Last March, we sold our house in West Linn, Oregon and moved to Austin, Texas. Positive change and forward motion have been a big part of 2018. We call it our year of the pivot.
When it was time to move (after months of preparation), we embarked on an epic road trip from the Pacific Northwest to the American Southwest. The highlights started in Ashland, Oregon where we spent two lovely wind-down days at Lithia Springs Resort, soaking in their healing waters.
Palm Springs was our mid-way destination and literal turning point (from south to east). We spent three incredible days and nights in the desert with our close friends Lotus and David, who generously opened the guest wing of their home to us and showed us around their town.
North By Southwest in ’18
The Domain/East Austin/Oak Hill
Salt Lake City
After a night in Tucson, we arrived at The Murray Hotel, an historic art deco hotel in downtown Silver City, New Mexico. Silver City is an artist’s colony and university town at the doorway to the Gila Mountains. It’s a charming place, in an authentic, non-manufactured way. I look forward to going back to Silver City for more.
We arrived in Austin on March 16th, the second Friday of SXSW and the night before St. Patrick’s Day. The hotels were booked solid but we found an expensive room several miles north of the city in a new neighborhood called The Domain. It was not our scene, so we quickly shifted to an amazing rental house in East Austin. The historic home had been remodeled and it just felt SO AUSTIN, which was a great feeling and an affirmation.
After 10 days of looking intently for a new home to rent, we discovered an awesome ranch house in Western Oaks with a fenced yard and lots of trails for Lucy. Also, a community pool! Home sweet home.
In July, we met the Shafer family in Deer Valley, Utah for a vacation. We went rafting on the Weber River, played disc golf at Solitude (where I felt the altitude big time) and we played ball golf with Sarah and Travis at Wasatch Mountain State Park in Heber. We also saw Ricky Skaggs backed by the Utah Symphony with my mom.
Texas presents unlimited exploration opportunities and we are just starting to see what’s over the next rise. In October, we ventured south to Port Aransas on the Gulf of Mexico near Corpus Chisti. In November, we drove eight hours northwest to Palo Duro State Park in the Panhandle for two nights of cold camping with Ski and Sara. We also made two trips in fall to Houston where my uncle, aunt, and cousins live.
When you live in or near a big city, it’s crucial to get out of the city and reconnect with the outside world. I’m pleased to report that we found several adventurous ways to do just this in 2017.
Coast-to-Coast in 2017:
I do have a well developed obsession with place, particularly with how geography and climate impact people and culture. To me, it’s endlessly fascinating to explore the differences and likenesses in people and places. Inside the state of Oregon, we go from Portland urban to something else entirely in Eugene and Ashland—two of the finest university towns on the West Coast. We enjoyed seeing the Ducks play Nebraska in Eugene this September. We also visited wineries and played disc golf along the Umpqua River in April, and saw “Julius Caesar” in Ashland. Travel Or-Eee-Gun!
One of the highlights of the travel year was our visit to Idaho in July. My mom flew into Boise and we proceeded from there to McCall, and then over to Walla Walla, Washington. McCall was the star of the show. The charming mountain town on the shores of Payette Lake is a great destination. I’m a fan and I’d love to return in any season.
We also made it to Sundance this Fall for the changing of the leaves and incredible new memory making with old friends.
An interesting side note here, almost everyone we mentioned “Sundance” to this year thought it was in Park City. The film festival is in Park City. The mail order catalog is in Salt Lake City and the resort is a few miles up Provo Canyon from Orem. The resort is another destination where time slows down and nature takes over. My hat is forever off to Robert Redford for using his Hollywood money to save Sundance from unchecked development.
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” –Seneca
Seeing close friends in Seattle, and family in Omaha and Marco Island were also joyful and important trips in 2017.
Place is endlessly fascinating. The people in the places are the reasons we live.
Boise, Idaho and Walla Walla, Washington are inland agricultural empires that have famously produced potatoes, wheat, onions and other staples of the American diet for generations. Today, the farmers in these areas are increasingly growing viniferous grapes and the impact that this crop is making on the local farm-based cultures is significant.
Earlier this month, we drove six and a half hours to Boise from Portland and pulled directly up to Telaya Wine Company’s generous riverfront establishment before heading to the hotel. Their sunny, dog-friendly deck had plenty of room for us and our impromptu picnic. The staff was warm and hospitable, and the wine flights were terrific. The Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was outstanding and we bought a bottle to open on my mom’s birthday, a few days later in McCall.
