Camping in a Lookout Tower part 2

You can read part 1 here

Hello everyone. The tale of our lookout tower camping continues (with lots of photos this time). I last left you with the fact that we survived the first night. That in itself was an achievement. The next day was equally nerve-wrecking due to the gale force winds that constantly shook our little cage. Let’s just say if I was standing outside I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had an arm anymore much less the umbrella I’d be holding.

In all honesty, we had heard rumblings about a winter storm warning but, psh, brushed them off because, really? It’s the very beginning of the season. Sitting in the whiteout through the morning hours, however, we agreed that if it was still coming down at 3pm, we’d head home. We were so remote that getting stranded would have been disastrous.

Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon

As we whiled away the hours playing Risk and drinking hot toddies, I got used to the constant rocking and was having genuine fun. Flinck was cozied up in front of the stove and life was good.

Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon

It was during this fun that we noticed a small poster on the wall, which was basically a tribute to the original tower that had fallen 10 years earlier in a storm. Umm. It couldn’t have been all that different from what we were experiencing, but I comforted myself with the notion that this new structure must have been built with proper reinforcement…

Lo and behold, the snow stopped right at 3 and didn’t appear to have accumulated much at all. With determination in our eyes, we all agreed to stay another night. Unfortunately, it was still so windy and cold that we decided not to go hiking, which had been our plan. Sad face. More Risk and more whiskey helped pass the time.

Jaro did brave the wind for these cool shots of the tower:

Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon

Because we weren’t tortured enough from getting lost and struggling with terrible weather, there was one more element of disquiet that I want to share. While we played our games and had our PG fun, random hunters would drive up to the tower and all climb out of their enormous vehicles for a peek around (for tracks?) throughout the day. They would stare up at us and we would stare back, attempting to smile and wave. It was never reciprocated. Creepy! And rude. We were all a little rattled by our surprise visitors and just hoping they wouldn’t come back and try to murder us in the night. These are the thoughts of rational adults, I swear…

As dusk shrouded us in its shadows, the winds picked up even more. We were in for another rough night. As we all attempted sleep, the tower shook so violently I thought we were going to get pulled right off the ground into a tornado. Wizard of Oz style. It was intense. But maybe worth it? The next morning, we awoke before sunrise and caught these incredible views:

Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon

Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon

On our last morning, I finally understood the appeal. The panorama was simply stunning. Just incredible landscapes in every direction. We relished the views for a few hours before starting our trek home. Because of the thick snowfall overnight (oops), we couldn’t see the treacherous potholes, and took turns walking in front of the car again. But at least this time, it was sunny. And beautiful.

Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon

All in all, it was so worth it. We all survived. We all had fun. Even Flinck! If you’d like to find lookout towers available in your area, click here. In the search, choose “lookouts.” We stayed at the one listed, Flag Point.

xxx

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Camping in a Lookout Tower part 1

Are you adventurous? I like to think I am. I’ve traveled alone. Gone paragliding. Road-tripped around Europe with no itinerary. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but I have challenged myself in different ways. Stepped outside of my comfort zone.

None of that prepared me for this.

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but this was a seriously scary experience. You may remember that I booked this little getaway six months in advance to secure the first weekend of the rental season. November 1st. How bad could it be? We had barely begun to see the rains come down in Portland, there was no way the weather could be that bad already. Right? Wrong. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and I’ll tell you the story…

It started out innocently enough. We piled in the car (pup included!), grabbed our two friends that were joining us, blasted some jams and headed out to Mt. Hood. The sky was clear as can be. Mt. Hood loomed in the distance. I smiled to myself.

My only goal was to make it to the tower before nightfall. As we approached the mountain, we realized we would have to rely on the park service directions as our phones would lose reception. Let’s just say that writing out detailed directions for unmarked roads is not the park service’s strong suit. We were lost (embarrassingly) for hours. A wrong turn here, a muddy misstep there and it was nightfall. Great.

