Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Our Pacific Northwest Road Trip

You may want to grab a cup of coffee or tea and get comfortable. I tried to be brief, I really did. I'm just not very good at it.

For the accelerated version of our trip, just scroll through the post for the photos.

For the full length version, sit back and start reading! :)

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This vacation was so long overdue for our family as it was our first vacation since taking my elderly father-in-law into our care nearly three and a half years ago. While my husband and I have had a night here and there away from home over the years, it has never been together at the same time as one of us has always had to be home caring for his dad. For this trip, we arranged to have him stay in a nursing home for the week we were away, which, while was a stressful and expensive feat in itself, was a long overdue and much deserved reprieve for us.

My husband had already been in Portland for several days for a conference, so we gratefully fell into his arms upon our arrival. Okay, that was mostly me... but the girls were also happy to see him and Yay! We were finally on vacation. By the time we got our rental car, got to the hotel, showered and crashed, I think I had been awake for nearly 24 hours straight. We slept in a little late the following morning and then got out and about to explore the city of Portland--all four of us with our own camera in hand. We literally have nearly 5000 photos from this six and a half day trip between us.


Downtown Portland
Pioneer Courthouse National Historic Site
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Historic Columbia River Highway
Multnomah Falls, et al.
Mt. Hood, et al.

We walked throughout downtown Portland near Portland State University and then walked to Pioneer Square where we toured The Pioneer Courthouse, the oldest federal building in the Pacific Northwest and now a National Historic Site. It's still operational, too. After a quick lunch, we headed just outside Portland and across the river into Washington State to Fort Vancouver.

The girls outside Fort Vancouver.

Established in the early 1800s, this historic site was the headquarters and trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company and also a business and governmental interest of Great Britain's in competition with the US. We took a self guided walking tour of the Fort through the gardens, several buildings and the three story bastion. Our visit also included a period-authentic blacksmith demonstration and a brief lecture in the fur warehouse about the hunting, processing, shipping and trading of furs.

Oh how I wish I had a vegetable & flower garden like this one just outside the walls of the fort.

Pretty pink hollyhocks and blue skies.

The Bastion (the look out tower).

We then got in the car and headed south back into Oregon in the general direction of Mt. Hood. We didn't have time to go all the way to the recreation area of the mountain to drive or hike around (next time!), but we did want to get to some kind of scenic lookout with nice views of the mountain for photo opportunities. So we just start driving south on I-84 toward Mt. Hood and I start googling "where to go for scenic views of Mt. Hood" on my iPhone. I'm not kidding. This is how we go places sometimes. In the meantime, we see a sign for "Scenic Route" so we take the exit and we're off exploring. We're so adventurous. ;)

The scenic route turns out to be the Historic Columbia River Highway, which is just the kind of route we were looking for as it winds along the Columbia River Gorge and National Scenic Area. Perfect! Along this route, we stopped a several viewpoints, including the Women's Forum Overlook where I took this photo of the Columbia River and Crown Point Overlook that you can see slightly below and off to the right of our vantage point in this photo here:

A few miles down the road and we were at the Crown Point Overlook and Vista House (the white building on the bluff in the photo above), where we stopped for more photos. Continuing on in search of a vista of Mt. Hood, we stopped at some beautiful waterfalls that cascade into the Columbia River Gorge. I believe this photo is Wakeehnah Falls.

Shortly after, we came to the more famous Multnomah Falls.

My husband & daughters on the footbridge spanning the midsection of the falls.

