Monday, May 31, 2010

Colorado Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains

John and I have traveled extensively by rail in the states and the train journey on the California Zephyr through Colorado, Nevada and California is by far the most scenic trip of them all. After traveling all night(coming out of Omaha late Tuesday evening) we found ourselves awaking in Denver. Soon after that stop the train began chugging up the mountains to a height of about 9,000 feet. Snow capped mountains greeted us and below the tracks we could see the rushing waters of the Colorado River.
There were many people out rafting on the river. In one isolated area (accessible only by either boat or train) three young men mooned us as our train went by. The shear rock formations towering over the tracks were quite awesome to behold, as you may note in the picture below.
 The sedimentary rock could be seen in many differing shades of reds, browns, yellows and grays. Also, not all of the formations had the height as shown in the picture above; some formations spread out in layers forming plateaus. The variations of rock was quite impressive. We have heard that this area is very complex geologically. That was easy to see.
 We had the fortune of dining at lunch with a geologist that day. He proved to be quite a repository of details regarding how the rocks were formed. He could also easily glance at a particular set of mountains and estimate their age. According to him some of them were as young as 60 million years, others as old as 900 million. It was also thrilling at that time to see a mountain goat gazing down on us from a mountain peak. And we were treated to many sightings of mule deer. The next day our train brought us through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We found the weather to be quite cool  when we were allowed to step from the train for a few minutes. Later we noticed that it had started to snow! How is this for a winter scene at the end of May?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Omaha Nebraska

We headed out by plane to Omaha Sunday, two days after the graduation. Fortunately we had time before leaving to attend services and listen to the flute choir of which Melissa is a member. They played a beautiful rendition of the hymn "Beautiful Savior", complete with many embellishments and trills. On Monday we attended our nephew Michael's graduation from Benson High in Omaha. Before the ceremony he wielded some drum sticks for a concert, it was quite awesome to see how he so handily flipped those sticks around on the drums! He is quite an accomplished young man; also plays the piano and is a member of the National Honors Society.
Two days after the graduation we toured Fort Atkinson. The site of this fort is an area in which Lewis and Clark stopped and the location where they had a peaceful meeting with local Native American Indians.The picture below is a memorial at the fort which commemorates that event.
That same day we also toured the Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha. The tree peony garden there was in bloom and quite beautiful. A wonderful scent from those trees filled that section of the garden!
Another area of the garden which we enjoyed was the model railroad garden which features live trees, plants and shrubs. The buildings near the railroad represent some of the historical buildings of Omaha.
 Speaking of railroads, that evening we boarded the California Zephyr from Omaha for our trip home.

An eventful day in Richmond

We changed trains in Chicago, boarding the Cardinal and Hoosier railroad Amtrak line. It was late at night so we slept through Illinois and Indiana. I awoke for a few minutes in Ohio when we were rolling along the Ohio River and passing through the city of Cincinnati. We awoke in the morning to a view of the rolling hills of Kentucky. The New River, located in West Virginia, was the last of about  six major rivers which we had either crossed over or traveled alongside of since we began our journey. Hard to believe all the territory we covered in three days time! We reached Charlottesville Thursday afternoon and from there we took a bus to Richmond. After being inside of trains for three days I was quite ready the next day to do some strawberry picking with Melissa and her friend Spencer. Spencer had flown out from San Diego to also be present for Melissa's graduation. What a great day that was, as you can tell by the smile on Melissa's face. The past two years were not the easiest for her;  between working, writing papers and putting in work study hours at a nearby hospital.
After her graduation party we all felt so filled with food that we needed to find a place to walk. We drove to nearby Maymont, which has the opulent Victorian Maymont House as well as Italian and Japanese gardens.
The grounds of Maymont were certainly a beautiful location to stroll around in and wind down from the busyness of the day. It also provided us an opportunity to visit with our son Daniel and his friend Amanda. They had driven in from Washington D.C. to attend the graduation. And even though we had been convinced earlier in the day that we were not going to eat any more, we did conclude our day at a brewery/restaurant. It was there that Daniel and Amanda announced their engagement, which makes John and I quite happy. Below is a picture of the beaming couple.