After trudging along on a pothole infested road and losing all hope of finding the tower, we saw a light in the distance. So we drove up to it and realized it was a camp. Help! Yay! Almost immediately, a flashlight starts walking toward us from one of the cabins. Help? I was convinced it was a crazy mountain hermit/murderer. As he shined the light in our eyes, we could barely make him out aside from a long, scraggly gray beard. He peered at us suspiciously.

“You folks lost or somethin’?” 

Then we four city kids proceeded to explain our plight and plead for help. After informing us that we were quite far off and giving us very helpful, detailed directions, we got ready to pull away.

“Don’t get snowed in.” 

We laughed because… ridiculous. There was no snow, no wind, no weather of any kind. It wasn’t even that cold. Yet he just stared at us. Serious. Somber. ..Hmm.

Now that it was 8pm, we were finally heading in the right direction. Making our last turn onto the dirt service road that would lead us to our destination, we started to second guess ourselves. The potholes were asteroid craters and we kept scraping the bottom of our car. To lighten the load, the four of us passengers (yes, including Flinck) had to get out and walk to prevent the car from bouncing into the pits. It was… the pits. Our 4-wheel drive could barely manage it. So after stumbling into the pitch black darkness for over an hour, we decided to stop the car and two of us ran ahead with flashlights (much faster than the car could move) to see if the tower was just around the riverbend. As their tiny streams of light faded into the wilderness, the other two of us and Flinck hung back by the car. And waited. And waited. Finally, they re-emerged saying we should turn around. We must have missed the spur.

Tower Camping

Walking into the abyss. (sorry for the terrible photo quality)

Turning around, we still walked in front of the car, staying in the headlight beams. Because, you know, bears. And boogeymen. At least we decided to start calming my nerves enjoying our beers. Arriving back at the turnoff (another hour later), we saw a small spur leading up a hill. Was that it all along? Was it right there? Piling back in the car, we started up this hill… which turned out to be nearly vertical. Impossible to climb even with our trusty Subaru. So again, we all pile out and start climbing on foot, with nothing but little headlamps and two flashlights to guide us.

One empty field. No tower. By some miracle, being up on this plateau afforded us cell service and we were able to see that we had been correct on that other road and it was just another mile further.

<Insert string of profanity here>

Some time after 10pm, we pulled up to this lookout tower. In pitch black darkness. From what I could make out, it looked like a melancholy perch sitting about 50 feet up on some toothpick stilts. Lots of stairs. And to add to our problems adventure, the wind had picked up tremendously. Gathering all of our stuff, we trekked to the top. The wind was so strong, we could barely keep our eyes open. With Flinck wedged between myself and a pillow, I climbed the rickety stairs with honest to god fear. Not being able to see more than an arm’s length in front of my face, I stared out at the endless darkness between the slatted stairs.

Finally! We had made it. All of us and all our things were now safely inside this crow’s nest. It was one tiny room, with 360 degree windows, a wood-burning stove, a propane stove, and some other meager furniture. As the temps had dipped to 30 degrees, we got a fire started for warmth first. Priorities, people. As there was no electricity, we made and devoured our dinner under the glow of a few candles and promptly drank most of our booze.

Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon

Falling asleep eventually, I wasn’t even bothered I was gently being rocked back and forth as the tower swayed in the wind. Waking up in the middle of the night with a start, it bothered me enormously. It was no longer gentle, more like violent rocking. Not only that, but our fire had gone out and the space was freezing. The wind continued to howl outside. One of the dudes woke up and groggily tried to restart our fire. This is… fun?

After an infinite night of worrying we were going to plummet to our deaths (well, maybe that was just me), we woke up to this:

Tower Camping, Mt. Hood, Oregon

Yep. We were in the clouds, quite literally. More on this adventure coming soon, including photos of how we passed the time and the (insanely gorgeous) view once we eventually saw it.

