Category Archives: ADVENTURES IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Our travel adventures in the Pacific Northwest USA

Silver Forest Hike in Mt Rainier National Park

A fun camping weekend and an easy relaxing day hike on the Sunrise side of Mt Rainier National Park. A perfect day hike if you are out of shape or short on time and want some great views of Mt Rainier.

Paddy and I have been to Mt Rainier National Park a few times, but only to the Sunrise Side once and that time we didn’t actually go to the visitor’s center. Every time we go to Mt Rainier National Park we are blown away by how beautiful it is. On this trip we camped outside of the park at Silver Springs Campground, and did a quick and easy trek on the Silver Forest hike from the Sunrise Visitor Center in the park.

The Sunrise side of Mt Rainier National Park is the northern side of the mountain, and is a little less visited then the popular Paradise visitor center. At 6,400 ft above sea level, it is the highest elevation point in the park to visit by vehicle. There are several great hiking trails that start at the Sunrise visitor center parking lot.

Day 1: 

We left Seattle a little before 3:00 in the afternoon on Friday, headed to Silver Springs Campground. We had made a reservation there early in the spring through www.recreation.gov, so our site was all ready and waiting for us. We camped at Silver Springs the last time we visited the Sunrise side of Mt. Rainier, and we like the campground. It is a good close proximity to the mountain and sites can be reserved ahead of time.

*Camping tip: Even though spring  seems way too early to make summer camping plans, the recreation.gov website allows you to make camping reservations up to six months in advance, starting in January. Weekends in July and August fill up fast, so I like to get a reservation in for a good site (you get to pick your site out) around March. If your plans change and you have to cancel, you get a full refund minus the $10 reservation fee as long as you cancel at least two days before your arrival date.

Silver Springs Campground
Silver Springs Campground

The campground hosts have firewood for sale (cash only) or you can purchase it at the Greenwater General Store about 15 minutes away. This is the closest store with provisions, so if you find that you have forgotten something, stock up here.

We set up camp, sprayed ourselves with bug spray, and cooked hot dogs, beans, and corn for dinner with the campfire.

Camping at Silver Springs Campground
Camping at Silver Springs Campground

Day 2:

I set the alarm for 7:00, as it is best to get an early start when hiking at Mt Rainier on a summer weekend. We made coffee with our camp stove and french press, ate hard boiled eggs and granola for breakfast, and set out up the mountain.

Not far down on the 410 highway heading south from the campground is the Sunrise Park Road. The White River ranger station will collect your national park entrance fee of $25.00, good for one week. After passing the fee station, the visitor center is another 40 minutes up the mountain. It is a beautiful drive.

Sunrise visitor center Mt. Rainier National Park
Sunrise visitor center Mt. Rainier National Park

We arrived at the Sunrise Visitor Center at around 9:00 AM. There were lots of cars in the parking lot already, but still a lot of spaces left. The Visitor Center building wasn’t open yet, but a park ranger was standing outside and answering questions from the hikers. He provided lots of helpful info on trail conditions. Even though it was July, some of the higher elevation trails had too much snow still and weren’t suitable for hiking in certain areas.

Everyone there was gung-ho about going up the high elevation trails, but we opted for the easy-breezy Silver Forest hike. The Sunrise elevation is pretty high for us sea-level dwellers with desk jobs, and we prefer to do uphill hiking at lower elevations. The Silver Forest hike is fairly even the whole way. The trail starts from the left side of the parking lot facing the visitor center building. The trail is an out-and-back hike, so you have to hike to the end and then turn around and return back to where you started.

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

For such an easy trail, the Silver Forest hike offered amazing views of Mt. Rainier. If you’re not very in shape or are short on time, this hike offers big bang for your hiking buck (so to speak).

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Wildflowers, Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

After a (too) short amount of time, we reached the end of the maintained trail (about a mile in). We weren’t ready to go back so we continued for a little ways on the not-so-maintained part of the trail, which was really more or less a ditch someone dug. It kept going, but was a bit difficult to walk in as it was deep and narrow. We stopped when we ran into some snow. We could have gone around, but decided to head back.

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

The way back had the best views, as you are facing Mt Rainier the entire time.

Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

Overall, the trail was shorter than I would have preferred, but the views were excellent. If you are visiting Seattle and want to do a day trip to Rainier and don’t have time for a big hike, the Silver Forest hike is perfect for a quick dose of “Mt. Rainier-lite.” Your photos will look like you did some major hiking, and all your friends will be jealous.

When we arrived back at the parking lot we checked out the information displays at the visitor center, and then began our descent down the mountain. We left at a little before 11:00 AM, and rangers were already directing traffic into the overflow parking on the side of the road.

Snow pile next to the Sunrise visitor center parking lot
Snow pile next to the Sunrise visitor center parking lot

*Tip: If going to Mt Rainier on a Saturday or Sunday in July or August, GET THERE EARLY. If you are doing a day trip from Seattle, I’d recommend getting on the road around 7:00 AM at the latest to make sure you get a decent parking spot and get on your hike before the trails get crowded.

We stopped at a lookout a short ways down the mountain that provided views of some alpine lakes and Mt Adams in the distance.

Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Mt Adams
Mt Adams

At the bottom of Sunrise Park Rd, we passed a very long line of cars waiting at the entrance fee station. It looked like about a half hour wait just to enter the park. Again, GET THERE EARLY.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing at the camp site, and listening to the White River. Living in the city near the airport makes us really appreciate the sounds of nature whenever we are able to get away.

The Silver Forest hike wasn’t my favorite hike in Mt Rainier National Park, but it was a nice and easy scenic jaunt. If you are able to do a longer hike that is slightly more challenging at a lower elevation, I’d recommend the Naches Peak loop hike. It is also on the Sunrise side of the park and one of our favorites.

 

Wine Tasting in Prosser, WA 2016

Wine tasting in Prosser, WA: Visiting a tiny historic town in the Horse Heaven Hills, with lots of wineries and a fabulous dinner

 

For our anniversary this year, we wanted a quick getaway out of the city, but we didn’t have a lot of time or money. Since we both love wine tasting and have so much of Washington’s extensive wine country left to explore, we decided to check out Prosser.

Prosser is in the Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills region of southern Washington State. It is about a 45 minute drive south east of Yakima, and an hour and a half west of Walla Walla. It was roughly a 3.5 hour trek from Seattle. We chose Prosser as it appeared from looking at the map that there were quite a few tasting rooms and a nice restaurant in walking distance from the Best Western, which meant that we didn’t have to worry about drinking and transportation.

We left Seattle at 8:00 AM on Saturday, timing our arrival in Prosser for right around when the winery tasting rooms open. Once we began our drive south on I-84 just after Ellensburg, the landscape changed dramatically. The mountain forests and valley farmland gave way to dry, rolling hills and desert sagebrush.

We arrived in Prosser just after 11:00, and ventured into the historic downtown area. It was late morning on a Saturday, but downtown had barely a soul in site. There were some antique shops open, but not a whole lot going on. The buildings were old, reminiscent of the wild west. Prosser felt like a ghost town that a group of people had recently decided to inhabit again.

Historic downtown Prosser, WA
Historic downtown Prosser, WA
Downtown Prosser, WA
Downtown Prosser, WA

We had brought some picnic items with us, but wanted to find a grocery store where we could get a baguette to go with our meats, cheese, and pickles. The only grocery store in town appeared to be the Prosser Food Depot in the downtown area. We were able to find a baguette, and the store looked like it had most of the essentials.

Armed with snacks, we were ready to taste some wine. Our first stop was 14 Hands Winery just on the outskirts of downtown. We were familiar with their commonly found grocery store wines, and wanted to know what else they had to offer.

14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA
14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA
14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA
14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA

14 Hands Winery is themed after the Horse Heaven Hills and the wild horses that once inhabited this region of Eastern Washington. Our host was very friendly and greeted us immediately when we walked in, and had no problem with us bringing in a few snacks while we were tasting the wine. There was a country band playing that was covering old Johnny Cash songs and other old-style country songs.