There were also two other good events which occurred that day. Both Daniel and Melissa received very promising phone calls regarding future employment. As a family we could not have felt more blessed that day.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Returning home to Vancouver Washington

We returned to cool wet weather when we stepped off the train in Portland yesterday. It is now hard to remember the warm days which we experienced both in Richmond and Omaha! Our trip out east was good, but it is great to be back to our motor home and KC. Our cat survived our absence but I am sure he missed us. He has not left my side since we entered our home yesterday. If I am walking around he is underfoot constantly and when I sit down he immediately climbs into my lap. He gave me no peace this morning when I tried to sleep in. All this from a cat who usually ignores us and sleeps about 20  hours out of the day! Returning to the subject of our trip out east... I do have a lot to write about our trip and will try to accomplish that in several or more postings. Considering everything we saw, I did not take many pictures because we were on a moving train most of the time. We took Amtrak all the way to Richmond Virginia, a journey of about three full days. Starting out from Portland we initially went through the Columbia River gorge, and into the Yakima valley of Washington. We awoke the next morning to the vast plains of Montana where we quite often saw herds of antelope. The picture below shows that scenery quite well.
 A high point in taking Amtrak's Empire Builder through this part of the states is seeing the southern edge of Glacier National Park. And in the northeastern part of Montana we traveled through Wolf Point, a town located on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. I caught this picture at the quick stop we had there.
When traveling on the Empire Builder we can always count on a wine and cheese tasting party. At this event we were seated at a table with a couple from New Zealand. It was interesting hearing of their ten week tour of America. They have been to the states before and always enjoy coming here. They commented that they liked traveling in the United States as it is so much bigger than their country, which they can drive across in one day. Part of the enjoyment of train travel is the people we meet. We also met a couple from South Africa. The wife reminded me of the Queen of England with her pretty floral dress, pearl necklace and English accent. The couple come to the states quite often because three of  their children and families are located here. The last part of our journey on the Empire Builder took us into the mid western states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. The mighty Mississippi river provided us more awesome scenery as we rolled along its shores. Below is a scene of the river just outside of Winona Minnesota.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Columbia Gorge Interpetive Center

We visited this center after we hiked Beacon Rock. John had read some tour book which indicated that the center had a good movie on how the gorge was formed. The movie was quite interesting. It described very graphically how years ago such cataclysmic happenings as volcanic eruptions, an ice age and floods created the formation of the Columbia Gorge. After the movie we had a little bit of time to tour the museum located in the center. The museum galleries has many unique artifacts, including those made by local Native Americans. There are also many items of the early settlers also displayed there, including the largest rosary collection I have ever seen. There is also a 37-foot replica of a 19th century fishwheel. I never knew that such a contraption was ever made! You can't see it too well in the picture, but the device has large steel nets which are pulled through the river.
 In the center we also found a 1921 Mac logging truck, pictured below. Hard to believe that little engine could haul that weight!
This will be my last posting for about two weeks. As I mentioned in my last posting, we are headed to Richmond Virginia tomorrow. We also have a graduation to attend in Omaha before heading back here.

Beacon Rock

We are now parked back at Vancouver Washington. We resided in this area a few weeks back and  have returned. Yesterday we drove along the scenic Columbia River Gorge on state highway 14. We had been on the north side of the gorge when we were in this area before to view the falls, you may recall that posting. Yesterday we again headed to the gorge to hike Beacon Rock. The rock is the core of an ancient volcano. As you can see in the picture below, the rock rises steeply up to a height of 848feet.
When William Clark saw the rock in 1805 he described it as being a "remarkable high and detached rock" and gave it the name of "Beaten Rock". A year later, returning to the area, he called it "Beacon Rock". We did take the trail to its pinnacle. The trail up has 52 switchbacks, and no, I was not the one who counted them; I found it enough of a challenge to walk the mile up! Fortunately for John and I we had a sunny day with a light breeze blowing. The face of the rock which we hiked on was in the shade so our walk up really was not all that uncomfortable. Several chipmunks greeted us a the top, looking for handouts of food.
 The climb was worth it. At the top we had a breathtaking view of the Columbia River Gorge. The foothills of the Cascade Mountains surround the river valley. To the left of the rock we could see the Bonneville Dam.
Directly below us we could see railroad tracks. Sunday we will be coming through this area on a train going east to Richmond Virginia. Our daughter Melissa will be graduating Friday from Virginia Commonwealth University and receiving her Masters in Social Work. From there we will fly to a nephew's high school graduation in Omaha Ne. After returning to Vancouver on the 28th of May we plan to start our journey north to Alaska for the summer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Leavenworth Washington