Thanks for reading.

xxx

Happy Friday

Hi friends. It’s been a minute. I could fill the page with all my excuses for not writing, but I’ll leave it simply at this: I miss you and I’m back. It’s a new day…

Tower Camping

What are you up to this weekend? Whatever it is, I hope you stay cozy and warm as we finally enter the month of March. (Is it just me or is this winter never-ending?) We are having new kitchen countertops installed and as you other homeowners know, I am just beside myself with glee. I’m even excited for the months of ramen and PBR we’re going to have to suffer through enjoy to pay for them. 😉 Other than that, it’s more house projects (talk about never-ending…) and maybe we’ll sneak out to our favorite neighborhood bar for some non-PBR brews.

Here are two quick links to kick off your weekend:

– Think you know everything about Portland? I was surprised by a number of these. Especially #2!

– Laughed out loud at the Williamsburg of Portland. Agree 100%.

Looking forward to sharing some travel stories with you in the coming weeks. Europe! Kauai! Asia! And that’s just a few. Let’s just say that 2013 went out with a bang.

xxx

{photo from our adventures in lookout tower camping – more on that soon!}

Easy day trip: Oneonta Gorge

Having spent my childhood in the great plains of the Midwest, my world was flat. Flat cornfields, flat roads, flat everything made distant rolling hills and far off craggy mountaintops all the more majestic. There was something magical and mysterious about them; they were out of reach. To this day, I am still captivated by landscape that is not perfectly horizontal.

Midwesterner or not, the Oneonta Gorge is a delight for thrill seekers of all ages. A tall, narrow ravine only accessible by climbing slippery logjams and plunging chest deep into icy water, this gorge is a riveting experience. And just 40 minutes outside of Portland, it is well worth the drive for those wishing to actively participate in a slice of Oregon magic.

So, how do we get there? It’s actually quite straightforward and for those of you that have been out on the scenic route 30 have probably passed right by it. Just east of Multnomah Falls, there are signs for the Oneonta Gorge Trail. Go ahead and park in that designated area. To follow the trail, there is a bridge leading into a tunnel. But rather than go through the tunnel, you’ll want to take the overgrown stairs just before the bridge in the southwest corner.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

This is where our adventure began. These steps led us down to the bottom of the ravine, rather than the marked trail. Initially, the trickle of water is not even ankle-deep and easily avoidable by the wide riverbanks. We walked along the bank until we got to this:

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

Yep. It’s a huge logjam with dozens of enormous, slick trees. It doesn’t look that treacherous, but trust. It’s taller and wider than it lseems. Climbing across it is somewhat dangerous. I mean, this area is unmaintained and there are no handrails. But we did see small nimble children, fit older folks, and even brave dogs making their way across. Know your own limits. It is NOT safe.

being a nerd.

being a nerd on top of the log jam

Once we successfully crossed, we understood the reason why so many people do it. Ahead of us was a deep cut in the mountains that looked like they were split apart with a jagged knife. Walking through it, we stared up in amazement.  It was otherworldly. We were not be the only ones murmuring, this is awesome. It is awesome. It invokes awe.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

As we walked along, we realized our legs were tingling. Looking down, we saw that the earth dipped and the water slowly crept up and was hugging our calves. And the riverbanks had disappeared. The water was so clear we could barely tell. But, not wanting to be wimps, we forged on. (You can’t forge a river though.) Surprisingly, our legs numbed got used to it quickly.

The water receded just as fast as it rose, and we thought we were out of the danger zone. That wasn’t so bad! But a few steps ahead then the ground sank again. The stones on which we were walking kept dipping lower, and lower and lower beneath the surface of the water. This time, it wasn’t just to our knees. The water was now chest deep. And ice cold. Since we knew there was more ahead, we kept going, the cool water wrapping around our skin like a snake with a deathlike grip. It. Was. Freezing. But after a few minutes of torture, we were released and back on dry land.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

deep!