The stop at Multnomah Falls had a small visitor center at the base, so after enjoying the views of the falls and having taken a ton of photos, we went into the little gift shop to inquire about where to go to get a good view of Mt. Hood for a some photos. We figured the locals would know, but you know, they couldn't come up with any suggestions! We kind of laughed over the fact that when you live near some landmark that draws tourists, you tend to take it for granted and don't really know how to advise tourists to go about exploring the area. (I admit I am sometimes like that with NYC attractions and I have lived within 25 miles of downtown Manhattan my whole life!) We walked away, prepared to continue on our own. A few minutes later, the woman from the gift shop came back to us because she had a light bulb moment and directed us to the top of Larch Mountain where she promised we would have views of not just Mt. Hood, but of all FIVE nearby mountains from the same spot! We headed back the way we came, going west on the Columbia River Highway, on the lookout for a small street sign for Larch Mountain Road and was told to follow it a few miles to the top. We find Larch Mountain Road and a few miles was more like 15 miles of a lonely winding road with nothing but forests to be seen. Which was beautiful and peaceful, but to this suburban girl, it was kind of eerie to lose her cell signal and see no other cars or people or buildings or signs of any kind for miles. I really started to think we were lost and should turn around because the road kept going on and on and if this was such a great lookout spot, why are there NO signs saying so? It's got to be wrong. My husband is more patient with these kinds of things and calmly insisted we just kept going a little bit longer. So we continue on. And on. And finally get to the end of the road and it's a small parking lot:

We climbed out of the car and it was COLD! The car's computer indicated an outside temperature of 50 F (10 C). It was invigorating to say the least as we were in shorts and t shirts in 80 F (27 F) just a half hour prior, but I loved it! The girls put on their hooded sweatshirts, which they had reluctantly brought with them that morning when I insisted that they do at breakfast.

We started climbing up this path to where we were promised spectacular views. I have to say, I was in my element. Even before we got to the lookout spot, I was thrilled to be where I was on this trail. There's just something so exhilarating to be in a forest like this. I don't know how to describe it, but it's both majestic and awe-inspiring but humble and peaceful at the same time. It's almost eerily quiet, even when you speak, but it still feels so big and vast. I loved that it was so chilly that we could see our breath in puffs. And it smelled fantastic-- of cool, clean air, pine and earth.

Within minutes we were at the top at this little lookout on a bed of rocks, a simple chain link fence between us and the forests below and spectacular views of five majestic mountains beyond. I actually did a little online investigating just now and learned that this spot is called Sherrard Viewpoint Picnic Area and is at an elevation of 4,055' on Larch Mountain. Just as promised we had spectacular views of the five area mountains:
Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft, 97 miles away),
Mt. St. Helens (8363 ft., 46 miles away),
Mt. Adams (12,307 ft., 54 miles away),
Mt. Hood (11,235 ft., 22 miles away) and
Mt. Jefferson (10,497 ft., 62 miles away).

As we stood there in awe, clouds were rushing past just below our viewpoint, giving us views of the mountain tops poking out above the cloud line. One or two of the mountains could be seen clear as day, a few others were mostly hidden by the clouds, so I'm not 100% sure which photo belongs to which mountain. Which is a darn shame. I'll just have to go back some time and figure it all out. Which wouldn't be a hardship since this little spot proved to be one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.

I think this is Mt. Adams.

This one I'm 99.99% sure is Mt. Hood.

And I'm pretty sure this is Mt. St. Helens(?).


After getting our fill of the views, we headed back into Portland for a very late dinner. We dined at Jake's Grill (611 Southwest 10th Avenue, Portland, OR) where we had a very delicious meal. Of course, when it's late and you're famished, everything probably tastes great, but I did thoroughly enjoy my entree of Alaskan Wild Sockeye and Halibut Penne Pasta with mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and basil pesto cream. For dessert we shared a blueberry white chocolate cheesecake. So delicious.


Passport Office
Waterfront & Pike's Place Market
Morton, WA

Our original plans after Portland, involved making our way north to Seattle, WA over the course of two days stopping one day at Mt. St. Helens and one day at Mt. Rainier, but due to a passport oversight on our part and a lack of appointment availability back home in NYC, Philadelphia or Connecticut before we left), we had an appointment in Seattle the following morning to renew my passport and secure passports for the girls as well, so we could travel to Canada at the end of our trip. So instead of going to the mountains, we got up early the next morning and headed directly to Seattle. We initiated our passport request and then had a couple of hours to explore Seattle before we had to go back and pick up our passports.