The wines we tasted were their reserves, only available at the winery. The reserve Syrah was our favorite of the wines we tried, which included a Savignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Rose of Malbec, a Cabernet, and a Merlot. They were all nice, but not wonderful enough to make us cough up the $30 a bottle price. The tasting fee was $7.00 per person, waived if you buy a bottle. They sell their regularly distributed wines there as well for $10-$12 a bottle, so it made sense to buy two of those for a few extra dollars than to pay the tasting fee.

Next, we moved on outside of town to one of the oldest wineries in the region, Pontin Del Roza. Pontin Del Roza Winery has been making wine since the 1980’s, but the Pontin family has been farming the land for the majority of the 20th century. The tasting room was air conditioned and quiet, giving us a chance to talk to owner for a bit.

Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA
Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA
Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA
Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA

Pontin Del Roza Winery had a very nice sweet (but not too sweet) Chenin Blanc, a couple reds that I hadn’t heard of (but wasn’t a huge fan of), and some other very tasty wines including a Merlot, a Cabernet, and a nice Rose.

The outdoor patio was very relaxing and there was a bocce ball court. We were welcome to sit and eat the rest of our picnic out on the patio. There were carafes of water with mint and cucumber, and sodas for sale as well. I ordered a glass of the Chenin Blanc to go with our picnic and got an extremely generous pour.

Pontin Del Roza Winery patio prosser
Pontin Del Roza Winery patio
Picnic at Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser
Picnic at Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser

After lunch at Pontin Del Roza, we were ready to check into the hotel and ditch the car. You can only do a little bit of wine tasting if you are driving.

We checked into the Best Western at Horse Heaven Hills, which was about what you can expect a Best Western to be. It was nice to have AC and a fridge in the room, and the bed was comfortable.

Our room at the Best Western in Prosser
Our room at the Best Western in Prosser

We had chosen this Best Western because it was in walking distance to Prosser’s Vintner’s Village. Vintner’s Village is essentially the mini Disneyland of wine tasting, with 10 winery tasting rooms in one 32-acre area, along with one nice restaurant. There is also an RV park near the village with a RV sites, a couple of tent sites, and an outdoor pool as well if you want to camp.

Vintner’s Village is pretty much set up for wine tourism. The Village and the Best Western are fairly new, attempting to bring a collection of the regional wineries together in one spot, working together to make it convenient for tourists.

Vintner's Village, Prosser WA
Vintner’s Village, Prosser WA
Vintner's Village, Prosser WA
Vintner’s Village, Prosser WA

You’re not going to find picturesque vineyards and gorgeous grapes growing in the sun here. It’s pretty much just a collection of very large tasting rooms with a few nice courtyards. However, it was nice to taste at our leisure and not have to worry about driving or transportation.

We only made it to two of the tasting rooms, as it was late in the afternoon. The tasting rooms are generally open from 11:00 or 12:00 to 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. The 91 degree desert sun was extremely hot. We approached a large complex called “Winemaker’s Loft” in the style of a Tuscan villa. Inside were a couple different wineries, and we started with Coyote Canyon.

"Winemaker's Loft" in Vintner's Village, Prosser WA
“Winemaker’s Loft” in Vintner’s Village, Prosser WA

We tasted a lot of wine at Coyote Canyon, and the wine server and her little dog were very accommodating. We didn’t taste any that “wowed” us enough to buy a bottle, so we thanked them and headed next door to Martinez & Martinez. We were a bit tipsy at this point, so this was going to have to be our last stop. It was also just about closing time for the tasting rooms.

Martinez & Martinez has a little tasting room with a lot of Mexican-inspired art. The hosts were friendly. The best part about their tasting room however, was the frozen wine slushie machine. It was the perfect ending to our day of wine tasting on a hot Eastern Washington day. It was made with the Martinez & Martinez Rose, and tasted a lot like sangria with added fruit juice.

Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner's Village, Prosser
Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner’s Village, Prosser
Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner's Village, Prosser
Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner’s Village, Prosser

After we finished our slushie, we headed back to the room to cool off and rest for a bit.

Our dinner reservation was at 7:00 at the one restaurant in Vintner’s Village, Wine O Clock Wine Bar. I had read that reservations were strongly recommended, so I filled out their online contact form and requested a reservation the week prior.

Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

The restaurant is part of the Bunnell Family wine cellar. The dining room is set up like you are eating in someone’s house, with a very homey open kitchen, tables with Kitchen Aid mixers and cook books in the corners, and a TV with muted vintage Julia Childs cooking shows running on a continuous loop.

Wine O Clock Restaurant and Wine Bar in Vintners Village, Prosser
Wine O Clock Restaurant and Wine Bar in Vintners Village, Prosser

The menu changes weekly with the seasonal whims of the chef and her garden. You can pair your entree with a suggested wine flight instead of committing to a single glass so that you can get a sampling of the Bunnell wines while you dine.

The water served had cucumbers in it, which was a nice refreshing touch on such a hot day.

Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser
Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser
Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser
Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser

We started with the burrata, which came with a fruit jam, fresh figs, and toasted baguette slices. Everything was top quality, although we did think the burrata cheese could have used just a pinch of sea salt or something to zest it up a bit. Just a personal preference.

Burrata appetizer at Wine O Clock in Prosser
Burrata appetizer at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

For our entrees, Paddy had the pork loin with sweet potato cakes, and I had the nicoise salad with a bearnaise sauce, golden beets, and seared ahi tuna. Both were delicious.

Paddy’s entree had fresh garlic greens that were delicious. We couldn’t believe we’d never had them before. They kind of tasted like a garlicky asparagus stalk. Everything was delicious.

Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village
Nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

For dessert we shared the chocolate mousse cake, which came with a dessert wine of sorts that the server told us to taste before she would tell us what it was. It was sweet and robust and very complimentary to the rich chocolate. It was a cherry cordial, with no grapes at all. The chef makes it to serve in the restaurant but doesn’t have a license to bottle and sell it at the moment.

Chocolate mousse cake at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Chocolate mousse cake at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

After dinner we walked outside into the warm twilight. It was such a nice evening, finally a comfortable temperature to walk around in. There was a party going on over at Winemaker’s Loft with a BBQ and a Mexican band. It looked fun but we didn’t feel like shelling out the $10 cover.

 

We wished we had the time and money to stay another night and check out more of the region and Vintner’s Village, but we’ll have to come back another time. The warm evening and the RV park across the street made us wish we had a trailer to camp in instead of the hotel.

Overall, Prosser was a great quick anniversary getaway and we’d love to come back. If you want to do some wine tasting in the Yakima to Walla Walla area of Washington, this is a great stop with easy access to a lot of wine and accommodations in one place.

Tubing the Skykomish River: A Cautionary Tale

Tubing the Skykomish River: A fun lazy river float that took some scary and unexpected turns. What we learned on our first river tubing adventure and what to be aware of when venturing out onto any river

 

I waffled at first about whether to write about our adventure tubing on the Skykomish River. We are all still trying to process what happened and it definitely wasn’t the day of fun memories that we expected it to be. However, I think that one of the most important parts about travel and adventure writing is writing about the things that go wrong, and what you learned from them. It can help others learn from your misadventures and hopefully prevent their own.

Here is a cautionary tale of our adventure, and how a fun day on the river turned into one of the scariest days of our lives:

 

We went tubing on the Skykomish River on a Saturday in August, and the day started perfectly. The weather was sunny and in the high 80’s, nice and hot for a day on the cold Skykomish River just northeast of Seattle. This was our first time river tubing and we had been invited by some friends of ours who go river tubing annually, and we were excited to try it out.

