name on the glider before you throw it off the top of the column.  Granted, first you have to climb the 100+ spiral staircase steps to the top, but it was totally worth it. 

The boys conducting pre-flight checks on their gliders.  We had a blast watching our gliders soaring off into the distance.

We had lunch at this boat-turned-fish'n'chips-grill called the Bowpicker.  DANG it was good stuff.  They make fish'n'chips using fresh tuna, and it was absolutely extraordinary!  Small boats aside, there were a plethora of awesome local restaurants in Astoria serving excellent dishes using fresh local produce.  There are a couple of breweries, too, but I wasn't overly thrilled with their beer.  We went to two breweries and they both served the typical Pacific Northwest style of IPA with heavy hops.  I'm much more a fan of New England style lagers.  Oh, but the Crater Lake root beer they had on tap at the Wet Dog Cafe was delicious!

There's a maritime museum on the waterfront in Astoria - the Columbia River Maritime Museum.  I've been to a lot of small-town museums before, and 99% of them have been boring and lame - some collection of random odds and ends and local history with the name "museum" slapped on the building to try and create a tourist attraction.  Not so in this case.

This museum was actually very well done with high quality exhibits about the Graveyard of the Pacific, the local US Coast Guard rescue boats, the Columbia River pilots, the salmon fishing industry, and a wing of Navy stuff from the battleship USS OREGON and the two WWII cruisers to carry the name USS ASTORIA.  The boys loved playing in the tug boat pilot house.

We also visited Fort Clatsop National Historic Park.  After Lewis & Clark reached the Pacific coast, this is where they spent the winter before heading back east.  This is a replica of the fort that was built using the drawings from Lewis & Clark's journals.

We got there just in time for a hike led by a Park Ranger, and I continue to enjoy every chance I can get to learn from them.  Park Rangers always lead awesome tours and have so much fascinating history to teach and explain.

The boys with Sacagawea.  
One of the stories I learned from the Park Ranger was how Lewis & Clark referred to her simply as "the squaw" until one day a canoe full of their precious journals and scientific instruments capsized, and she dove in and saved the stuff.  It wasn't until she saved their gear that they bothered to learn her name and refer to her by her name in their journals.

There's a nice trolley that goes back and forth along the waterfront in Astoria, too.  It only costs a dollar to ride, and we totally got our money's worth.  I would go back and ride the trolley again more for the things I learned from the conductors than for the transportation they provided.

The conductors were full of historic trivia and stories about the area.  Other people on the trolley commented on how each of the conductors had different stories to tell and they learned something new and different each time they rode.

Overall it was a wonderful trip.  If you're looking for a weekend getaway from Bremerton, or even just a day-trip, I highly recommend checking out the view from the Astoria Column, taking a ride on the trolley, visiting the maritime museum, and doing the Chamber of Commerce's driving tour of the movie sights.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Olympic National Park - Crescent Lake

For my birthday, I asked my family to go with me for a short hike and a bike ride up at Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park about a half hour drive west of Port Angeles.  The two destinations I had in mind were #14  and #15 in the Falcon Guide titled Best Easy Day Hikes - Olympic National Park.

On our way up there, we stopped at Fat Smitty's for lunch.  One of my shipmates told me they had the best burgers on the peninsula.  If you're headed from Kitsap over toward anywhere on the Olympic Peninsula, you can't miss it.

Right on Highway 101 there's this little shack of a restaurant with a huge chainsaw-art carving of a ginormous double-decker hamburger with all sorts of fixings on it.  I thought this squat-totem-pole of burger-worship was just an exaggeration to gather people's attention...


Their signature item, the Fat Smitty burger really is that big.  The waiter recommended it if we hadn't been there before, but didn't offer any explanation of how big it was.  The menu also offered no description to warn us of the ginormous greasy monstrosity we would be receiving off the grill.

When the waiter set them down in front of us, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, and it took a few moments to get over the shock.  The waiter said the record is 45 seconds to eat an entire Fat Smitty burger.  He recommended putting all your weight into squashing it down with your palm on top of the burger, then picking it up and not putting it down again until you were all done.  I'm sorry to disappoint you, but there was no way I could finish it. 

After lunch, we followed Highway 101 along the southern edge of the lake to Lake Crescent Lodge.  Just before the lodge is a boat ramp and a parking area for the Marymere Falls trailhead.  This was a short hike (1.5 miles round trip) and pretty easy for families with children.  Because of that, there were quite a few people there, but it wasn't crowded.

Boys being goofy on the trail.

The trail is hard-pack dirt.  It's flat most of the way and has about 80 feet of elevation gain up wood steps the waterfall viewpoint.  There are two small bridges to cross.  That plus the steps lead me to think this would not be good with a stroller, but we did see several babies in baby-backpacks.  Also, there are sturdy handrails going up the steps and at the viewpoint, so you don't have to worry too much about small children falling over the edge.