We had lunch at the Metropolitan Grill (820 2nd Avenue, Seattle, WA) where I had the very delicious Chicken Waldorf Salad made with chopped romaine, herb grilled chicken breast, two different kinds of apples, celery, jicama, candied walnuts all topped with a creamy citrus vinaigrette. Oh my gosh, it was so good.

After lunch, we took a walk along the waterfront and to Pike's Market for a short time.

After picking up our passports, we considered canceling our motel reservation in Morton, WA, the little mountain town between Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens and just staying in Seattle for the night, but we had trouble finding a vacancy in Seattle at such short notice and we would have still had to pay for our original reservation in Morton since we were passed the 24 hour cancellation period. So we decided to just stick with our original plan, suck it up and drive back the two and a half hours south again to our motel in Morton, WA. So that's what we did. The girls fell asleep in the car and my husband and I took in the scenic sights and talked. :)

White Pass Scenic Byway
Mount St. Helens National Monument

Because of the unscheduled trip into Seattle to take care of the passports, we now only had one day to do either Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Rainier and still stay on schedule with our original itinerary and hotel reservations. After debating how best to spend our one day in these forests between Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, we decided to be spontaneous and change our hotel reservations around so we could do both mountains over two days like we originally planned. Fortunately, everything worked out and we were able to book a second night in Morton and cancel our reservation in Seattle without penalty.

That morning we drove along part of the White Pass Scenic Byway that follows the rivers as they wind between the volcanic mountains of Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams with side trips along the way. We did Side Trip Loop 1, which is the Mt. St. Helens Johnston Ridge Loop and then the next day Side Trip Loop 3, which is the Mt. Rainier Loop.

We stopped first at the Mt. St. Helens visitor's center and museum where we learned about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980, studying the timeline from mid March of that year through mid September or so. The changes to the terrain as a result of the eruption were amazing to see. The destruction of the trees and all other vegetation are to be expected, but the valleys, hills, rivers, streams and even the lakes changed so dramatically that even the park rangers and residents no longer recognized the area. Rivers and lakes that were there for hundreds of years were gone in a moments notice, and new ones were born. A stark reminder of our ever changing planet.

My husband and daughters about 20 miles from Johnston Ridge at Mt. St. Helens.

View of Mt. St. Helens about 3 miles from Johnston Ridge Observation point. See that arrow in the lower right hand corner? I happened to be standing next to a couple with binoculars when I took this photo and the man was trying to point our a herd of elk to his wife.

So I paid attention and zoomed in that region for this photo:

You can click on the photo to enlarge it for a better look at the elk in the middle of the photo. There are at least four that can be seen clearly.

It helps give perspective to the vastness of this region and the sheer size of these volcanic mountains, doesn't it?

One of my favorite shots of Mt. St. Helens with wildflowers in the foreground.

Here's a neat picture of Mt. St. Helens on the left and Mt. Rainier in the distance on the left. A foreshadowing of what's to come the next day. ;)

Mount Rainier National Park

The next day we drove to Mt. Rainier National Park. This was probably my favorite day of the entire trip. I love National Parks. I love mountains. I love waterfalls. I love spectacular views. I love hiking. I love snow. I love warm sunny days with cool breezes. I love blue skies. I love having fun with my family. I got all of these in one wonderful day. : )

We visited Mt. Rainier via the southwestern side to Paradise. Most of the views of Mt. Rainier in my photos are of the Nisqually glacier area of the mountain.

On the start of our ascent on the Skyline Trail to Glacier Vista. My husband is giving my youngest a little boost already.

Hiking in the snow.

The girls took a break from hiking for a little snowball fight while my husband and I climbed up a little higher. He's on the left in the foreground, and the girls are the two figures kind of in the middle of the photo by that first big rock. You can see what I'm pretty sure is Mt. St. Helens in the background, just above the girls where the mountains meet the sky.

