Saturday, December 22, 2012

San Diego to Lake Tahoe

This Christmas long weekend was to be spent at Lake Tahoe which we had never visited before. I booked a vacation rental through Lake Tahoe Accommodations. We had a nice (per the pics in the rental page) 3 bedroom/2.5 bathroom home in Kingsbury or Stateline right across the CA/NV state border. I flew into San Jose on Saturday morning, where we picked up a rental (4WD due to the snowy conditions) at Hertz and started our drive to Lake Tahoe from SJC. It was about 2 pm when we started the drive - which was smooth and traffic free all the way past Folsum. We reached US50 close to Pollock Pines with absolutely no issues. At this point Google maps seemed to indicate that it would take 4.5 hours to reach Lake Tahoe - which was only 75 miles away! This sounded ridiculous to us so we continued driving. Sure enough, we hit traffic that had come to a standstill. After inching along only 2-3 miles in over 1.5 hours, we decided to turn and head back to a gas station in Pollock Pines - 10 miles back! This would put us back a couple of hours but we were low on water and gas. We headed back to the Chevron gas station, where we took a restroom stop, refueled both the car and ourselves and decided to wait in traffic since heading back to Folsum would put us back by a day. The traffic had come to a standstill due to several vehicle incidents along US50 because of the snow storm. We finally made it to Lake Tahoe past 12:30 am. The rental office had clear instructions on where to pick up the keys and how to head to the house. So that was all neat. But once we reached the house, we realized that there was a long, steep driveway to the house filled with almost 2 feet of snow! We could not leave the car on the road, so we had no choice but to shovel the driveway! :-(
Ugh! Definitely made me regret my decision to stay at a vacation rental vs. hotel! After attempting to shovel the entire driveway, we gave up and only shoveled the bottom part sufficiently to get the car off the road. We then hauled our luggage another 20 feet up the driveway to the garage. But that was not the end of it! The house was another 20-25 feet up - two flights of stairs! Sigh! After hauling all the bags up the stairs we entered the house (which was all warm and cozy) only to realize that 2 bedrooms were downstairs but the master bedroom/kitchen/living room were another flight of steps up! Oh well! We decided to take the master bedroom, so on we went, hauling the bags one more flight of stairs up! The house itself (@187 Kingsbury Circle) was immaculate, cozy and very nice..but after our travel ordeal all night, it just wasn't the fun experience I was hoping it would be!

So ended our journey to Lake Tahoe. By the time we settled into our beds it was 3 AM!!

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Inside Voodoo Doughnut store
Voodoo Doughnut
The weather this morning looked good enough for a walk to the park along the river. So I headed out with my MIL. Unfortunately, light showers started as soon as we hit the streets. So we walked along Adler st, then skipped the park and made our way on 3rd ave to Voodoo Doughnuts. I had read so much about this doughnut shop that I had to stop by. And just like in the reviews, there was a line forming almost out the door at 8 am! We bought a few doughnuts (one with fruit loops on it!) and they were good! DH loved the "Gay Bar" - the one with a line of fruit loop on it and with bavarian creme inside and I really enjoyed the "Portland Creme" - voodoo doughnut's take on Boston Creme!

We didnt have time to do anything else in the morning - just a few stops to check out stores near the hotel. Then we had to pack up to leave for the airport.

With my college buddy - Yatin
My college buddy whom I had not seen or met for the last 6-7 years stopped by to say hello. He's a native Portlander now and in retrospect I should have consulted him on this trip earlier. Oh, well... I left it to the Fodorites to guide me and the trip turned out pretty well. I might have cut short one day in Hood River and added that day to the Portland stay. But then I'm sure we'll return to the city because there is so much to do and see!

Oregon is a beautiful state and one worth visiting in the summer/fall. We will definitely go again!

Our flight back to San Diego was uneventful and in fact, we landed early to a light drizzle! We brought the rains back from Oregon! :) It was a fun road trip - tiring and long but fun!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Back to Portland

October 19 -
We were going to head back to Portland today and with rains in the forecast, were unsure of how to plan to day. After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel. Since it wasnt raining yet, we decided to stop at Bonneville Dam and take a tour. This is a US Government facility - entry is free and very educational. The dam itself is quite small but looking at the fish ladder and understanding what the engineers are doing to sustain wildlife in the area is important. We saw only a couple of migrating salmon today but I enjoyed the visit. DH thought we should have skipped this and done a longer hike instead.

