Thursday, October 20, 2011


Free time has been scarce lately, and it shows on my blog, eh?

Good genes (or at least long-lived genes) run in my family, and Odel and I are spending a couple weeks with the super-seniors before we settle down at Cal-Expo RV Park in Sacramento for most of the month of November.  We’ve spent a good portion of this week helping my soon-to-be 89 year old aunt move into an independent living apartment, while house- and cat-sitting for Sydney and Frank, my sister and BIL.  And we’re only about 5 miles from my just-edging-past 85 year old parents, so are trying to visit with them, too.

Gotta’ say, I am impressed with my aunt’s new living arrangement: small, private apartment in a “retirement” complex geared to helping seniors remain independent while providing all kinds of services to make their lives easier, safer, and more enjoyable – 3 meals a day in a dining room with table service, shuttle bus for those who don’t drive, activity room, library, daily checks on residents (very unobtrusive), lovely grounds and flower gardens, field trips… and very friendly staff and residents.  It appears to be an excellent move for her.

We won’t be traveling again until after Thanksgiving – we pack the month of November full of family visits, medical visits, and doing all those chores on the “wait until we get to Sacramento” list, most of which is focused on repairs to our Jeep this year.  And visiting old friends!

Now, I’m off to pick up Aunt Dorothy and teach her how to drive here to my sister’s house.  Later, readers.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Chile roasterIt’s a rainy day in Likely, California, a tiny town on Hwy 395 in the northeast corner of the state.  We stopped for two nights at the Likely Place RV Resort and Golf Course (click here to read our review and see photos), where Odel dreamed he would be out on the links.  Not today!  Staying warm and dry inside, I’m going to share another recipe with you – it’s the season for chiles!

Roasted chiles… yum.  Walking through a late summer farmers market, the fragrance of roasting green chile peppers is unmistakable.  Draw closer to the roaster and you’ll hear the crackle and pop of chile skins blistering as they tumble over the hot flame of the roaster.  I never pass up roasted chiles, so usually head into winter with several bags and varieties in our freezer, most of which disappear into posole.

I make cream soups less than once a year – with so many delicious soup recipes, why consume the extra calories and cholesterol added with cream or half and half?  Recently, I made an exception – a very delicious exception. 

Market ChilesWhen we saw roasted chiles in the Eugene farmers market last month, I bought several baggies full (NOT the bags on the left, a photo I took in Santa Fe, NM), then went looking for a new recipe to try.  I don’t remember where I originally found the recipe for Green Chile Chowder, but it’s been in my “recipes to try” file for a long time, waiting for someone else to do the chile roasting.  Bingo!  Motive and opportunity, as they say on the crime shows.

The original recipe calls for two Jalapenos and four Poblanos.  I bought and roasted one LARGE red Jalapeno, and replaced the four Poblanos with what I had in my freezer: two Poblanos and four Anaheims.  The soup was rich and spicy, with a smooth flavor; we rated it medium-hot with the combination of chiles I used.  It made 8 servings, which meant two dinners for Odel and me; delicious the first night, even more complex and yummy gently warmed two nights later. 

This chowder would make a delicious centerpiece for a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner: Green Chile Chowder, a corn dish (or cornbread), roasted butternut squash or yams, cranberry sauce… and maybe a Green Chile Apple Crisp for dessert (along with the pumpkin and pecan pies).  Never had green chiles in your apple crisp?  Well, eat your ice cream with strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper, then we’ll move on to our next dessert adventure.  :)

If you can’t pass up a roasted chile, give this chowder a try.  It’s the season.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Laurie and Odel at Harriman SpringsDriving through fresh snow at Newberry Crater, I never imagined we’d be out on the water in kayaks two days later!

Friend and fellow blogger Sue Malone lives in the little community of Rocky Point, Oregon.  Since we’ve spent the entire summer in the Pacific Northwest, we knew we would stop by to visit, but our plans didn’t gel until now, traveling south to warmer weather.  Sue and Mo have four kayaks, so we often talked about taking a little kayak trip when we visited – a first for Odel and me.  It seemed less and less likely as summer ended and cold weather arrived.

