Blue Mountain and Hells Canyon

We left our free campsite at Bonneville Dam and headed east along Columbia River around 9 am, so quite early for us. In the beginning we were planning to take interstate straight to Idaho, but as we wrote earlier it’s not so easy to leave Oregon. This time we got tempted by a brochure entitled "scenic byways". There are many of these byways in north-east Oregon and we’ve decided to see a bit of two of them - Blue Mountain an Hells Canyon.

The only downside of this decision was that we had to skip Pendelton, town located by the interstate, which is supposed to be the last real cowboy town in the West. Additionally when we were there they had huge round-up, so there was rodeo, food, lasso throwing, gunshows, cheap beer, so everything that young parents from central Mazovia and small towns of central Oregon love the most.

We didn’t go there in part because of we got irritated by Oregon marketing. Yes, we do love Oregon, but there is one thing that is really annoying. Did you know much about this state before reading our blog? If you’re not American we take it you didn’t. Meanwhile each tiny town here is described as "world famous" or "unofficial world capital of this and that".

So, if we remember well, Lancaster in the coast is "Unofficial world capital of kites”. Everything related to Pendelton is world famous too. About this round-up they probably talk  in Tripoli, Bejing and Tłuszcz, at least that’s how it’s described in all the leaflets. Local beer is a dream of beer lovers in Koluszki and Łeba (somewhere in Poland). Lighthouse in Yoaquina is "probably the mosted photographed lighthouse in the world" - our eyes still hurt from reading it. Everything is world famous, world capital, world something. What for, if it’s so beautiful here without such exaltation?

Luckily Blue Mountain byway was just nice, quiet road. It runs among green, grassy hills with heavily irrigated meadows full of cattle. Peace and quiet… Some time ago probably there were much more grain fields, because there are lot of abandoned grain elevators.

We stopped for longer twice. First one in Heppner, known (probably everywhere around the world) for two things: a very picturesque courthouse and a flood that 110 years ago went through town and killed 250 people. Besides it’s an Irish town so there is a huge shamrock on the main junction. We had a sandwich and coffee in the only open coffee place / gift shop with just about everything (Hi Daniel!) and we went on. Our second stop was to take a walk in Blue Mountain woods, there was a trail to a cave which was really a hole in the rock, used by some loggers in the past.

Courthouse in Heppner
We took a shortcut leaving Blue Mountain in Ukiah, just to take Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. We heard about it earlier, besides we invited ourselves to Linda from Boondockers Welcome, who lives nearby. Road runs in a shadow of Wallowa mountains which "summits covered in snow resemble Alps". Describing unknown by unknown - how many of readers of the paper from Oregonian Welcome Center have ever been to Alps?

By the way, we used to get annoyed by the Americans that they never travel anywhere outside the US. We changed our minds, when we saw how much there is to see. As six months are not enough for us to see even a small fraction of what we would like to see, how much time do you need? Besides there is almost everything here and usually it’s given in a very user-friendly way (although that makes all national parks way too crowded). Now if someone tells us they want to see Europe we say: who cares about that tiny boring peninsula, as there are so many beautiful places that one life is not enough to see it all. Just kidding. Please feel more than invited to Europe and first of all to Warsaw, PL.

Route to Hells Canyon starts with quite an interesting town, importand road and railroad hub and pretty big academic center - La Grande. We drove through it on Saturday, late in the afternoon. At first it looked deserted and very townish. We drove onto main street and from afar we saw a lady in her 40s and a few teenagers dancing on a little square. Mickey Mouse House Club on tour? When we got closer we saw a stage with long hair young guy growling and playing death-metal cover of one of the older Metallica hits. We love eclectism of small towns West of the Rockies. 

It is beautiful at Wallowa footihlls We don't really know how to compare it to Alps, as we spent just a few days in Alps, but they might look a bit alike. Our host had a deck with a view. If someone woud like to move there the price of a house with a deck (with a view) is comparable to the price of small apartament in Warsaw. Linda was a great host, we stayed two nights, we saw the area (we went to Wallowa Lake with a great mirror-view of the mountains over it, Maciek had a lot of fun throwing rocks into the water), we sat on the deck staring at the mountains and we emptied two bottles of wine talking by the fire.

We heard of Linda before. Long time ago, in Florida Lois and John told us about her. For a long time Linda wanted to buy a C-class, 25 ft or so. Finally she found one in Florida and she bought it on ebay. Lois and John told us how she was checking it out and then headed to Oregon with it. Now she can't wait to retire so she can finally start travelling more. Now she goes just on short week or weekend trips. She finds a free campsite somewhere far from civilized world. She likes adventures too: together with friends they built a ski lift, they can now use for free, another friend of hers organizes rafting on Snake River. We were her first Boondockers Welcome guests, we hope she'll have such good memories of our visit as we do.

