Tag Archives: summer

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.

 

Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Pagosa Springs, Colorado: A one-night stop in Pagosa Springs, Colorado on a week-long road trip: Hot springs and great local craft beer

 

Excerpt from original post Summer Road Trip 2016: Colorado and Utah. Read about the rest of our road trip here.

 

We left Fort Collins, Colorado at 7:00 AM to begin our trip to Pagosa Springs, our first stop on a week-long road trip around Colorado and Utah. Pagosa Springs is located in the southern part of Colorado, which was about a 5 hour drive from Denver.

It was a long drive from Fort Collins, but it was a beautiful drive. As soon as we passed Denver, we began an ascent into the Rocky Mountains, heading south.

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After four hours, we were ready for a lunch stop. We stopped in the tiny town of Saguache at the Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery.

Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache Colorado
Saguache main street, Colorado
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery

The 4th Street Diner and Bakery was a great place to stop for lunch. Tiny and eclectic, with mis-matched tables and chairs and a wood stove for cold winter days, it was homey and welcoming. Paddy had a burger with organic beef and I had a chicken quesadilla. There were a lot of tempting pies in the case at the counter, but we decided to pass and get back on the road.

We made a final stop at Wolf Creek Pass to get a photo at the view point there. The elevation was 10,856 ft, and it made me so light-headed that I stumbled a bit getting out of the car. It was a gorgeous view.

Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado
Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado

We made it to Pagosa Springs around 3:00 PM and checked into the Healing Waters Resort and Spa. It wasn’t really a resort, more of a budget hotel with a hot springs pool, steam room and sauna. It was clean and comfortable, and while I’m sure their pool was nice we were actually staying there because it was an affordable option next to the main hot springs.

Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs
Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs

The small town of Pagosa Springs is centered around the developed hot springs resort on the river, with several hot springs pools at various temperatures. They are open until 11:00 PM daily, so we planned on spending the evening soaking our troubles away.

Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado

We walked through the town and poked about in a few shops. We eventually made it up the main street to Riff Raff Brewing, and decided to relax and sample the local beer.

Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Sampler at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado: Skallywag English Pale, Ele Duende Green Chili, Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The beer at Riff Raff was tasty and diverse. I did a sampler with the English Pale, the El Duende Green Chili Ale, the Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter. The El Duende was tasty but I expected a bit more green chili flavor. The Skallywag English Pale and the Plebian Porter were my two favorites. The Stepchild Red was a bit too hoppy for me, I’m not a huge fan of hoppy beers.

Pagosa Springs is at a fairly high elevation at just over 7,000 ft (pretty high-especially for us sea-level dwellers). Alcohol effects everyone a bit more at high elevations, and after the beer sampler I was quite buzzed. We stayed for dinner, and the food was excellent. Paddy tried the yak burger, which he really enjoyed. Riff Raff makes their own pickles, which were delicious.

Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Smokey the Chicken Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Yakkity-Yak Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

After dinner, we were ready for the hot springs. It was $30 per person for admittance, which was a little expensive but included a towel and a locker. They have an adults-only terrace with drink service which was very tempting but would have been $23 extra dollars each just to be able to use it. We couldn’t justify that kind of price. I tried to bargain with the guy at the counter, it being a Tuesday evening and all, but no dice.

The hot springs had a large pool (mostly used by children and families), and a series of small pools at a range of different temperatures from 92 to 111 degrees Fahrenheit. We found that we were most comfortable between 90 to 100 degrees. I tried to go in the Paradise pool at 109 degrees, but it was so painfully hot that I didn’t get past ankle deep.

Our favorite pools were Boulder, Aspen, and Serendipity. Serendipity had a waterfall and a good overlook for the river and the rest of the resort. The waterfall was a good shoulder massage. The adults only terrace didn’t seem like such a big deal, as all the kids seemed to be in the big pool and not the regular hot spring tubs. We were glad we hadn’t shelled out an extra $46.00.

Pagosa Hot Springs Colorado road trip
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado

There was a Canteen in the center of the pool complex where you could buy drinks and snacks, including beer and wine. We only got one drink each, we figured that high elevation and hot springs and alcohol probably weren’t a great combo. Drinks weren’t too overpriced.

We stayed and soaked our sore muscles until the stars came out. We were able to find a quiet pool that wasn’t too hot with just a couple other people in it. Most of the kids were up at the big pool so we were able to enjoy the stars and the moon without much disruption.