After an easy drive down Hwy 97 from Bend, we pulled into Collier Memorial State Park (click here to read our review) before noon.  When we first visited this park two year ago, we were lucky to find an open site, very surprising in October!  This time we had our pick of many, many spacious, level sites - so many that it took us way too long to pick one.  Once we finally got settled, we took advantage of the cool sunshine to reacquaint ourselves with the riverside trails.

something that makes me glad I am in a kayak and not in the waterThe next day was our Big Adventure. Since I was not positive my kayak would always be right-side up, I left my camera at home, knowing photographer Sue would document our day. Not only did she take the photographs (including these), she has already posted a blog that describes our day (click here to read it and see additional photos).  

Picture the perfect first kayak experience: calm winds and smooth water; unlimited sunshine but cool temperatures (low 60’s); good-humored “instructors” who provide and transport the equipment and know the route… really, there was nothing that could have been changed for the better.  We saw white pelicans floating and watched big trout dart underneath our kayaks – even saw two little snakes going for a swim!

Both Odel and I managed to stay dry (mostly), and our trip was just the right length.  We celebrated our success with a round of cold brews at the nearby Rocky Point Resort restaurant, admiring the sunshine on the water and laughing our heads off. 

back out the creek toward the bay with Odel, Mo and Abby, and LaurieThen… dinner!  Back at Sue and Mo’s house, Sue bustled around the kitchen full of energy.  She fired up the grill to cook a huge slab of Copper River salmon on a cedar plank, while fresh asparagus simmered on the stove next to freshly made Hollandaise sauce and a side of grains – all of this while we sat on bar stools drinking wine and eating appetizers, chatting with Mo and kibitzing the cook.  

Dinner was WONDERFUL, followed by bowls of vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries and sweet, syrupy balsamic vinegar.  When Sue said the recipe specified a shake of black pepper on top, I wrinkled my nose, but Odel grabbed the shaker and went for it.  Once he approved, Sue and I added pepper to our bowls, too (Mo stuck with chocolate sauce).  Huh!  True!  It was an excellent addition.  Who would have thought it?

Sue and Mo, thanks for much.  We had so much FUN, and such a great meal – and I’m hardly even sore.  :)

Friday, October 7, 2011


Leaving the relaxing hot springs at Crystal Crane, we headed west to Bend, Oregon.  Since we had but a few days to spend in Bend, we stayed at the Bend Elks Lodge (click here for read our review and see photos).

The first 100 miles west of Crane look like this (although usually without a building!)…

…then you spy trees, and the stunning Cascades.  Not much farther to Bend.

First 100 miles from Crane to Bend Approaching Bend
Lave in Newberry National Monument

We stopped in Bend to visit Costco and Trader Joe’s (yes, Sue, there IS a TJ’s here, on the north end), and to see – at long last – Newberry Volcanic National Monument, south of Bend.  Too bad for us, the first cold blasts of winter arrived on the same day we did!

It was 44 degrees and windy when we stopped at Lava Lands Visitor Center to watch a 10 minute orientation video.  Our very short walk on the nature trail ended when a few drops of rain began to fall.

After a stop at La Pine State Park to check out the campground for future trips and visit Oregon’s largest Ponderosa Pine, we were off to Newberry Crater, hoping to hike on the big obsidian flow.

As the road climbed towards the Paulina Visitor Center, the temperature dropped.  Before long, we saw fresh snow on the sides of the road.  This was the greeting we got at the Visitor Center: Boarded up!  CLOSED!  And COLD!

Paulina Visitor Center is closed
Our picnic spot

And it only got whiter and colder as we drove higher.  Before long, we faced reality: the first blasts of winter have arrived, and we weren’t gonna find warm sunshine any time soon!

This was our view from our picnic spot: the boat launch ramp at Paulina Lake.  We didn’t linger long, especially when a few snowflakes started to drift down.  We don’t have clothes for this!

The nights are now cold enough that our little electric heater can’t handle the chill.  Since we don’t like the noise of the furnace, Odel hauled out the Kozy-World propane heater which keeps us snuggly warm with no noise.  Looks like we’re going to need it every night next week, as we make our way from Bend to Sacramento.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Looking northeast from SteensWhen we pulled into Crystal Crane Hot Springs (click here to read our earlier review), a tiny RV park surrounded by miles and miles of nothing in a very unpopulated county in eastern Oregon, we immediately recognized the Safari motorhome that belongs to our friends Bill and Wilda.  Two days earlier, when we were in Boise, we’d received an email from Bill, hoping we were still in Baker City so we could visit during their upcoming overnight stop there… after which they were heading further south. 

Of course, we were long gone from Baker City, planning on heading to Crystal Crane Hot Springs from Boise.  It sure brought a smile to my face when I read that their next planned overnight as they hopped down to Arizona was Crane!  What are the odds??  It was great to see them, and to share a float in the hot pool.