From Alps of Oregon we headed to see a place that belongs to both Oregon and Idaho. It's Snake River and  Hells Canyon. First we went to see the canyon from high above. Not the best idea ever. There was a snow here and there, all we could see were mountains and to see the canyon you really have to use your imagination. Mountains were nice though. You can see Seven Devils on Idaho side from there. According to Indian legends Hells Canyon was carved by a coyote to protect Indians from seven devils that lived on Blue Mountain.

And the canyon itself is breathtaking. To see it we left our trailer at some camping parking and we took just the car. The road goes on the bottom of the canyon, not much over the water level, and gets to the dam. It's actually a second road. The first one is deep under water. Seeing the canyon we started wondering what the hell is wrong with people from Idaho, that they are so proud of their potatos and they don't even mention that place? Hells Canyon is deeper than Grand Canyon, plus we got to see it from inside. And it was amazing.

Canyon is just the beginning. Going north, Snake River is a few hundred miles far from civilization. You can go on and on and on and not see anyone. Which is not that common in the US except for a few places like New Mexico, central Nevada and couple more. Unfortunately it's a luxury too, we've seen an ad for "all-inclusive" trips starting at 200 USD per day. Probably it might be done cheaper. On part of the river some licences and/or certificates are probably required, but on some of it a permit from National Forest might be enough. A raft, good map and let's go! Let's just say that rafting on Snake River is now on our bucket list. 

We stayed overnight, following Linda's advice, on a free campsite by one of Snake River tributaries, heading south from scenic byway towards Boise. In capital city of Idaho we were going to visit our friends from Libya - Mel and Rob. We didn't feel like visiting the city. We just wanted to get organized, catch up with old friends, let Maciek play with Rocco, their son who is just a few months younger than our boy, and go on.


Why do we love the rest of Oregon

Few weeks ago, still in California, already knowing we want to get to Seattle, we looked at the map and we saw Oregon. Oh well, it’s there, it looks we have to cross it no matter what - we thought and we started going through our guide books to find out what is there in Oregon. Cause, we have to admit, we had no idea. And as we wrote before Oregon surprised us in the best possible way. But then, we thought, we’ll just stop in Portland, take a look at waterfalls many people recommended, and then, we’ll take an interstate and we’ll go straight to Idaho. After all, how long you can drive among green trees. We were conviced that when it comes to Oregon we already saw it all.

Oh gods of ignorant travelers, how wrong we were! The best proof of the beauty of eastern Oregon is that we told our Idaho friends we’d get there on Friday, maybe Saturday. We finally got there on Tuesday feeling we had not seen enough. We will be back!

We left Portland driving by beautiful Columbia River. The interstate itself is already a scenic byway, and that’s just the beginning! As we were saying goodbye to civilization for a few days we took this last opportunity to do some quick 0-sales-tax shopping in Troutdale outlet. After all the kids keep growing and beautiful landscape is not enough to get them dressed …

Going east from Portland Troutdale (just by the outlet) is the best place to leave the interstate and take the old highway along Columbia River, "30". It goes on above the new one, sometimes few hundred feet higher, sometimes just next to it, sometimes they become one road. There are enough views and attractions for all day. We of course didn’t have all day, especially after couple hours in the outlet. But we still hoped we would see everything.

Interstate 84 and its older neighbor follow steps of old explorers. Lewis and Clark expedition went this way in the beginning of 19th century, tens of thousands of Oregon pioneers followed, not as many gold seekers though, as Seattle won this race with Portland so they would choose other paths too. Until now, most of trails are the same as 150 years ago, as Idaho and central Oregon are more difficult to reach

We got to the first viewpoint easily. The name of it is quite difficult to remember as it’s called Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint. We don’t know why and we don’t know if there is any less official name of it. If there is it’s probably something like: amazing views to Columbia River from up high. And, as we don’t get paid by word, we’ll just show you the picture:

Next there was a disappointment waiting for us. Both now at this viewpoint, and before when we did Mt Hood Loop, we could see a picturesque building on a cliff. It was Vista House, one of the most famous places on this route. Unfortunately "30" including Vista House was closed this week due to some road work. Oh well, next time. We went back to the interstate to go back to the old route by the waterfalls. 