We did stop near Horsetail falls and go on the 1.2m trail towards Oneanta. You will be rewarded with a view of Ponytail falls (0.4m steep hike from the road), more stunning views of the river & gorge along the remaining 0.8m path to Oneanta. The falls at Oneanta is nothing to write home about but the hike is very enjoyable. Past the bridge at Oneanta, there is a fork where one can take a 1.1m trail to Triple Falls. We did not do this. One can also take a 1m hike down to the highway forming a loop to the Oneanta Falls trailhead. We decided to head back the way we came. We got some light showers on the way back.
View of the Columbia River during the hike to Oneanta Falls

Lan Su Chinese Garden

After a quick stop at the snack bar near Multnomah Falls, we headed into Portland. DH wanted to go shopping to the outlet stores in Woodburn (around 45 mins south of Portland). I nixed the plans in favor of walking the streets of downtown Portland. We were staying at the Marriot City Center which is in the heart of downtown and I could not justify heading out of town while we were going to be here only one night. So I dragged the family with me to the Lan Su Chinese garden in Chinatown. For nearly $10 per adult, this place is definitely not worth a visit. It might be a tranquil stop for a local Portlander but for a tourist, this is a waste of time and money unless you are really interested in Chinese tea and plants. We walked back in rain stopping at a couple of stores on the way. We eventually made our way to India House, an Indian restaurant on Morrison st. The food is decent - we had veg and seafood thalis. The portions are filling although the service was a little slow. No complaints after our last Indian meal experience!!! ;-) Nothing spectacular but good enough for satisfying an Indian food craving.

We called it an early night and unfortunately did not explore any of Portland's night life!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The scenic Columbia River Gorge

October 18 -
Today was our day in Hood River and surroundings; per plans dedicated to the Columbia River Gorge scenic drive. After a decent breakfast at the Riverside grill (included with our stay), we stopped at the Hood River visitor booth to get some maps of the area and look up the falls and nearby hikes. There was some good info to be had here since I didnt find anything similar online.

View of the Vista House from the Womens Forum Viewpoint
The best part of the scenic drive is between Portland and Hood River. We didnt explore the Washington side and did not venture out to The Dalles. We drove west on I-84 till exit 22 to state hwy -30. The first stop on this route going east from the town of Corbett is the Portland Women's Forum park. This scenic viewpoint offers spectacular views of the Columbia River, the vista house and the surrounding mountains. It was extremely windy when we stopped here and we could barely stand there to take even a few pics. In any case, its a definite stop on this route since the views are totally worth it. The next stop is the Vista house but the part of hwy-30 leading up to this spot was closed down for construction, so we had to skip it. A fork in the road (going right) leads up to Larch Mountain from where one can see the peaks of several mountains. We didnt go the 6-7 mile route, so cannot comment on the views but I am sure its stunning as well. We drove back the way we came, headed west on I-84 and took exit 28 to Bridal Veil falls. Once we got back on hwy-30, we headed east till we reached Latourell Falls. This was our first glimpse of a Columbia River Gorge Falls. I had my fill of photography from the lower vantage point. We then hiked up to the top of the falls - the hiking trail continues way past the falls but we we didnt venture out very far. From here we started out west - our next stop was Dell's Sheppard. This is a much smaller but more scenic waterfall. Its just a short climb from the highway and the bridge around the waterfall would probably offer a stunning picturesque photo if the light is right. I didnt quite get it since the Sun was in my face (and camera) and I couldnt quite avoid it no matter what angle I chose. An HDR might have worked but everyone was losing patience! :P

The "other" view near Bridal Veil Falls
Our next stop was Bridal Veil Falls. This is a bit of a hike down from the highway - so hike down to the falls, then hike back up. The location is very beautiful with a small wooden bridge amidst green forestry leading up to the actual falls. Lots of photo ops! :)

Wahkeena Falls is next (going east) and visible from the highway but we did not stop here. We headed on to the most famous of the falls along the route: Multonomah Falls. By this time the family was hungry. The result of not packing a picnic lunch was spending extra $$ on average food at the Multonomah Lodge restaurant at the falls. Its ok and a savior if you are starving since there isnt really anything else along the route unless you head out of the area. After doing to necessary "pet-pooja", we walked towards the falls. As cliched as the pics of these falls are, one cant resist getting that "money" shot with the same view/look. I got several one of which I am hoping will be hanging in a frame some day! :D

My money shot of Multnomah Falls!! :)
The climb up to Benson bridge is short - 0.2 m - worth it since the views from there are quite nice. The hike to the top is about 1.1 m - DH very enthusiastically climbed all the way up and pretty much sprinted down. He thought the climb was very much worth it as well. The falls is very pretty and even though I'd read it was over-rated, I would not recommend missing seeing it or hiking to the bridge/top.

Next on our drive east was Oneanta falls - which is a 1m hike from the road. We skipped this and went to the next one: horsetail falls - visible from the road. We got some pics here but take the trails to the several falls accessible from this location (including Oneanta Falls).