Next morning, well before noon, Odel donned his swim attire, wrapped up in his (rented) plush pink terrycloth bathrobe, grabbed his swim noodle and headed to the hot pool.  As he floated with a couple of neighboring RV’ers in the steaming pool, the topic of “home” came up.  Our neighbors mentioned that they are headed to their home in southeast Arizona.  Odel dug a little deeper and, imagining they would get a blank look from him, the neighbors specified Sunsites, Arizona. 

Fall color on Steens MountainBoy, did we laugh when Odel told me the story!  My cousin Rosanna and my aunt Carol live not far from there, so we know the area VERY well (as do Al and Kelly, the Bayfield Bunch).  When the neighbors mentioned where they lived, Odel asked about the golf course there (always teetering on the edge of demise), and they all got into a conversation about the small towns and junctions of Cochise County, including the Mustang Mall (their t-shirts proclaim “Conveniently Located in the Middle of Nowhere”).

Since Crystal Crane Hot Springs is also conveniently located in the middle of nowhere, in an area that is surprisingly similar to Cochise county (high desert, dry, ancient mountains poking up all around, interesting history, interesting places to visit for those who dig a bit - and are willing to drive many, many miles to visit), it seemed amazing and particularly apt to meet in such an unpopulated spot.

Kiger Gorge on a windy dayWe’re back in Harney County (Burns is the largest town and county seat) for a specific reason: to drive the scenic road to the top of Steens Mountain.  When we visited last June (click here to read our post from that visit), looking for sunny skies and warm weather, the Steens Mountain Scenic Loop road was still closed by a heavy layer of snow.  We explored as far as Frenchglen, the tiny town that is the gateway to the loop, visited several interesting historic sites and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, but no luck driving to the top of the mountain (a hair under 10,000 ft. elevation).

So, we’re back – and this time we made it.  Unlike our experience with Hell’s Canyon, the drive to the top of Steens Mountain (click here for an interesting description) was every bit as amazing and beautiful as I expected.

I’d printed information from the internet detailing hikes on Steens Mountain, and we packed a picnic lunch to take along on our epic journey – which turned out to be 184 miles round trip, with about 40 miles of it on Steens Mountain.  This, from, is a good description of the unusual mountain:

Driving the road up Steens Mountain is like climbing a 20-mile ramp.  A tilted mesa with an active fault on its steep, eastern side, the fault-block mountain has risen up in the past five to seven million years.  During the Ice Age, seven large glaciers gouged 2000-foot-deep, U-shaped canyons into the western slope.”

So you’ve got a huge slab of rock, tilted high on one side (east); a gentle slope from the west side to the top, then a free-fall down the eastern side. 

From the top of SteensThe drive begins on the west side of the “ramp”, at Frenchglen, on a gravel and dirt road with plenty of washboard to keep you alert.  Frenchglen is at an elevation of around 4,200 feet, the summit of 20 mile long Steens Mountain is at 9,735 feet, so the ecology and weather change considerably during the ride.  The road never seems steep, but it is a steady climb.  (By the way, there is an annual run up Steens Mountain – I’m sure the slope seems steep to the runners!)

By the time we reached Kiger Gorge (third photo), where we anticipated our first hike, the wind was blowing HARD – so hard and gusty that we didn’t dare wander too near the edge of the deep, glacial gorge.  It was freezing, and oh so apparent that hiking was NOT happening!  Back in the car, we drove another few miles to the east rim, another fantastic (and very cold and windy) viewpoint – 9,730 feet - looking down from the top of the mountain to the Alvord Desert, far (FAR!) below.  Even in the cold, driving wind, we drank in the scenery – it was truly fabulous.

The road became more narrow and bumpy as it climbed another couple miles to the summit parking area (9500 feet, just a couple hundred feet below the summit).  Two more hikes, one to the summit, the other to Wildhorse Lake, neither remotely appealing in the whipping, frigid wind.  Instead, we sat in the Jeep eating our ham sandwiches and chocolate, watching heavily bundled photographers and hikers (half a dozen cars were there with us) brave the cold winds.  (I DID jump out to take a few quick photos.)

Then we began the long drive back down the mountain, past the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, back to the soothing warmth of the hot pool awaiting us at home.  Worth the trip?  Absolutely.

Starting back down the road from the summit.

No hiking to the windswept summit for us!