That’s what we did. And for some reason (we got overwhelmed by fantastic views? We thought we couldn’t go there with a trailer?) we skipped three waterfalls: Latourell, Shepperd’s Dell and Bridal Veil. Don’t do that. If they are even a little bit as beautiful as the next ones, you’ll lose a lot. The first one we saw was Wahkeena. It’s a good appetizer before Multonomah. Wahkeena doesn’t look that great from the bottom. But after a few hundred feet of not really steep paved trail you can go on a little bridge and feel a cool breeze of the fall. It has also this adventage that many people decide not to go there focusing only on the most famous Multonomah, so it’s peaceful and quiet.

Multonomah on the other hand is like a beehive of tourists. Large parking, restaurant, gift shop. But still it’s worth it, as the waterfalls, both lower and upper, are simply amazing. Bridge, almost hundred years old, built of stone, green surroundings and 620 feet (over 300 meters) of water .It’s a must see in Oregon and we have to thank to all those people who said we have to see it.

As it was getting late we stopped at fish hatchery in Bonneville mostly to see another, after Seattle, fish ladder. But it was clearly not our day. The ladder was open until 5 pm and it was a few minutes past so we just let Maciek feed fish (you can get a handful of fish food for a quarter) and we went on.

Our next stop was Cascade Locks, one of the oldest towns in the area, home for a classical steamboat and first steam engine west of the Rockies. We stopped to see the Bridge of the Gods crossing Columbia River and connecting Oregon and Washington. We didn’t cross it as it is a toll bridge, but the view was nice. Maciek looked the other way and he saw a playground, and we had to spend there another hour. There were some other kids too, so he had a lot of fun. We enjoyed it too, park in Cascade Locks with a bridge view is a nice rest stop after a very busy day. Then we stopped for a burger and local beer and after dark we went by interstate to another free campsite, ran by Corps of Engineers by Bonneville Dam.

All day we drove surrounded by green - volcanic soil and water flowing down the mountains do their job. After dark we stopped by the river. Lots of RVs, few tents, some (as we found out later) Indians from Yakima, WA area sleeping in their cars. Loud, as there was not only a highway but also a railroad nearby. When we got up in the morning we realized that over those last 20 miles we drove after dark the landscape dramatically changed. We felt almost like in Arizona. But, as Oregon kept surprising us, there was still one attraction waiting ahead, almost as good as the Arizonian one.


In anti-starbucks land

We stayed in Portland using Boondockers Welcome, this time however we didn’t get to meet our host, as he was in Florida. But still our spot was almost perfect (almost for lack of host). It had all the hook-ups, it was very close to town and at the same time it was located in green and quiet residential area at dead-end street.

Even though we stayed there three nights we didn’t see much of the city. First day we spent at Mt Hood, so we had just one day for Portland. 

For someone who is just passing by Portland, it may seem extremely unfriendly. From the highway all you can see are bridges and rather industrial views. And even though you keep going on the same highway you can easily get lost. We were warned by our previous hosts to pass it by Interstate 205 and avoid I5. 

But we didn’t have much choice. We got lost twice. Highways are winding, multileveled, they suddenly end or divide. And as it’s all on hills the exits are far one from another and it’s not easy to go back. Plus lots of bridges, overpasses, multi-level highways… That’s what happens when cities are built on rivers’ crossing.

But after closer look we found out that Portland is a friendly, easy-going town, full of hipsters, coffee places and food carts. Food carts are one of Portland’s symbols. Often there are a few of them sharing one lot or yard, so it’s easy to find something for everyone. It’s cheap, good, quick and easy. 

We spent most of the day (after two hours at the playground) walking on one of the most hipster street of Portland - Alberta Street. It looks like any suburban street of any small American town. There are poor parts, some ethnic workshops, contrasting with hipsters drinking local beer or locally brewed kombucha just few steps further. We forgot the camera so you have to use your imagination or google images. 

Remember Sheila and Earl? Their son Ian and his wife Deborah live in Portland - we met them for coffee and we loved them both. He walked through entire South America. When he ran out of money he would go back home, work for a while and go back to pick up where he left off. She is Irish, and she also traveled a lot. They met in Peru, then they walked together through India, Nepal and some more. Now they are thinking of settling down but when travelers meet other travelers they always get new ideas…

To make it more funny, later on when we sent them an invitation on facebook we realized that we have a friend in common! Ian worked in Warsaw for a while and then moved to Switzerland, where we visited him couple of years ago. They met in…Equador! What a small world … 

Another person we met was Chris, the owner of coffee place called Extracto, which is located in a building owned by Sheila and Earl. We talked about coffee (he is roasting it himself in his coffee place and he makes more money on it than on the coffee shop), about differences between drinking coffee in Poland and in States - in Poland most of people go to coffee shops to meet friends, so the coffee itself is not that important, it’s the place that matters, in States most of coffee places seem to be furnished in 5 minutes, like the owner just went to IKEA and bought a few chairs and tables, but the quality is what matters most, especially here in Portland where everything is "eco" and "organic".