McCall is an idyllic lakeside community on Lake Payette two hours north of Boise. There are no wineries in McCall, but the scenery is intoxicating, and our waiter at Shore Lodge opened the Red Mountain Cab minus the additional corkage fee, which is always a nice touch.
On the way from McCall to Walla Walla, we stopped for lunch in Lewiston, Idaho at Mystic Cafe. It was here that a clue was given. Our friendly server recommended a trio of Walla Walla wineries to visit, and the next day we took her up on one of her choice spots. Thankfully, Va Piano Vineyards surpassed our expectations in every way. The wine is exceptional, the vineyard is an easy 10-minute drive from town, and their picnic area outside the tasting room, adjacent to the vines is lovely.
Walla Walla is literally overflowing with wineries and tasting rooms. The city takes more than a single visit to orient oneself. While we arrived in town with a hot tip from the road that led us to Va Piano, we also arrived with our favorite producers in mind. That’s why we made a point to visit Waterbrook Winery, a wine we are able to purchase in the grocery store at home.
Waterbrook is a fantastic place to visit. It’s one of the few wineries in the area with a restaurant. Waterbrook’s impressive grounds, helpful staff, yard games, and delicious wine is the ideal combo for a nice afternoon. We had Lucy with us, and the rule is no dogs on the patio where food is served. Before I could protest, Waterbrook’s gracious staff helped us set up our table under a tree in their yard. Delicious burgers, salads, and wine were served. The Reserve Malbec was outstanding. I’m also impressed by the reasonable price points on many of Waterbrook’s wines.
Extraction. American industrialists posses a voracious appetite for it. In fact, their hunger for more precious metals, oil, and coal is so great, they want to find these untapped riches in our National Monuments.
Thankfully, REI is taking a strong leadership role in the resistance, and actively encouraging its members to step up and help protect our natural heritage.
Our country’s public lands define who we are. These are the places where we work, where we play and where we connect to our shared history. Now is the time to stand up for these places—places that help us live a life outdoors.
Right now, the Department of the Interior, headed by Secretary Ryan Zinke, is undertaking an unprecedented review of 27 national monuments established by presidents from both parties since 1996, including the San Gabriel Mountains in California, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, and Bears Ears in Utah. More than 11 million acres of national public land are at stake.
The Department of the Interior wants to hear from you. And we want to make it easy for you to speak up.
REI’s business is at stake. Taking 11 million acres of public land off the table isn’t just a violation of everything sacred and good, it’s a direct threat to the outdoor recreation industry and the travel and tourism industry. It’s good to see REI fight back. Too many companies hesitate when faced with tough social and political issues. No one wants to offend customers. At the same time, brand managers know they can’t be all things to all people, especially today.
In February, both REI and Patagonia supported pulling out of a major outdoor trade show in Salt Lake City in response to a resolution from Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert that advised President Donald Trump to overturn Bears Ears as a national monument. Companies like Patagonia and REI are powerful enough to make Utah pay the price for their public official’s backwards ideas. But will it be enough to move the needle and restore common sense throughout the land? No, but it’s a start.
It’s such an odd moment in America. Don and his wrecking crew are busy doing damage to our institutions and traditions. Meanwhile, American brands fight the good fight. Bring all the skepticism you want, but REI and Patagonia aren’t playing marketing games here. This is real, and it’s also a showcase for the power of PR and brand activism. When a movement is backed by an active and loyal community of customers and fueled by an activist company or group of companies, it can be a powerful force for good. Companies haven’t usurped the role of non-profits, nor will they. This increased activism is an added layer of pressure, and an effective one.
When you live in the Portland area and want to travel, point yourself in any direction and win.
We started 2016’s explorations with a closer look at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument—a three-site paleo wonderland in Eastern Oregon. The Clarno Unit is the nearest to Portland, at about four hours. It’s well worth the journey, as you’re transported to another place and time.
Other 2016 highlights included Mother’s Day and Darby’s birthday at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, WA. The Columbia River Gorge is spectacular and Skamania is an accommodating place to gather. They not only had a great dog-friendly room ready, they also let Lucy play golf with us. When does that ever happen? Dog-friendly golf on a gorgeous course in the Gorge!