We would recommend Pagosa Springs as an overnight stop on a road trip. I’m sure it is great in the winter as well. There isn’t a whole lot to do in the town itself, but Mesa Verde National Park (our next destination) is pretty close by. This would be a great town to use as a base for exploring Mesa Verde, which would take two days to fully explore if you want to hike to multiple cliff dwellings. When you come back in the evening, you can soak your sore hiking muscles in the hot springs.

Read about the rest of our adventure in Colorado and Utah here

 

Culinary Adventures: Easy Pineapple Cupcakes with Spicy Coconut Topping

Culinary Adventures: Easy Pineapple Cupcakes with Spicy Coconut Topping

 

One Saturday, my attempt at a Pinterest cupcake recipe failed miserably (who writes a recipe with all the dry ingredients in a recipe in cups except for the flour anyway?).  I needed cupcakes to bring to a party that I was heading to and was running out of time.

Looking at what I had in my pantry to work with, I found a Pillsbury yellow butter cake mix and some pineapple juice. It’s just not my style to bring boring, run-of-the-mill vanilla cupcakes to a party, so I took a small yet calculated risk–I substituted the pineapple juice for water.

For the frosting, I took a bit more of a creative license. The basis of every buttercream frosting is about a half cup of butter (softened), and about 3 cups of powdered sugar, and about 1/4 cup of a liquid. These ingredients can be adjusted to create the right consistency.

I used pineapple juice as the liquid in the frosting, along with a dash of salt, about 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper.

Finally, for the topping: I had this:

Indonesian fried spicy coconut
Indonesian fried spicy coconut

I have a habit of going to the local Asian markets and buying things I’ve never heard of with absolutely no plan for its use. A while back I’d found this little bag of Serungdeng Indonesian fried spicy desiccated coconut. It enticed me, and I had to have it. I also had no idea what I was going to do with it. I decided that today was the day to give it a shot.

I opened it and tasted. It was sweet, but also savory and really spicy. I thought it might be a bit too savory to use as a cupcake topping by itself, so I toasted some sweetened shredded coconut and mixed it together with some of the Indonesian spicy coconut.

When I frosted my pineapple cupcakes and added the topping, the result was fantastic.

Pineapple cupcakes with spicy coconut topping
Pineapple cupcakes with spicy coconut topping

Easy Pineapple Cupcakes with Spicy Coconut Topping:

Cupcakes:

1 box yellow butter cake cake mix

3 eggs

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter (softened)

1 cup pineapple juice

Directions:

Make cupcakes according to directions on the box, substituting pineapple juice for the water.

 

Frosting:

 

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter (softened)

3 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup pineapple juice

dash of salt

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Mix ingredients together with an electric mixer, adjusting by adding more of any ingredient to desired consistency and taste.

Topping:

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut–toasted

3 tbsp Indonesian spicy desiccated coconut

Directions: mix the sweetened toasted coconut with the spicy Indonesian coconut in a bowl. Adjust ratios to desired taste. Sprinkle/spoon onto freshly frosted pineapple cupcakes.

Summer Road Trip 2016: Colorado and Utah

Our end of summer one-week road trip around Colorado and Utah: Rocky Mountains, hot springs, ancient Native American ruins, canyons and arches.

 

Our week-long road trip adventure through Colorado and Utah began as a plan to visit some of my family in Fort Collins, Colorado over Labor Day Weekend. Neither of us had ever been to Colorado, so we decided to rent a car and make a road trip out of it the week following.

In addition to Colorado, we decided to incorporate Utah into our road trip as well. When I graduated college back in 2004, one of my best friends and I went on a three-week road trip around Southwest USA. It was an amazing trip, and two of the places that I really wanted to go back to with Paddy were Arches National Park in Utah and Monument Valley in Utah/Arizona.

Days 1-3:

We arrived in Denver mid-morning on Saturday, an easy two and a half our flight from Seattle. We had reserved a car with Enterprise through Kayak.com, which we were able to pick up and return back to the airport. We chose Enterprise over the slightly less expensive Budget car rental because Enterprise does not charge for an extra driver if the two drivers are married. Budget wanted to charge an additional $20.00 per day if we both wanted to be drivers.

**Note: Always reserve a rental car ahead of time, especially on busy holiday weekends. I saw a gentleman turned away at the counter at Enterprise, as they weren’t accepting walk-ins for the holiday weekend. In addition, you often get a better rate if you reserve far in advance.

My parents joined us for the weekend as well, and the first three days were mostly spent visiting with my family. Paddy and I were staying with my cousin and her fiance in Severance, CO just outside of Fort Collins.

