Monet’s garden palette

Color. Vibrant, natural, seasonal and beautiful, especially when it takes the shape of a thriving garden. Add to that a little sunshine, a babbling brook, a picturesque pond and a few chirping birds. Now place this Eden just in front of lovely chateau in the French countryside, and violà! You have arrived at the home of Claude Monet.

Famous for his paintings and synonymous with Impressionism, Monet crafted many a canvas with the serene scenes found in his own garden. A world traveler, he took inspiration from far-and-away places, but always came home to paint his own outdoor collection of flowers, trees and water features that happily came to life via his palette.

Approaching the entrance, I began to wonder: what was I looking forward to the most? Seeing his pond’s signature green bridge? Finding towering seasonal sunflowers? His paintings—up close—or the place he called home? I quickly came to realize I was looking forward to seeing anything Monet…

The garden

We started with the path to the pond. Bright green and Autumn colored plants marked several photo ops as we headed down to a passageway, then over to the water garden area. Our group split up, in part due to the flow of people, but also due to the many camera stops we each made.

Walking counterclockwise around the pond, we could see the green bridge from many angles. Beautiful and serene despite the slight overgrowth, it was a treat to see this Monet symbol up close.

Continuing on toward his home, we discovered a crisscross pattern of pathways between the pond and the chateau, creating garden sectionals.

Each section seemed to compete with the next for our cameras’ attention, and yet the gardens themselves waited patiently for their many admirers to take it all in. But the one area that impressed me the most was the large pathway (off limits to visitors) leading directly to Monet’s front door.

Blankets of ground cover and wildly colorful floral arrangements climbing their way up the green “walls” and wire arches met my eyes—and stopped me in my tracks. Taking it all in, I stayed there for as long as I dared, my eyes (and my camera) loving every second.

The home

Breaking myself away from the beauty outside, it was time to discover the colors and styles inside…

Just as bright and colorful as his gardens, Monet’s chateau welcomed its visitors into each room, taking care to display many of his paintings and home furnishings in accessible fashion.

I especially loved the room featuring some of his works—canvases showcasing the very gardens we just enjoyed outside.

The foodies in our group really got a kick out of his kitchen: bright copper cookware lined the main wall of blue and white tiles; simply beautiful!

The neighborhood

Although there is a well appointed and large gift shop at his house, I found a gorgeous scarf at one of the many delightful stores just behind Monet’s property.

Rustic, yet bright and well maintained, the country style homes and shops felt warm and welcoming. I could have easily spent hours wandering through these narrow, quiet streets. Ah, but it was time for lunch!

The countryside

Breathtaking in its own right, this little corner of the Normandy region is a rolling display of hills, fields, Autumn trees and meandering streams. And, as we discovered, home to a restaurant that complements its surroundings perfectly: Le Moulin de Fourges.

Plated in a simple but elegant style, we enjoyed our salads, chicken, mashed potatoes and dessert (apple torte!) with four choices of the world famous French beverage: wine.

Bottled water and coffee helped round out our drink selection. And we couldn’t resist purchasing a few bottles of our table favorites to enjoy back in our room (or home, if they’d make it that far)…

There was even a local artist selling his paintings just outside the entrance. Travel sized, we picked up two.

The city nearby

Saint Joan of Arc, considered the heroine of France, met her demise in this region. A modern church now stands on the grounds where she was burned at the stake. It was here that we found ourselves surrounded by one of the quaintest towns we’d encountered all day: Rouen.

Our first official stop here—the cathedral. With construction spanning several centuries, the many styles of this mammoth structure (everything from medieval gothic to ornate renaissance) came together quietly to form a towering yet inviting place of worship for its community.

Both outside and in, the decisive lines and long-lean aisles purposefully placed into its walls, windows and flooring drew our eyes toward the alters and ornate ceilings, then back down to ourselves.

The Rouen Cathedral somewhat divides the more modern sectors of the town from the older structures and near our next stop: the calendar clock.

More than just the days of the week or the month, this time keeper also displays the phases of the moon. Beautiful and functional, and not too far from the ground, which made its face very easy to see.

Ready for a beverage, we stepped into J.M.’s Café. Freshly refueled by our caffeinated drinks, we were energized enough to round out our afternoon with a walk through the nearby square and its many shops.