Heading down Steens Summit Sign

Monday, October 3, 2011


Boise StatehouseUniversity towns – we seek them out.  An active, younger population; greater cultural diversity; a variety of entertainment and events; independent retailers and restaurants; and excellent people-watching all are attractions for us.  Boise is not only a university town, but the state capitol of Idaho as well.  Since we were nearby – and since we needed some urban services – off we went to Idaho when we left Baker City.

Before we settled into Hi Valley RV Park (click here to read our review and see photos), we made three stops: two for the repair of our hot water heater and one to replace our two-year old GPS.  It was a very successful afternoon.

Over the next three days, we enjoyed many of the attractions Boise offers: long walks along the riverside greenbelt parks; a glimpse of the famous blue turf of the Boise State stadium; a self-guided tour of the empty Idaho State Capitol building (we were amazed to learn that their legislative session runs for just 4 months and had adjourned April 7, 2011 – the place was deserted); an afternoon at the Territorial Prison; walking the various interesting “districts” of downtown Boise; and several delicious meals at lively Boise restaurants.

Odel presidesWhen we weren’t out sightseeing or eating and drinking (and even when we were!), we puzzled over our refrigerator.  Eventually, after many, many hours of scouring the internet and obsessively recording our freezer and fresh food temperatures, we have concluded that our refrigerator is working as designed - even though we aren't completely happy with aspects of its performance. 

Though Norcold provides very little information, we learned that our refrigerator is designed to shut off every 48-50 hours (more or less) for 3-5 hours to de-ice the cooling “fins” at the back of the refrigerator.  While the refrigerator is shut off, the temperatures in the freezer and refrigerator climb, until the ice on the fins melts.  For us, that means the refrigerator temperature rises to 40 +/- degrees and the freezer to around 22.  The way to stop the de-ice cycle is to turn the refrigerator off and back on – exactly what we did (as a last resort) three times in the past when we noticed the temps were rising and the cooling unit was not operating. 

ID Territorial prisonBy the time we had gleaned from internet sources this information about the de-ice cycle, our refrigerator was relatively empty, so we decided to let the cycle run its course to prove to ourselves that it WOULD come back on and start cooling.  Yes, almost 5 hours later, when the fresh food temperature climbed to 40.5… ping!  The cooling unit fired up and the refrigerator began to chill. 

Based on what we have read, learned, and observed, we plan to use the on/off button to "manage" the de-ice cycle when we are in warm weather, particularly when we have a major grocery shopping planned. By turning the refrigerator off and on the night before (which restarts the 48 hour cycle), we can make sure the internal temperature won't be climbing as we arrive home with a load of groceries and freezer items – and in hot weather, we’re likely to restart the refrigerator once we see that the frost on the fins has melted, rather than waiting for the secret signal that turns the cooler back on.

Happily, we saw a lot in Boise, learned a lot in Boise, and accomplished a lot in Boise. All of today’s photos are of Boise attractions, and I hope we’ll get back through there one of these years.

The Chocolat Bar At the chocolate shop

Above: Odel enjoys a chocolate break on the convenient bench outside The Chocolat Bar.

Above, right: a fraction of the temptations we found inside!

Right:  Downtown Boise has many beautiful old buildings, and a two block stretch is dominated by restaurants with comfortable outdoor seating.  We visited this area twice for lunch at the
Bittercreek Alehouse, a restaurant with an emphasis on local ingredients and beer - many, many beers!
Old Boise building

Next stop: Crystal Crane Hot Springs – again!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


mapResearch the far northeastern reaches of Oregon and you can’t avoid mention of Hell’s Canyon, usually described as “Hell’s Canyon, North America’s deepest river gorge at 8,000 ft.”.   Photos show a deep canyon, its steep, barren, rocky walls plunging dramatically down to the Snake River.  On the west side, Oregon; on the east side, Idaho.  And you want to be there, to experience this wild, dramatic, record-setting gorge!

Hmmmmmph!  I don’t know where they measure the depth of Hell’s Canyon, and I don’t know where they take the breathtaking photos, but I do know this:  we’ve looked, and we didn’t see it.

Our search started when we visited Joseph, Oregon, at the end of June.   We drove a long section of the Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway from Joseph to the Hell’s Canyon Scenic Overlook (click here to read that post and see photos).  It is an appealing (long, green) drive in early summer, and the view from the Scenic Overlook is splendid – but a letdown, too.  You can’t see the river!  There’s Idaho, across the gorge, but after reading all about this fabulous “deepest” scenic wonder, a view of the width rather than the depth is, well, disappointing.  (Fortunately, on our visit, we had the snowcapped mountains of Idaho and the wildflowers at our feet to distract us.)