The two organizers in the group did an excellent job of making sure us newbies were prepared. They posted a packing list on the event page on Facebook and gave us the low-down of what to expect and what to bring (and not to bring). The packing list included the following:

Cheap sunglasses
Hat
Old sneakers or water sandals with straps and traction (flip flops are useless)
Something for lunch, snack for breakfast
Lots of water
Discovery pass for parking if you have it
Sunscreen
Towel
Change of clothes for after (at least undies)
An oar
A sturdy river tube (not a pool floaty)

We were advised not to bring anything valuable as the river has a propensity to make off with people’s belongings.

We brought everything we were advised to, also including a waterproof digital camera with a float strap, our phones in LifeProof cases, and a waterproof waist pack for ID, debit card, and health insurance card, and some sunscreen chapstick. I also packed some first aid supplies in a zip lock freezer bag. (I was dubbed the “Nervous Nellie” of the group for this). My supplies bag included a tube patch kit, a tiny container of rubbing alcohol for said patch kit and any disinfecting first aid needs, band-aids, gauze pads and tape, travel toilet paper, super glue, antibiotic ointment packs, and baking soda for bee stings).

There was also an orange theme, so we were all supposed to wear orange stuff as a fun way to unify the group. Paddy wore an orange rash guard and I wore orange heart shaped sunglasses.

Paddy and I getting ready to go tubing on the Skykomish River in Sultan, WA
Paddy and I getting ready to go tubing on the Skykomish River in Sultan, WA

I thought about getting life jackets before we went, but no one else was wearing them and didn’t seem to feel like they would be necessary, so we didn’t buy any.

Our tube was an Intex River Run two person tube with a “cooler” in the middle, perfect for holding water, sunscreen, and some other essentials. It looked just like this:

intex-river-run-two-person-tube

We had two plastic oars to navigate with, and we had a separate inflatable cooler for extra water and beer which we tied tightly to the side of the tube.

We all arrived at the Skykomish River drop in spot at Sultan Sportsman Park off of Highway 2 around 11:00, inflated tubes and sorted out our gear, and then had a few drivers shuttle cars down to the end spot in Monroe and then come back. There was a slight snafu with forgetting a cooler full of everyone’s lunch and water in a car at the end parking lot. One of our organizers drove back to retrieve it and this added another hour onto our schedule. It wasn’t a big deal, we were able to wait on the river bank in the shade and chat while we waited.

tubing the Skykomish River
Getting ready to go at the drop in spot on the Skykomish River in Sultan
tubing the Skykomish River
Drop in spot on the Skykomish River in Sultan

One of our friends wanted to fish instead of float, so she planned on helping us get going on the river, then driving down river to find spots to fly fish from the shore. She would check in with us along the way.

There were a lot of other groups getting on the Skykomish river with various types of floats. We got one of them to take a group photo of us and then got in our tubes and inflatable boats and let the river carry us away. The water was freezing cold at first, but we got used to it quickly. It was refreshing combined with the hot sun.  We had one inflatable boat with coolers, extra drinking water, and an extra air pump that we tied along side one of the inflatable boats to be our supplies raft/trash raft.

Tubing the Skykomish River
Setting off–Tubing the Skykomish River

The water was calm and the pace was slow. People had brought some rope to tie together with, but one of our experienced organizers told us not to tie together until after we went around the first rapid water bend in the river, and that after that it should be pretty calm the rest of the float. It was estimated that we would be floating about 5-6 hours, depending on how often we pulled over onto river banks to have food or take a break.

Tubing the Skykomish River
Tubing the Skykomish River

It wasn’t long before we reached the bend our organizer had told us about, and the water pace sped up. It was shallower here, so we had to lift our butts up in the tubes to avoid bumping rocks as we sped around the corner. I broke my oar trying to shove away from the river bank, so we had one and a half oars after that.

Everyone made it around the bend with no problems, and we were back to lazy float time. Some of the group tied together with the rope, but we opted to stay free but close by.

Tubing the Skykomish River
Tubing the Skykomish River

About an hour in, we decided to pull over at a river bank and have some snacks and re-apply sunscreen. I appreciated our organizer’s reminders to re-apply! Paddy and I burn super easily.

After a quick break, we got back on the river. We were all having a great time and enjoying the scenery.

We came upon another fast moving bend in the river that we wooshed down with no problems. We floated along a while longer. Paddy was a gentleman and gave me the long oar (he has longer arms anyway) and used the half oar to paddle and navigate on his side. We didn’t need to paddle a whole lot, the river was slowly floating us along at a leisurely pace.

Then things took a bad turn.

 

About an hour and a half in, we approached another bend where the water was moving fast, and we could see a large fallen tree with roots sticking up out of the water. We tried to navigate away from it, but it became clear as we picked up speed that we were going to slam right into it.

Bracing for impact, I stuck my arms out to brace us and try to bump us around the tree. We were going so fast that I thought the tree would puncture the tube, or injure us (or both). We hit the tree without injury, but the impact launched Paddy right out of the double tube and into the river. Paddy can swim, but he isn’t a great swimmer, and the river currents were strong. As soon as I knew that he was in the water, I was terrified. It was so fortunate that I had the long oar and not the broken one. I was able to reach the oar out to him as far as I could lean over the tube as he struggled against the current, panicking and trying to keep his head above water. He got a hold of the oar, and with his kicking and my pulling I was able to pull him over to the tube and get a hold of his arm. He had a hold on the oar under the raft and there was no way for me to navigate us to the shore while holding onto him.

Fortunately, one of our organizers and another friend had made it around the fallen tree and had pulled over to the river bank to make sure everyone got through okay. They were able to wade into the river and pull us to shore. Paddy crawled onto the river bank, very shaken up and gasping for breath.

Things then went from scary to terrifying.

 

I was making sure Paddy was okay when we heard a woman’s anguished crying and wailing from upriver where the tree was. I couldn’t see what was happening, but since Paddy seemed to be okay I grabbed my first aid supplies and ran with everyone else up the river bank. On the way up the bank I noticed that there was an empty inflatable boat and other empty tube from our group floating down the river. Our organizer shoved his car keys in my hand and jumped into the rushing water to help.

One of the women in our group had also hit the tree, and was launched out of her boat. the raft she was in had been tied to others in the group, and according to the people who witnessed it, the rope had wrapped around her neck and was strangling her as she fought to keep her head above the water. Her boyfriend jumped in to help, and yelled for someone to swim out with a knife. Fortunately, he managed to get the rope loose enough to push her head out of it, and swam her through the rushing water to shore.

She was hysterical, as anyone would be after that kind of near death experience. I can’t even imagine how terrified she was. She had rope burns on her neck and there was no way she or her boyfriend were going to continue the float. The nearest road was across the river, and she was adamant that she was not getting back in the river at all.

There was a house across the river, and a lady who lived there had seen what was going on and called 911. We were trying to figure out a way to get the the woman and her boyfriend over to the road on the other side of the river when EMTs showed up. They said that a rescue boat was on the way and it could get her across the river.

While we waited for the rescue boat, we watched another group of floaters come down the river towards the tree. They ended up stuck on the tree, and were also tied together. It took them about 15 minutes to figure out how to get untangled, but none of them had been hurt or launched into the water. Shortly after they untangled themselves the rescue boat arrived and the EMTs got out to assess the woman in our group who had nearly drowned.

While the EMTs were assessing our friend, a family in tubes came down the river with a little boy and the little boy was launched out of his tube after he hit the tree. Fortunately he was wearing a life jacket, but was still in need of rescuing. The EMTs quickly jumped back in the boat and grabbed the kid out of the water before he got swept downriver. The felled tree was a major hazard for everyone coming through.

Two of our friends decided that they had also had enough of the float, and decided to get out as well. They called our friend who had been fishing and gave her the address for the house across the river, and were able to drive the couple to the hospital in Monroe to get checked out after the EMTs ferried them across the river. It was very fortunate that our friend had her car nearby and was able to pick them up.