My eldest son at Marymere Falls

Blunoz Family Photo at Marymere Falls

After leaving Marymere Falls, we drove around to the north side of the lake to take our bikes on the Spruce Railroad Trail.  This was not the type of trail I was expecting.  We've been on several trails on the east coast that were converted from old railroads, such as the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail near our house in Virginia, the Great Allegheny Trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath in Maryland, and the bike path in Wolfeboro, NH.

The Spruce Railroad Trail was built to bring sitka spruce trees to build biplanes in World War I and has since been converted to a trail... of sorts.  Not the smooth, easy for a family ride trail I was expecting though.

It was bumpy and rocky and had several dips that made it passable by mountain bike, but not for a gentle family ride.  We only went about 2.5 miles then decided to turn around and go back.

My youngest son doing the Karate Kid pose at
one of several dips that we walked our bikes across.

After returning home and looking for more information online, I found this good blog post that included pictures and mentioned how they walked their bicycles for a good portion of the trail.  Then I also found a news article that they are GOING to expand this trail into something more like the other railroad bike trails we've been on.
"The 3.5-mile trail will be upgraded to an 8-foot-wide asphalt trail with 3 feet of adjacent gravel shoulders so it’s accessible to all types of bicycles, as well as pedestrians, equestrians and people in wheelchairs.
In addition, both of the historic railroad tunnels will be reopened as part of the trail and a new segment will be built near Lyre River to bypass and mitigate the existing steep grades in that area."  (Quoted from the article linked above)

It would have been a nice easy, nearly flat trail for a hike.  I would like to go back sometime and do it on foot.

On our way back, we stopped for an awesome dinner at the Bushwhacker restaurant in Port Angeles.  This was our second time eating dinner here.  The first time, we stopped here after our hike up Hurricane Hill, and our eldest son has been asking us to go back to Port Angeles so we could eat dinner at the Bushwhacker ever since.  We weren't disappointed.  Both times we have received exceptionally good service and fantastically delicious food.  Plus, they serve a locally bottled root beer that's top notch.

Although the bike path was a little bit of a disappointment, overall it was a great day.  I'm thankful to my family for entertaining my desires for how to spend my last day as a 39 year old.  :-)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Olympic National Park - Elk Mountain

This is hike #9 in the Falcon Guide titled Best Easy Day Hikes - Olympic National Park.  It's also the second most difficult hike listed in the book, the most difficult being Mount Zion that I did a few weeks ago.

One of my O-gang shipmates expressed an interest in doing a "longer" hike this weekend.  We put the invitation out to the rest of the wardroom and ended up with a group of four of us plus one spouse heading out to Olympic National Park.  We offered up a small sum of cash to get someone to drop us off at one end and pick us up at the other, and it worked out really well.

First we drove up to the Hurricane Ridge visitor's center.  I stamped my National Park passport there.  I've also been using the National Park stamp on the pages of the day hike guide book to show when I've done each hike.  We used the facilities there and then headed out on the 7.5 mile dirt and gravel bumpy Obstruction Point Road.

Obstruction Point Road

I was surprised how many cars and people there were at the Obstruction Point trailhead.  There were probably a dozen cars in the parking lot and several people loading up their backpacks.  Apparently we weren't the only ones who thought this was a rare opportunity to get out on this trail that isn't accessible for a large part of the year.

Time Stamp at the Obstruction Point Trailhead

Beginning of the trail.  There is a fork in the trail here.  The trail going down to the right is the Badger Valley Trail.  The trail heading up the slope to the right above the trees is the Obstruction Point trail.

This is the view looking down into Badger Valley from near the trailhead.  You can see the Badger Valley trail leading down below the trees on the left.  The Badger Valley trail eventually goes back up to rejoin the Obstruction Point trail at the 2 mile mark.

Looking back the way we came.  The Obstruction Point trail head is just above the center of this photo, and you can see the trail going off to the right edge of the photo, looping up to the top of the ridgeline.

On top of the ridgeline with the snow-capped Olympic Mountains to the southeast in the background.

There were a lot of these all over the top of the ridgeline.  I kept thinking I might hear a Who.  I'm still trying to identify them in my flower books.  In addition to these, we also saw a lot of pearly everlasting, gray thistles, purple lupines, and yellow daisies. 

Panorama shot from somewhere around Elk Mountain.  In the distance on the left side we could see a couple of lakes and waterfalls crashing down below the lakes.  In this picture, one of the waterfalls looks like a small white line.  I was glad I brought my binoculars, because the waterfalls were pretty cool.