Our time in the Normandy countryside was a most enjoyable one, full of color and flavor and the fresh crispness of Autumn. But my favorite discovery of the day (if I must narrow my choice down to only one) would be seeing the wild garden pathway to Monet’s front door. A very inspiring moment I will treasure for a very-very-very long time. J 🎨

 

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Under London

I ❤️ London—it’s an amazing city showcasing centuries of history, layered in royalty, exploration and culture. World famous landmarks like the London Bridge and Big Ben dot the skyline.

And London is big. Big, wide and deep. Stairs, tunnels, The Tube—even The Chunnel—carry you down, down, down, then all around. So, while there is much to see all over this town, there’s plenty to discover just below its surface. Recently we decided to spend a day recovering from jet lag by visiting a few places under London.

Medieval cells

“Thrown in the Clink” is a popular and somewhat flip expression describing a guilty party’s new residence: behind the many locked doors and iron bars of a prison. But did you know The Clink is an actual place? Well, it was…

Back in the day—way back from 1144 to 1780—a series of prisons existed near and along Clink Street. Why this specific site? The first such prison in the area opened in 1127. No more than a cellar, it belonged to the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester.

Over the next five centuries, hundreds of debtors, assorted criminals, religious martyrs and would-be witches spent time (and most likely their lives) in “the Clink.”

Today, a small wall is all that remains from the original facility, housed in The Clink Prison Museum. Near the London Bridge, this modern day nod to The Clink features many medieval devices used to restrain prisoners, as well as themed decor and sounds that set the tone. Entering the museum, we walked down into the awaiting and dark bit of London’s history…

The walls displayed easy-to-read placards, corresponding with nearby weapons and tools of a featured era, telling the stories of prison life and politics. A little like a haunted house, our self-guided tour took about 40 minutes. A quick “sentence,” compared to that of its former occupants.

Transportation tunnel

“Mind the gap” is a message painted along the edge of the subway platform, reminding all passengers to watch their step when The Tube doors open.

London cabbies are friendly and knowledgeable, and the red double decker buses are a fun, easy way to get around town. Still, my favorite way to shortcut the streets of this famous city is underground.

Making our way from The Clink to Camden Market, we headed down the nearest subway entrance—trusty Oyster cards in hand—exiting a mere 15 minutes later at our stop: Camden Town.

Tea in a basement

Next door to Regents Canal in Historic Central London, Camden Market features over 1000 unique shops, eateries and points of interest. Its own history is quite young, dating back only to the 1970s.

As the area’s industrial commodity (gin production) phased out, the music and fashion scene blossomed, growing into the diverse and contemporary gathering place it is today.

Approaching mid afternoon, we found ourselves ready for one of my favorite mealtimes: Afternoon Tea. And what better place to discover a modern twist to this time honored tradition than in a sub level shop: The Basement Tea Rooms.

Ready to take in our group of six, the Tea Room staff seated us at a fun low table, shopping options just an arm length away: sweaters, shoes, books—you name it!

Very reasonably priced, our tea, sandwiches and treats were fresh and delicious. Our casual traveler attire felt right at home here.

Stuffed after our delicious meal, it was time to sleep off our food coma back at our hotel. And despite the jet lag, we truly enjoyed our underground adventure.

What’s your favorite way to warm up to a different time zone? Well, when in London, I’ll head down under… J 🕳

 

Las Vegas lite

A weekend in Las Vegas? Sure! Help celebrate a few extended family birthdays? Of course—happy to! Only—I’ve never been. To Vegas. And I’m not much of a gambler. Or a partier.

So, what does one like me (of the low-key variety) do for entertainment? As it turns out, there’s something for everyone in Las Vegas—lots and lots of somethings…

Sin city sips

Chocolate is an easy sell for me. So is New York City. And so is Death By Chocolate, the martini styled chocolate drink I enjoyed with a few of my travel companions at The Chocolate Bar, two steps away from The Hershey Store at New York New York Resort & Casino.

A Las Vegas nod to The Big Apple, this resort features a little bit of everything one would associate with NYC: the Statue of Liberty, Time Square, the many burrows and that infamous skyline—but with a roller coaster weaving inside and out—just in case you forgot which New York you’re visiting.

