Mount Rainier’s Railroad

Perhaps you’ve heard that “Necessity is the mother of invention.” But I never would have guessed it invented time zones.

What began in Ancient Greece as a way for animals to pull heavy items or large quantities with ease, today’s trains move everything from products to people all over the world.

So when the first iron horse rolled across the tracks of Great Britain (way back in 1804), travelers from all over quickly realized one thing: schedules! Yes, crossing vast countryside meant wanting to arrive at a specific time. Hence the creation and unification of time zones.

Catching up to today, my husband and I just had to keep an eye on the time in our zone: an 11:30 am departure with the Mount Rainier Railroad

Elbe’s junction

Thanks to a coworker’s very special birthday gift, we found ourselves looking online at this heritage railroad company’s very seasonal event options. Wine tasting in September, brewing up October…the Great Pumpkin and The Polar Express—goodness! Gotta narrow it down to one. Letting our own existing schedules decide, we chose wine…

Arriving at the train station early, we checked in, then began to look around. One of the smallest churches in the country was tough to miss: the Elbe Lutheran Church—founded by German settlers and on the National Register of Historic Places—shares the same parking lot with Mount Rainier Railroad. And across the street—coffee!

Ready for a little java, we headed over to DeWitt’s Elbe Junction. What a fun store—plenty to peruse here. Lattes and biscotti in hand, we seated ourselves at a small table between two cozy rocking chairs and enjoyed the moment.

Mount Rainier’s RR

Finishing up our late morning treats, we headed back to the train station just in time to watch the beautiful vintage rail cars pull forward. Originally servicing Pacific Northwest logging camps of the early 1900s, this American Heritage Railways member now takes curious travelers to themed events by going back in time…

Boarding our coach, we found our table set and ready for our tasting event: one souvenir wine glass, six drink tickets and a mini meat and cheese tray. Perfect!

Our conductors—dressed in vintage style (complete with pocket watch)—posed for pics and answered my funny questions. Like: which way is the mountain? (In my defense, there was just enough cloud cover combined with a few curves of the track for me to lose sight of the tallest mountain in the state…)

The scenery was stunning—lots of forest and river views with every twist and turn. A staff member poured us a sample from one of the featured wine vendors awaiting our arrival at the tent.

The conductors—eager to share the great vistas with all passengers—invited everyone to make their way to the open air train car. They did not disappoint—plenty of viewing room on both sides of the car. I managed to arrive just in time to cross the Nisqually River with the mountain base making an appearance. Gorgeous!

Mineral’s party

Arriving in style, we stepped down from the train and into Mineral. A former mining town turned logging camp, this small community is now home to Mount Rainier’s logging museum and event locale.

Stretching our legs, we wandered a bit before visiting the wine and food tents. The museum’s featured artifacts are outside: logging equipment, including a very old ski plane. A few vintage steam engines were covered from the elements, but granted access to interested event patrons.

Back to the party! A live band played near the base of a Paul Bunyan statue (absent Babe). Showcasing Pacific Northwest vintners and brewers, five wine tents and one cider tent poured one sample per drink ticket. We chose varietals and vendors that were new to us, and all were delicious.

Shaken Bar Room and Bistro, also local, catered the event, providing finger foods like mini tacos and fresh fruits and cheeses. Very yummy stuff that kept our tummies happy. We headed back to the logging museum/gift shop and purchased a few bottles of the wines we liked best. And before we knew it, the whistle was blowing: time to make our way back…

Waiting for us at our table was a chocolate steam engine. Not too big—just the right amount of sweetness to end our vino focused meal as the train took us back to Elbe.