Besides coffee here is drank on the way to work, the busiest hours are from 7 to 10 am, most places (also in Seattle) close around 5-6 pm. Chris said he could just as well close at 3 pm, but he’s got a few regulars who sometimes stop by on their way back home. He doesn’t make money on them but he does something for the community. 

Not that we know much about coffee but it was good. Chris said he used to have a play area for kids but at some point there were so many kids it was turning into a small kindergarten and it started bothering him and scaring off other customers. Now in the corner there are just huge sacks of coffee. Every few minutes someone climbs on top of them to take another tens of pounds of green coffee beans to be roasted. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Rose Garden (even though we lived nearby) and other Portland attractions, but we hope we’ll come back some day. Who’d think at first we planned to skip Portland completely …


Ring of fire. Volcanos under snow

It was on a second or third day in Seattle. There was a huge wheel on the waterfront. Ola took Maciek for a ride. From the very top she was showing him skyline, Space Needle, mountains on the other side of the bay, and suddenly Maciek looking in totally opposite direction says "Mom, look at that mountain!". And there it was, something Ola didn’t expected to see. Mt. Rainier.

How did it happen that we hadn’t seen it before? The weather was beautiful, sky clear and it’s not easy not to notice Mt. Rainier. But we managed. Maybe it’s because we spent most time in the city - it’s easy with panoramic view to the west, bay doesn’t block any view, it’s more difficult with other directions. But once we saw Mt. Rainier we could see it all the time. Maybe it was too surreal before. Just like with dwarfs or optimistic Poles. You have to see to believe.

And as we saw it we couldn’t skip it. First we had to name it, as in the beginning we thought it’s Mt. St. Helens. But we quickly realized St. Helens doesn’t look like this anymore. It looked similar until May 18, 1980, when it erupted. The explosion destroyed the top 1200 feet. "Do you want to see St. Helens?" - asked Kathryn, our Mercer Island host. And not waiting for an answer she brought some sand in a jar "That’s what it looks like, it was in our back yard" - she said.

St. Helens eruption blew into the sky enormous volume of volcanic ashes. The mountain changed completely and some of it was in Kathryn’s jar. There are a lot of before and after pictures on Internet. They are unbelievable. We didn’t go to see it though, after all we already saw it in a nice living room on Mercer Island, and it was not really on our way.

People who lived in the area back in 1980 said it was really loud and there were a lot of ashes, even though the wind blew most of it towards east, all the way to Idaho. Not many people died, just 57, and it’s because it was one of the first well predicted eruptions. The area was evacuated and those who died were the ones that refused to leave. Most of deaths were caused by shock wave. It’s direction could be seen afterwards on the broken trees. It also killed one photo reporter, who didn’t evacuate and kept taking pictures until the end, his camera was found afterwards.

After getting to know all this information about Mt. St. Helens we actually decided to see another celebrity of Pacific Ring of Fire - Mt. Rainier. We found boondocking hosts nearby - Kelly and Mary. Following their advice we packed long forgotten winter coats, sweaters and boots and we went to see the mountain up close. It was a good moment for that, they just opened the road - after all it was mid-May!!!

Kelly i Mary
As it usually happens in States, the road itself is worth a trip. Going on "706" you can see Mt. Rainier long before you get to visitors center. The closer to the mountain the more snow there is. It’s warm and green and suddenly there are white patches among the trees. Then there are more and more and then just before visitors center there is more than 6 feet of snow on each side of the road. After we got there at the foothill we understood why it was just opened. Two-story-high building was almost hidden in snow.

We had lots of fun, especially Maciek. We had our winter boots on and t-shirts, and we had a snowball fight. After half an hour we decided it was enough, hoping the young ones (kids, not us…) will not get cold. Both the views and the experience of snow in the sunny weather were great.

On our way back we stopped in Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park. It’s a place on „706” Kelly recommended. It’s amazing in here in States that you can find art in so many places you wouldn’t expect it at all. We would find places like this in the middle of nowhere in Texas or New Mexico. And this one, with sculptures of Dana Klennerta is simply overwhelming.

He makes them out of metal into using simple elements like bicycle seats, buckles, old car parts, propane bottles, washing machines, pretty much everything metal he can get into his hands. Then he makes out of it horses, giraffes, monumental Christs or sculptures based on pop culture.