Walking a few more paces into the canyon, we came to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Before us was a massive waterfall. We reached the end! After a few obligatory jumping photos, we traversed back out.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

That entire adventure took us about 90 minutes. Well worth the drive from Portland to visit this natural treasure.

xxx

Booked: Flag Point Lookout Weekend

Did you love tree houses as much as I did when you were young? My friend across the street had one in her backyard and we’d spend countless hours up there, plotting, the way kids do, away from the prying eyes and ears of adults. There was something magical about being up high, among the trees, away from the ground reality. I never outgrew this fascination. Maybe it’s because I’m short; any method of being higher/taller than others gives me great satisfaction.

So imagine my pure, child-like glee when I found out that you can rent forest fire lookouts in the National Forests around Oregon (and beyond) during the off-season. You know, to sleep in. Like a cabin, but way up high over the trees. How cool is that! My Oregonian friend mentioned wanting to do this awhile ago, and obviously we were in. It’s yet another instance of all the awesome things to do in and around Portland. Four of us are going to be staying at the Flag Point Lookout in Mount Hood National Forest for a weekend next fall.

It’s seriously cool!

flagpoint lookout, or

Flag Point Lookout, OR

With views like this!

flagpoint lookout, or

Mount Hood, OR

Isn’t it beautiful? I can picture it already… Playing board games, wrapping up in our cozy Pendleton blankets, eating, I don’t know, salmon jerky(?), drinking whiskey hot chocolate from our Stanley thermos… all with those rich autumnal colors surrounding us. It’s a photo shoot waiting to happen.

The reservation process is a little intense. Lookouts can be reserved exactly 6 months prior to their availability, so you gotta have a plan and act fast before someone else snatches up the days you want. Weekends are especially competitive. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit we were both logged in and frantically hitting the refresh button waiting for Flag Point to become available… for six months from now.

If you’re interested, here is the website where you can browse and select accommodations: recreation.gov. There are really cool spots all over the country, but we selected one that would be an easy weekend trip from Portland.

xxx

(image 1, 2)

Holland, is that you? A quaint homage at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm

I miss Holland. A lot. Especially right now- the warm spring, the sun peeking out, all the tulips blooming and the entire place a colorful explosion. Flowers everywhere. It was the best.

So picture my delight when a friend told me about the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, right here in Oregon. About an hour’s drive from Portland, it’s just a family run farm with tulip fields, kiddie rides and what I can only describe as carnival food. It was cute. And I was immediately reminded of the beautiful tulip fields in Holland. Checking out the wooden shoe carving booths, I hunted around for people with whom I could possibly practice my Dutch (starting to get rusty), but no such luck. Can’t have it all.

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

I had to get in there.

xxx

P.S. I don’t miss everything about living in Holland.

Day Trip: Mount Hood, Multnomah Falls & the Gorge

Another day, another adventure. With my dad visiting, we thought it’d be as good a time as any to trek out to Mount Hood. Only an hour’s drive from Portland, Mt Hood is several things: the highest point in Oregon (roughly 11,200 ft), home to 12 (!) glaciers, almost year-round skiing and considered an active volcano (though not likely to erupt, or explode in the near future). Pretty impressive, huh? We can usually see it towering over the city like a watchful eye or something. Its icy white peak stands alone.

The trip was sort of a bust in that we drove completely around Hood and didn’t see a wink peak of her. Why? Because although Portland has been a balmy 60-ish degrees, Mt Hood looked like this:

Mount Hood, OR

Mount Hood, OR

That’s right. A totally NOT balmy 30 degrees and covered in snow and clouds. Oh well. My dad will just have to come again to see her.

It wasn’t a total waste. We drove the Gorge (again) and stopped at the truly magnificent Multnomah Falls. Gorgeous scenery, flowering groves, inspring panoramas and not a snowflake in sight. Oh, and a pit stop at Full Sail Brewery in Hood River. So really… not even close to a waste at all.