Truly a fun way to spend a few hours, I recommend you take this train ride back in time. A dose of history and fun near the base of Mount Rainier—in the train inspired time zone called the Pacific. Toot-toot! Just don’t be late… J 🚂

 

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Les deux Palouse

I dedicate this blog post to Pat, one of my very best friends, who just lost her courageous battle with cancer. She has been–and always will be–my inspiration in my writings, travels and parenting, and so much more. In her words, “If you can take the trip, don’t wait. See the world. Go…” I will–I promise. J 

There’s something about rolling hills and endless fields of grain under a beautiful blue sky that just gives off good vibes. French-Canadian fur traders of yesteryear referred to the area where the borders of Washington and Idaho meet up as “pelouse”—land with short and thick grass.

While the fur traders’ primary reason for visiting this land of rounded grassy mini mountains was, well, furry, The Palouse of today is all about growing food. And fun. And for two college towns, thriving economies.

On a recent road trip to this happening place, my daughter and I experienced for ourselves how this landlocked corner of the Pacific Northwest is anything but square…

Lodge-ical

Every fun road trip deserves a hip motor inn on its route. For us, that meant the newly renovated Monarch Motel. Friendly helpful staff, comfy clean rooms, and funky décor (like fuzzy orange throw pillows!) made this boutique hotel the perfect home base for our Palouse adventure.

And its location can’t be beat—walking distance to everything in downtown Moscow. Gotta love that! Just a few steps to stores, restaurants and one very swank farmers market…

Eventful

True to its name, the Moscow Farmers Market sells local seasonal produce—super fresh and very colorful. But this Saturday-only, May-October event isn’t just about fruits and veggies; nope. It’s all about pizazz…

We entered the market at one end of the closed-off road where a local band played upbeat tunes for all passers by. Walking with our friends, we encountered another band playing at a city park, surrounded by market vendors and patrons. No shortage of music here!

Selling everything from painted rocks to fresh cut flowers to yummy kabobs, this street party has it all. I even tried Egyptian food for the first time ever! A dish known as Koshari—and it was goooooood…

Not to be outdone by Moscow, Pullman was hosting its own event that same weekend: the National Lentil Festival. Yes, that’s right—this little legume has its very own annual party. Farmers in The Palouse grow and harvest about one quarter of the lentils (and other pulse crops) for the United States. Because of that stat, this town throws one heck of a summer celebration.

From the downtown parade to the ginormous vat of lentil chili, we found ourselves in good company. Ever present vendors selling their wares, alongside food booths, activities, cooking demos, and of course, lentils. My daughter opted for a bowl of the featured chili dish, while I (still full from my Egyptian brunch) acquired small bags of the dried take-home ready-to-cook variety.

Flavorful

In the mood for fried garbanzos, pasta and funky drinks our first night out, we stepped into Nectar. Just across the street from our hotel meant an easy walk back to our room, once we were ready to sleep off our long drive + food coma.

And we had this wonderful restaurant to thank for our recently remodeled roadside inn; Nectar owns the Monarch, offering its dining patrons who are overnight guests a 10% discount on all meals.

There’s a long list of fantastic food and beverage places we enjoyed here in this small town. Here’s the short version:

Bloom for brunch, serving me one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had to date. It’s not-so-secret ingredient? Cougar Gold cheddar.

Maialina for pizza—and not just any pizza! Unique is one word I would use to describe their menu; superb is another I’ll use to describe the flavors. Seriously good…

Hunga Dunga. Aside from the unusual name, this brew house has a delicious, ever-changing menu. I enjoyed a brisket sandwich on a pretzel bun. Stick-to-your-ribs gooooood…

The Breakfast Club. Fun decor, serving large portions, they’re not afraid to feed you the good stuff here.

Café Artista. Gotta have my java! Also One World Café. Gotta have more java… Both offer great coffee drinks very close to our temporary Moscow residence.

And in Pullman, our friends’ java joint of choice? Café Moro. Excellent coffee, and conveniently located on the same corner as our Lentil Festival parade perch…

Last, but not least: Colter’s Creek wine tasting room. What an upbeat place! Also within walking distance to our hotel, I really enjoyed my Chardonnay—made locally from their Lewis-Clark Valley vines.

