Thursday, January 18, 2018

Discovering Discovery

Montana has some fantastic world-renowned ski areas.  Visiting my son over the Christmas holiday, I'd packed my boards, hoping for an opportunity to sample the goods at one of them.  The following Wednesday I got my chance.  But not at the big boys, Big Sky or Whitefish Mountain.......No, my son took me to a local resort in the middle of nowhere.  I spent the day "discovering" a small but mighty ski area named Discovery.

View towards Georgetown Lake

A two-plus hour drive from my son's home through slippery roads and beautiful but sparsely populated country brought us to this charming local gem.  Situated above Georgetown Lake, I immediately noticed grand views from the top of the first slope.  And that was on an overcast, snowy day.  I'm sure the scenery is even better when skies are blue.

Lots of treetops sticking out!

Sadly Montana was suffering from the same lack of snow that had been plaguing ski areas throughout the west.  Riding the lift I noticed lots of treetops sticking up through the snow.  Several runs appeared to show almost as much brown as white.

Chairlift selfie (my son is not amused)

Despite the thin snowpack, my son and I still had a fun morning checking out the trails.  Seeing me puzzling over the trail map, a friendly ski patroller stopped and gave us a rundown of the good places to ski.  After a few tries my son and I finally located "Truefisher" a black diamond run highly recommended by our ski patrol friend.  It was impeccably groomed and so much fun to scream down, we immediately jumped back on the lift to try it again.

View from the lodge deck

It was well after noon when my son and I finally headed into the lodge to find some lunch.  The place was packed!  After locating a table, we stood in an extremely long line (25 minutes!).  A large basket of freshly baked dinner rolls was strategically located next to the grill, and they smelled so good I just couldn't resist grabbing one.  Not only the rolls, Discovery touted their cookies as the best ever ("It's all about the cookie" a sign proclaimed) so of course I had to sample one.

Cute day lodge

The lodge was full of families enjoying a day together.  A favorite of the locals, it seemed everyone knew each other (my son even ran into a woman from his church).  The vibe was relaxed and friendly - something you rarely experience in a large ski area.

Old snowboards were used for trail signs

Belly full of chili, dinner roll and cookie, I was feeling sluggish on the slopes after lunch.  But my son and I made a valiant effort to get some more turns in.  We followed one run downhill until the groomed slope vanished into a tangled mess of treetops and deep snow.  My son and I slowly picked our way down, trying to avoid all the hazards, but one tiny tree snagged my ski and down I went!  (Luckily nothing was harmed but my pride)

Discovery is apparently famous for it's cookies!

My son with his young legs and boundless energy, proceeded to kick my butt on the slopes that afternoon.  By 2:30 I was crying "uncle" and suggested it was time to start heading to the car.  Knowing there was a long, slippery drive ahead I wanted to make it back before darkness fell.  Of course before leaving, I had to stop by the lodge for a last-minute potty break.  It was there that I came across the official "Discovery" t-shirts for sale at the gift shop.  Most ski areas advertise their great snow, steep terrain, or numerous runs, but at Discovery they take great pride in their cookies.  (Personally I thought the dinner rolls were better)

A lovely little ski area

I had a wonderful time hanging out with my son and exploring a "new to me" ski area.  Discovery had a mellow, family-friendly vibe.  Some of the terrain was every bit as challenging as the big boys, and the runs just as long.   I'd love to come back on a deep powder day - I could really have some fun here.  Next time I visit Montana in the winter, I just might!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Post-Christmas Snowshoe

The day after Christmas, and I was getting a bit of cabin fever.  Cold weather and an ill husband meant I'd spent most of Christmas Eve and Day inside.  After journeying to Montana to spend the holidays with my son, I was more than ready to tromp around in the 12 inches of snow that had fallen.

Snowy woods

My poor hubby was sick with a bad cough, and we spent most of the day following Christmas getting him some medicine (a bit of advice - make sure the health insurance cards in your wallet are up to date before traveling!).  My son and I talked about taking a snowshoe hike, but it was mid afternoon before we finally had a chance to go.

