Monday, December 26, 2011

Oregon's winter waves

If you know me, then you know one of my favorite activities in Oregon is watching stormy seas.

Well, we got lucky today. We traveled to Shore Acres for one of my few and far between days off to watch whales, as it's the first day of Winter Whale Watch Week. We were greeted by fog. Darn.

Then I stood there for a few minutes before the waves started picking up — it was nearing high tide. Perfect.

The sun tried to peek out for a bit, but it didn't win the fight. It's OK, the fog and deep gray clouds were a great mood to a winter day by the sea.

Love watching the water cascade over the rocks right here, just like mini waterfalls.

An atypical Oregon Coast December

On the day after Christmas, we're finally receiving some winter weather. It rained on and off all Christmas Day, and that was the first significant rain we've had since before summer. And it wasn't even that significant.

It's been an atypically cold and clear December, but you won't find me complaining. I love crisp winter weather, bright blue skies and chilly temperatures.

Here's an above shot of Cape Arago a couple weeks ago, with a cute doggie in the way.

No idea what I'm looking at here, I just thought it was a pretty birdie. Saw him (or her, I suppose) on the trail down to Cape Arago's south cove for tidepooling last week.

Ah, the beach all to myself. Nothing better.

Winter's low tides are extra low, and high tides are extra high. That makes for great tidepooling AND wave watching (photos you'll see soon enough).

I'll miss the gorgeous weather we've had (and we've all but kissed it goodbye), but I'll welcome a little rain. The rivers need it, after all, for the fishies.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Silver Falls State Park camping

Silver Falls State Park quickly became one of my favorite places in Oregon in a single weekend. Fall colors were bright, cool temperatures kept most tourists away and the campground was nearly empty.

Here's South Falls, a highly-photographed area, as you can see. It's actually really tall, but it's difficult to see that without some perspective. So trust me, it's huge.

You could walk behind it! I love when you can do that. If you click on the photo and look really close to the right of the waterfall, you can see little people on the trail, which should offer some size perspective.

Stopped for lunch on a bridge overlooking the creek, where we had Empire Cafe sourdough bread with homemade blackberry jam (courtesy of the Gunthers).

Gratuitous moss shot, just for Mom.

North Falls from an overlook just off the road. I think you can walk to it, but we were kinda tired by this point.

So we drove to Upper North Falls, which was just a short stroll from the parking lot.

This was such an awesome weekend away. We ate at the best little bakery in Elkton to pick up breakfast for our camping trip, and tried out a new restaurant in Salem on the way home ( Just check out that menu, and get the creme brulee french toast — it was incredible, as was their corned beef hash. Might have changed my life. Might have to stop there anytime I'm driving past Salem. Or near Salem at all.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rolling on the river

Here are long overdue photos from our weekend trip to Brookings/Gold Beach! We camped in Brookings at a really nice state park, then drove to Gold Beach to ride the famous jet boats at Jerry's Rogue Jets! They still deliver the mail upriver — that's how remote this area is. And the boats take you through all that remote wilderness, which would be difficult to see otherwise.

You can take longer, rapid-running trips, or a shorter, leisurely trip. We did the shorter one, mostly because it was cheaper. But I feel we need to do a longer trip at some point — it sounds like so much fun, and you get so deep into the woods.

Here's the Gold Beach bridge from the boat at the start. We saw a guy hook his first salmon when we drove by him! There were tons of anglers out there, fishing for Chinook salmon.

Further upriver, we came across a ridiculous amount of osprey (as well as other wildlife I couldn't get pics of — lots of deer, and one black bear)! Here's a couple osprey up in a tree, guarding their nest.

The trip was about 40 miles upriver, and the scenery pretty much looked just like this the whole way (with the occasional bank fisherman waving as we passed). There were tons of salmon rolling in the river.

And you know powerlines that have those colored floats on them that always span rivers? Well, we passed a few of them, and our guide said they released salt to help the salmon acclimate to the freshwater in the river.

That's obviously ridiculous. Salmon have been here far before we figured their life cycles out. But too many people in that boat completely believed him. Hilarious.

Here's the view from dinner, where we had an awesome blackberry cobbler. I could eat it every day, truthfully. But it's in Agness, population less than 100, and it would take hours to drive there along the Agness Highway from U.S. Highway 101. Hours.

Our boat, from the bank of the river. We were enjoying nature before we hopped back on the boat — it was HOT there.

Another view from where we ate dinner. There were tons of incredible house along the river as well, but I don't have photos, sorry. Some of them are only accessible by boat, if you can believe it.

View back upriver as we headed back toward the ocean. Just a perfect day.

And the bridge, with fewer fishermen, as we made our way to dock.