Our biggest adventure on Saturday was eating Rocky Mountain oysters with my cousin at Bruce’s Bar in Severance. Bruce’s is known for its “oysters,” and their sampler platter included buffalo, beef, and lamb oysters, cut in strips, breaded and deep-fried. They are all served with cocktail sauce.

Paddy and I are adventurous eaters, and they didn’t look that intimidating, so we dove right in.

Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce's Bar in Severance, CO: Buffalo, lamb, and beef
Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce’s Bar in Severance, CO: Buffalo, lamb, and beef
Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce's Bar in Severance, CO
Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce’s Bar in Severance, CO

The lamb oysters were our favorite. I didn’t try the beef ones because I don’t like beef, but Paddy said those were his least favorite as they were a bit tough. I liked the lamb ones. They kind of tasted like chicken nuggets.

 

On Sunday Paddy, my Mom, and I took a drive up to Estes Park in hopes of visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park and the Stanley Hotel. It was a really pretty drive into the Rocky Mountains, and only an hour long road trip to get to Estes Park from Fort Collins.

Road to Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains
Road to Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains

We were hungry when we arrived in Estes Park, so we had lunch at a mediocre Mexican restaurant off the highway and then headed to the Stanley Hotel.

The Stanley Hotel gets its fame by being the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining in 1977. He and his wife stayed there for a night in room 217. They were the only guests at the hotel that night, as the hotel was getting ready to close for the season. Contrary to popular belief, The Shining was not actually filmed at The Stanley Hotel. The exterior aerial shots of the Overlook Hotel in the movie are actually of the Timberline Lodge at Mt Hood, Oregon. The hotel interior shots in the film were a set.

However, the Stanley Hotel was a creepy inspiration to Stephen King, and is rumored to be haunted. You can request the Stephen King suite (room 217) or a “haunted room” if you wish, but the haunted rooms book up fast. Tours of the hotel also book up in advance, as we learned when we arrived.

We were able to walk around the lobby and peek into some of the event rooms on the main floor, and there were some more historical exhibits downstairs. There is a gift shop with souvenirs from The Shining if you feel so inclined. We now own a Redrum coffee mug.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado

It turned out that Labor Day weekend was the wrong weekend to try to go to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Traffic towards the park was bumper to bumper, so we decided to skip it. Before heading back to Fort Collins, we thought we might try to check out the downtown area of Estes Park. This was also a bad idea. There wasn’t one parking space left in town, and traffic was so bad it took us 20 minutes just to get back to the road. It’s a small town. Estes Park looked like a cute town to visit, but I would recommend visiting in the off-season.

rainbow severance co
Rainbow on Paddy’s birthday–good luck?

Sunday was also Paddy’s birthday, so later that evening my cousin took us to downtown Fort Collins to celebrate.

The first place we went was the oldest bar in Fort Collins, The Town Pump. Built in 1909, The Town Pump is small and cozy with a full bar and a good local beer selection (Fort Collins is all about craft beer). It was a good spot to start the night.

The Town Pump bar in Fort Collins
The Town Pump bar in Fort Collins
The Town Pump bar in Fort Collins
The Town Pump bar in Fort Collins

For dinner we headed down the block to The Crown Pub, an English style pub with good food. We shared the Prince Edward Island Mussels to start, and then Paddy had the New York Strip Steak and I had the Relleno Royale chicken burger. Everything was great including the service.

The Relleno Royale burger with a chicken breast at the Crown Pub in Fort Collins
The Relleno Royale burger with a chicken breast at the Crown Pub in Fort Collins
The New York Strip Steak at the Crown Pub in Fort Collins
The New York Strip Steak at the Crown Pub in Fort Collins

We ended the evening at the Trail Head Tavern on W Mountain Ave. My cousin told me it used to be a movie theater a long time ago, where our grandparents would go to the movies together. There is the remnants of an old theater box office to the left of the front door.

The Trail Head had cheap drinks, a college-y vibe (Fort Collins is a college town), and a casual atmosphere.

The Trailhead Tavern in Fort Collins
The Trailhead Tavern in Fort Collins

On Monday morning we had breakfast out at The Egg and I in Windsor near my cousin’s house. For a chain restaurant, the food was surprisingly good and had a lot of healthy options available in addition to classic favorites. I had the Hiker’s Benedict which was delicious.

We spent the rest of the day with my family.

Hiker's Benedict at The Egg and I in Windsor, Colorado
Hiker’s Benedict at The Egg and I in Windsor, Colorado

Day 4: 

On Tuesday morning, we hit the road at 7:00 AM to begin our road trip. Our first destination was Pagosa Springs, in the southern part of Colorado, which was about a 6 hour drive away.