My youngest descending Mt. Rainier:

If you click on the photo to see it full size, you can see Mt. Adams along the skyline straight above where my daughter is standing. If you follow the skyline to the right, you can see Mt. Saint Helens just at the edge of the photograph.

After lunch, we hiked some easier trails for more views of the mountain. I like this one with the stream in the foreground and the peak of Mt. Rainier in the background.

I have dozens of photos of waterfalls within the park, but here are two of my favorites.

Narada Falls because of the magnificent rainbow:

Christine Falls because of the name. ; )

This is the upper part of Christine falls. Towards the top is a footbridge for hikers along the Comet Falls trail that is barely visible in this picture.

This is the lower part of Christine falls as seen from the base. I was walking across the bridge when I took the photo of the upper part of the falls. Note the car driving across the bridge. It helps give you perspective of the magnitude of the ravine and the power of this waterfall.

We took one last easy hike around Longmire meadow, and then my family dragged a very reluctant me out of the park late that afternoon. Oh, they were having fun, too, but I could just keep hiking and hiking and hiking ....

It was wise to leave when we did, though, because we now had a long drive ahead of us to our hotel in Vancouver that night since we shuffled our plans around the day before. Since we short changed our stay in Seattle, we decided to stop there on the way for dinner. I did some googling for Thai restaurants on my iphone, picked a restaurant and mapped out our route. The restaurant I chose was Ayutthaya Thai Cuisine (727 E. Pike Street, Seattle, WA) which was very, very good. On our way out of the city, we drove past the Seattle Space needle for some quick pictures and then headed for Vancouver with our shiny new passports in hand. ;)


Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
Stanley Park
Granville Island

Our first morning in Vancouver we headed out to the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. It is pedestrian bridge that connects hiking trails from both sides of the Lynn Canyon. The narrow, wobbly bridge is 160 ft. (50 m) above the canyon floor. I wanted to hike some more there, but got vetoed. LOL.

My oldest pretending not to be nervous.

My gorgeous family.

We headed back toward the heart of the city and landed ourselves in Stanley Park. Stanley Park is a large city park with a lot of recreational opportunities as well as some fun sight seeing things. We drove the loop around the park, stopping here and there for different views and fun things. Like ice cream! That's the Lions Gate Bridge in the background.

"Salmon Crossing?" Really mom?

Why can't I get them to pose like this at home?

Totem poles.

One thing that I really love and admire about the Vancouver area is the awareness and respect for the First Nations or Native peoples of the region.

Later that afternoon, we drove to Granville Island, which isn't really an island, but more like a penninsula of land in False Creek in downtown Vancouver. The entrance to Granville Island is underneath the southern end of the Granville Street Bridge, which was so cool. This parcel of land used to be an old factory district that was updated, improved and renovated into a chic shopping and cultural district. There is a small art and design University there, lots of eclectic shops and a big farmer's market showcasing produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods and chocolates. We hung out here for awhile, grabbed dinner and then called it a night.

Museum of Anthropology at BCU
Thai Spice Restaurant (address)
Horseshoe Bay
Scenic Drive to Whistler/Blackcomb

The next morning, we headed to the Museum of Anthropology at BCU (British Columbia University). I couldn't believe it, but we were the first ones there and it wasn't even open yet. That has never happened to us before. LOL. We walked around the outside of the museum to see the outdoor exhibits outside the museum.

Inside, we marveled at the beautiful artifacts of the First Nation people of Canada.

A sculpture by artist Bill Reid depicting the discovery of man.

We learned a lot about the native cultures, their beliefs, customs, art and histories. There was a temporary exhibit called Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures at the time that was insightful and thought provoking. There were several contributing artists, but my favorite was probably the one titled "Becoming Rivers" by Gu Xiong that used literally hundreds of small white boats flowing from outside into the museum to symbolize the physical and personal rivers that every one of us needs to cross to bridge the cultures of our world.