Troutdale, OR

Troutdale, OR

Mount Hood National Forest, OR

Mount Hood National Forest, OR

Hood River, OR

Hood River, OR

Full Sail Brewery, Hood River, OR

Full Sail Brewery, Hood River, OR

Multnomah Falls, OR

Multnomah Falls, OR

View of Vista House, Columbia River Gorge, OR

View of Vista House (teeny tiny on that overlook), Columbia River Gorge, OR

View from Vista House, Columbia River Gorge, OR

View from Vista House, Columbia River Gorge, OR

Cascade Range, WA

Cascade Range, WA

Oregon, you are wooing me with your springtime delights.

xxx

Day Trip: Astoria

The radio silence around here wasn’t for nothing. We’ve been busy getting our house together and continuing to explore the Pacific Northwest with alarming zeal. Seriously. Things are super busy around here. In a good way.

And my dad recently visited! He was our first guest in our new old house and that alone made it special. But we also toured all around the NW so he (and myself, let’s be honest) could learn more about this region that I now call home. Guess what? It’s awesome! Our first day trip was to Astoria, home of my generation’s classic The Goonies movie, the devastating Columbia River Bar (aka: the graveyard of ships) and some really great breweries. Since the weather was a little crummy, we spent the entire morning in the Columbia River Maritime Museum learning about the dangerous Bar, which was fascinating. The water looked so peaceful, but somehow that area has amassed over 2,000 shipwrecks and many, many deaths. After finding this out, both surprised and unnerved, we drove up to Washington to visit the state park where two historic lighthouses protect this barbaric coast.

Goonies House, Astoria

Goonies House, Astoria

Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria

Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria

Fort George, Astoria

Fort George Brewery, Astoria

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

North Head Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment State Park, WA

North Head Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment State Park, WA

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Columbia River Bar

Columbia River Bar

Cape Disappointment State Park, WA

Cape Disappointment State Park, WA

If you’re coming to Oregon – check out Astoria! Beautiful place with such interesting history.

And just for fun:

xxx

Daydreaming about… Oregon wine country

Hi friends. I’m enjoying a fantastic visit from my father this week. We’ve already done so much (new!) stuff around Oregon that I’ll be sharing soon. This weekend will consist of some house updating (this will be an ongoing battle for awhile), but also gluttonous (and well-deserved) meals and beverages around the city. Looking forward.

Today, I’m pining for a visit out to wine country here in my very own state. We have yet to visit any wineries (though we have tried our fair amount of the local varieties), and I’m eager to learn more about the ones around here. After seeing the grandeur of Napa Valley, quiet elegance of Sonoma, and enchanting Alsace region in France, I’m looking forward to discovering some low key and comfortable vineyards where the attitude is totally relaxed and a short drive away! The wineries around the Columbia River Gorge are just lovely… Columbia River Gorge Wineries

This blog post looks super helpful. Isn’t it gorgeous out there? I can’t wait for the warm dry summer months to leisurely explore it. I love seeing those vines heavy with grapes. Makes my eyelids heavy just thinking about it. I think I just need some wine and R&R after how busy we’ve been getting the house set up. Last night was a painting session that went well into morning.

Have a great weekend everybody! Here are some fun links I found this week:

Did you see this? What an amazing, unique way to capture your travels. If only we had a theme…

The world’s most colorful cities, according to someone with credibility. Disappointingly, I’ve only been to 3… so far.

A useful resource for making friends in a new city. I’m happy to report I’m off to a wonderful start.

I love the smart graphics in this Mad Men modernization.

PSA: Clean your computer. Right now.

xxx

Around Here: Cherry Blossoms

I’ve mentioned before that I absolutely love flowers. Well, Portland basically injected an IV into my veins with all the flowering cherry blossoms (these are cherry blossoms right?) that are lining the riverfront right now. They give me that high on life feeling where I can’t help but smile. A fortunate circumstance indeed given that we are otherwise totally miserable for being stuck in our corporate apartment this final week. Saturday can’t come fast enough. (Oh yeah, we move into our house Saturday for those of you wondering.)

Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland Cherry Blossoms, Portland

The trees are so full, the grass is so green and the sky (on Sunday anyway) was so blue! How can this not put you in a good mood?

xxx