It was a long day of driving, but it was a beautiful drive. As soon as we passed Denver, we began an ascent into the Rocky Mountains, heading south.

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rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-2

After four hours, we were ready for a lunch stop. We stopped in the tiny town of Saguache at the Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery.

Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache Colorado
Saguache main street, Colorado
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery

The 4th Street Diner and Bakery was a great place to stop for lunch. Tiny and eclectic, with mis-matched tables and chairs and a wood stove for cold winter days, it was homey and welcoming. Paddy had a burger with organic beef and I had a chicken quesadilla. There were a lot of tempting pies in the case at the counter, but we decided to pass and get back on the road.

We made a final stop at Wolf Creek Pass to get a photo at the view point there. The elevation was 10,856 ft, and it made me so light-headed that I stumbled a bit getting out of the car. It was a gorgeous view.

Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado
Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado

We made it to Pagosa Springs around 3:00 PM and checked into the Healing Waters Resort and Spa. It wasn’t really a resort, more of a budget hotel with a hot springs pool, steam room and sauna. It was clean and comfortable, and while I’m sure their pool was nice we were actually staying there because it was an affordable option next to the main hot springs.

Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs
Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs

The small town of Pagosa Springs is centered around the developed hot springs resort on the river, with several hot springs pools at various temperatures. They are open until 11:00 PM daily, so we planned on spending the evening soaking our troubles away.

Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado

We walked through the town and poked about in a few shops. We eventually made it up the main street to Riff Raff Brewing, and decided to relax and sample the local beer.

Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Sampler at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado: Skallywag English Pale, Ele Duende Green Chili, Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The beer at Riff Raff was tasty and diverse. I did a sampler with the English Pale, the El Duende Green Chili Ale, the Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter. The El Duende was tasty but I expected a bit more green chili flavor. The Skallywag English Pale and the Plebian Porter were my two favorites. The Stepchild Red was a bit too hoppy for me, I’m not a huge fan of hoppy beers.

Pagosa Springs is at a fairly high elevation (just over 7,000 ft), (pretty high-especially for us sea-level dwellers). Alcohol effects everyone a bit more at high elevations, and after the beer sampler I was quite buzzed. We stayed for dinner, and the food was excellent. Paddy tried the yak burger, which he really enjoyed. Riff Raff makes their own pickles, which were delicious.

Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Smokey the Chicken Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Yakkity-Yak Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

After dinner, we were ready for the hot springs. It was $30 per person for admittance, which was a little expensive but included a towel and a locker. They have an adults-only terrace with drink service which was very tempting but would have been $23 extra dollars each just to be able to use it. We couldn’t justify that kind of price. I tried to bargain with the guy at the counter, it being a Tuesday evening and all, but no dice.

The hot springs had a large pool (mostly used by children and families), and a series of small pools at a range of different temperatures from 92 to 111 degrees Fahrenheit. We found that we were most comfortable between 90 to 100 degrees. I tried to go in the Paradise pool at 109 degrees, but it was so painfully hot that I didn’t get past ankle deep.

Our favorite pools were Boulder, Aspen, and Serendipity. Serendipity had a waterfall and a good overlook for the river and the rest of the resort. The waterfall was a good shoulder massage. The adults only terrace didn’t seem like such a big deal, as all the kids seemed to be in the big pool and not the regular hot spring tubs. We were glad we hadn’t shelled out an extra $46.00.

Pagosa Hot Springs Colorado road trip
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado

There was a Canteen in the center of the pool complex where you could buy drinks and snacks, including beer and wine. We only got one drink each, we figured that high elevation and hot springs and alcohol probably weren’t a great combo. Drinks weren’t too overpriced.

We stayed and soaked our sore muscles until the stars came out.

 

Day 5: 

Aside from hot springs, we picked Pagosa Springs as a first night stop on our road trip because it was close to Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwest corner of Colorado, and contains over 5,000 archeological sites and 600 ancient cliff dwellings. Only a few are open to the public. A couple cliff dwellings can be toured with a ranger guide.

We stopped by the ranger station when we arrived, and considered signing up for a ranger-guided tour of the Cliff Palace, but since we only had the morning to tour the park we opted to just do a drive and view tour at our own pace.

The road into the park ascends dramatically, offering beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. There were several viewpoint areas to pull over at.

*Note: The drive down to the cliff dwellings and pit house sites is 45 minutes from the park entrance one way, so allow at least half a day to see the park.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

We stopped at the remains of some early Anasazi pit houses along the Mesa View Loop road, a few dating back to 600 AD. The houses were dug into the ground, and then walls and a roof built up from the dugout with sticks and mud.

Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses

At the end of the park are several cliff dwellings to view. Cliff Palace was the most spectacular one that we saw, and you can get a really great view of Cliff Palace from above on the Cliff Palace Loop Road.

Note that if you decide to tour Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or other open dwellings in the park, they do involve climbing stairs, steep trails, and ladders. Cliff Palace sounded like it was the least strenuous, but all of them are at high elevation. Higher elevations make exercise and hiking a lot more strenuous, so if you have a heart condition or any type of physical disability, you may want to skip the tours.

Canyon where cliff dwellings are located, Mesa Verde National Park
Canyon where cliff dwellings are located, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

It is amazing to imagine these dwellings alive and full of the daily activity of the Anasazi people. Tiny cities tucked into the steep cliffs in the canyon. I wonder if there were more cliff trails along the canyon between the dwellings back in 1300 AD, it doesn’t look easy to access them currently. I’m sure there has been some significant erosion since they were populated.

After checking out the Cliff Dwellings, it was 1:00 PM and we were starving. Mesa Verde has two cafeteria-style restaurants, one at Far View Terrace closer to the entrance, and one at Spruce Tree Terrace closer to the cliff dwellings. Prices were reasonable, with many Southwest-style options. Paddy ordered the Navajo Taco, which was huge. It was a dinner-plate sized Navajo fry bread with chili and all your standard American taco fixings. He said it was really good, but didn’t quite make it through the whole thing. I had the black bean burger and fries which was also good.

Navajo taco at the Spruce Tree Terrace restaurant in Mesa Verde National Park
Navajo taco at the Spruce Tree Terrace restaurant in Mesa Verde National Park

The high elevation (and the big lunch) made us pretty tired, and we still had a couple hours to drive to our next destination, Monument Valley.

On the way to Monument Valley as we crossed from Colorado into Arizona, and we passed the Four Corners monument. We figured we should stop and do the obligatory photo op of us standing in four states at one time (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico).

The Four Corners Monument is part of the Navajo Nation, and requires an entrance fee of $5 per person. Unfortunately, it is out in the middle of nowhere and requires cash payment, no credit or debit cards. We only had $8 cash, so we moved on. If you want to see the four corners, be sure to have cash on hand to cover your group. If you need an ATM, there is one at the Teec Nos Pos trading post store and gas station is about a 10 minute drive away. They also have restrooms.

An hour and a half later, we finally approached Monument Valley. The first time I visited Monument Valley was on my road trip with my friend in March 2004, and I had been so excited to see it. We just did a drive through and unfortunately, there was a dust storm that day. The iconic wild-west views of red buttes were something I had always wanted to go back and experience again, in better weather and with more time.

We had a reservation at The View Hotel in Monument Valley tribal park, which ended up being worth every penny of the high $250/night price tag. It was our one big hotel splurge of the trip.

*Note: The View Hotel is inside the Navajo Tribal park and requires a $20 entrance fee per vehicle for up to two days. This isn’t included in the price of the room.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley

The View Hotel is aptly named, as every room has a balcony and a panoramic view of the iconic “Mittens,” The two buttes in the valley that look like right and left hand mittens. It was a stunning view, and my number one plan was to drink some wine on the balcony ad watch the sunset all evening.

*Note about wine/alcohol: The Navajo Nation does not permit the sale of alcohol, so no alcohol can be bought anywhere near or at the hotel. There isn’t a rule against bringing your own and drinking it in your room, however. If you plan on having adult beverages and enjoying the sunset like we did, be sure to stock up beforehand and bring your own. Each room is equipped with a fridge.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley

The View Hotel has a restaurant, with halfway decent prices and solidly mediocre food. The food isn’t bad, but it’s on par with good cafeteria food. That being said, it is convenient and the view from the restaurant is stunning. If you want to come here just for dinner and are staying elsewhere, be aware that the restaurant only serves hotel guests after 7:00 PM.

The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley

We decided to share the Navajo Sampler platter and the fried chicken dinner. The Navajo Sampler platter actually has enough food for two people, and we ended up with leftovers (good thing our room had a fridge). The sampler consisted of Green Chili Stew (be warned, it’s spicy), Red Chili Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, a mini Navajo fry bread taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey.

We highly recommend getting the Navajo tea, it was delicious. They also sell it in the gift shop.

The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew
Fried chicken dinner at The View Hotel restaurant
Fried chicken dinner at The View Hotel restaurant
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, mini Navajo Taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, mini Navajo Taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey

After dinner, it was sunset and wine time. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. The View Hotel faces east, so while you can’t see the sun going down over the buttes, the sunlight from the setting sun in the west illuminates the buttes in a gorgeous red-orange light. The photos I took can’t do it justice.