Looking northwest from the top of the ridgeline, we could see the Hurricane Ridge Road sloping up to the left.  We could also see across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, BC, and beyond.  Again, I was glad I brought my binoculars to see the details in the far distance.  My little point-and-click camera doesn't do the view justice.

We stopped at Roaring Winds Pass to eat lunch.  It was 3.2 miles into the hike and at a dip in the elevation profile.  We had just come down from Elk Mountain and from Roaring Winds Pass would begin climbing again up to Maiden Peak.

Here is an annotated altitude profile of the hike taken from my GPS.

From the southern side of Maiden Peak, there's a pretty good view of The Needles.

The trail wraps counter-clockwise around Maiden Peak, and coming around the east side of the peak looking north a beautiful view of Port Angeles to Sequim opens up.  From here, the trail goes down into the trees and follows the ridgeline off to the right (northeast).

Although there were many small mountain wildflowers above the treeline, descending below the treeline brought a whole new slew of flowers.

Scouler's Bellflower

Scarlet Paintbrush


Mushrooms (I don't have any clue on identifying these yet).

Time stamp at the end.  We made it.  The last half-mile or so was pretty brutal uphill climbing to the Deer Park Ranger Station.  I was exhausted.  Apparently so were the rest of my group, because there was audible snoring and heads slumped over in the back seat within about 5 minutes of starting our drive back down the hill to Port Angeles.
In the car on our way down the Deer Park Road (which is another bumpy, winding, dirt and gravel road similar to the Obstruction Point Road), this was the view out the window looking back the way we came.  The last couple of miles of the hike were in the trees along that ridgeline from the left side of the picture going back up to the peaks in the middle of the picture.

My previous Garmin Forerunner 405 had died (battery wouldn't charge) and I had to send it back to Garmin to get it refurbished.  That's why my last several hikes didn't have this Garmin Connect map below.  This was my first hike out with the newly refurbished Forerunner.  The Garmin Connect page allows you to download the trek in XML and view it in Google Earth.  It's pretty cool to follow the path we took in a birds-eye view angled down to see the elevation dropping off on either side of the ridge.

Hike Stats:  When I'm searching for places to hike with my kids, I appreciate having some basic facts and figures about the hike for me to judge if it's doable with my kids.  With that in mind, I hope other parents considering this hike find the following information useful.  Note I did NOT take my kids on THIS hike, and I would not recommend it for small children.  There were spots on some pretty steep slopes, and it was a pretty long hike.
  • Date: 15 September 2012
  • Time of Departure: Met up with our group in the Kitsap Mall parking lot and headed out shortly after 8 a.m.  Arrived at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor's Center to use the restrooms and check out the view at 10 a.m. on the nose.  Departed the Obstruction Point trail head about 10:43 a.m. 
  • Time of Return: 2:59 p.m. back in car at Deer Park trailhead.  Made a stop at the 101 Diner for milkshakes and arrived home about 5:15 p.m.  
  • Elapsed:  4 hours 13 minutes
  • Moving Time (GPS):  3 hours 5 minutes 
  • Stopped Time (GPS):  1 hour 8 minutes 
  • Mileage (GPS): 7.6 miles
  • Avg Speed (GPS):  1.8 mph
  • Elevation Gain:  1,266 feet gained / 2,149 feet lost
  • Max Elevation:  6,657 feet
  • Weather:   Clear and sunny.
  • Winds:  2-5 mph SW.
  • Air Temp: 57F at the Obstruction Point trailhead climbing to 60F at the Deer Park Ranger Station.  I was comfortable in a long-sleeve t-shirt and shorts except I got a little chilly during some windy parts on top of the ridge.
  • Trail:  Well-defined hard-pack dirt or gravel trail.  Some along the side of pretty steep and slippery slopes.  No trail markers, and there were a few spots where there were forks in the trail, but they were labeled with signs.  
  • Crowds?  Not crowded, but not alone.  There were about a dozen cars parked at the Obstruction Point trail head.  We passed well over a dozen people along the way going in both directions.
  • Hazards?  Some steep dropoffs.  No sources of water.  I've heard to beware the mountain goats that can be aggressive in ONP, but we didn't see or hear of any.
  • Geocaches?   Didn't bother looking - assumed there were none because it's a National Park.
  • Kit: Long sleeve T-shirt, shorts, new Merrell Moab Gortex hiking boots, flop hat, walking stick.
  • Route:  Followed the path of hike #9 in the Best Easy Day Hikes: Olympic National Park book.  Started at the Obstruction Point trailhead and ended at the Deer Park trailhead.  Had a shipmate drop us off at one end, drive around and pick us up at the other end. 
  • Facilities:  There was a privy at the Obstruction Point trailhead and a privy at the Deer Park trailhead, but nothing in between.  There are no sources of water along this trail.