The rest of us were very far from our cars on either end of the river, and were behind schedule. We had at least three hours of float time before we reached the end spot in Monroe. We decided to keep going, but the mood was somber.

river tubing on the Skykomish River
Tubing on the Skykomish River

Only a little ways further down the river, Paddy and I got stuck in a swirl current that kept us stranded in one spot. Everyone else had made it through. We were down to one oar, and were paddling furiously to try to get through, but it was fruitless. We decided to try to get to the river bank, which wasn’t too far away, get out, and carry our tube down a ways and then get back in the river near where our friends were waiting for us. We paddled furiously and made it to the edge. I could see shallow rocks under the water next to the river bank, so I thought we were at a place where I could get out and pull us in.

I scooted out of the tube expecting to step down into a couple feet of water, but instead I dropped straight down into the deep river. It was such a deep drop off, I didn’t even feel the bottom when I plunged down. I was still holding onto the raft when I dropped in, so I flipped it upside down.

Before I even surfaced, I knew the tube had flipped and that Paddy was in the water again along with me. I surfaced and lifted the tube up frantically looking for Paddy. He was there, struggling and panicked, unable to get a grip onto anything on the upside down float. I didn’t have a good grip on the float either but all I could think about was making sure he had something to hold onto, so I told him to grab my arm. He did, but it wasn’t enough to keep him up and he let go and grasped for the floating cooler. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get us out of this current and make sure Paddy didn’t drown by myself. I was also in a dangerous spot. Just as I yelled for help, two guys who were nearby jumped into the water next to us, and I told them to help Paddy as he couldn’t swim that well. I also instantly felt like an idiot for not having life jackets on, knowing that Paddy wasn’t very confident in the water. They grabbed Paddy and got him holding on to one of their tubes and the four of us along with another member of our group who had jumped in to help kicked as hard as we could to get the raft the two feet to the river bank. The current was extremely strong.

We thanked the two guys profusely for saving us. Another member of our group had miraculously managed to grab almost all of our stuff that fell out of the cooler in the tube–Paddy’s phone (in a LifeProof case in a ziploc bag), sunscreen, and my water camera. As we were explaining what had happened, we looked down from the shore and saw another girl in a tube stuck in the same current spot we were stuck in. Fortunately she was still in her tube and not in danger, just struggling to paddle out.

Paddy and I were done tubing. Both of us were too shaken up to continue, and with all that had happened, it wasn’t fun anymore, anyway. I also didn’t want to go on without life jackets, in case there was another incident. We got across the river in a shallower, calmer spot, deflated our tube and put it in the extra inflatable boat that the group was towing along, and walked through someone’s property and up to the road. Our organizer gave us his house key (our car was parked at his house with our keys and stuff inside their house in north Seattle) and a bottle of water and told us to keep in touch to let them know we got back okay.

We made it to the road, dripping wet in our bathing suits, and managed to get the one Uber driver in Sultan to pick us up. I was glad I had opted for a conservative bathing suit with a skirted bottom and full coverage tankini top, instead of a bikini. Both of us were a bit emotional and shell shocked.

Our fishing friend with the car who drove the woman who almost drowned and her boyfriend to the hospital was able to meet us at the hospital in Monroe along with two other friends who had decided to go home as well. We got a ride home with her, stopping at our organizer’s house to get our stuff out of our car (our car was blocked in by two other cars at their house, so we opted just to come back and pick it up in the morning). We were exhausted and just wanted to go home.

The remaining nine members of our group continued down the river, and they said it was mostly calm the rest of the way. They ran into a few girls who had lost their floats. They were crying and stranded on the river bank. Our friends had an extra inflatable boat from the couple that went to the hospital, so they gave it to them to help them get home. They were all so far behind schedule at that point that the last part of the float was in the shade, and everyone was getting cold and paddling hard to get to the end. They all made it out at about 7:00 PM and everyone was okay.

I think we’ve all been replaying that day over in our heads. There are so many “whatifs” that will drive us crazy if we think about them too much. What if Paddy hadn’t given me the long oar and I wasn’t able to rescue him from river in time? What if the woman with the rope wrapped around her neck wasn’t rescued in time? What if the people who had jumped in the river to help her and us were carried away by the current and drowned? What if someone was seriously injured on that tree or a sharp branch under the water? Fortunately, we are all okay. We didn’t even get sunburned.

I was just given an update that the woman in our group who almost drowned is doing better. She has rope burns on her neck and is finally able to turn her head after two days of rest. She plans on returning to work in a couple more days. Her emotional scars will take much longer to heal.

What we’ve learned

 

When I had asked the experienced river tubers in our group how dangerous tubing on the Skykomish River was, I was told that the accidents that happen are usually with white water rafters in the spring, and drunk people being stupid. I think for the most part, that is true. However, rivers in the summer are like domesticated wild animals. They may seem tame most of the time, but they are still wild. Remember when Sigfried and Roy’s tiger attacked Roy? You can’t ever be too sure about nature.

Here are the three most important things that we took away from this experience:

1. Don’t underestimate the river
2. WEAR LIFE JACKETS
3. Don’t tie your floats together

 

We have also determined that sturdy, individual inner tubes are easiest to navigate. The double tube with the cooler might be awesome for a very lazy river or a day on the lake, but both of our accidents may have been prevented (at least for one of us) if we hadn’t been in the same tube. Individual tubes with an oar are also much easier to paddle than a double tube with an oar on each side (or in our case by the end–one oar).

What happened with the rope around the woman’s neck was a freak accident that I’m sure is rare, but it happened. It would not have happened had the floats not been tied together. Rope can very easily get snagged on trees and rocks and debris in the river and the impact of a caught rope on a fast river can throw you out of your float. Not to mention tangle you up in it.

I read some articles about the Skykomish River when I got home, and there was an article about some kayakers who had to be rescued back in June because they ran into some felled trees in the river. The article said that this last winter there was a lot of flooding which caused soil erosion and a lot of trees to fall into the river. Even if you have been tubing down the same river every year, you never really know what the river has in store for you. Each winter brings storms and floods and intense water flow and the river is always changing. Rivers can even erode away banks and change course or create new bends and turns.

The most dangerous part of river tubing or rafting is the debris, rocks, and log jams that you may run into. Rivers can also be deceptively deep and currents are very strong. The water is also very cold, and even the strongest swimmers can get into trouble in water that cold with currents that strong. That is why life jackets are so important.

We would like to go river tubing again, but we might want to go elsewhere than the Skykomish River. Something calmer would be nice, with a slower pace. I don’t think anyone in our group is ready to do it again this summer, but probably by next year.

Be careful out there. Mother Nature is unpredictable.

Edmonds, WA 2016

Edmonds, WA: beaches, a farmer’s market, a quaint little town, a tiki bar, a wedding, and some delicious dim sum.

 

Some good friends of ours were getting married at the Edmonds Yacht Club in Edmonds, WA, a small waterfront town just 30 minutes north of Seattle. Since we now live in South Seattle, it was kind of a long way to cab and we wanted to be able to have a good time at the wedding, so we decided to get a hotel room at the Edmonds Best Western and make a weekend of it.

Paddy grew up in Edmonds, living there from birth to age 14. He said it was a nice little working-class small town when he lived there in the 1970’s, but it has since gentrified considerably. Now there is a lot of money in Edmonds, with a lot more upscale shops, bars and restaurants. We decided to play tourists for the weekend and check out the town while Paddy took a walk down memory lane.

Day 1:

We arrived in Edmonds at about 1:00 PM on Saturday, and located the Best Western. They had a solid 3:00 PM check in time, as they were fully booked that night and the housekeeping staff had their work cut out for them. We were able to check in without getting the room keys, and were given a parking pass so that we could leave our car in the lot while we walked around.

My only previous interactions with Edmonds were to purchase my wedding dress back in 2009 (at a fabulous and reasonably priced bridal boutique called Cynderellie’s Closet which is sadly now closed), and to get on the ferry to Kingston on the Olympic Peninsula.