Signature seasoning

As a youngster, Lawry’s Seasoning was a staple in my mom’s kitchen pantry. We enjoyed many a meal with Lawry’s enhancing the flavors of our food. I had no idea there would be an entire prime rib dinner restaurant by the same company awaiting our birthday celebration!

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A savory supper place…

This wonderful dining room features formal table side prime rib carving and tossed salad, along with some of the best service I’ve ever experienced at a bar and restaurant. Nothing was over-seasoned; all flavors were just right.

Also, I enjoyed reading the history of this flavorful company posted near their hostess podium. (Oh, and for anyone not interested in prime rib, there are other options on the menu.) A little bit of nostalgia mixed in with great food and wonderful service made for a very enjoyable dining experience.

Stars of the sea

A shark dive in the ocean? No. Not really my thing. Sharks within inches of my face—a thick, clear aquarium wall between us? Yes! Much more my thing. The Shark Reef Aquarium and Polar Journey at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino features not only sharp-tooth swimming predators, but several species of underwater critters. Many tropical (and polar) land-based critters as well call this aquarium home.

Exploring this venue was the perfect activity for our entire group, ranging in age from seven to seventy-seven. All of us enjoyed watching the quiet grace and beauty of the sea life gliding before us, above us (and below) as they swam into our line of sight.

Lots of posted information, as well as a highly trained and experienced staff, answered all our questions. Queries like: “What’s the difference between venom and poison?” Or, “How do Stingrays eat?” We also learned that a Jellyfish is not really a fish.

Surreal stage

Calling “O” a stage show would be like calling Amsterdam a canal city. Both are sooooooo much more.

Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio Resort & Casino is beyond amazing. The performers sore, dance, swim—even dive—their way on-in-above (and below) the actual stage. The colors, costumes and scenery harmonize with the music to create a show unlike any other.

The stadium-like theater and tiered seating areas gave everyone an excellent and unobstructed view. This feature was most helpful, as there was usually more than one act in progress at any one time. Truly mesmerizing, this show was worth every penny. I would love to see it again!

Tuscany tease

Across the street from Lawry’s sits our hotel for the weekend: the Tuscany Suites & Casino. Hosting a convention attended by one of our family members, this place of lodging isn’t bedazzled like many a famous hotel on the strip.

It did however provide us with clean and spacious rooms, and a decent place to meet for breakfast: Marilyn’s. Understated but less expensive than many others in the area, we were comfortable here.

Next-time notes

Upon learning about our Vegas trip, many friends and family members gave us the following recommendations—places we ran out of time for, so they’ll just have to wait for a return visit:

Ziplining—over old Las Vegas! I love ziplining, so this event is definitely on my “next time” list.

Breakfast at The Egg Slut. The menu looks fantastic! And let’s face it—the name cracks me up.

Cosmopolitan hotel hair styling bar—because I’ve always wanted someone to serve me wine while having my hair styled…

I even dropped a dollar in a slot machine at the airport. Did I win anything? Let’s just say the city of Las Vegas is a dollar richer, thanks to me.

We really did have a great time visiting this surreal desert town. Maybe next time, I’ll get my dollar back. J 🎲 🎲

 

a-MAiZE-ingly FUNd day!

Harvest time—‘tis the season to be

  1. shopping freshly picked—beautiful—fruits and veggies
  2. falling in love with the red, orange and yellow leaved trees
  3. Getting lost in Bob’s Corn giant 10-acre corn maze

A dear friend of mine, one of Bob’s Corn employees, says that she doesn’t go to work; she goes to play. Driving tractors, giving tours, picking corn and just being outside… it’s too much fun to be called work!

I just had to see this place for myself. Lucky for us, my family and I were able to time our visit to this farm with a very special occasion: the memorial 5K fun run, Adventures of a Lumberjack.

Located in the town of Snohomish, Bob’s Corn honors the memory of Alex, a former employee and local high school athlete, with this annual scholarship fund event.

The course

Because this was our first visit to Bob’s Corn, the 5K gave us an excellent opportunity to take a walking tour (of sorts) around the property.

The start-finish line was just outside the Country Store. Set up to be a little like an obstacle course, our path lead us between the farm’s buildings and around the corn fields, then across the street via an underpass.