Leavenworth is about two hundred miles from where we are parked. Despite the distance, John wanted to see Snoqualmie Pass and the town of Leavenworth. It was a beautiful mountain drive with the usual scenic vistas. On our way out toward the town we went over Steven's Pass on Highway 2. Returning home we took a different route over Snoqualmie Pass on Highway 97. There was some snow present in the higher elevations. The town of Leavenworth is nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It is a perfect setting for a Bavarian village. The railroad moved its tracks away from Leavenworth and the logging industry left the town in the early 20th century. Life was slow in this town until the1960s when the people of Leavenworth decided to "go Alpine" and committed to a Bavarian theme. The town is now famous for its Bavarian shops and restaurants. I had an excellent lunch at King Ludwig restaurant of beef rouladen and spaetzle, John had jagerschnitzle.
 After lunch we headed to the town park of Blackbird Island.  A bridge in the park leads to nature trails, which we started to hike over until some sprinkles of rain started coming down. Walking back into town we decided to tour the nutcracker museum. We almost passed it up, being uncertain as to whether it would be worth our time. I am so thankful now that we decided to step into the building!
The owner of the museum, Arlene Wagner, happened to be there at the time we were and was very eager to discuss their collection.. She and her husband have collected over 5,000 nutcrackers from some 40 countries. There is one metal nutcracker from Roman ruins (dating back to about 200 B.C.) and many others including some which are used to crack betel nuts in Asia.  The Wagners started buying them primarily from the workshops of Erzebirge Germany. The colorfully decorated soldiers and kings are the ones I am more familiar with. The reason figures of soldiers and kings were carved into nutcrackers was that the Germans liked the idea of using those figures of authority to do the labor of cracking nuts! I also had the impression nutcrackers were just a Christmas decoration. But many in the collection celebrated other festival times of the year, for example, Fashing which in Germany is equivalent to our Halloween. There were also sets of them which had a theme as the Wizard of Oz and the Nutcracker Suite. The Wagners certainly have an impressive collection. .Before we left Leavenworth we were determined to find an authentic German bakery. After inquiring around we did find one on the outskirts of town . We purchased a very hardy rye bread which was quite delicious.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Snoqualmie Falls

I had a fantastic Mother's Day and hope that many other moms can say the same thing. No, I was not with my children, but at least we were in touch with each other. Our son Mike had me speak on his podcast (via the phone) which was quite fun. Our nephew Jonathan also helped in making that a special day for me. Below is a picture of him at the Snoqualmie Train Museum.He is standing next to a rather large log.
 We started out our day Sunday attending Lutheran Church of the Cross, where our friend  Dino Picilli is pastor. He had a great message and started it with commentary on the word "but". Did you know that putting "but" in a sentence cancels everything said before it? You may say to your spouse "I love you but...".  Christ also said (I will paraphrase it here) you will have trouble in life;  but take heart, I have overcome all that evil for you. That is found in John 16:23 and following.  After the service Dino's wife Denise gave us a tour of the church's school, of which she is director. The church has 120 students in grades preschool through third. The students represent 18 nationalities and many of them start school not even knowing any English. After a great lunch at the Wild Wheat restaurant in Kent we drove to Snoqualmie Falls. What a crush of people there. We were not the only ones out enjoying the warm weather. Many family groups were there because of Mother's Day.
 The Snoqualmie River plunges 270 feet, which is 10 stories higher than Niagara Falls. It was a steep hike down and coming up was even worse. We got hot and sweaty in the process but after having so many cool days that did feel good!  We were quite thirsty after that but the lines were long for any kind of a cool drink. We ended up at the wine cellar in the historic Salish lodge where a margarita proved to be a refreshing treat.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lake Washington Ship Canal

We spent a wonderful day Saturday touring Seattle. The weather had given us a break, we were now enjoying warm sunny days. Our nephew Jonathan, his wife Allyson and son Sawyer joined us for the day. Jonathan proved to be an excellent tour guide. He has lived in the Seattle area for at least ten years, and Allyson grew up here. Our first stop was the canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The six mile navigation channel connects Lake Washington with Puget Sound. The dam and lock system at the west end of Salmon Bay raises the bay's level 21 feet. These locks are one of a few in the world which have a fish ladder where fresh meets salt water . As salmon migrate upstream to spawn they need to pass through the locks and dam, so in 1916 the first ladder was built for the salmon. There is a viewing gallery behind the ladder to see the fish coming through the series of steps. At present the large fish have already done their migrating for spawning and there are only fingerlings coming through. The time of the year makes a difference as to what size fish you will view here. Below is a picture of a part of the ladder. The fish that come in this ladder are shot through tails first. Looked a bit rough to me, but I guess fish are use to rapidly churning waters.
John and my brother Wayne took a tour of the locks. The rest of us were just happy looking out over the bay at the harbor seals, watching boats coming through the locks, and walking through the beautiful gardens located there. Sawyer, who is eighteen months old, enjoyed his freedom running over the grassy knolls. He never walks at a slow pace but enjoys running, so grass is better under his feet as his gait is still a bit unsteady. What a joy it was to watch him explore the gardens at his fast pace and to hear his chuckles of glee!  "More" is his favorite word now. From the canal gardens we drove to  Discovery Park. Here Sawyer found much enjoyment picking up shells and sticks. He also discovered that it wasn't much fun running over the rocks!
 Discovery Park is the largest park in Seattle with 550 acres. Here we could look out over Puget Sound, and view Mount Rainier off in the distance. In the picture below there were some fluffy white clouds covering the top of the mountain.
Wayne and I took some time hiking over the soaring seaside cliffs, through shady forest glens and flowering meadows. Quite a scenic place within an urban setting!  Jonathan felt that anyone touring Seattle needs to meet the Fremont Troll, an important landmark of the city. He was our next stop.This concrete monster is located under an overpass in a residential section of the city, on Troll Avenue. He is quite a tourist attraction, it was amazing to see the many people stopping to see him while we were there. That is a car under his left hand. We finished our day at a seafood restaurant by the wharf. It was a perfect ending to our day.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Seattle Japanese Garden