We walked down to the beaches by the ferry dock and soaked up the sunshine a bit. The beaches are nice, with public bathrooms and changing areas and an outdoor shower.

Edmonds Beach
Edmonds Beach
Edmonds, WA
Edmonds, WA
Edmonds / Kingston Ferry
Edmonds / Kingston Ferry
Edmonds Beach
Edmonds Beach

 

There were a lot of divers at the beach, getting ready to dive or coming back from a dive off the shore. We learned that Edmonds is a very popular spot for divers, as it has an underwater park right next to the ferry dock with ship wrecks and “trails” made by ropes that divers can follow to explore the park.

Edmonds underwater park
Map of Edmonds underwater park from http://www.edmondswa.gov/images/COE/Services/Education/discovery-programs/images/EdmondsUWPark.jpg

Paddy and I have never learned to dive, but we’ve considered it. Maybe we’ll get certified and check out the park someday. It sounds really interesting.

In addition to the ferry to the Olympic Peninsula, Edmonds has a train stop for Amtrak and the Sounder weekday commuter train, making it very easy to get to other places in Washington State and British Columbia, Canada without a car. The train station is also close to the ferry and waterfront.

After a short time enjoying the beach, we headed up Main Street to the Edmonds Farmers Market, which happens on Saturdays from May through September. The farmer’s market was pretty large, with vendors selling all kinds of local crafts, fruits and veggies, and artisan foods and baked goods. We sampled some delicious local peaches.

Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market

We left the farmers market and explored the downtown area. Paddy was reminiscing about is childhood. A lot had changed since he was a kid, but he was happy to see that the bakery that he used to get a free cookie at when he was little was still there.

For lunch, we weren’t starving but wanted to check out A Very Taki Tiki Bar, as we are tiki bar enthusiasts.

A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA

Full disclosure: I’d actually eaten lunch here with a friend seven years ago after trying on wedding dresses, and it was terrible. I had ordered a Caesar salad with a seared ahi tuna filet and the tuna came not seared, but overcooked to the point of a tough pasty cardboard texture. However, since seven years had passed and this place was still open, and the Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews weren’t terrible, I wanted to give it another shot. Maybe they were having problems with an untrained cook back then.

The menu was a mix of average pub grub, more burgers and Mexican dishes and appetizers than Polynesian. We decided to share an order of the mahi mahi tacos, Paddy had a beer and I ordered the Taki Tiki Torch drink, which was Strawberry Stoli vodka muddled with lime and lemon juice, strawberry puree, and jalapeno. It was sufficiently tasty, but for $8.00 I expected at least a slight buzz. I don’t think there was a lot of alcohol in it.

A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
Taki Tiki Torch, A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA

The mahi mahi tacos were average, the fish was cooked okay and they were tasty. Not tacos I would make a point to come here for, but alright. The tiki decor was fun, a lot of nautical decor and Mexican beer advertisements. Overall, however, it wasn’t my favorite tiki bar. I think we’ll skip it next time we come to Edmonds.

A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA

After lunch we poked around in a few of the shops in the main part of town. Our favorite gift shop that we found was Treasures & Teas, which had a lot of fun nautical gifts including a few tiki  items. If you’re into nautical/beach-theme decor, pirates, mermaids, or anything related to the sea for your house (or are looking for a gift for someone who is), this is a good place to shop.

We went back to the Best Western at 3:00 to get ready for the wedding. Our room was on the ground floor, not the best room in the hotel but nice enough. The bed was comfy. There was complimentary hot breakfast available in the morning, and a small outdoor pool and jacuzzi that we didn’t have time to make use of.

Best Western Edmonds
Our room at the Best Western Edmonds

The wedding at the Edmonds Yacht club next to the harbor was beautiful, and we had a lot of fun.

All dolled up for a wedding at the Edmonds Yacht Club
All dolled up for a wedding at the Edmonds Yacht Club

A group of us ended up at the Channel Marker pub after the reception for a night cap, a divey little spot in a strip-mall type building in between the Yacht Club and the Best Western. We ordered some jo-jos and tater tots to soak up the booze, had some last drinks and then called it a night around 1:00 AM.

 

Day 2:

The next morning, we met our friends Heather and Stephen for dim sum at T&T Seafood on Highway 99. Downtown Edmonds doesn’t have a lot of cultural diversity, but there is cultural diversity closer to and on Highway 99.

T&T Seafood is one of the best spots for dim sum north of Seattle. It is authentic and delicious, and very affordable, not to mention GREAT hangover food. Tons of dumplings, sweet and savory pastries, congee, chicken feet, sticky rice with pork in tea leaves, sauteed veggies and noodles, and various dessert items such as sesame mochi with red bean paste.

If you’ve never been to dim sum before, it’s fun. You sit at a table with a card, and servers come around with carts of various small plates and you can choose what you want off of the cart. There is usually a steamed dumpling cart, a fried dumpling cart, and a baked dumpling/pastry cart. There was also a congee (Chinese savory rice porridge) cart coming around here as well.

The server marks the plates you take on your card, and you pay at the cashier at the end. Everything on the card is in Chinese, and we have no idea what the prices are, but we always seem to leave stuffed for under $30 for the two of us.

There are a few Asian markets nearby as well, the largest of which is Ranch 99. It’s not as good as Uwajimaya in Seattle’s International District, but it has most of the same types of foods.

Dim Sum at T&T Seafood in Edmonds
Dim Sum at T&T Seafood in Edmonds
Dim Sum at T&T Seafood in Edmonds
Dim Sum at T&T Seafood in Edmonds

I don’t think we would have ever stayed in Edmonds had it not been for our friends’ wedding, but it was fun to be tourists for a weekend and Paddy had a good time reminiscing about his childhood and seeing how things in the town have changed. It’s a cute little town, and from a tourist prospective it seems like a good home base/transit point to the Olympic Peninsula by ferry, as well as Seattle, and cities north all the way to Vancouver BC by train.

Walla Walla, WA 2016: Sweet Onions and Wine

Walla Walla, Washington 2016: A quick girls’ weekend trip to Walla Walla during their annual Sweet Onion festival. Onions, great food, and wine, wine, and more wine…

 

I’d never been to Walla Walla, WA, or knew much about Walla Walla other than that it was in Eastern Washington, contained the state penitentiary, and was the home of the infamous Walla Walla sweet yellow onion.

My friend and I read that there was an annual Sweet Onion Festival every year in June, and we decided this year we’d check it out. In addition to onions, we assumed we’d be guaranteed sunshine on the east side of the Cascade Mountains (sunshine is not as frequent in Seattle in June), and we’d heard there was lots of great wine in the area and were hoping to do some wine tasting. Onions, sunshine, and wine–(three great tastes that go great together?) A girls’ trip seemed in order.

Day 1:

We left cold, rainy, Seattle at 6:30 AM to get a head start on the long drive. We were all wearing sundresses and tank tops, expecting gorgeous rays of 75 degree summer sun to blind us at any moment as we went over Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades.

To our disappointment, the rain and 56 degree temperatures continued to follow us from Seattle. Confident that the 75 degree sunshine that the weather report promised us would appear any moment, we cranked up some disco on the stereo and sallied forth to wine and onion country.

We ran into a little snag in our route with an accident fully blocking both lanes of a highway, and had to detour which turned our 4.5 hour drive into a 5 hour drive, but it wasn’t too bad. We had snacks. We arrived in Walla Walla at 11:30 AM, and checked into the Motel 6.

Motel 6 Walla Walla
Motel 6 Walla Walla

The Motel 6 was clean, basic, and the beds were comfy. A fridge was included, which we utilized. There was a laughably small pool off of the parking lot, and a convenience store next door. The best thing about the Motel 6 however, was the location. It was right in downtown Walla Walla and in walking distance to everywhere.