We left the museum and grabbed a late lunch at a restaurant called Thai Spice (1485 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C., Canada) for another great meal. I think my girls are fast becoming professional Pad Se Ew and Pineapple Fried Rice critics. ; )

Years ago--before we were even married-- my husband and I went on a ski vacation to Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, so he really wanted to take the drive up there to check it out again and maybe see Olympic Park. So we started out on the scenic drive and no sooner got out of Vancouver that we realized we needed coffee to wake up a bit for the drive. We winded our way down along the water and stopped in Horseshoe Bay... a small scenic town that serves as a port for ferries to the islands, including to Victoria.

We had a relaxing cup of coffee at a little coffee house called The Lookout overlooking the bay before heading back to the scenic drive to Whistler. The views along the highway were really so beautiful. The waterways, the majestic, snow topped mountains. So rugged and beautiful. We drove around Whistler and Blackcomb, my husband and I reminiscing about our ski vacation years ago. It was pretty sweet, actually. : )

We returned to Vancouver that evening, grabbed a bite to eat and headed back to the hotel for our last night's sleep in Vancouver.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

On our last day, we had only the morning to do some last minute fun before heading to the airport for home. We found the perfect little activity to do in a few hours and that was to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown. (I love that you know you're in Chinatown in Vancouver because all the street lamps are painted red and many of them have gold dragons on them). This garden was such a delight. It is the very first, full size Chinese scholar garden ever built outside of China.

One of the most impressive things about this garden is that everything used to build this garden came directly from China. Everything is authentic (except for the modern plumbing and minimal electricity) AND get this... the garden was designed and built using the tools, resources, and methods used during the Ming Dynasty. If you ever find yourself at this garden, definitely take the tour. It isn't too long and the guide had SO much fascinating information to share that was not in any brochure there.

After that, we raced to the airport to make our international flight in time. A slight delay because we got randomly selected for a comprehensive search and then I had some fresh cherries with me that I was honest enough to report to customs. We cleared everything fine and made it to our gate with five minutes to spare before boarding. Phew! My husband was totally calm throughout this, but it was a little too close for comfort for me.

We arrived home safe and sound late that night and grateful for our own bathrooms and beds.

Book brought on vacation: Judgment In Death by J.D. Robb
Pages read: 25

Two flights clear across the continent and I read all of 25 pages.

On the flight home, I read a little, but also watched a movie. I watched Paper Man, a 2009 film starring Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone, Lisa Kudrow and Ryan Reynolds about a washed-up writer who forms an unlikely friendship with a teenager. I describe it as a midlife crisis meets teenage coming of age story that tugs at your heartstrings no matter what your age. I was funny and moving ... mostly moving... and ended well. I loved it.

And that my friends, is how you take a Pacific Northwest Road Trip in six and a half days.

The End. :)


  1. Oh my, Christine that's a wonderful vacation. I love all the pictures and the details. You went to two of my favorite places, Mt. Rainier National Park and Pike's Place Market (Waterfront by Puget's Sound) in Seattle. I hope to return soon. Love the Pacific NW.

    I'm so glad you and your family took this much deserved break and really enjoyed it.

  2. Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Christine :).

    I would love to take a vacation like that with all that hiking and sight-seeing. You guys visited some amazingly beautiful places!

    I especially like Christine Falls too! How fun to spot something like that :).

  3. Thank you for sharing your trip out west. I can't wait to see what my friends have planned for me.

    I've been to Seattle before and I love your pictures because it reminded me of the good time I had. Did you see the "talking fish" at Pike's Place Market?

  4. So glad you all got to see so many great and beautiful places. Looks like you were also blessed with perfect weather. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Your pictures are gorgeous! The one with the rainbow over the waterfall is my favorite.

  6. Awesome trip. I haven't been to Mt Rainier in years. But those pictures make me want to make a trip stat!
    I'm glad you all got a brief respite from your caregiving duties. I know how hard that is!