Educational

Taking our legs for a walk is an easy thing to do in a college town. Just head for the campus. University of Idaho (established 1889) features an arboretum and botanical garden, and very convenient walking paths. It’s the one place where Vandals are accepted—in the form of their team mascot…

Over in Pullman, the Washington State University Cougars (established 1890) are busy making cheese. Really-really-really excellently yummy cheese! This commercial product made on campus at the WSU Creamery date stamps each can of deliciousness with the student employee’s first name too. Quite a nice personal touch.

Artful

From street décor to metal works to galleries to culinary masterpieces, there is no shortage of amazing art in The Palouse. In search of souvenirs, we managed to find a good concentration of all things artful at Essential Works Art Gallery. It was their sandwich board that drew me in: “Chocolate—Open” …yup…

The representation of local and regional artists was amazing. Before leaving the store, I purchased glass earrings, wine bottle ornaments, specialty coffee beans (after sampling the brewed version), and of course chocolate. Hope I didn’t forget anything…

Sustainable

Investing in its future, this beautiful corner of the world is all about sustainability. Along with recycle bins, I enjoyed discovering repurposed buildings and reminders painted on the street, asking to care about what drains to the streams. Before heading home, our friends took us to one last stop: The Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute.

In addition to providing us with beautiful walking trails, this local non-profit organization educates young students and adults alike in ways to care for our crops as well as the land, streams and animals. Important knowledge to share regarding The Palouse of tomorrow.

Heading back home, we enjoyed seeing the beautiful rolling hills one more time as our car followed the highway’s many curves. What a gorgeously fun place! But knowing that the locals are looking out for the land’s future gives me a good vibe for The Palouse of today. J 🌾

 

Awaiting grape things

Ah, springtime… Well into the season, everything’s abloom. It’s fun to happen upon flowers, fully awake from their long winter’s nap, sporting vibrant colors as the birds and bees do their thing, performing for Mother Nature.

Fields, on the other hand, seem a little quite. Cleaned up and seeded, they play a bit of a waiting game before taking center stage in autumn. For me, grapevines fall into this category.

Branches trimmed, far from sprouting their signature coils and marbles of fruity goodness, appear rather dormant. But when I take a closer look, I can see the subtle beginnings of their amazing journey…

The wine

East of the Cascades, Interstate 90 and the Columbia River meet up very near a favorite place of mine: Cave B. Next door neighbors to the Gorge Amphitheatre, Cave B’s 100+ acres of AVA vines enjoy one of the best views in the state.

Conveniently, Cave B has two tasting rooms where you can sample the fruits of their labor: one in Woodinville—quite the hub for wine tasting—and one in Quincy—nestled in full view of their vines. Wanting to hit the road for a girls weekend, their vineyard locale in Quincy was an easy choice…

Pulling into the property, I noticed how well the buildings—rounded and earth toned—blend in with the rocky, sage covered hillsides. Beautiful! Entering the large, circular tasting room, we found a lively group of patrons enjoying their wine flights. Before approaching the bar, we perused the merchandise.

Wine selections complete, we carried our glasses outside. What an amazing view! Sipping our vino as the sun was setting behind Cave B’s own Stage B Amphitheater, we couldn’t think of a better way to relax. Ah—but time to check in…

The inn

Just down the hill from the tasting room sits the Cave B Inn & Spa Resort. Elegant and unassuming, the lobby, restaurant—and each room—face the Columbia River and accompanying desert terrain. For the adventurous, hiking trails will take you all the way to the water. But for a little relaxation and pampering, there’s always the spa.

Talk about picturesque! The rooms blend in beautifully with the rocky hillsides. After checking in, we drove down a narrow road to our Cavern Room and dropped off our things. Floor-to-ceiling windows allowed us to continue enjoying the view. But we were getting hungry, so up the hill and through the grapevines we walked until we came to the restaurant…

Just off the lobby, we found Tendrils. Matching the inn’s motif, the restaurant and bar feature delicious food and beverage choices, which made narrowing down our selections a bit of a challenge—a good problem to have. We enjoyed chatting with the staff, trying their recommendations of wine pairings when we just couldn’t decide…

Tendrils also features a sit down breakfast Monday-Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. The bar also serves coffee drinks. I loved sipping my hand crafted latte on their patio!