Different forms, adding wood and giving life back to old junk. You can wander among the sculptures and wonder… We don’t know much about art but this gallery was a very impressive one. And it’s for free (donations accepted from any political option). The author doesn’t really look for popularity. If you don’t know it’s there you can easily miss it. It’s not like with some attractions in let’s say Florida which you know about 20 miles before only because all the billboards next to highway.

It’s still shocking for us that everything here is based on trust. In a gift shop there are expensive sculptures and nobody is watching it. You can call the artist or you can just take the sculpture and leave the money on the table … Unfortunately, even the smallest ones where too expensive for us. And we already carry one metal piece of art created by Spotty in Texas.

Mt. Rainier was not the only volcanic mountain around. There is quite a few of them going as far as Canada and Alaska. As our next stop was Portland we decided to see one more, Mt Hood. We went there not only for snow and views but, most of all, to see Timberline Lodge, known from "The Shining".

Mt. Hood is a good day-trip destination from Portland. On the same trip you can see waterfalls of Columbia River gorge (we’ll write about them later) and orchards at the foothill of Mt. Hood. In sightseeing we are bipolar: either it takes forever, much longer than any of guidebooks say, or we do Japanese-style photos from car windows. On Mt Hood we did the first thing, realizing that we’ll see the waterfalls later on going with our trailer east towards Idaho.

On Internet we found out that people do whole Mt. Hood Loop as a day trip from Portland. How do people do it in 12 hours we don’t know. We just touched the mountain and orchards and it took us almost 10 hours. We needed another day for waterfalls (we even skipped some of them) and it was still not enough.

What is to be seen on Mt Hood Loop? First of all, the mountain itself. It’s cool to see step by step all the places from the guidebook, but the mountain and Timberline Lodge are absolutely must-see places. You can skip the rest if you don’t have much time. We stopped just in one place on the way, in Government Camp. It’s a small town at the foothill, which was built for Timberline Lodge construction workers. Hotel/ski center was built within WPA - Works Progress Administration, which was an idea how to provide to unemployed people after Great Depression. As everyone knows here in States there is a different recipe for crises. Instead of cutting expenses local but most of all federal authorities invest, start public works and even world wars (just kidding of course).

Government Camp
What was great about WPA is that in many projects it was not only about providing jobs to unskilled men but also about ambitious cooperation of designers and talented artists, who wouldn’t get hired by anyone else back then. That’s how for federal money such gems like Timberline Lodge were built. Even though the inside was surprising for "The Shining" fans, from outside it’s really impressive. Standing in front of the building you can easily forget that there is a huge parking and ski routs behind you.

Second floor window under snow
Inside is totally different than in a famous horror. Smaller, much cozier, wrapped around a fireplace. View to the mountain could be more exposed, but it’s still nice. And even overpriced coffee tastes great there.

Timberline Lodge
On our way back we stopped at one of fruit stands. It looked like little roads in Tarczyn and Grojec area, near Warsaw. The difference was that the stand was just an invitation to go further. And there in the yard were apples, pears and fresh juices. Unfortunately all in American "organic" prices. We did buy some fruit anyway, we weighed, noted down and left money in the money jar at the counter. Another difference...

On our way to Portland we didn’t stop at waterfalls as it was getting dark. We would go there pulling Eddie. Just a bit more than 100 miles and a few waterfalls. Seems like not much, but in fact it’s a lot and it requires lots of time. Anyway, before we tell you about the falls, it’s time for Portland.


Rainless in Seattle

From Oregon we went to Washington. For a short while we kept driving along the coast but the landscape was getting more and more green.

Finally we said good bye to the ocean and we headed east. We stayed overnight in state capitol – Olympia, at Dale and Colleen’s from Boondockers Welcome. We got there pretty late and we left early so we won’t write too much about our hosts, only that they were very nice, they had an old volkswagen they traveled by and they spent many years in Alaska. The last part was the most interesting for us but we didn’t really have time to ask about their stories… Next time.

Colleen and Dale
By the way, their volkswagen had old German plates under the American ones. They do the same in Libya (even with Polish plates) and Chicago sometimes (especially with Polish plates)…

Eddie and our hosts' volkswagen
Next morning we went on, to Seattle. We spent next three nights at Dean and Sue’s in Des Moines, less than hour away from the city of Nirvana, Grey’s Anatomy, UPS, Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and more. We met Dean’s mom, full of energy 83-year-old lady, who hearing about our journey said “Great! Amazing! Wonderful! Travel as long as you can, especially while the kids are so young! Good luck on your journey!”, instead of „Oh my God, with kids? So far? Aren’t you afraid…?” - just a small cultural difference …

Dean and Sue with Maciek
Dean had some RV advice for us, he knows a lot about them as he buys, repairs and sells them. Together with Sue they spend winter months in Mexico, although lately they had to start spending more time at home as their moms require more and more help, or at least their presence.