  7. Looks like you had a wonderful time! Isn't it amazing all the snow that stays up there year-round?

    The pics of the girls are beautiful, too!

  8. What wonderful pictures! Thank you for sharing them! I wish we'd explored more when we lived out West. It sounds as though y'all had a much deserved awesome time, good for y'all!

  9. gorgeous views, beautiful family :) so glad y'all were able to get away. and your pictures just bumped up the Pacific NW as a vacation trip on my wish list, ive never been!

    also, what on EARTH did we do before smart phones? did we like, omg plan things in advance?!?! how crazy! for ex: i remember if we went on a road trip my mom would GO to AAA in person, get a big atlas map and they would highlight the route we should take on the paper. so funny looking back on it!

  10. So many things to say...

    First, you guys look so good together! *hug*

    Second, you must have more energy than the Energizer bunny--I would have dropped dead of exhaustion on the third day, I'm sure.

    And last, what a beautiful slice of our planet! *sigh* I wanna live there! /whine

    Thank you so much for sharing your vacation with us, Christine!

  11. Oh gaaaaaaaaaad! You make me miss all of this SO MUCH! I am almost weeping at those pictures! I miss the PAcific Northwest soooo muuuuch. *sob*

    OK, sobfest over. Lovely, lovely pics! I'm glad you had such awesome, beautiful weather! We always did when we went in the summers. :D

    P.S. Your eldest looked like Little Red Riding Hood, modern style, in a few of the pics. :D

  12. Wow, Christine!! Even your vacation was "healthy" LOL!! It looks like you and your family had a great time and you got to do lots of stuff!

    Passport in a day? Seriously?

    and LOL, yes, you came to Canada! Okay, very far from me Canada, but still haha :P

  13. Love all the pictures, especially the one of Columbia River and Crown Point Overlook and the family pictures are great!

    And the snow - my kids haven't seen snow before. Great vacation & good to have you back. :)

  14. First off, I'm so glad you got a vacation and was able to relax! Second, your family is GORGEOUS! Look at those beautiful girls. My goodness.

    Christine Falls! Wearing shorts in the snow covered mountains! The beautiful scenery. Wow. It looks like you had an amazing time.


  15. It sounds as though everyone had a lovely time on this much-needed family vacation. The pictures are beautiful - and the detailed description is delightful to read.

  16. Welcome back! And echoing what everyone said, love your pictures - what a wonderful holiday!

  17. Thank you all for taking a look at all the photos, reading my narration, and for all the lovely compliments on my family.

    It was really a great vacation and I had so much fun sorting through my photos for this post and reminiscing as I typed up the narration.

    Our visit to Pike's Market in Seattle was brief. I didn't see a "talking fish." Had I known there was one, I would have looked for it for sure!

    And yes, the girls and I got our passports in a day. In four hours, no less. Of course, there were steep expediting fees. Yikes. At least now I can travel the world! ^_^

  18. Christine - thank you for sharing a little slice of your family's holiday with us. Gorgeous photos - you're amazing! And your family - awwww! Beautiful!

    I'm also so glad that you all got some time out - that's so important. I hope your FIL was OK while you were away?

    As for passports - I must get my photo! I am SO slack!

  19. Thanks, orannia! :)
    We finally finished looking at each other's vacation photos last night. It was nice to see pictures of myself on vacation, since I was *behind* the camera in the photos I took. LOL.

    My FIL did okay while we were away. He was certainly glad to come home to his own environment and routine, but he was agreeable about going back to the nursing home when we took our next vacation, so that's good. Although, by then, he will have forgotten he agreed and we'll probably have to go through the explanation and argument process all over again with him. :/

    Yes! You must get your passport done! Then you can plan a trip to the US!!! ... *not so subliminal message* ;)

  20. Sounds and looks like you had an awesome vacation! :D Love the photos and your comments. I'm so glad you had such a fabulous time with your family.

    Thanks for sharing it with us. :)


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