When we got back, we were met by this gorgeous sunset at Harris Beach State Park. We stuck around for awhile before heading back to camp.

On our way home the next day, we stopped at Whaleshead Beach, a park just north of Brookings, that I was recommended to see. It was incredible. Nice wide beach, warm sun and incredible vistas. Did I mention there was basically nobody there?

And the waves crashed thunderously on the beach heading south, creating this enchanting mist. It was a wonderful way to stretch our legs before the long drive home.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My first fish

I went ocean fishing for a story, thanks to Betty Kay Charters out of Charleston. First of all, they are just the NICEST people. Seriously. And so helpful, even for beginners.

So you have to get up super early — I had to be there before 6 a.m. Ugh. I was tired and a bit nervous I wouldn't catch anything. That was silly thinking.

Once we got to our first fishing spot (they have fish finders in the boats so they know exactly where the rockfish are hiding), we were taught how to let out the line until it hits the bottom. As soon as Captain Kathi was done showing me, my line had a bite. My first cast.

I reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled, and when I was too tired to fight this fish, I reeled some more. I was breathing hard as if I'd been running, and my arms were burning. When I finally pulled the fish above the water line, Bam Bam (the deck hand, he was great) netted it and flopped it on the deck.

It was huge. And it was eating another fish. Both were ling cod, the best of the best for these rockfishing trips. I had hooked the smaller fish, but it was too small too keep. Luckily, the big one wasn't letting go of its breakfast, because she got tossed right in my bucket!

Many hours and different fishing spots later, I had my limit of seven rockfish, plus one ling cod. We scooted back to the dock, and they rushed my fish to get weighed. Twenty-nine pounds. Twenty-nine pounds of delicious fish.

Here's the beast, barely fitting in my bucket full of other fish.

A nice guy named James, who was on the same boat and took my pic with the fish after it got weighed, held open its mouth for me. Those teeth are sharp.

Here's me with my fish! Lots of people were taking my picture, and even more were stopping by and asking me about it. Beginner's luck, I tell ya.

Overall, that was one of the most fun things I've ever done for my job (yeah, I was clocked in while I was on the water). I can't wait to do it again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fruitless fishing

Last Friday was a perfect example of why I love this job. To do a story on a fishing guide, he gladly allowed me to tag along on one of his guided boats, and we went to the Umpqua River, which flows half an hour north of the Bay Area.

It was foggy. It was early. Like, 6 a.m. early. We couldn't see the other side of the river, and we launched almost silently, save for his boat's motor.

Here's Rick and his dog, Molly, who was trying to get the bubbles coming from the motor. She was adorable — couldn't wait to get a fish.

U.S. Highway 101 bridge, behind the fog.

Got to watch the sun rise and burn off the fog — incredible feeling.

And by the end of the morning, it looked like this. I got some sun (mostly on my ears and hands, since they were basically the only parts exposed). What we didn't get was fish. Not a bite. Not a nibble. Nothing.

Rick couldn't believe it. The conditions were right. The bait was nice. He's done this his whole life, so he certainly wasn't mistaken. Sometimes the fish just aren't hungry, I suppose.

His boat caught 10 fish the next day. And he nabbed a 40-pound salmon on Monday. The luck of the outdoors writer — perhaps their fishy friends warned them about all the spawning (and necessary killing) I'd done at the hatcheries. Oh well, it still wasn't a bad way to work for six hours on the clock.

Monday, June 6, 2011

San Francisco

Then we drove to San Francisco! The drive was mostly uninspiring — the part of Cali nobody talks about when they're gushing about the beaches and mountains and celebrities. We saw a lot of rice fields, and SO MANY OLIVE TREES.

But eventually we got to the city, after a very stressful drive. (People in California are HORRIBLE drivers. And they don't know it. Or they don't care, either one.) And we met up at our beautiful, old hotel, the Chancellor. It was right in the heart of Union Square, which we loved, but darn it if it didn't have AC. So windows (without screens) were open, the ceiling fan on. Told you it was old. But it was beautifully modern as well, with saturated green walls and sleek furniture.

After settling in, we researched the cable car line (public transit is scarily confusing for outsiders), and walked down to the turntable, where they turn the cars around (MANUALLY!) and headed to Fisherman's Wharf. We were being tourists one day, darn it.

Waiting for the cable car, there was a Gap and Forever 21 right there. This is what Gap looks like.

And the cable car!

Screw the super touristy spots, we ate at Salty's on the Wharf (thanks to a tip from a blogger who said they had the best deal in the city).

They have this fishwich, and it's huge. I think it's cod, battered incredibly, and was the best tasting fish sandwich I'd ever had. Well we bought a whole one, $8, and we split it. It came with an entire cod fillet between two hilariously small buns, packed with a vinegar-y, cilantro-y cole slaw, which was amazingly fresh.