Another first was a late summer vacation on Orcas Island in the Northwest corner of Washington. It’s a throwback to another time—island time, I believe they call it. The lovely farms and low-key locals vibe is a welcome respite from the crowded Seattle and Portland day-to-day. We also lucked into a table at one best restaurants of all time on Orcas. The Inn at Ship’s Bay delivers on another level. I went into the kitchen on my way out to thank them for their pursuit of excellence. They seemed pleasantly surprised by my declarations of greatness.
The National Monument features three separate but related units: Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno. The three units are all located in Eastern Oregon, yet they are hours apart by car. Starting in Madras, the 200-plus mile loop out to Dayville and then north to Fossil and back is best spread out over two or three days. We did the loop in two consecutive days and managed to hike around all three units taking in the otherworldly scenery.
At the Sheep Rock unit near Dayville, one of the world’s best collections of fossils is on display at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. A 19-century minister in The Dalles, Condon found fossil seashells on the Crooked River and fossil camels and other animals along the John Day River. He was appointed the first State Geologist for Oregon in 1872. The center named for him is a gem for those with a keen interest in the natural world. The story of misty jungles, active volcanoes, and strange beasts is preserved in rock. The high desert was once something entirely different. The fossils and exposed sedimentary layers evoke a strange present day, while igniting the imagination and expanding our understanding of Earth’s processes.
For a video preview, Grant McOmie of “Grant’s Getaways” does a nice job:
One of the additional attractions in this region is the John Day River. Undammed along its entire length, the river is the third longest free-flowing river in the contiguous United States. In addition to wild spring chinook salmon and bass, the river furnishes habitat for Columbia River redband trout, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout. There are no hatchery salmon or steelhead released in the John Day River.
Also, the open vistas, blue skies, Western Juniper trees and Ponderosa Pines all call out to me. The area is outstanding, and largely uninhabited by people. There are far more grouse, quail, deer and antelope than people. It takes a bit of driving from Portland, but the change is dramatic and the quiet at night complete. I can imagine how hot it could be in summer, but it is a delighful temperature for exploring at this time of year.
I started tracking my movements about the country a decade ago (and logging them here) as an annual exercise meant to encourage memory, cataloguing and in the best cases a bit of travel writing.
Looking back on it, 2015 wasn’t a big year in travel, although quality and quantity are two different things.
Here’s a list of amazing places where I spent one or more nights away from home:
Hood River, OR
Cannon Beach, OR
Marco Island, FL
Long Beach, WA
We traveled to Seattle for Poppy’s fourth birthday; to Cannon Beach for my 50th birthday; to Florida for Danna and Gary’s 50th anniversary; to Bend for my first Phish shows in 18 years; and to Nebraska for the opening game of The Mike Riley era.
2015 was also the year of the home for Darby and me. We purchased the mid-century home in West Linn that we had rented for four years, and invested time and energy in repairs and remodeling. It’s good to be home, and good to have a place to come home to, after expeditions near and far.
You vacation in a foreign country to stretch and make new discoveries. Which is exactly what happened last week in British Columbia, Canada.
Once we got settled in our vacation rental, I looked up local disc golf courses in the Okanagan Valley and found two — a short, unsatisfying municipal nine-hole course in Kelowna, plus Fallow Ridge, a 28-hole private pay-to-play course outside of Vernon.
Fallow Ridge is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or played before. The course is laid out in Ken Fallow’s steep upward sloping backyard. There are lots of trees and if you miss a putt you better hope your disc lands flat, because if it rolls, you’re going for a big hike.
We paid our dues upon arrival, plus another $6 to play and Ken gave us a scorecard and several pointers about the course ahead. With hanging baskets, tonals, hanging propane tanks, and robot targets, a bit of explanation was welcome. For one, I wasn’t sure what a tonal was but upon encountering this piece of old-school ingenuity in the woods behind Ken Fallow’s home, I’m now a fan of copper pipes hanging from trees. When you hit a tonal with your putter, it makes a resounding GONG! Hence, the name.
Now that we’re back in the USA, I’m excited to go into production on some Oregon-made tonals. I know just the wooded acreage near Corvallis that will soon benefit from this improvisational (and affordable) twist on disc golf targets.
I recently pitched Travel & Leisure on a “three days in Oregon food and beverage experience,” and I can see how that article–and the trip it will require to write it–plays out. But more on that another day. Today, I want to detail a different route into the heart of south central Washington.