The View Hotel, Monument Valley
The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley

Once it was dark, the hotel showed an outdoor John Wayne movie outside the restaurant, projected onto the wall of the building.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley–outdoor John Wayne movie

We didn’t stay up late enough to watch the stars come out, but I did wake up in the middle of the night and went outside and looked at them. It was a  surreal glitter display over the dark shadows of the buttes.

We did set our alarms for the sunrise, however. Trust me, it’s worth it.

 

Day 6:

Sunrise over Monument Valley, seen from the balcony in our room:

Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley

Monument Valley was the highlight of our entire road trip. We were sad to leave and wished we’d had another day to go on the slow dirt-road drive through the valley or go on a guided tour with a Navajo guide. I think we’ll be back though. It is a truly magical place.

We had breakfast a 10 minute drive away at Goulding’s Stagecoach. The breakfast there was outstanding, we both had their signature dish of Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros with green chili. We recommend skipping the View Hotel breakfast and coming here. Had we stayed a second night, we would have come back to Goulding’s for dinner as well.

Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding's Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding’s Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding's Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding’s Stagecoach in Monument Valley

After breakfast we drove around for a little bit to get some photos, and stopped at a Navajo handicraft stand to buy some souvenirs. We wanted to buy directly from the local Navajo people instead of the hotel gift shop.

The best roadside photos of the Valley are taken on the Utah side facing south. There are many pull-outs along the highway 163 to top and take a picture from.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley–classic view

Our next destination was Moab, where we planned on staying for two nights. The drive was only 2.5 hours and fairly scenic. On the way into town we passed Church Rock and Wilson Arch.

Church Rock, Utah road trip
Church Rock, Utah
Wilson Arch outside Moab, Utah
Wilson Arch outside Moab, Utah

We checked into the Inca Inn, a budget hotel that prides itself on “budget done right.” I’d have to say that we agree. The rooms are small but very clean, beds comfy, the towels weren’t sandpaper, there was a minimal complimentary continental breakfast and Starbucks coffee provided, and a small swimming pool. In addition, they care about the environment. The roof was lined with solar panels and there were prominent recycling bins in the parking lot. Rooms also include fridges and microwaves.

inca-inn-moab-utah-1

The Inca Inn, Moab Utah
The Inca Inn, Moab Utah
The Inca Inn, Moab Utah
The Inca Inn, Moab Utah

The bonus we discovered in our room the following morning: Disco shower.

Color-changing disco shower head at the Inca Inn in Moab Utah
Color-changing disco shower head at the Inca Inn in Moab Utah

We checked into the hotel and then walked around town a bit. Moab was HOT. It was in the 90’s, and although it was a dry heat the sun beat down on us.

Moab is a liberal, youthful outdoor adventure town. It is situated on the Colorado River and in very close proximity to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The area is very popular with rock climbers and river rafters, and is very busy in the summer. Be sure to make your hotel reservations in advance for the summer season.

Around 4:30 we took an air-conditioned drive through Arches National Park. Arches was my favorite National Park that my friend and I visited on our road trip in 2004, and I’d always wanted to go back. There are some pretty cool day hikes in the park, but if you want to hike in the summer I would recommend going at dawn when it is not so hot and the crowds are less. Take lots of water with you.

Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
“Organ Pipes,” Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah

The rock formations in Arches National Park are like no other I’ve seen anywhere else. The natural sandstone formations are created from wind and rain soil erosion. The park is home to the largest amount of natural rock arches in the world. Read more about how they are formed here.

Evening is a good time to drive through the park, as the low sun sets the red sandstone ablaze with orange light, creating some dramatic photo opportunities.

The most famous arch in the park is the Delicate Arch. You can see it from walking a very short trail from the parking lot, but it is pretty far away. To reach the arch, you have to hike a three mile round trip trail up the sandstone rock ledge, which can be a fairly strenuous hike–especially in high heat. We opted to just get a photo from the view point with a zoom lens and call it good.

delicate arch, Arches National Park
Delicate Arch seen from the lower view point
delicate arch, Arches National Park
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

If you just want to drive through the park and check out the viewpoints, allow about two hours or so. Allow a half day if you want to get out and do some short hikes. Take lots of water with you and wear sunscreen.