Friday afternoon we first stopped at the Washington Park Arboretum before seeing the Japanese Garden. Over time the variety of understory plants has decreased and native plants have been dying off. The Arboretum has consequently, since 2001, been undergoing forest habitat restoration. Invasive plants are being removed and replaced with a variety of plants that would have been in the park site before it was logged. Since it was getting late in the afternoon we only spent time walking on the Azalea Way, which is absolutely stunning at this time of the year.
 The Japanese Garden represents a compressed world of mountains, forests, lakes, river, and a village. There is a lot of symbolism here which totally escaped me because I was just so taken with the beauty of the flowers, shrubs and trees. Below is a picture of the entrance to the garden. Lanterns, as the one below, are present everywhere in the garden.
 In March of 1960 Mr. Lida came from Japan to supervise construction of the garden.  He arranged thousands of plants selected to represent diverse scenes found in Japan. They included azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias,  evergreens,  flowering fruit trees,  mosses and ferns. We could not have chosen a better time to be there as so many of those plants flower in the spring.
The garden is popular for its Chado- or The Way of Tea.  Public tea ceremonies can be scheduled here. The history of tea underwent many changes until 16th century teamaster Sen Rikyu defined its principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Also, acording to the park's brochure, his tea "is the essence of detachment and simplicity, expressed through a humble and egalitarian communion of the human spirit".  And that is exactly the feeling which I received walking through the garden, a feeling of peace and harmony.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Museum of Flight

This is a very comprehensive and fascinating aerospace museum. I had almost declined to go with my brother Wayne and John. It sounded so boring but the Boeing tour turned out to be better than I expected, just maybe this museum would be equally interesting. The above picture was taken in The Great Gallery.This area of the museum is a 6-story glass and steel structure with a display of 43 historic aircraft. Below is a picture of the Taylor Aerocar 111. Its manufacturer had hoped that one of these cars would be in everyone's garage. It was made in 1949, and it took until 1956 to receive the Civil Aeronautic Administration's approval. Unfortunately it never got mass produced. It took only 15 minutes to put on its wings, but storing that extra equipment proved to be a problem, I am sure most garages did not have that extra space!
The museum has a total of 85 air and spacecraft, some of that number is located outside on the perimeters of the building. It is possible for the public to enter the Air Force One and the Concorde. Below is a picture of the Concorde.
Touring those two planes was the highlight for me, especially Air Force One. It was thrilling to think that I was walking in the footsteps of four presidents; Johnson,Nixon, Kennedy and Eisenhower.Other fascinating sections of the museum were; The Personal Courage Wing, displaying aircraft from World Wars I and II, and the Amelia Earhart Exhibit. Of interest to me in the latter exhibit was that there were other women, besides Earhart, who were successful pilots. Earhart was concerned that all women were recognized for their accomplishments in aviation. Also in the museum was a section of the Red Barn, part of the original Boeing airplane factory from 1916 to 1958. At that time wood and fabric were the materials of choice for making airplanes. The industry of aerospace has traveled far since that time!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Boeing Tour

No, we did not return to St.Louis just in order for John to visit his old place of employment. We toured the  Boeing plant in Everett, Washington, which is quite a larger plant than the one back home. The other difference is that this plant makes the commercial aircraft and not the fighter jets. Come to think of it, then, why all the security here in Everett? No cell phones, cameras, backpacks or purses are allowed on the tour. They did not pat us down to check what we had in our pockets, so just how important were the security measures?  John asked this question of our tour guide and the answer he got was that in the past too many cameras and cell phones had gotten dropped on the workers from the viewing balconies!  The tour took us by bus to the large assembly plant where the 747, 777, and 787 planes are being made. This building is supposed to be the largest in the world by volume, equivalent to 100 acres. It is hard to realize that size in the picture but each of the six doors is big enough for a 747 to pass through! The pictures on the doors are considered to be the largest computer generated graphics in the world.