Signs and guides were posted along the way, helping us continue on the designated route. Pumpkin patches, wooded trails and sunflower fields provided beautiful backdrops to our course. But the “obstacle” that actually gave me a bit of trouble was the one that got stuck in my hair… 🐝

In the end, my noggin took on three stingers. A friend helped dislodge the flyer still tangled in my ponytail, and the race EMT at the finish line, along with my daughter, removed the mini daggers from my scalp.

Just prior to the race, Alex’s former cross country coach let everyone know that—in the spirit of competition—Alex wouldn’t want the race to be too easy. So, while bees were not an intentional obstacle, they served as an interesting reminder to me that obstacles can pop up anywhere (and any time), falling in the category of “when you least expect it…” 🙃

The fields

  • Not just fields but walls of corn, eight feet tall!
  • Rows and rows and more rows of sunflowers, soaking up rays of light.
  • Or how about a 40-acre u-pick pumpkin patch featuring over 60 types of pumpkins to give your eyes a treat?

Along the race course, I couldn’t help stopping to take a photo or two (or more) of these gorgeous crops.

Also, there’s a fenced-in playground field for the little ones, and a big slide that could take adults. Nothing small about this place.

The store

Open mid-July to the end of October, the Country Store sells the farm’s fresh produce, fresh dairy products, fruit preserves and pickled eggs and veggies. So many different flavors!

Honey items, handmade soaps, tractor toys, even sweatshirts and T-shirts featuring the farm logo. Lots of other specialty items too.

Along with 13 ears of corn, we left with fresh eggs, pickled items, preserves, and yes, a tractor toy…

After the race, The Dancing Wick Candle Company sold their Lumberjack candles, featuring a scent designed especially for this 5K event. Such a wonderful fragrance! I picked up two.

I can see why my friend has so much fun working at Bob’s Corn. I’ve come to think of it as an agricultural playland.

Before the season ends, I’ll be back for Halloween pumpkins, more Country Store items (early holiday shopping!), and a walk through the infamous maze; but maybe this time I’ll wear a hat… 🐝🌽 😁

 

Farming the sky

Ah… the sound of the wind as it rustles leaves, sways tree branches and orchestrates melodies on decorative chimes. Sometimes fierce and sometimes subtle, this element fills sails. It symbolizes change. It means business.

Windmills, historically common fixtures of countryside landscapes all over the world, have serviced single homes and farms for centuries. Pumping water or milling grain, these infamous symbols of agriculture use the wind to get the job done.

Wind turbines, first entering the history books in 1887, were built to produce—then “bank” electricity—a storable commodity that would help power the needs of entire communities. Talk about an industrial revolution!

Harvesting the wind

About 16 miles east of the city of Ellensburg, in view of I 90, I found Wild Horse Wind Facility. Surrounded by hills and sage brush—and wind—this PSE location collects electricity from 149 wind turbines.

I timed my visit to the facility’s Renewable Energy Center for the 10:00 am tour. Free to the public—my favorite price!—our guide walked us through the informational displays inside the center before we stepped outside.

All “dolled up” in our hard hats and protective eyewear, we made our way to an area just behind the building where we found wind turbine components (conveniently located at ground level for tour purposes) and solar panels. Wait—what? Solar panels?

Focusing on not just one but two forms of renewable energy resources, Wild Horse uses electricity generated by these panels to power all of PSE’s facilities on this 10,880 acre property.

Time for a pop quiz! How tall is each Wild Horse wind turbine?

  • 132 feet
  • 287 feet
  • 351 feet

Answer: holding three blades measuring 128 feet each, the turbine itself measures 351 feet high. That’s about as tall as a 32 story building! The Vestas V80 Megawatt Wind Turbine needs a wind speed between 9-56 MPH to produce electricity. (To conserve its own energy, the turbine powers down and the blades stop in low or no wind.)

Pitching and turning to accommodate wind speed and direction, each turbine generates enough electricity to power—on the average—400 homes. If the wind speed is at least 28 MPH, 1200 homes would receive this resource.

Approaching #C2—the tour’s designated turbine on the property—I realized that the sound produced by each wind machine was little more than a hum. According to our guide, only about 50 decibels each. In terms of audibility, it was like walking among a row of very quiet automatic dishwashers.