Firey Furnace, Arches National Park, Utah
Firey Furnace, Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah

When we arrived back at our hotel, we were starving. The hotel front desk guy had recommended La Hacienda Mexican restaurant right next door, so we checked it out. It was very good. Great atmosphere, nice booths, and an extensive margarita menu. The sweet barbacoa pork is highly recommended.

La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
Burrito at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
Barbacoa pork burrito at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
Seared ahi tacos at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab
Seared ahi tacos at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Moab

 

Day 7:

Friday was our only day with no driving to a different location, so we took it easy. We started the day with some sight seeing in Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands has two main entrances, Island in the Sky and Needles. Island in the Sky is about 30 minutes north of Moab, and Needles is about an hour south of Moab and then another 45 minutes northwest. We opted to just go to the Island in the Sky portion of the park.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah

There are many overlooks from the “Island,” as well as several hiking trails. We did the extremely short and extremely popular half mile round-trip hike to Mesa Arch. It is an easy hike with stunning views. You’ll have to take your turn for photos at the arch, unless you want to get there really early.

Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch hike, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

We checked out some more overlooks, and then headed back to Moab. Overall including the short Mesa Arch hike we spent about three hours there. If you have more time, you can also check out Dead Horse Point State Park on the way in or out of Island in the Sky. We opted to skip it on this trip, but I went with my friend in 2004 and it does have nice views.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Back in Moab, we ate lunch at the Moab Brewery on the south side of the main drag through town. Their beers were a little hoppy for my taste, but the salads and chicken wings were excellent. We also tried a cup each of their beer and cheese soup, but it was a lot more like cheese fondue than soup. Skip the beer cheese soup.

Moab Brewery
Moab Brewery

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing back at the hotel and enjoying our day of not driving. The pool didn’t have umbrellas, but at around 3:30 there was enough shade in the corner of the pool area for me to sit and enjoy myself without feeling like I was in an oven. The water was refreshing.

Relaxing by the pool at the Inca Inn
Relaxing by the pool at the Inca Inn

That evening we went for dinner at the Sunset Grill. The main reason to eat at the Sunset Grill is the view. Perched high on the cliff overlooking the north part of town, The Sunset Grill is the former home of Charlie Steen, who came to Moab in the 1950’s in search of uranium and struck it rich.

View from Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
View from Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
View from Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
View from Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah

The food was decent, and the service was great. It was a bit of a splurge dinner as entrees run around $25-$32 each, but they come with a choice of soup or salad and fresh baked bread or cornbread muffins. We just had an entree each and it was more than enough food. I wouldn’t come back here just for the food, but the view and good service made the experience one we would definitely recommend.

New York Strip Steak at The Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
New York Strip Steak at The Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
Raspberry duck at The Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah
Raspberry duck at The Sunset Grill, Moab, Utah

 

Day 8: 

Saturday was the last day of our road trip and we had a long 6 hour drive back to Denver. We got an early morning start at 7:00 AM, and took a detour to Woody Creek for lunch.

Woody Creek is a small town near Aspen, Colorado and the home of of the late writer Hunter S Thompson. Paddy is a huge Thompson fan, and so we had to go check it out.

Hunter S Thompson had a large property called Owl Farm in Woody Creek, but we didn’t know exactly where it was. Google Maps led us down Owl Creek Road in Aspen but all we found was some nice farm scenery.

Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado

After touring the Aspen countryside, we went for lunch at Hunter’s favorite watering hole, the Woody Creek Tavern. We got there pretty soon after it opened and Hunter’s favorite corner table was available. Paddy was stoked.

Hunter's favorite table at the Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Hunter’s favorite table at the Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado
Woody Creek Tavern, Colorado

The food was good and the people were friendly. It seemed to be a popular lunch spot for bicycle tourists in the area.

Ralph Steadman doodle of Hunter S Thompson on the wall at Woody Creek Tavern
Ralph Steadman doodle of Hunter S Thompson on the wall at Woody Creek Tavern

After lunch, we drove the last  three and a half hours to Denver, where we were staying our last night with our friends Sean and Lillian at their apartment.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time in Denver, just enough time to get some dinner and go out for a few drinks. Sean and Lillian took us to Ace Eat Serve, an Asian fusion restaurant with house-made sodas and a room full of ping pong tables.

Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado
Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado

We shared the shumai and the kimchi fritters to start, which were delicious. I had the Shoyu Ramen and Paddy had the Bulgogi (Korean dish with marinated ribeye steak and kimchi). Everything was fantastic and flavorful and pretty reasonably priced. The cocktails were expensive, but that’s to be expected. They make all their own kimchi and pickles in house, and they were outstanding. I couldn’t stop picking the radish kimchi off of Paddy’s plate.

Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado
Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado
Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado
Shoyu Ramen at Ace Eat Serve restaurant in Denver, Colorado

After dinner we walked over to Colfax Avenue, a main drag in Denver with ample nightlife. Lillian and Sean took us to the Nob Hill Inn bar for more drinks. Nob Hill has been a Denver institution since 1954, and the furniture and decor don’t look like it has changed much since then. Drinks were cheap. I think if we lived in Denver it would be a favorite spot of ours.

We ended our (not so late) evening at Charlies, a gay cowboy bar with line dancing lessons. We figured we should give line dancing a shot. It was a $5.00 cover, and the evening was young so it was not very crowded yet. A very nice and very patient line dancing instructor invited newbies in to learn the basic “Freeze,” which he said is similar to the Electric Slide disco dance of the 70’s. It kind of reminded me of basic aerobics to country music. We weren’t the most coordinated people in the group, but it was fun. Afterward the dance instructor came over to our table and gave us free drink coupons. Bonus!

Line dancing at Charlie's bar in Denver
Line dancing at Charlie’s bar in Denver
At Charlie's Cowboy Bar in Denver
At Charlie’s Cowboy Bar in Denver
Cowboy boots disco ball at Charlies in Denver
Cowboy boots disco ball at Charlies in Denver

They did some more advanced dances afterward and we were impressed with the quick-stepping talent on the floor. It looked like a lot of fun. I’d try it again.

 

Our road trip around Colorado and Utah was quick and pretty fast-paced, but it was fun. I wished we’d had more time at each place we visited. I really want to go back to Monument Valley again and spend some more time there exploring the Valley. Colorado and Utah are very different and very beautiful states, each with a lot of different things to offer. We’d love to spend more time in Denver as well.

 

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.

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.

Culinary Adventures: Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes

Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes: rich, buttery, sweet and citrus cupcakes, great for a spring get together.

The market near our house had some awesome local organic strawberries with some great flavor, so I thought I’d try some to make some strawberry margarita cupcakes for a spring party we were going to. First I googled a recipe for strawberry margarita cupcakes, and found one on The Baker Chick’s blog. I opted to skip her filling recipe and make my own frosting instead, but I used her cupcake recipe.

 

**Note: The recipe yields about 11 cupcakes, so I doubled it so that I would have enough to bring to the party. Recipe below is original for 11-12 cupcakes. 

Receipe from http://www.thebakerchick.com/2014/04/strawberry-margarita-cupcakes/

Ingredients:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 small limes, zested and juiced
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk- room temperature

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.
Blend in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the lime zest, lime juice and vanilla.
With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat each addition just until incorporated.
Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling each about ¾ full. Bake 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely

The cupcakes turned out rich and dense. A little denser than I like, but I think the denseness comes from all the buttermilk and butter in the cupcakes (not the healthiest, I know, but fat is flavor right?). The buttermilk together with the lime juice gave them that tangy lime citrus flavor that they needed.

For the frosting, I pureed some strawberries in the food processor with lime juice and a quality silver tequila, and used that for the liquid to mix in with the 1 and a half sticks of butter and about 2/3 of a 32 oz bag of powdered sugar. (I never measure stuff with frosting, I just make it to taste based on those ratios of powdered sugar and butter and a liquid mixed in to the right consistency and taste).

I have made strawberry frosting before with fresh strawberries, and one word of warning is that the heavy fruit does make the frosting loose its shape. You don’t want to add too much more powdered sugar to make it stand up better, because then the frosting will be too sweet and too stiff. My motto is that it’s always better to have it taste good than look pretty.

**Note: be sure cupcakes are completely cool before frosting, or your frosting will melt all over the place. 

The pretty  frosting pouf that I piped on with a pastry tip deflated a bit, but the frosting tasted good. I don’t think I put enough tequila and lime in the frosting, however because you could taste the citrus in the cupcake and the strawberry in the frosting but the margarita concept seemed lost to the party guests gobbling the cupcakes. They were tasty though, and I got lots of compliments on them.

strawberry margarita cupcakes
strawberry margarita cupcakes

I think that next time, I will add more tequila and lime to the frosting, and some candied lime slices and maybe little drink umbrellas sticking out of the cupcakes. The cupcakes were good, but they were pretty much just strawberry lime.

Another note on using fresh strawberries as a topper: They begin to mold very quickly, so only top as many strawberry margarita cupcakes with fresh strawberries as you think will be eaten, and remove the strawberries from any leftovers.

Overall I would recommend this recipe for strawberry margarita cupcakes. They are a welcome sweet addition to any summer BBQ.