Tree trunks provide the only color contrast

Luckily, trails abound on the outskirts of the town where he lives.  A short 15-minute drive took us to the nearest trailhead.  Although we saw mostly nordic skiers in the parking lot, my son discovered an entire system of trails just for snowshoers.

Love the snowy branch patterns

Oh, the trees with their snow-covered branches were so beautiful!  I'm sure I annoyed my son with all my frequent photo stops.  But he was a good sport and patiently waited for me.

Fluffy cotton snow

Some bare bushes, their limbs thin little sticks, had caught large clumps of the powdery snow.  Kind of looked like big cotton balls perched on top.

The woods were beautiful

The ponderosa pine trees with their reddish-brown patterned bark really stood out amongst the snow-covered forest.

My son allowed one photo

We hiked for a couple of miles in this white wonderland.  Although temperatures weren't much above ten degrees, plowing through the snow soon warmed us.  I was even lucky enough to have my camera-shy son agree to pose for a photo.  As all mothers know, you can never have enough photographs of your children!

Snow-laden branches

A rapidly sinking sun signaled it was time to turn around.  We could feel the temperature dropping.  Not wishing to be in the woods after dark, I quickened my pace.  Still, I did make time for a few final images, such as this one of some lovely snow-laden branches.

We barely beat darkness!

Darkness was already cloaking the forest as we rounded the final bend towards the parking lot.  But the silver lining was spotting the moon already rising over the trees.  One final photograph to remember a special winter's afternoon spent with my son.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Christmas in Montana

The trouble with having a son who's a priest?  Christmas is his busy season.  Sadly he'll never be able to come home for the holidays.  The solution?  Visit him instead!

Sunny, but cold, Christmas Eve views

So on Christmas Eve eve (the 23rd of December if I've lost you) my hubby and I packed my trusty Subaru for the long drive to Montana.  Although I was worried about winter driving conditions in Montana, we found the worst roads were in Oregon.  Forty miles of black ice through the eastern Gorge.....not a lot of fun.

My snow-covered car on Christmas Day

But my hubby and I arrived safe and sound at my son's home that evening.  I thought the temps were a bit chilly, but was still surprised when I awoke the next morning to -6 degrees F!  Mighty cold for this wimpy Oregonian.  Still, it was a lovely sunny day, and the blue skies and white snow made for some magical scenery on a chilly walk around my son's neighborhood. 

A blanket of white on the streets

Christmas Eve my son was busy "working" - presiding at four masses throughout the day, so my hubby and I were left to fend for ourselves.  We ended up attending the 8 pm mass that evening in one of my son's outlying satellite parishes, a tiny old country church about 20 miles away.  It was a thrill to watch my son say Christmas Eve mass - still hard to believe it sometimes when I see him up on the altar, or preaching from the pulpit. 

Lovely red barn nearby

The crowd at this country church was mostly lots of families with kids.  Near the end of mass, a small group of young children came up front and sang three verses of "Away in a Manger."  Their  performance was so sweet, it brought tears to my eyes.  Upon conclusion of the service, everyone was invited outside for an excellent firework display to ring in the Christmas holiday.  We all stood in frigid 5 degree weather oohing and aahing over the colorful pyrotechnics.  (And quickly dispersed into warm cars immediately after it was over)  Only in Montana!

Snowflakes against the red

Christmas eve, the skies had been clear when we'd gone to bed at 10 pm (except for my poor son who still had to preside over midnight mass).  Imagine my surprise to awake Christmas morning and find six inches of fluffy powder on the ground! 

A very Christmassy scene!

It snowed hard all day.  My son, who didn't get home until after 2 am, was up bright and early for one final Christmas morning mass at 9:30. 

The snow is getting deep in the backyard

So again, my hubby and I were left to entertain ourselves.  My poor hubby fighting a bad cough, made worse by the cold outside air, was confined indoors.  But, itching to be out in the beautiful new snow, I donned coat and boots for a Christmas Day walk.