However, what truly impressed me on the tour was learning just how much PSE puts into studying the area. Wildlife (in the air and on the ground), the terrain, local farms and ranches—even cultural and historical aspects of this place—are researched and honored when determining design and placement of equipment and other facilities.

For example, local tribes have access to roots dug for culinary and ceremonial or medicinal purposes. Understanding the flight path of birds and bats helps PSE with placement of the turbines, keeping the avian mortality rate from such devices the lowest in the country. In fact, the greatest nemesis for birds in our nation is not a wind turbine. Cats, buildings and cars win that unfortunate statistic.

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Inexpensive, generating electricity via the wind is pennies per kilowatt; it’s a little cheaper than solar generated electricity. Renewable and efficient too…

Milling the grain

Taking a step back in time, my next power stop was just a few miles away in the little town of Thorp. At the Thorp Grist Mill, a national historic landmark, I discovered another clean-energy way to generate electricity. In the 1880s, a water turbine at this mill did more than turn wheat into flour. It also provided this town with electricity; one of the first towns in Central Washington to benefit from such a resource.

By the way, do you know how flour is made? At this mill, grain entered at ground level, rode in small buckets attached to conveyor belts all the way to the third floor, then was dumped into chutes, making its way to the lower floors. Machines resembling large wooden cabinets broke apart the husks, then milled the kernels multiple times until they became the consistency of, well… flour.

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Enjoying the bounty

Ready to enjoy fresh and local produce and baked goods—a little something the nearby wind farm helped make? I was! My last stop for the afternoon: the Thorp Fruit and Antique Mall. It’s a big produce stand that’s kind of hard to miss…

Three floors of local treasures: fruits and veggies great you as you walk in the entrance, taking up most of the space on level 1. Also on that same floor, you’ll find a wine section (Washington state, in case you don’t already know, is the second largest producer of premium wines in the nation), along with other gourmet local items, and an espresso counter. Coffee break time for me!

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The two upstairs floors feature items any antique or vintage shopper would gladly peruse. Very walkable with plenty of natural light, this country store is an easy place to shop. Too easy…

As I made my way home, I saw these renewable resources in a whole new light. I’ve always appreciated clean, efficient ways to power our world, but knowing the harmony PSE—this local company—pursues in caring for its physical place on the map (and the surrounding communities), makes me feel a little better about our corner of the world.

It takes a lot to keep the lights on. Nice to know the impact of wind farming on our world, helping with electricity and more, is a positive one. J 🌬

 

Scenic San Juan

How is it that a popular tourist destination at the height of tourist season can seem so…unpopulated? Welcome to the San Juans.

Enjoying a couple of three-day August weekends here gave me the chance to explore this archipelago’s namesake: the island of San Juan itself.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed prior visits to San Juan, as well as trips to Orcas and Lopez islands too, and I always reach the same conclusion. Once we leave the ferry, where does everyone go?

The town

Inches from the dock, Friday Harbor greets ferry passengers as they disembark, ready to take them into its many unique stores, restaurants, inns and other attractions. And so much can be accessed via colorful, well maintained shop allies.

Pedestrian friendly, even near the dock, this town takes walkable to a whole new level. Plenty of sidewalks and crosswalks accommodate visitors. And the drivers exhibit patience I usually witness only in Canada.

The beaches

When you’re ready to get outta town, you won’t have far to go. Just a few minutes from Friday Harbor, we found ourselves driving along the island’s byways through farmlands, forests and hilly terrain on our way to the not so distant shoreline.

San Juan island is home to several beachfront state and local parks, all very nicely maintained. But if you’re looking for one that features a few extras—like whale watching from rocky cliffs—Lime Kiln Point State Park topped our list.

Truth be told, the Orcas that happened to be swimming by just as we reached the cliffs were the highlight of our park visit. Watching the pod make its way through the channel, so close to the shore, was a treat I’ll remember forever. Lucky for us, we could hear some of their calls too, as well as hear—and see—their blowholes in action. A few of the whales even popped their heads out of the water for a bit, as if to sneak a peek at us too. Talk about cool!