The terrain

Between meals (and wine tasting), we walked the property and hiking trails for a bit of exercise. There’s something very relaxing and peaceful about the desert spring air and rocky hillsides that surround the vineyard and inn.

The vines, looking more brown than green at this stage, still proved fascinating. Signage helped us identify wine grapes “in progress” nearest to the inn, which gave our imaginations something to look forward.

In a world of instant gratification, the wine grapes remind us that they will take the seasons they need to prepare for their own showtime. It’s as if they were saying to us, “Please be patient. Good things come to those who wait.” Sound advice from our vineyard friends… J 🍷

Willamette Valley winter

Going out for a drive—in January? Winter road trips through the Pacific Northwest can display a variety of climate changes and weather conditions, all in the span of just a few miles. But in general, staying west of the Cascades, things like mild temperatures and on again-off again precipitation are fairly predictable. So, gambling on a mixed bag of sun and rain, we packed up the car for our off-season adventure.

Heading south along I-5 from Seattle, the passing evergreen trees (seemingly oblivious to seasonal temperaments) stand alongside the many deciduous rows of arbor.

Nearing our destination, the now dormant branches and vines hold the promise of fruit, hazelnuts and wine grapes. Welcome to the Willamette Valley! Oregon’s modern day land of milk and honey. Excitedly, we pull into our first stop: Erath Winery.

Pinots & popcorn

I always enjoy celebrating fun (albeit slightly obscure) holidays, and discovering new food and wine pairings, but didn’t really expect to do both on our first day. Erath, however, enjoys hosting events for its patrons that combine holiday themed nosh with its world famous pinots. As luck would have it, we timed our visit on National Popcorn Day.

Munching a caramel coated cup of the famed American snack alongside each wine flight, we added a meat, cheese and hazelnut plate to our table of treats. Surprisingly, I found myself asking our server for more popcorn goodness (made by How Sweet It Is of Portland), eventually purchasing two containers worth to go along with our take-home wine bottles of choice.

As we sipped our pinots, our server, Brandon, answered our many curious questions. By the way, do you know that Riedel makes a wine glass just for New World Pinot Noirs? It’s true! Inspired by this coastal state’s amazing production of said varietal, we enjoyed each item from our tasting menu in one of these “OPN” (Oregon Pinot Noir) Riedel wine glasses…

Ducks & doughnuts

Saying goodbye to Erath, we made our way a little farther south in the valley to Eugene. Time for a little trivia! This college town is home to the University of Oregon—the only school with a famous Disney cartoon character for a mascot. Once partnered with Walt Disney himself, the U of O now adorns its athletes and fans with a logo featuring a version of the one and only Donald Duck.

We pull up to the Valley River Inn, our home for the next two nights. We love this place! Our room faces the beautiful Willamette River, with a wonderfully walkable path to Jacobs Park located on the riverbank across the water from our hotel. And when we’re ready to do a little shopping, Valley River Center sits just across the parking lot.

Time for something sweet! Generally speaking, doughnuts are not a regular item on my shopping list. But when in Eugene, there’s one thing we don’t leave town without: a box of Voodoo Doughnut. Let’s see, how shall I describe VD? Different? Yes. Unusual? Yup, that too. But I think my word of choice has to be this one: DELICIOUS—they make the tastiest doughnuts! Absolutely—every time.

Corks & Kings

Up for a short drive, we made our way through the quiet, green countryside on the outskirts of Eugene to the rolling hills of King Estate Winery.

Founded by Edward J. King Jr. and his son Ed King III, this family owned and farmed vineyard commands a breathtaking view of its Willamette Valley grounds. Inside the establishment, elegance and quality are visible in every direction.