So, heading south as the weather cools, a return to Baker City to drive the remainder of the Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway was on the agenda.  This time, we’d head to the bottom, to the river, to look UP.

Geiser Hotel in Baker CityWe first visited Baker City in September of 2007.  Friendly, casual, proud of their history, downtown preservation, and the arts, surrounded by recreational opportunity, Baker City impressed us.  Walking down Main Street one afternoon, we passed a gallery displaying eye-catching sculptures in the window (click here to read that post).  Guess what?  They weren’t sculptures; we had stumbled upon an unusual artistic medium, well suited to the ranching heritage of Baker City – salt licks!  Prizes were to be awarded and the salt licks auctioned, all explained in a very funny poster hanging in the gallery.

This year, checking in to Mt. View RV Park (click here to read our review), I noticed a flyer for the 5th Annual Salt Lick Auction – to be held that very night at Crossroads Carnegie Art Center in downtown Baker City.  Excellent timing!

Tie BreakerAfter dinner at Barley Brown’s Brewpub, we walked over to the Crossroads Arts Center, a beautiful gallery in the original Carnegie Library building (circa 1909) next door to Baker City’s historic city hall.  Outdoors, on a patio, the party was in full swing – libations flowing, plenty of free appetizers served by circulating wait staff.  This year’s entries were displayed, some available for silent auction, others on display for judging and live auction later.  A mama cow and her calf were honored special judges when two of the salt licks tied for first place.  Click here to read the the contest’s hilarious rules (“Cows caught using steroids will be canned.  Mad cows will be eligible for psychiatric treatment.”).

When he walked up, introduced himself, and shook our hands, we learned from the organizer, Whit Deschner, that the annual salt lick judging and auction is a benefit to raise money for Parkinson’s research (Whit was diagnosed with Parkinson’s several years ago), $20,000 so far.  We told Whit we had been in Baker City for the first salt lick contest, and our return for the 5th annual was sheer serendipity.

I wish I could describe the event in words that would do it justice.  With assistance from his neurologist – who read the tongue-twisting medical terms at a nod from the author – Whit read the first chapter in his next book (about living with Parkinson’s) while the audience cracked up.  The guy is a first-class wit.   Then he explained the contest, thanked the participants, and thanked everyone who was in attendance – with a special nod to us, introduced with our little story of stumbling across the event in its first year.

Driving through eastern ORThe joking and ribbing onstage between Whit, the auctioneer, the other volunteers and the audience was so funny, so warm – a group of good friends having fun and inviting everyone to be a part of it.  We walked away even more convinced that Baker City would be a good place to spend more time.

The next day was the Big Day – off to see the 8,000 foot deep gorge!  After a stop at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center (DON’T MISS IT!), we set off.  Now, at the end of summer, all the hillsides (miles and miles and miles of hillsides) are brown and dry.  Irrigated green fields break the monotony, and a couple very small towns dot the route – but it was mostly a long drive with plenty of time to imagine the difficulties and travails of the travelers on the Oregon Trail.

Seventy miles later, we arrived at Oxbow, Oregon, on the bank of the Snake River.  Idaho Power manages a beautiful little campground and day use park on the bank of the Snake on the Oregon side, Copperfield Park.  Here we stopped for our picnic lunch and to take in the sights: gently rounded slopes raising above the Snake River on each side.  So where the heck is the gorge???

Looking across the Snake River to Idaho from Copperfield Park.

Looking back to the Jeep from our trail.

Snake River Crossing, OR to ID Looking back to Jules

After lunch, we drove seven (gravel and dirt) miles north along the bank of the Snake River.   Where the road ended, we set out on foot, following a dirt trail along the hillside.  Looking north, looking south… we saw a canyon, we saw the river.  We didn’t see any 8,000 foot walls!

Most of the Hell’s Canyon Recreation Area is not accessible by road, and I’m sure there are awesome sights to be seen there – maybe even North America’s deepest gorge!  My advice?  Forget the apparently inaccessible gorge.  The Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway has a lot to offer: interesting towns (particularly Baker City and Joseph); the appealing Wallowa Valley; fascinating history (the Oregon Trail and the Corps of Discovery), all easily seen and enjoyed when you quit looking for the designated “attraction”. 

Next stop: Boise, Idaho