This little guy was actually posing for me!
We headed back on I-84 and took exit 44 to Bonneville Dam, with the intention of seeing the fish ladder and migrating salmon. Thought this might be interesting for DS. Unfortunately the place closes at 5pm. So we ended up strolling the fish hatchery and surrounding garden. Its nothing special but for a photo enthusiast, there are hidden treasures everywhere. We got to see some rather interesting fishes, ducks, flowers and fauna. Of course, I was wielding my camera everywhere! :P

By the time we reached Hood River it was time for dinner and DH found a hidden gem in the downtown. The 6th street Bistro is on 6th street off of Cascade Ave. We enjoyed our dinner here: coconut red curry, teriyaki stir fry, pear-walnut salad... the house soup - potato leek - was also excellent! So was the desert! We stayed with vegetarian options and everything was yummy. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mt. Hood and Hood River

October 17 -
View from Drake Park
Once again we woke up to a beautiful day in Bend. After an early breakfast, we checked out of the Fairfield Inn and headed out to downtown Bend in search of a Post Office in order to mail DS's postcards to his friends. We didnt find a post office there but stopped at Drake Park right next to the Deschutes River in downtown Bend. The park offers stunning views of the surrounding foliage and the faraway Mt. Bachelor.

After getting our fill of fall pictures in the park, we headed out towards Hwy 97 and found a post-office right off the hwy. Our drive towards Mt. Hood took us through some scenic countryside, through the small town of Madras (where we stopped for food) and onto Timberline Lodge - listed as a historic landmark site. We spent some time here admiring the history of the lodge but most of its facilities like the Blue Ox Bar etc were closed. The bar upstairs was open and the view from there is pretty good. We spent some time playing shuffleboard in the game room.

DH in our rental car in front of Mt. Hood at Timberline Lodge
From Timberline Lodge, we drove to Hood River to our hotel for the night - Best Western Plus. The hotel is in a nice location right next to the Hood River bridge. Our room, the Oneanta Suite, is pretty nice too with a view of the Columbia River and the bridge.

After unloading our bags and freshening up, we drove north into Washington and then west on hwy 14 (also known as the Lewis and Clark Hwy) hoping to stop on the way to see the sunset. We started driving around 5pm and stopped at Drano Lake. Then continued on, thinking we would find lookout spots to catch the sunset. Unfortunately, there are no such points. We ended up back on the Oregon side after crossing over the Bridges of Gods past the town of Stevenson. On the Oregon side, we stopped by the river side and got some pics of the sky past sunset. We headed back to our hotel and had dinner at the Riverside Grill which is the restaurant in the Best Western. The restaurant is rated pretty high on Yelp but is nothing to write home about. It has typical American-Italian fare. The tomato soup and house garlic bread are pretty good. We also got a fairly good bottle of 2009 Merlot. But the main entrees were all lackluster.
Sunset sky at Hood River seen from the Oregon side near the Bridge Of Gods

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bend and a trip back to Crater Lake!

October 16 -
Benham Falls trail from the park
Benham Falls
We woke up to a bright, sunny day. No rains in the forecast! yaay! After the included breakfast at Fairfield Inn (MIL went on a long walk by the river park which she thoroughly enjoyed), we headed out south on Hwy 97. We were deciding whether to make the trip to Crater Lake considering the sunny weather forecast. Meanwhile we pulled over towards the Lava Lands National Park. This is the exit I was told to take, to go to Newberry National Monument but the park entrance seemed to be closed. So I continued driving towards Benham Falls state park. The road ends in a small parking lot by the river where a trailhead marks the trail to Benham Falls (~0.5m) and other falls in the area (3-7 miles distance). The walk to Benham falls was very nice - the cooperating weather made it even more enjoyable. The falls itself wasnt really a waterfall ... just the river gushing over an outcropping of rock. Nevertheless we had a good time with the walk and taking pics (of course!)

A road to the clouds... drive around the Crater Lake rim

We walked back to our car and decided to take a chance and drive to Crater Lake. We did the 2 hour drive with a short stop to fill gas before hitting hwy 138 and buying some snacks (there are no real restaurants close to Crater Lake unless you count the snack shop/restaurant at Rim Village). We reached the north entrance to the park close to 1 pm. We decided to go around the lake going from the west towards the east. The weather was clear blue sunny skies! Our first stop at Pumice Point did not disappoint - it offered us breathtaking views of the vista. The lake is all it is made out to be - a deep blue like no other and fantastic panoramic views. Our next stop was at Cleetwood Cove trail. There is no lookout here but the start of a 1m trail that leads to the lake and (in summer) to the boat tours. We went a short distance down but skipped the full hike down. It seemed worth doing but we decided it was better to focus on going around the lake. We then stopped at Cloudcap overlook and Phantom ship overlook - both give different views of the lake. From the Phantom ship overlook, a short drive away from the lake is The Pinnacles. A 7 mile drive takes you to this stop where you can see a view of the volcanic fumaroles.
The Pinnacles