Mt. Adams, visible on a clear day from Portland, is the lonely volcano in the range. Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier are iconic and Mt. St. Helens blew its freaking top, so it’s something of an attraction. Where does this leave Mt. Adams? Unheralded. Unpopulated. And unknown. But don’t feel bad for the mountain, it likely enjoys its freedom from modernity.
Speaking of freedom from modernity, once you pass Trout Lake you’re on rough, boulder-strewn roads to nowhere. Or somewhere, depending on your clarity of mind and purpose. After making it all the way to the northwest flank of the volcano, we were handsomely rewarded for our efforts, as Takhlakh Lake at 4400 feet above sea level is spellbinding and the mountain beyond totally intoxicating in its rugged beauty.
Darby and I set up camp, then hiked around the lake with Lucy and up into a 3000-year old lava flow. Looking back we saw Mt. Rainier in the distance–the place where we got married on July 4, 2009. What a spot this, saddled between the two towering volcanoes on our fourth anniversary.
Our evening was spent fighting off mosquitos, but happily, as we were prepared with wipe-on bug juice. We also collected plenty of “forest hair” a.k.a. dried moss to smoke the little suckers out. Miraculously, no mosquitos managed to make it inside the tent and we spent a peaceful, firecracker and bug free night under cloudy skies.
In the morning we drank iced coffee and packed up camp early, in order to set sail from Takhlakh Lake to Yakima. We proceeded slowly down and out of the Mt. Adams Recreation Area on Forest Road 23, finally reaching State Highway 12, which runs east and west and skirts the southern edge of Mt. Rainier National Park, en route to the sunny desert and fruits of Yakima Valley.
Along the way, we stopped at Dog Lake and prepared a parfait of fresh fruit, granola and yogurt, which we ate lakeside in the cold alpine wind. After breakfast, we descended down into the Tieton River valley and pulled over for a splash-fresh-water-on-your-face-and-head moment. I love to see a river run and this one runs prettily over its rock bed.
North Park Lodge, our hotel in Seyla just north of Yakima, let us check in early which was a score since we wanted to shower and prepare for an afternoon of winery visits in Zillah. Rested and refreshed, picnic-basket in hand and Lucy on leash, we zipped down I-82 to the Rattlesnake Hills section of the Yakima Valley, and opened up with an uneventful tasting at Knight Hill.
Next stop, Hyatt Vineyards. Three women on horseback rode up as we entered the property to assure us that we were indeed in the West. The tasting room was on the cheesy side, but we purchased a delicious blend for just $14.99 and Darby and I enjoyed our picnic on the winery’s patio (with Mt. Adams views) immensely.
Down the road at Two Mountain Winery, the host was particularly gracious and the wine worth taking home. Following our tasting, she sent us down the road to Cultura, a micro-producer with three of its four acres planted in Cab Franc vines.
Rattlesnake Hills reminds me of Dundee Hills with its high density of wineries, but the terrain and weather are much different. Therefore, the grapes that thrive here are different. The delicate pinot grapes so beloved in Oregon are not hardy enough to survive the summer in Zillah. Varietals that do enjoy the intense desert sun and high temps naturally produce wine with a ton of flavor and character.
At this time, Yakima lacks the wine tourism infrastructure of Dundee or Walla Walla. It’s an agricultural community, with grapes being one part of a much larger whole. But this lack of tourist charm, or “local character,” also makes the place uniquely appealing for wine tourism. This is red, white and blue America. Family farms under the volcano, and there’s not much in the way of fancy. But if it’s flavorful wine that you want to drink at a price you can afford, then you’re in luck as it’s available in copious supply.
Yamhill County in the Willamette Valley is the very heart of Oregon’s most famous wine region. Yamhill County, and the town of Newberg in particular, is also home to some great disc golf courses.
In downtown Newberg, you can play the nine-hole course located in Herbert Hoover Park, or find Ewing Young’s 12-hole nature course on the outskirts of town. Both courses are well worth the time spent in the car from Portland or Salem, and both courses are within spittin’ distance of dozens of outstanding wineries.
After playing Ewing Young last weekend, I started wondering if any Oregon wineries had a disc golf course on premise. Given how valuable Oregon’s wine-growing land is, it might not be the most economically feasible idea.
I think we will see more of this and more opportunities to combine adventure travel, food and wine, natural history and disc sports. In fact, I can definitely imagine a successful tour company operating Pacific Northwest eco-tourism packages, where disc golf plays prominently in the daytime activities.