**Note: Hotel reservations recommended in advance for the Onion Festival weekend.

Unfortunately, it was still rainy and not any warmer than when we left Seattle. Gretchen (who is always prepared) had brought a couple umbrellas which helped tremendously as we walked around town. We were hungry, so we scouted out somewhere for lunch.

We didn’t scout very long. Despite the umbrellas, we were unprepared in our cardigan sweaters and sundresses for rain and the light wind that seemed to be picking up. We settled on the first place that looked good, which was Wingman Birdz & Brewz.

Wingman Birdz & Brewz, Walla Walla
Wingman Birdz & Brewz, Walla Walla

The food was good and the service was friendly. I had the “Second Runner-Up Grilled Cheese” which was grilled cheese on brioche with three kinds of cheese, tomato, bacon, and avocado. It was delicious, albiet a little pricey at $12.00 for grilled cheese.

Second Runner-Up Grilled Cheese at Wingman Birdz & Brew Walla Walla
Second Runner-Up Grilled Cheese at Wingman Birdz & Brew Walla Walla

The rain and wind still weren’t letting up after lunch, so we ducked into the little Macy’s on Main Street in hopes of finding raincoats on sale. We were in luck, and found a raincoat and a hooded sweatshirt for $15 -$20 each in the deep discount section. Macy’s is a pricey store, but when they have a sale, they have a SALE.

The locals kept remarking on how unusual the weather was, and lamenting about the poor Onion Festival that was getting rained out. We passed the small corridor of vendor tents comprising the festival on our walk, but just didn’t feel like being in the rain. It didn’t look like we were the only ones, there weren’t a lot of people milling around at the festival.

We explored a couple antique shops, and a great little soap and body care shop on Main Street called Midnight Oil Soap and Apothecary. The very creative and fun soaps and personal care products are all made by the owner Kim on her farm outside of town, many made from goat milk from her own goats. I was enticed by some glittery cucumber melon body butter, which I regretted not purchasing then as we discovered the next day that she was closed on Sundays. Fortunately, she sells her products online as well. If you’re looking for a gift for someone, this is a great place to shop.

midnight oil wine soap walla walla
Image from http://midnight-oil-soap-apothecaary.myshopify.com/
The Hot Poop record store, Walla Walla
The Hot Poop record store, Walla Walla

The rain still wasn’t letting up, (despite the weather reports on our phones still proclaiming 73 and sunny weather for the afternoon) so we decided it was time to start wine tasting. We ducked into the first tasting room we encountered, which was the Mark Ryan Winery.

Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla

We tasted several wines, some with names that led me to believe that Mr. Ryan is an avid Pearl Jam fan (“Crazy Mary” and “The Dissident” for example). The tasting room had nice atmosphere and a very friendly host who came around to pour the wines for us while we sat by the window. We did find the $10 tasting fee to be a little steep here, but it is waived if you buy a bottle.

Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla

The Dissident was our favorite wine that we tasted, a hearty red blend of cabernet, cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot.

Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla

Walla Walla has 25+ tasting rooms in the downtown area, which is actually a little overwhelming. We decided to ask our friendly host where she recommended we head to next, and she recommended the Rotie Cellars tasting room across the street.

The Rotie Cellars tasting room felt like a law office waiting room, pretty bland with not much character. The wines were quite the opposite, however. We loved them all, but the Southern White was my favorite. A very summery, fruity and refreshing wine for a hot summer day. The name and flavor made me want to go sit on a big porch in Georgia, eating peaches and drinking this wine on a hot, sticky, southern summer night.

There weren’t a lot of wines to taste (I think we tasted 4?) but they were all very nice. Tasting fee was $5.00.

Rotie Winery tasting room Walla Walla
Rotie Winery tasting room Walla Walla

We asked our friendly wine server at Rotie where he recommended going next, and he directed us over to 2nd Avenue just off of Main Street where there were a few of his favorites.

We found Spring Valley Vineyard, which our Rotie server highly recommended. This tasting room proved to be our favorite one hands down.

Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla

In addition to fabulous wines, Spring Valley is a family run vineyard with a lot of family history going back to the 1890’s. The service was excellent, with a dose of the family history to go along with it. I don’t know what the tasting fee was because we all bought wine here (it was waived with purchase, whatever it was), but if it is $10.00 it is worth it. They invite you to try all six of their wines, each one proudly named after a member of their family. You can taste the love in each sip.

In addition to delicious wine and excellent hospitality, we were served a chocolate truffle with our last wine–a Syrah named Nina Lee. The truffle was infused with the Nina Lee Syrah as well. That is the wine I went home with, along with a little two pack of the truffles to share with Paddy later.

Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Wine tasting at Spring Valley tasting room, Walla Walla
Wine tasting at Spring Valley tasting room, Walla Walla

When we left Spring Valley, we were significantly buzzed but couldn’t resist one more tasting room next door at Maison Bleue, another family-run winery with extensive vineyards in the Walla Walla area and two in the Columbia Valley.

Maison Bleue Winery Walla Walla
Maison Bleue Winery Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla

At Maison Bleue we tasted four reds and two whites, including two different Chardonnays. The first Chardonnay was aged in stainless steel, the second was aged in a traditional oak barrel. I’m not a fan of oakey Chardonnay, but the stainless steel aged chardonnay was very nice. The Syrah was my favorite red, but I’m a little partial to Syrah.

When we left Maison Bleue– low and behold–the sun was finally out. A little drunk, we walked back to the hotel to lay in the sun near the tiny parking lot swimming pool. One of us may or may not have fallen into the pool fully clothed. The sun was nice. Eventually we were joined by children doing cannonballs, so we retired to the room to take naps before dinner.

Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla
Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla
Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla
Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla

 

For dinner we had made an 8:00 PM reservation at The Ox & Cart at the recommendation of the wonderful people at Spring Valley Winery. We’d had visions of enjoying more lovely Walla Walla wine with a nice dinner, but we were a bit wined out. The waitress gave me a funny look when I ordered a bloody mary, and asked if I had an evening hangover. Yes, something like that. The bloody mary was excellent–it came with house pickled pearl onions.

Ox & Cart, Walla Walla
Ox & Cart, Walla Walla
Ox & Cart, Walla Walla
Ox & Cart, Walla Walla

We were hoping that there might be a special dish for the onion festival highlighting the Walla Walla sweet onion, but it didn’t seem that many restaurants were on board with that. Nonetheless, The Ox & Cart was a great choice for dinner. It is part of the new farm-to-table style of cuisine focusing on regional organically grown food.

Gretchen and Kari shared the Amberjack Crudo appetizer, which they said was outstanding. I felt like I needed some fresh veggies in my life, so I ordered the Spring’s Bounty Salad as a starter, a fresh mix of asparagus tips, fava beans, cucumbers, and other veggies with green garlic and a champagne vinaigrette. It was just what I needed.

Spring's Bounty Salad, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Spring’s Bounty Salad, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Amberjack Crudo,Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Amberjack Crudo,Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla

For an entree I had the Oregon Sole  with crispy potato cake and sauteed spinach, which I didn’t expect to be battered and fried but it was great regardless. I found it a tiny bit under-seasoned and could have used a bit of salt to jazz it up, but salt wasn’t provided on the table.

Gretchen had the Buttermilk Fried Chicken with waffles, which she said was amazing. Kari had the Study in Foraged Mushrooms with charbroiled morels and porcini mushrooms, asparagus and wheat berries.

Oregon Sole, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Oregon Sole, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffles, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffles, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla

All the food tasted extremely fresh and a lot of care was put into each dish. If I go back I may be tempted to bring some sea salt along in my purse though.

After dinner it was about 10:00, and we were tired but curious to see what kind of Walla Walla nightlife was going down. We did not find much. We found two bars that had some action–one was very crowded and the other had some kind of punk band all ages show going on. We weren’t feeling it for either of those scenes.

There was also a country/classic rock band playing the remnants of the little Onion Festival on Main Street, to a crowd of about 20. It was cute.