During previous visits here, we’ve enjoyed combining a wine flight in the restaurant with a late lunch, but on this visit we chose to taste—then tour.

First, the tasting. Alyssa served our wine menu selections, commenting on the style and nuances of each pour. We learned a little vocabulary and history too. For example, Oregon wine grapes were first planted in the 1960s. King Estate’s vines—first planted in 1991—provide a sizable amount of the Willamette Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area) pinots. Just how sizable? Tour guide Emily filled us in…

Time for a pop quiz! How many acres make up Oregon’s AVAs?

  • 500,000
  • 1,000,000
  • 3,000,000+

Answer? The current total is about 3,400,000 acres. That’s a LOT of wine grapes…

We began our tour in the room where the grapes begin theirs: the crush pad. The impressive industrial equipment crushes the fruit into juice, then sends it through Willy Wonka-like sky tubes to various (and ginormous) steel tanks along the walls of the pad.

Making our way around the facility, Emily shared with us a few details about King Estate’s big-picture approach to farming, referring to biodynamic farming as their method of choice. Everything from bees to compost do their thing on these 500+ acres.

Once the juice is mixed with yeast in either steel containers or oak barrels, the soon-to-be-wine concoctions are managed very carefully by the King Estate team.

Corks or caps? Like many wineries, King Estate uses both. On our tour, we learned that when it comes to bottling wine, both sealing methods continue to prove successful.

Steel tanks or oak barrels? Again, King Estate uses both, but choosing the proper container for fermentation depends on the desired outcome. In general, white wines are stored in steel tanks that can hold from 300 to 4000 gallons.

Red wines almost always go through fermentation in oak barrels. A regular sized barrel will produce about 300 bottles; large barrels fill about 4000. Because oak can breathe, it provides an oxidative aging process, as well as flavor from the wood. However steel tanks provide a reductive means of aging; nothing passes through the walls to the fermenting wine.

Leaving King Estate—a few bottles added to our inventory—we felt good about their commitment to the quality of their products, as well as to the land.

We truly enjoy visiting this beautiful corner of the world known as the Willamette Valley. Quiet now, the activity level will pick up as winter gives way to spring, then summer, then harvest. The tourist headcount will pick up as well, which isn’t a bad thing. There’s always room here for those who like to celebrate all this valley has to offer. 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 🐳

 

 

My Eclipse Manners

Remember the eclipse? Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when it was still summer? The most recent solar eclipse visited North America August 21, traveling west to east, and wowing millions from coast to coast. Whether you made a point of witnessing the partial or total eclipse itself, or had something else going on that day, you probably still remember the excitement, anticipation and the outright craze leading up to that moment. Sort of like Christmas, but in August.

Eclipse viewing glasses
Eclipse viewing safety glasses

Destination: Salem

Normally I’m a planner, and would have booked a trip for such an event several months in advance. But I claim “too busy” as my excuse for not knowing. So when I finally looked up–in June–decided to go, and hunted for a place to stay, the area of sold out hotels and other assorted rentals matched up perfectly with the path of totality. From where I live, Salem, Oregon was the closest town in that path.

I found a room about 50 miles north near the Portland airport. Now that stretch of road between these two towns is busy on any given weekday, but this wasn’t going to be your average weekday. This would be your average Monday morning of commuters, plus about a million. Time to hit the road early. Like oh-dark-thirty. So we did.

IMG_0695
The entrance–we’re here!

Eclipse: the experience

Targeting Salem as our general destination, I narrowed the category of possible venues to wineries. After all, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is well known for its excellent pinots. And Salem—quite conveniently—finds itself in the heart of that valley. Several Salem wineries, sure enough, were hosting eclipse events, and I found one in particular that seemed delightfully different: Cubanisimo Vineyards. Having watched the movie Chef, the appeal of trying Cuban tapas was a big draw. Discovering a new winery would be fun. And having a vineyard as a backdrop for the eclipse? Perfect! So I purchased tickets via their website.