Here we could be above the Boeing assembly line and see airplanes in various stages of manufacture for customers around the world. The center of attraction was the newest of the planes, the 787. Unlike the previous models this plane is made of composite material, not of aluminum. In the Aviation Center's gallery, after the tour, we could touch the new high-tech skin of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Below is a test section of that new material. It has a very smooth feeling. Unlike aluminum it needs no rivets to hold the parts together. It is all one piece.
 Of more interest to me is the interior of this new plane. It has larger windows and those windows have no shades. The windows can be lightened or darkened by the touch of a finger. And no more dry air in the newer planes. Humidity does not have to be kept down now for fear of corroding the aluminum. By the way, Boeing has so many orders for this new plane that, should you wish to order one now, it would not be produced until 2020! Below is a picture of the Dream Lifters used by Boeing to transport airplane parts. Each is a modified Boeing 747.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spring Blessings

We have now moved on to Everett Washington. But I want to go back a couple of days and write about the excitement we had at our last park. Within a feet feet of our door was a small pond. There were two Canadian geese and two mallard ducks who frequented that pond. Saturday the mallard ducks showed up with ten ducklings in tow. Many people who resided in the park started hanging around the pond with cameras in hand. It was amazing to me how many people, including myself, were so taken with watching that duck family. Those babies learned quickly who to follow. And Mama duck did not have to say a word to them. If she got too far ahead of them,  those little balls of fluff scurried as fast as their little legs could move to stay close to her .It was also interesting to see her tuck them under her wings for the night. Yes, all ten are under her in the picture below.
The first thing I did Sunday morning was to walk down to the pond and count the ducklings. I had to see if they had survived their first night. All ten were out on the pond swimming around. They sure can swim fast if they need to catch up with their Mom!  It also impressed me that she never seemed to look back at her babies to see if they were still close by. It was like she assumed they knew what to do and where to be. A man standing next to me that morning made the comment "life is good". How true that is, and it does not take much for me to appreciate the blessings of our natural world.
Sunday afternoon we took a drive over to Bainbridge Island to visit John's cousin Gretchen and her husband Tom. They have a beautiful home on the beach of Puget Sound. Seattle is eight miles away across the water . It was too cool and windy to be out on the shore, but we still had a good view of the harbor inside from the front rooms of their home. The backyard of their house is quite pretty now with its array of spring flowers. We have been seeing the beauty of spring for a couple of months now, in California and on up the coast.
As we were standing in the backyard I happened to look over at their neighbor's home and noticed a statue of a man hanging over the front door. It certainly ensures that anyone can locate that house!
Despite the overcast weather we did venture out for a walk to view the community garden. The strawberry beds are covered with white flowers. Lettuce and pole beans are starting, rhubarb already has a good start. Surprisingly this area has been getting some sun, we just have not seen much of it since we came. Life is still good, the sun will return one of these days.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

I forgot to mention one other interesting part of our town tour of Port Angeles. For eleven years the town has been showcasing the works of Northwestern artists on its streets. There is one block called "Avenue of the People", all created by the artist Bob Stokes. Below is Cari and Bart. They are having an animated discussion("give and take") as to where to eat,where to go, etc. Further down the sidewalk, on a bench, sits Mackenzie who is enjoying a conversation with a gentleman (Michael) leaning against a railing.
Yesterday, Thursday, we drove with Wayne and Mary Jo up to Hurricane Ridge. This is 5,200 feet above sea level and presently there in 89 inches of snow on the ground. The road was clear only up to the visitor's center. John is standing at a snow bank where a plow had just dumped a load of  snow.
In the picture below you are looking at the Strait of Juan de Fuca with the shores of Canada beyond that. Also of note is that in the background to the northeast are fields where it is necessary for farmers to irrigate. Behind me, from where I was taking this picture, is the Ho Rain Forest where there is definitely no lack of rain. It is the Olympic Mountain Range which divides the Olympic Peninsula into two distinct climatic worlds.
There were quite a few deer wandering along the roadside. They seemed totally oblivious to the cars passing by them. They were a black tail deer, I think in the family of mule deer. Looks like this doe has been finding enough foliage to eat!