After a short break here and being mesmerized by these volcanic formations, we drove out to the rim road. We continued on the east rim route and intended to stop at Vidae falls. This falls is right next to the rim road on the right. But we took a left turn away from the lake after reading a sign for "Vidae". This happens to be the road to the Vidae picnic area and the entrance to the trailhead for several hikes. These hiking trails were closed at this time but looked pretty tempting for a summer visit. After a confusing roundabout near the picnic area (where we thankfully found restrooms - there are no restrooms at any other point from Pumice Point!!) - we headed out, only to realize the falls was to our right on the rim road itself. The falls was pretty tiny - no snow yet to feed the falls. It looked like it might be pretty spectacular in spring or early summer with all the melting snow. We continued our drive along the east rim road to the Rim Village, where we grabbed a bite to eat ($4 for PB&J, anyone??? yikes!) and had some really good latte and cappuccino. The views from behind the restaurant and gift shop are pretty neat too. DH got some postcards to mail his friends from school at the gift shop. After a couple of more stops at Discovery Point and Watchman Overlook we headed back to Bend. Discovery Point is the location from where the lake was discovered by a mule rider whose mule suddenly stopped at the edge of the crater and surprised his rider. DH wondered how many stops we could possibly take to view the same lake??!! We had spent 4 hours at Crater Lake and the view from every angle is completely worth it if you are a fan of landscapes and the beauty of nature! My camera certainly loved it! :P
A pano view of the lake & Wizard Island
The drive back to Bend was uneventful and took us 2 hours. DH chose a Lebanese/middle eastern cuisine restaurant after our debacle with the Indian one the previous night. Joolz, the restaurant in downtown Bend, turned out to be very nice. The decor is quite impressive and we walked into lively chatter and very welcoming servers/hosts. Our server, Fibia (I think) was fantastic. We had several vegetarian tapas - every one of which was scrumptious! DH had a cod dish which was also very good. The cocktails were excellent and so was the date cake we ordered for dessert. I definitely recommend the place!

An awesome end to an amazing day of visual treats followed by culinary delights! :D

Monday, October 15, 2012

Crater lake

October 15 - 
The next morning our plans to go for a walk/hike up to the nearby waterfalls were squashed by the continuous rains. So instead we got ready and took in the beauty and charm of the resort and the log cabins! We really loved our accommodations and resolved to return in the summer - such is the charm of Oregon!! After a very hearty and heavy breakfast at Beckie's (which is a 85-year old tradition on Hwy 62), we checked out of the resort and decided to see some of the falls nearby.

Natural Bridges Falls
The road to Natural bridge viewpoint is 1 mile south of union creek on Hwy 62 to the right. Drive on the road till you get to the parking lot. A short walk later is a bridge to view the falls. The falls is quite lovely and you can see some amazing "natural bridges" formed from lava tubes. 

After walking around the falls and taking plenty of pics, we headed towards Crater Lake which is about 23 miles from Union Creek resort. Unfortunately for us, the visibility today was extremely poor. We attempted a drive along the west rim road but after stopping at a lookout and being blasted by cold, almost freezing winds - we gave up on seeing Crater Lake! This was a huge disappointment since we made this long detour and drive just to see the lake. It was not to be! So we just started driving towards Bend. In retrospect, we should have checked out some more falls in the area. We didnt stop to think or plan. Drive to Bend was smooth for the most part, except for some traffic congestion along hwy 97. On the way, we stopped at the High Desert Museum. This is definitely worth a short visit but its $15 pp. If you are in the area to do other activities this can be skipped. I certainly enjoyed taking pics of the butterflies in the live butterflies and hummingbird exhibit, the rattlers, owls, eagles etc. We also saw some nice fall colors on the way to Bend as well as in downtown Bend where we stopped for coffee at Looney Bean Roasting Company. This place has good coffee and an even better view of the river. We were staying at the Fairfield Inn, in downtown Bend. Its a nice place - nothing special - but good enough. We decided to have dinner at an Indian restaurant for my in-laws' sake. Dinner at Taj Palace on Wall St. in downtown Bend was probably one of the worst Indian food I have eaten! :(

Its been raining considerably this evening in Bend. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a clearer day so we can enjoy the town.

Note: the Fairfield Inn is next to train tracks. So expect to hear trains going by and hooting at all odd hours of the night! :-/