We were hoping to find a bar to have a quiet drink in, but there wasn’t much of any place that we saw to have a quiet drink in open at 11:00 PM. We were tired from an early morning and all that day drinking, so we decided to turn in for the night.

Walla Walla Onion Festival nightlife
Walla Walla Onion Festival nightlife

 

Day 2:

We woke up to the Eastern Washington summer sun shining full force outside. We checked out of the hotel and walked into town in search of sustenance.

We walked by Bacon and Eggs, which must be awesome because it was packed with a line out the door. We weren’t in the mood for a long wait, and decided on the Olive Marketplace on Main Street. There was no wait, and had shady tables outside on the sidewalk. Their menu was amazing. I wanted everything, it was hard to decide. Breakfast flatbread pizza with pork belly and farm fresh egg? Chevre asparagus strata? Maple braised pork belly with sweet potato hash? It was all too much. And that doesn’t even cover their baked goods, which were completely out of control.

Kari had a fig danish and the vegetable benedict with roasted veggies, Gretchen had the baked brioche french toast with pink lady apples and fresh berries, and I had the smoked salmon benedict with lox and poached eggs on a home baked biscuit with spinach. It was all outstanding.

Smoked Salmon Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla
Smoked Salmon Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla Walla
Vegetable Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla Walla
Vegetable Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla Walla
Baked Brioche French Toast, Olive Marketplace, Walla
Baked Brioche French Toast, Olive Marketplace, Walla

I got a peek into the kitchen from the expansive dining area and there were several huge, delicious looking layer cakes standing on the kitchen island that were waiting for something.

You order at the counter, and food and coffee are brought out to you when they are ready. The prices were very reasonable. They also had a large display case of deli items such as olives and fancy cheeses ready for someone’s picnic. Their lunch menu looked amazing as well. I will definitely be coming back here next time I make it to Walla Walla.

Olive Marketplace, Walla
Olive Marketplace, Walla
Olive Marketplace, Walla
Olive Marketplace, Walla

After breakfast, we decided to check out the Sweet Onion Festival on Main Street. It was mostly two blocks of vendors lining the street, all selling arts, handicrafts, and local gourmet foods. I bought some organic garlic and some Walla Walla sweet onion mustard.

Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival

There were also some good photo opportunities:

Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival

We walked around the main part of town a little longer, visiting another great antique store called Tra Vigne on Main Street that had all kinds of treasures. Gretchen found a pie safe that she was in love with but was too big to transport back in her car. However, we found out that the owner does trips to Seattle and will deliver for a very reasonable price.

We made one last stop at Bright’s Candies to pick up some jelly beans for Kari’s kids before we headed home. They sell all kinds of classic candy as well as ice cream and house-made chocolates.

Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla

The drive back to Seattle took about 5 hours again, due to a slight slow-down on I-90 due to a couple of accidents. The long drive was worth it though, it was a short but very fun weekend.

I liked Walla Walla more than I thought I would, and I would absolutely visit Walla Walla again. The only large drawback is the long drive from Seattle. While the Sweet Onion Festival was cute, it turned out not to be the main draw. The main draw to Walla Walla these days is wine. It was the perfect place to sample some of the great wine that Washington State has to offer, with many vineyards you can drive to outside of town and tour, and a plethora of tasting rooms in the downtown area that don’t require driving (always something we look for with wine tasting). In addition, there seemed to be a number of great restaurants to compliment all that great wine, something that Paddy and I have had trouble finding on some of our other Washington wine tasting adventures.

I am looking forward to bringing Paddy back to Walla Walla in the future, and staying a bit longer than one night to see more of the area.

Wine Tasting Tips for Beginners

Wine tasting tips for beginners: what to expect and how to have a great wine tasting adventure

 

Paddy and I love wine. We also love food, and the two go hand in hand. We are lucky to live in one of the top wine producing states in the US, Washington State. Wine tourism has boomed in Washington over the last 20 years, with new wineries and vineyards springing up all over the state. The highest concentration of Washington wineries are on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, and there are so many to choose from that it can be quite overwhelming. Wine tasting is one of our favorite tourism activities in our home state, and we’ve been on several wine tasting adventures.

We know a considerable amount about wine, but not a ton. We are by no means experts and there is A LOT to learn. We really enjoy drinking wine and pairing wine with food, but we don’t always know what we’re doing.

Here are some wine tasting tips for beginners based on our experiences:

1. You don’t have to know anything about wine

If you don’t know anything about wine, except that you kind of like it and are curious to know more, wine tasting is the best way to learn. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t feel like a failure if you can’t taste all the “notes of fig and honeysuckle” like the wine description says you should. It can take a while to develop your palate. Concentrate on finding out what you like and don’t like in a wine–reds or whites, sweet or dry, fruity or spicy, light or robust and smoky. Remember the types of the wines that you liked, and remember that not all types of wines are created equal. Some wineries might make a chardonnay that you love, while others may have ones that you aren’t so into. Just taste and learn. Don’t be afraid to ask the winery questions.

2. Wine tasting is a daytime activity

Wine tasting rooms are typically open between noon and 5:00 PM, with some opening as early as 10:00 AM and some closing as early as 4:00 PM. It’s generally not an activity to do after dinner, and will monopolize your whole afternoon, so don’t have any other plans that day unless they are in the morning. Also, you may end up needing a nap before dinner after all that wine…

3. You will most likely get a little drunk, so have a safe transportation plan

One of the downsides about wine tasting is that a lot of areas have wineries that you have to drive to. Since drinking and driving is not a good idea, you have several options to address this common conundrum:

  1. Have a designated driver–your DD can spit the wine out into the receptacle at the wine counter after tasting, or opt out of tasting altogether.
  2. Join a wine tasting tour or hire a driver. Many of these can be expensive or book out far in advance, so plan accordingly. It is nice to have a driver.
  3. Stay in a town with wine tasting rooms in walking distance from your hotel
  4. Drive to only one or two wineries, and/or have a picnic at one of them after tasting while you sober up. Many wineries are happy to let you sit out and eat some snacks while you sip. A lot of them don’t have food licenses so they have no problem with you bringing your own.

Our plan of attack is usually a combo of suggestions 4 and 5. We like to find a hotel in walking distance from tasting rooms, but drive to a couple in the beginning before we get buzzed to see some of the pretty vineyards and grapes. Some good Washington towns with ample tasting rooms in walking distance from downtown lodging are Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Prosser, and Walla Walla.

wine tasting tips
Getting out of town and seeing the grapes growing in the vineyards is a great part of the experience. Just be sure to be safe if you are driving.

4. Tasting rooms generally have fees

Wine tasting generally isn’t free. Some wineries don’t charge fees, but most of the time you should expect to pay about $5-$10 per person at each winery to taste between 4-6 wines. Most will waive the fee if you buy a bottle, however. The winery wants to sell you wine, and if you plan on investing in a nice bottle, it’s great to sample beforehand. Most places take cards, but having cash is easier if you don’t plan on buying many bottles.

Wine tasting tips

5. Take your time and experience each wine

Don’t just gulp it down. Take some time to sniff each wine, and swirl the wine around in the glass to oxidize the wine and release the flavor. Think about what you smell and then how the wine tastes at first, while you swirl it around in your mouth, and how it finishes when you swallow it. Think about what kind of food would pair well with it (steak? chocolate? fish?) It might take some time to develop your palate and really be able to differentiate all the complex flavors each wine has, but taking your time is the way to learn.

wine tasting tips

6. You are really only going to make it to four or five wineries in a day

When we first started wine tasting, we thought we’d be able to go to a ton of tasting rooms in one day but each time we find that we only end up getting to four or five. Wine tasting takes more time than you think it does. You might have to wait your turn at the pour counter, you may get into a lively conversation with your server (extra tip–your time with your wine server is a great opportunity to find out where the best place for dinner is that evening or any other local tips about the area), and tasting each wine takes time and shouldn’t be rushed if possible. Also, there is a strong possibility that you may be drunk after five wineries, and ready for a nap. We once went to a winery that had us taste all 12 of their wines. We were a little loopy at the end of that day.