We were also informed we should order their garlic fries, so we did. The order was huge. And we couldn't finish them (that's how big the fish sandwich was, if we couldn't finish the fries, either). They were made with green garlic and parmesan cheese, twice fried, and were about the best fries I've ever eaten. I was still tasting them the following morning, that's how strong they were. Definitely a hidden gem.

Alcatraz from the Wharf. We didn't visit, but I bet it's cool. It looks a lot closer to land than you would think.

Ghiradelli Square! The area was beautiful brick, and had tons of history for the chocolate-making company's home base. So yes, we bought Leslie some chocolate for taking care of the kitties, and we partook in an indulgent sundae. Vanilla ice cream, Ghiradelli hot fudge, Ghiradelli peanut butter, whipped cream in a waffle bowl that was dipped in Ghiradelli dark chocolate. We shoved that in after our filling fishy dinner.

The Golden Gate bridge from far away. We were actually just resting on the walk home from the Wharf, halfway up a ridiculous hill. People have to be fit in SF, whew.

Day two was completely undocumented, mostly because it was all about food, and I was too busy shoving my face to wipe off my greasy hands and dig for my camera. But I'll share the dirty details with you, mostly because I don't want to forget all the amazing food I ate. It's about to get wordy up in here.

Ferry Building: A food lover's paradise. Basically tons of stores with locals sellers of just about everything you can imagine. Mushrooms. Wine. Fruit. Honey. Olive Oil. Cheese. It was tantalizing.

We had a pre-lunch at Boccalone, which is owned by Food Network's Chris Cosentino (who hails from SF). It's basically pig. Smoked, cured, salted, piggy perfection. The dude has a pig tattoo — he knows his stuff. So we got the salumi cone for like, $3, which is just a paper cone with three types of piggy goodness in it. We had mortadella, pancetta (I think), and something else that I'm sure John can remember. I can't really describe the delicious flavors they all had, all I know is that they were perfection. Fatty, oily, salty, perfect.

Then we ate lunch. Oh, lunch. We went to Cowgirl Creamery after some serious debate on where to eat. We ordered their grilled cheese of the day, and we honestly had no idea what was on it, but we figured it had to be tasty. I remember wagon wheel cheese, and something I can't pronounce and tomato something I can't pronounce. It. Was. Incredible. Melty, tomato-y, crispy. I got a raspberry cream soda, which was made with actual cream and raspberry soda. John got chocolate milk, and it was easily the best we ever had.

We bought some lemon olive oil (haven't used it yet) and some blackberry honey, which was deliciously sweet and complex in flavor, and perfect on a sourdough-type bread, lightly toasted.

Then, dinner. Also inspired by Chris Cosentino, oddly enough. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, he said we had to eat at Mr. Pollo, a latin place mostly known for arepas. But don't get the arepas.

Order the chef's tasting menu, which is a four-course meal of the chef's choice, for $15. So we did. We got there early because it's popular and only seats 12 (though I can't imagine it's very comfortable with that many people) The place was dark, and you sit, like, four feet from the kitchen, which really isn't separated from the dining area at all. Hipster-like music blasted, and there were three (THREE!) people working there to cook our food. The chef, the chef's helper, and some other random dude who made dessert and served us when the chef himself didn't. Now, for the important part, our foray into the incredible minds of Mr. Pollo's chef.

First course: It was a lemon broth with fried yucca, fried plantains (both firsts for me!), chicken and green garlic. A perfect starter, and real depth of flavor.
Second course: Scallops, grilled to latin perfection, with yellow (orange? something? not red) beets, cucumber and cucumber foam on top (which was pretty crazy to try).
Third course: Frog leg, deep fried in crunchy, perfect batter, topped with a broken caesar dressing (we have no idea), over a parsnip puree with asparagus. I think this was my favorite.
Fourth course: Pork loin with fava beans, tomotoes, peas, avocado, topped with a sweet potato croquet.
Dessert (yeah, we went there): It was another little tasting menu, with authentic flan (MUCH better than any Mexican restaurant around here), house-made coconut/lychee ice cream, and the piece de la resistance, the life-changer, a small, steaming hot dulce de leche and queso fresco souffle.

Yeah, bow to our eternal food glory.

The next day we drove out of town, which worked out nicely, because we wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and we crossed it! Here are a few pics during our stop.

After that, we drove five-ish hours north, through towering redwoods and rolling hills to Patricks Point State Park, our camp for one night. I have a few intoxicating pics from the nearby beach as we awaited sunset, so I'll share those in a less wordy post. Gold star for reading through all this.