Skyline from our hosts' deck
Next three nights we spent in a very center of Seattle, despite Dean and Sue’s invitation to stay longer. We would love to, but our next hosts lived in Mercer Island - beautiful place with amazing views of Seattle skyline and Olympic National Park. Kathryn used to work as a teacher, she spent a few years working in American school in Teheran, her husband, Shaun comes from Iran. Revolution of 1979 got them somewhere in between and they spent next few years in London. Then they moved back to States. Kathryn misses Iran, she’s been there few more times, Shaun waited a long time before visiting old country, but it’s not the same Iran any more, he said. Revolutions…

Kathryn and Shaun
So we spent in Seattle almost a week. On top of music and coffee, Seattle is famous for the rain. To our surprise it didn’t rain once while we were there. We promised not to spoil the legend and write that it was wet and grey, but the pictures don’t lie so we won’t either. The weather was fantastic. It was warm and sunny!

We spent most of our time wandering the streets. We went to Klondike Gold Rush museum where we learned about the importance of Seattle in the Gold Rush. And it was very important. The Gold Rush lasted just 3 years and most of 100 000 people who went there ended up with nothing. And most out of 4000 lucky ones who found gold lost everything afterwards chasing more wealth.

For Seattle it was a huge step into a new era. From a small town somewhere in the west it transformed into metropolis. Gold Rush was also exceptional for other reasons. It was the first ever well photographed popular event. There are lots of pictures from those three crazy years. Second of all for Seattle it was a huge marketing action. There were ads bought by mayor, hundreds of thousands of leaflets, letters to mayors, senators and anyone else mayor could think of, who was involved in directing gold seekers. Seattle was a gateway to Canadian Yukon from Vancouver and Portland. It earned a fortune because Canadian authorities required everyone entering its territory to have full provisions for one year.

Space Needle
Seattle won, mayor lost. He finally went to seek gold himself, he came back mentally ill and he died forgotten in a shelter. We would write what was his name but we forgot. Bad luck, even now.

Museum is free and is located near the oldest part of town, Pioneer Square. We spent there over an hour. Other places we saw were a fish-smelled Market Place, Pike Place with the oldest Starbucks, from our car window we took a picture of a symbol of Seattle - Space Needle, we walked the waterfront, we strolled a once grunge and now a bit poshy Belltown and we took a ride on a huge wheel from which we saw our next destination. More about it in next post.

Our hosts recommended us Ballards Locks a.k.a. Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. We found out there, that even though everything looks pretty and natural it’s not natural at all. Almost 100 years ago Seattle area looked different. Everything was changed by building a channel and locks between Washington and Union lakes and Puget Sound. This one up, the other down and lets go on with sea business. In Ballard Locks everything is shown and explained well and you can see boats and ships going through. We were there when boat season was starting so there was even something to see.

Fish ladder
Additional attractions are a very nice park and a fish ladder mostly for salmon. Unfortunately end of April and beginning of May are not a good time to see fish, they were two tiny ones that probably got lost. Last but definitely not least, park that surrounds the Locks is perfect for picnic, so we spent a couple lazy hours there.

Ballard Locks
We also went to Bainsbridge Island, mostly to take a ferry ride on Puget Bay. Island has a nice main street with coffee places and antique shops (and one very nice shop with travel gear – Hi Linda!). It was ok but not a must-see, maybe because we didn’t have too much time there. We stopped for an overpriced coffee and crepes and soon we had to head back to Seattle not to get a parking ticket.

We really loved Seattle, probably we wouldn’t if we were there on its typical rainy day, but in a sunshine it’s a really beautiful city. It doesn’t look anything like dark and scary place from a great series "The Killing". It’s so different than Florida or San Francisco. Florida is mostly crowd of retired people. In San Francisco you can still feel the hippie spirit. And in Seattle, which was surprising for us, it’s still lots of young, depressed people listening to hard music.

We were also surprised by the amount of homeless people (most of them with Starbucks cup in hand). We’ve seen them in San Francisco, but they would gather there in parks and on back streets. In Seattle they are in a very center. And after 8 pm they have it all to themselves, as most of coffee places and restaurants close 5-6 pm, and most of clubs are in Belltown or other neighborhoods.

We were expecting to visit a lot of great coffee places in Seattle, but we have to admit we were a little disappointed. We went to Starbucks cause, well, you have to go to Starbucks in Seattle, we also went to a few independent coffee shops like Trabant Cafe and Bedlam, but they were nothing special. The best coffee shops in States are not in Seattle any more, but, what we found out later, in Portland.