Research the ones you think you might want to visit, or just ask a local which ones they like best and narrow it down from there.

wine tasting tips
Vineyard in Rattlesnake Hills, WA

7. If venturing out to vineyards out of town, pack a picnic

When Paddy and I first went on our first wine tasting adventure around Wenatchee and Leavenworth, we got hungry. I think I may have said something like, “I could eat the shit out of some brie right now” on the drive back to Leavenworth. But wineries generally don’t have food licenses and there was no great cheese and snacks around to go with all that good wine.

Many wineries that don’t sell food are perfectly fine if you bring a little picnic. Pack some fruit, cheese, salami, crackers, chocolate, or whatever you want. You may want to purchase a glass of wine as a courtesy to go with your picnic if the winery allows you to sit and enjoy their vineyard.

wine tasting tips
Wine tasting in Chelan, WA

 

Wine tasting does not have to be as pretentious as some people make it out to be. Everyone who likes wine had to start learning about it somewhere. You also might find out that wine just isn’t your thing. Either way, it’s fun to learn and try new things, and a great way to spend a day with friends or a partner.

Lunar New Year in Seattle’s International District

Lunar New Year in Seattle’s International District: dragon and lion dances, martial arts performances, firecrackers, and a chance to sample a lot of great food on the $3 food walk

 

Every year, Seattle celebrates the Asian Lunar New Year that is widely celebrated across Asia. Many people refer to it as Chinese New Year, but many other Asian countries besides China celebrate it. The Lunar New Year is based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar, which is an astrological calendar revolving the month beginnings and endings around the cycles of the moon.

This year I am a liason for a Chinese exchange student through AFS, and have been learning a bit more about Chinese culture. We never really knew much about the Lunar New Year festivities or even that there was much of a celebration in Seattle at all, but this year we read up on it and decided to check it out.

Seattle’s “Chinatown” is pretty small compared to most large cities’ Chinatowns. It is officially called the International District, as the neighborhood includes Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Filipino, Japanese, and other international restaurants and shops.

seattle chinatown international district lunar new year
Seattle’s Chinatown and International District

seattle chinatown international district lunar new year

We read up on the Seattle Chinatown International District website that the event schedule was from 11 AM to 3 PM on Saturday February 13th. The lunar New Year is never on the same day, as it coincides with the cycle of the new moon. It is usually sometime in late January to mid February.

We arrived in the International District at 10:30, and everything was just getting set up. Crowds were gathering around the stage at Hing Hay Park on S King Street. Paddy hadn’t eaten breakfast and was starving, so we ducked into busy Mike’s Noodle House which was open serving noodle soup and congee (Chinese savory breakfast rice porridge) and he ordered some soup. Most everything on the menu was between $6-$8, and he said the soup was great. Note: Mike’s Noodle House is cash only.

Paddy wasn’t quite finished with his soup when we heard drums and cymbals across the street, signaling that the the lion and dragon dances were starting at Hing Hay Park. He told me to go ahead and he’d catch up with me.

I was able to catch a dragon dance circling the crowd before trying to squeeze my way in for the lion dances.

Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year in Seattle
Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year in Seattle
Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year in Seattle
Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year in Seattle

The crowd was tightly packed, but I caught a bit of the first round of lion dances as I slowly squeezed my way forward.

Hing Hay Park Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Hing Hay Park Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dances Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dances at Hing Hay Park

The performance was put on by a local martial arts troupe, who also put on a martial arts performance after the lion dances. There were people of all ages performing and it was pretty impressive.

Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration

This tough little guy was my favorite:

Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration

Paddy found me in the crowd during the martial arts performances, and we both had a better view finally for the next lion dance, which was pretty fantastic.

It takes two people to comprise the lion, one person to be the back legs and one to be the front legs and operate the head, which has blinking eyes and an opening and closing mouth. It was really amazing how much they could make the lion appear like an excited kitty cat dancing and prancing around. Most impressive was when the person in the back lifted the front person to make the lion rear up or stand up.

Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration

At the end of the dance the lion “drank wine” out of a large gold container and became drunk, staggering about. It was entertaining.

Once the lion dance was over we picked up a map from the information booth of the $3 food walk. The food walk is a chance to walk around the neighborhood and sample a small portion of a dish from quite a few participating restaurants. It is a great way to get to know the food in the area without committing to one particular restaurant or meal.  There was also a tear off “passport” section of our food walk map that we could get stamped and fill out to enter to win a trip from Delta Airlines at the end.

Seattle Lunar New Year Food Walk
Seattle Lunar New Year Food Walk

**Note: Everything is cash only for the food walk, and there are not a lot of ATMs in the International District. Bring cash, or you can find a couple ATMs near/in Uwajimaya shopping center or at the Bank of America on 6th and Jackson.

We looked at our map and decided to start with the dim sum sampler at Dim Sum King on Jackson Street. The line was long but moved quickly as a lady at a table collected money, another stamped food walk cards, and a third filled the table with dim sum samplers as fast as they were being taken.

We got a sampler with a custard bun, a coconut bun, and two pot stickers. The pot stickers were average, but the pastries were phenomenal. My favorite was the coconut bun, which had a buttery sweet coconut paste on the inside. The custard bun was creamy with a nice crust. We will be back to this place for sure.

lunar new year seattle Coconut bun and custard bun at Dim Sum King
Coconut bun and custard bun at Dim Sum King

Next stop was Asia Bar-B-Que on Jackson for some honey pork and Singapore noodles. The Singapore noodles were good but a little bland, but the honey pork was moist, tender, and flavorful. The two together were a great combo.

lunar new year seattle asia bbq
Asia BBQ on Jackson St
lunar new year seattle food walk
Singapore noodles and honey pork from Asia Bar-B-Que on Jackson Street

We didn’t want to limit ourselves to Chinese food on the food walk, so we walked a few blocks further east on Jackson Street to Than Vi to sample some Vietnamese cuisine. We sampled their fried chicken wings with Sriracha, which were really good and so fresh from the fryer that we had to wait a bit to eat them because they were so hot.

Near Than Vi we saw another lion dance going on on the side of the street, and in a parking lot a block up the hill on Jackson we could hear a massive amount of firecrackers going off for about ten solid minutes.

lion dances seattle lunar new year

lion dances seattle lunar new year
Lion dances on the street

It was about 1:00 PM and we were starting to lose steam, so we headed back to Uwajimaya to sample the Japanese Takoyaki at Tako Kyuuban Takoyaki. Takoyaki is one of my new favorite things. It is octopus in dough fried in special fryers that are full of round indents. The cook pours the takoyaki batter into the fryer, and then when the takoyakis are just about cooked on the bottom, they are transferred one by one to the other identical side of the fryer with picks and turned and shaped with the picks while cooking until they are delicious little fried balls of awesomeness. They are then taken out of the fryer and squirted with a couple kinds of sauces, smoked dried bonito fish, and dried seaweed. Here is a diagram from their website:

takoyaki
Image from http://takokyuuban.com/
seattle lunar new year takoyaki food walk
Cooking takoyaki
seattle lunar new year food walk
Takoyaki

We decided to do one more food walk sample before we headed home, and Paddy wanted to end with something sweet. In the same Uwajimaya food court as the takoyaki stand was UniCone Crepes, also participating in the $3 food walk with strawberry banana crepes. They were tasty.

We dropped our stamped food walk passport off at the info booth to enter the Delta Airlines contest, and called it a day. That evening we went to our friends’ annual Chinese New Year party complete with karaoke.

Seattle’s Lunar New Year celebration was a great day, and we can’t wait to go back to some of the restaurants and have some full meals. There is a lot of great authentic food in the International District and the Lunar New Year celebration is a perfect opportunity to sample it and learn a bit about Asian cultures.

Happy New year!

seattle lunar new year
Paddy the karaoke rockstar