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We arrived just before breakfast, and were greeted by a friendly and helpful staff, and one of the most beautiful countryside venues I’ve ever seen. The sky was pre-dawn clear, revealing just enough light to find Mt. Hood, purple on the horizon. Watching the sunrise was the first celestial treat of the day, the mountains changing to blue, and the grapevines to their pre-harvest green. And the crisp morning air…well, you get the idea.We checked in at their tasting room terrace and received our eclipse viewing glasses, our commemorative wine glasses, and drink tickets to save for lunchtime.

Breakfast over, we grabbed our picnic blanket and made our way up the path to the lawn facing the mountains, found our spot and waited. At 9:18 am, the partial eclipse began—time for our viewing glasses! We watched the black moon drop down over the sun, changing the appearance of our star to shapes that resembled a wedged out wheel of cheese, a banana, and—ironically—a crescent moon. And then at 10:20 am, the ring: totality.

Our hillside crowd gasped in wonder as the blue color of our canopy changed from pale to midnight, complete with twinkling stars. Feeling the temperature drop as we removed our glasses for the two-minute window, the ring’s odd, almost artificial light cast interesting shadows on the ground. And it was the sharing of this rare experience that truly affected us all, uniting us in spontaneous conversations, skipping past formal introductions and other precursors to dialogue with total strangers. Everyone was happy. Excited. Moved. One.

While the eclipse slipped back into its partial stage and began heading east, our vineyard hillside crowd continued buzzing about what we all just witnessed as we made our way back to the terrace and tasting room in anticipation of the food and wine festivities. Seated at our tables, we laughed, talked and continued to marvel at the events of the sky, using our viewing glasses to steal another glance, until our moon and sun were no longer competing for visible space.

The salsa band played, we enjoyed our tapas and wine, and the vineyard’s owner made his way to each table of guests. Talking about the totality, he noted that it was one thing to see the eclipse, but quite another to feel it; feel the temperature actually drop, and experience the odd light on the ground and the suddenly starry sky. Our thoughts exactly.

Post event: the Oregon Trail

The euphoria lasted well into the afternoon, but was challenged from time to time as millions of people began making their way home together. Yes, at the same time. Traffic jams as far as the eye could see (and beyond) lasted well into the next day. Assuming you’ve experienced a rush hour or two or several, you might be able to relate to some of the common behaviors exhibited by other drivers: honking, shoulder driving, weaving, or trail blazing through someone’s property.

The sun, now unobstructed, heated the inside of our car despite the air conditioning. With our seats feeling less cushy and our playlist overplayed, a rest stop couldn’t come soon enough. What kept us from getting too crabby though was talking about the eclipse. The true wonder of it all. About how everyone was friendly toward each other, like the gas station attendant who let scores of desperate travelers use his washrooms, even though we weren’t all customers.

And then, on one of many side roads, we saw it: a covered wagon replica, marking the official end of the historic Oregon Trail. Whoa. Traveling cross country in that?! Suddenly our cluttered and toasty vehicle seemed quite luxurious. Protected from the elements (and bugs), we continued on our well paved road toward home, having all versions of GPS, highway signs and landmarks to get us there.

Sharing: My Eclipse Manners

If I learned anything from the eclipse, it was to remember my manners. To acknowledge people more, smile more, be more respectful to others and to Earth, and have a greater sense of awareness for the natural (and human made) wonders of our world. The two-minute totality was a great reminder to me that windows of appreciation can be very brief. Don’t waste them.

A close-up of wine grapes on the vine
Wine grapes nearing harvest time, Cubanisimo Vineyards

Will I seek out other wonders? You bet! Will I marvel at them? Most likely. But what will I take away from the experience? What impression will have a lasting affect on me? I look forward to letting you know.

Until then, I wish you safe and pleasant travels. And a smile. J 😊