The oldest Starbucks
Besides Starbucks we went to one more „corporate” attraction in Seattle and it wasn’t Bill Gates’ house. We also skipped Boeing museum as we’ve seen enough of airplanes during that trip. And completely without a plan we found a tiny park in founded by UPS on its 100th anniversary. Park has its own security but still among Japanese and Polish tourists there are some homeless people there. Maybe it’s a new corporate social responsible business policy – to build nice parks for homeless people… Just kidding, we see it as a really nice contribution.

Park UPS


Why do we love Oregon coast...

…cause there’s no doubt we do love it. It’s one of the most friendly places we’ve been to. And there are a few reasons for that. Here are the most important ones:

Views. Going from south we took our favorite highway, "101". For a long time the views reminded us of those on "one" in Big Sur area. Road is less winding and it’s not on the edge of the mountain but still takes turns, goes up just to go down around the corner. On top of that there are very green woods, first sequoias and then cedars. Blue west of the road is still inaccessible, most of the time, as there are no real beaches, but there are trails leading to view points from which we saw majestic rocks sticking out of the ocean.

Further north, the road gets easier, it also gets greener, hills are lower and there are more and more sandy beaches and meadows full of cows. There are some rocks sticking out of water but more and more often the information on the viewpoints explains what kinds of birds you can see around. There are also more and more towns - sleepy, wooden fishermen villages with drive-thru coffee places, fish restaurants and shops with shells and myrtlewood souvenirs. People who in Poland leave everything and move to Bieszczady mountains here would probably move to Oregon … 

Bridges. We find American bridges amazing, and here there are so many of them that we can be amazed few times a day. Many of them were built in 1920s and 1930s . Most of those on "101" were designed by Conde B. McCullough. He was quite an efficient engineer as he left over 600 of bridges. The ones on "101" are either concrete arches or metal crates, now painted green which reminded us of a bridge we live next to in Warsaw. McCullough’s Bridges are cold and rough but they suit the Oregon landscape perfectly. We didn’t - unfortunately - go further east to central Oregon, where there are a few covered wooden bridges. Hopefully next time. There are about thirty of them left.

Lighthouses. There are lots of them and all are pretty. On the entire Oregon cost there are sixteen of them open to public. Plus private one on a lonely rock that can be seen from land. Owner made a … cemetery out of it. For only 1-5 thousand dollars you can leave your ashes there. It’s quite popular and there are only 350 spaces left. On the other hand it’s an offshore lighthouse and it sometimes disappears under the waves. Well, whatever makes you happy…

The tallest lighthouse at Oregon coast
(Yaquina Head Lighthouse)
For sure the lighthouses are charming. They were built between 1870 and 1896. Some of them served until 1960s when they were replaced by modern technology. Later some of them were taken care of and some were waiting to be robbed and destroyed by vandals. Some of them were renovated only less than 20 years ago. They have different owners too. Most of them are on state parks territory but Oregon doesn’t always charge fees. As we are in the USA every lighthouse has to be the most something. Haceta Head Lighthouse is the most photographed lighthouse in the world. We don’t know how they know that, maybe they counted in stocks on Internet, but it’s truth that it has been used by pop culture, for example by Finish Eurovision winner Lordi ("The Ghost of the Haceta Head"). So it’s a must-see!

The shortest lighthouse at Oregon coast
(Cape Meares Lighthouse)
Sea Lions. Near town called Florence there’s a Sea Lion Cave. The entrance is (if we remember well) 14 USD per adult, but it’s easy to find some discount coupons. We were lucky. On the day we were there it was Cave’s 80th birthday. Not only the entrance fee was the same as 80 years ago, which was 25 cents, but also there was free cake, coffee and wine:)

After paying the entrance fee we went on the wooden boardwalk from which you can see a lot of sea lions swimming joyfully in the ocean below, to the elevator built in 1961. In 50 seconds the elevator takes us over 180 feet down to the cave. From there we saw more sea lions swimming around, laying on the rocks and making funny noises. It stinks a bit but we liked it anyway. Besides from the other side of the cave you can see a lighthouse we mentioned earlier, so it’s two birds with one stone.

 Haceta Head Lighthouse
Whales. They pass by twice a year and they say it’s easy to spot them. We didn’t. Some guy took a photo of a couple of them half a minute before we got to where he was. He also said a day before he had seen five of them. End of April is not the best time. If you want to see migrating whales come in March, just don’t forget to get dressed warm. 

Whales migrate this way
No Sales Tax. How nice it is to pay exactly the amount on a price tag… Oregon evens up for a (relatively) high income tax, but we don’t care for that. As our hostesses from Florence said Oregon will not get sales tax any time soon, as it has to be approved in popular vote… Surprise, surprise, but that is what happens when you ask people whether they want to pay taxes.