Near the cliffs, we found lots of illustrations and information posted about the Orcas, which was helpful in understanding more about these magnificent marine mammals. Lime Kiln also features an interpretive center near its picturesque lighthouse, and a snack stand.

If you’re looking for a beach where you can feel the sand between your toes, well… we discovered one of those too: Jackson Beach Park. A long stretch of beach, driftwood and sand awaited our arrival. And for anyone who’d like to have a picnic complete with a bonfire, Jackson Beach provides the necessary amenities.

Cattle Point—part of San Juan Island’s National Historic Park—features a little of both: rocky cliffs, and sandy beaches. And trails too. Such a pretty place! It’s worth a stop, just for the scenery.

The activities

A little more inland, we found fields of purple at the Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Approaching the end of the season, their plants still offered plenty of color and fun photo ops. The gift shop and treats counter provided ample shopping and munching opportunities, and the looping video programs and attractive displays made learning all about lavender fun and fragrant.

The winner here for me was the deliciously different lavender ice cream sandwich. Locally made vanilla lavender icy goodness squished between two double chocolate cookies…YUM! 😋

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If you’re in the mood for cuteness overload, check out the Krystal Acres Alpaca Country Store. Well, the cuteness is actually behind the store, roaming the fields. Alpacas—over 50 of them—didn’t seem to mind being photographed as they grazed, sauntered and otherwise enjoyed the day in their own mellow way. Some even seemed willing to strike a pose for our cameras!

Inside the store, we found beautiful wool garments (many imported from Peru), as well as yarn produced by our wooly photo models out back. As yarn is my weakness, I made a purchase. The yarn’s tags featured the photos and names of the Alpacas who provided the wool—how fun!

When we were ready for a sip of vino, we made our way to San Juan Vineyards. Under new management, this quiet, beautiful location features a brand new wine bar that runs the length of the historic school house—a structure featured on all their wine labels—with several stand up tables to accommodate many patrons.

After completing a wine tasting, my friends selected a bottle of their favorite. San Juan Vineyards also sells their wines on the ferries that service the islands; nice to see the success of their efforts expanding off the island.

Time to stretch our legs! The annual IslandRec 8.8k loop fun run celebrated its 41st year this month! And we were lucky enough to be a part of the event. Also lucky (for me), walking the route was perfectly acceptable. So I did, along with a friend who didn’t mind not competing for a placement ribbon…

A quiet yet well supervised course, water stations and event volunteers greeted us at almost every mile marker. And at the finish line, another annual event awaited our arrival: the San Juan County Fair.

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I love fairs! The exhibits, the animals, the food—and the competitions. Like chicken races. Nothing more adorable than watching young handlers release their fierce competitors at the words “Ready, set, GO!” Equally adorable is watching said handlers chase down and recapture their feathered friends, post race. (Okay, maybe more amusing than adorable…)

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The cuisine

Having a total of six days on San Juan allowed me the glorious opportunity to visit several eateries. Here’s a highlight of my favorites:

Vinney’s. When you’re in the mood for Italian food, this place tops my list—as in I wish it were closer to home! Excellent cuisine, great service and very popular with the locals. We dined here twice during one of my weekend trips.

The Cheesecake Café & Bakery. A dangerously delicious place. I enjoyed the ham & cheese croissants, lattes, and Nutella Rice Krispie treats. My friends enjoyed the cheesecakes—two of the many flavors, anyway. Tables available inside and out, in full view of the ferry dock, which just happens to be next door.

The Bean Café. Yummy lattes, cookies and more—just a very short walk from the dock. Seating inside and out, this location also features a TV displaying a live feed of the ferry dock; a noteworthy item for anyone timing an arrival or departure.

Blue Water Bar and Grill. When you’re up for seafood and wine, nachos and beer or something in between—all in full view of the dock—this is a great place to be.

McMillin’s. Located on the other end of the island in Roche Harbor, this place is worth the drive. An extensive menu and a wonderful view of its marina make it a great choice for an upscale lunch or an elegant evening.

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Downriggers. Facing Friday Harbor’s marina, very near the ferry dock, this is one of my favorites for a nice evening out. Excellent food and service; and excellent views too! We enjoyed watching float planes land behind arriving ferries, as well as dining in a lively—but not too loud—atmosphere.