Wine and cheese. Wineries go all the way from California up to Washington state (although coffee is more popular there). Cheese joins wine in northern Oregon in small town called Tillamook, where there are cows everywhere and air smells of cows‘ poop. Oh well, that’s the price… Tillamook is a regional cheese center, there are two factories open to public: Blue Heron, with a better cheese (maybe because they have brie), less people, cozy coffee place and it’s nicer in general. The other one, Tillamook Cheese Factory is a real institution and a pride of Oregon, although looking at the guests it’s a cheaper kind of entertainment. Cheese (cheddar) is worse (in our opinion) than in Blue Heron, crowd of people, but they have really good ice cream and you can see how the cheese is made - both on the movie and from special view point. There is also an exhibition about history of region and cheese production.

People. Everyone is nice. Yes, we did write it many times before, people in States are nice, but here they are super nice. Our first meeting with Oregonian was in not very fortunate situation. On the parking lot by the tallest bridge in Oregon our car wouldn’t start (yes, we know, we promised we wouldn’t write about the car again, we hope now it’s a real last time … inshallah;) Deputy sheriff from Curry County, very nice guy named Joel, was passing by. He saw us and stopped to help, he spent lots of time with us trying to figure out what’s wrong with a car, making a few phone calls, recommending a local shop and promising that if we didn’t have to stay in the shop overnight he would not notice illegally parked trailer.

Luckily a shop in Gold Beach recommended by Joel needed just couple of hours to fix the problem. The connection on the starter was broken. We even thought about it ourselves (or actually with a help of some nice Canadian guy). They replaced it, added some water to washer fluid container (we ran out and as we are oversensitive lately every single peep meaning “washer fluid down” was putting us on the edge of heart attack), they checked few more things and on the same day we got to our new boondocking hosts. Hostesses actually - Jodi and Milly. 

Milly with Kalina
This another great boondocking experience reminded us of Linn and Lynn from Louisiana, who originally are from – surprise surprise – Oregon! Jodi and Milly met in … Texan prison. But no, they did not share a cell. They both worked there. Jodi in the office and Milly (after her husband’s death had to take whatever there was to support her three kids) as a prison guard. After they retires they travelled a bit and then bought a small house in old rv park which is now a nice residential area.

Jodi is now retired but she works as a president of the park, Milly works in nearby supermarket. Additionally they both volunteer patrolling the area with Oregon police, and in free time they ride recumbent trikes which we borrowed for a few hours (and which Ola absolutely loved and even had an idea for our next adventure). 

Jodi and Milly are completely different. Jodi is joyful, outgoing and optimistic, helping everyone around, giving away things to people in need, and even though she broke her hip some time ago she is planning a journey on trike across the US. Milly is much quieter and more introvert. Her mother is Polish and when we were talking about our country (like about that Poles are not too happy and they are aggressive because there is no sun for seven months during the year, as one rockman sings) we figured out together that it’s all in genes. Despite the differences they are perfect roommates and they treated us like family. They took care of kids, they cooked for us (and we cooked for them) and we spent long hours talking. We planned to stay there two nights, we ended up staying four.

With next boondocking hosts we stayed shorter and talked only one evening, but only because we started running out of time. Sheila and Earl were very interesting couple, she worked in hospitals for many years, he was in the army, they lived in many different places, including a boat in Hawaii. She is originally from San Francisco, he lived for 4 years as a kid … on Alcatraz, where his father worked! He was one of “children of Alcatraz” - it was quite an important part of exhibition we saw on the Rock. How was it? Earl said it was great, like living in a small town but at the same time, just a short ferry ride from San Francisco. With a handful of good advice and some home-made apple sauce we were sad we had to leave so soon.

Sheila and Earl
Weather. Ok, Oregon is not perfect. Most of our stay in Oregon reminded us of our last year’s trip to Polish seaside in May. When all Poland was going through a heat wave the spot on Baltic coast we stayed at had like 5C/42F and terrible wind. But even that can be sold in Oregon as an advantage – it’s advertising itself as a kite and windsurfing capitol of the world. We didn’t try, mostly because when we crossed the dunes and finally saw the beach Maciek said he was cold and wanted to go back. It was really cold…

We left Oregon crossing another amazing bridge, connecting Astoria with Megler, Washington. This one was not designed by McCullough, it was opened in 1960s. It’s the longest crate bridge in North America. It’s over 6.5 km long and it looks like it’s built from a few not matching pieces. It was a nice ending of our Oregon adventure