From lively restaurants to quiet beaches, from Orca whales to wooly Alpacas, we enjoyed every inch of San Juan Island. And with plenty of elbow room too.

So are you ready for an island getaway? Come check out San Juan. The Orcas just might wave hello. J 🐳

 

 

An absent waterfall

Road trip. What comes to mind when you hear these words? Family vacations, away games, work, Grandma’s house? Campus tours, time with friends, or just seeking adventures?

In my life, I’ve enjoyed all these options, along with various degrees of traffic, car troubles, weather conditions and a variety of pass-the-time activities my parents would give us (in the days before handheld DVD players and smartphones).

But for me, there really is no better way to pass the time on a road trip than to enjoy the scenery. It’s always changing! Sometimes gradually, sometimes drastically, but decidedly different around each and every corner, curve and hill. Take, for example, the highways of Central Washington…

Dirt & rocks

Just east of the Cascade mountains, Central and Eastern Washington boast a wide variety of terrain: a dry desert climate, snowy winters, fertile soil for thriving agricultural crops, lakes and rivers for the recreation-minded vacationers and an abundance of wide-open spaces. And rocks. Big rocks, wide gorges, canyons and giant waterfalls—absent the water.

Noticing the many different layers of rock and sediment exposed to the elements, it’s easy for me to marvel at the geology, and to wonder. How did it all come to be?

In 1923, geologist J Harlen Bretz posed a theory about this region’s past that no one—not even his peers—would believe. His infamously dismissed statement? That a giant, catastrophic flood tore through this area, compliments of the Ice Age.

About 40 years after sharing his theory, and thankfully during his lifetime, aerial photography and satellite images proved Bretz right.

Water & ice

In Western Montana, during the Ice Age, a sheet of the ice blocked the Clark-Fork River, causing water from retreating glaciers to back up behind a dam of ice. Over time, this activity formed a glacial lake about 2000 feet deep.

Eventually the dam, about a half a mile high, could no longer contain this lake. The water—some 500 cubic miles of it—burst through the dam.

Making its way to the Pacific, the water traveled at speeds faster than 65 mph, carrying boulders and top soil along for the ride, depositing much of the dirt and sediment in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Eastern and Central Washington, stripped down to their lava bedrock, became carved out areas of canyons, gorges, and waterfalls.

Over a span of no more than two days, the rush of Lake Missoula (the Ice Age lake responsible for the flood) all but stopped. The “lake” was empty. In time, the waterlogged sections of Washington and Oregon settled into their newfound topography, and most of the temporary waterfalls dried up.

Before humans migrated to this section of North America, the ice-water-dam-flood pattern would repeat itself several times. Today, modern geologists, finding plenty of evidence in the canyon walls, coulees and rocky valleys, continue to prove Bretz right.

People & roads

Along highway 17 rests a particularly quiet, picturesque spot that features an excellent example of this catastrophically natural event: Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park & Visitor Center.

Visible from the road, the visitor center itself boasts the best view of Dry Falls. It’s totally worth the stop! Just a few steps from the parking lot, we were taking in one of the most spectacular and unobstructed views around.

Inside the center, we found museum-like exhibits, a theater running a documentary on Bretz and the area, large windows overlooking Dry Falls and a fun gift shop. Oh, and clean restrooms—an important discovery for any road trip.

Park rangers were available to answer questions about the history of the area, as well as help with recreational ideas. For anyone seeking a place to fish or play on or in the water—absent the large crowds—Sun Lakes has you covered. There’s even a golf course!

Food & drink*

When it was time to stop for a coffee, we found the perfect place. The Banks Lake Brew & Bistro sits just a few miles northeast of Dry Falls Visitor Center along highway 2 in Coulee City.

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Sharing its locale with a gas station, the bistro provides its patrons with a drive-through window, indoor seating, and a gift shop featuring crafts from local artists. And very yummy lattes, treats and entrees!

*Closed for the rest of this season due to a family emergency, Top Chef Concessions normally parks a very popular food trailer at Dry Falls Visitor Center. Top Chef’s trailer should be back in business at Dry Falls this coming spring.

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So, where are you heading on your next road trip? What will you tote along to pass the time?

Whatever your plans for your journey and your destination, remember to take in the scenery along the way. You just might discover something worth stopping for… J 🚗