Snow on tree branches made interesting patterns

The snow was so light and fluffy!  It blew right off my car windows.  A few people had cleared their walks, but I delighted in plowing through the unshoveled snow.  It gathered in tree branches, adding a festive touch - Mother Nature's Christmas decorations.

Lone squirrel

Walking around my son's neighborhood, I came upon a beautiful old red barn.  Although out of place in this residential area, it looked mighty festive coated with winter white.

This statue has a snow cap

The snow continued to dump all day, finally accumulating to over a foot when night fell.  It made lots of pretty shapes as it piled up on the outdoor patio furniture and statues.  This little dog figure had quite the unusual hat!

Deer sleeping in the backyard

Deer were abundant where my son lives.  A large grove of trees bordered one side yard, and many deer took shelter under their large branches.

Another large buck in the neighbor's yard

After my morning walk, hubby and I entertained ourselves watching the wildlife traipse through my son's backyard.

My son's Christmas tree

Finally my son returned home, finished with his duties for the rest of the day.  After a late lunch, we gathered around the Christmas tree to open our gifts.

Colorful gifts under the tree

I always love to photograph the colorful wrapped boxes under the tree.  They were so pretty it was almost a shame to open them!

No fireplace to hang our stockings so we improvised

My son didn't have a fireplace, so I improvised and set the stockings next to his entertainment center.  Santa had no problem finding them.

My son relaxing after a busy holiday

Here's a very tired young man, happy to be done with his Christmas duties, and relax with his family.

My men unwrap their gifts

It was a cozy end to a wonderful couple of days.  As we finished unwrapping the last of our gifts, I was glad we'd made the long journey to Montana to spend Christmas with our son.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in Photos

That time again already??

After spending the past week in Montana celebrating Christmas with my son, I'm hurriedly scrambling to get my annual "year in photos" post together on the final day of 2017.  It's been a year of the unexpected - freak winter snow and ice storms, a banner skiing season, visiting a "new to me" state, being sidelined way longer than expected by a broken toe, massive wildfires destroying huge swaths of Oregon, including my beloved Columbia River Gorge.

As long-time blog readers know, I have a tradition of compiling a year-end post highlighting a favorite photo from each month of the year.  These photos are not always my very best work.  Some are chosen to represent a particular occasion or event that was meaningful to me.

Looking back at the past 12 months, it's been kind of a "meh" year.  It seems more bad than good has happened, not just in my little corner, but worldwide.  But now that 2017 is sliding into history, I'd like to start 2018 on a positive note.  So for this year-end post, along with each month's photo, I'm also including a positive sentiment to match the image.....something I'm thankful for.

Enjoy my "2017 in photos." 


Interesting ice formations

Winter weather hit early and often this month, with rare low-elevation snowstorms and freezing rain, that cancelled ski bus days, kept me home from work (yippee!) and turned waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge into icy works of art.  A photographer's paradise.

I'm thankful for..... being able to photograph these breathtaking examples of Mother Nature at her finest.


Snow day!

The unusual winter weather continued into February where I spent an unexpected day off work cross country skiing around our neighborhood park.  I'm not the best at taking selfies but this is one I really liked.  A great capture of the joy I felt that day.

I'm thankful events that force me to slow down and enjoy the outdoors.


Ski friends are the best!

One good thing about winter 2017 - all those storms made for an amazing ski season.  I tallied 33 days on the planks, many of those with my buddies from the midweek ski bus.  This photo is of me and my friends Glen and Brian from our last bus day of the season.  What can I say, ski friends are the best!

I'm thankful for.......many friends I've had an opportunity to share the slopes with this winter.


Love it when the balsamroot blooms

Once April rolls around, it's time to dust off the hiking boots and hit the trails in search of spring wildflowers.  I have my favorite spots, and most of them are located in the Columbia River Gorge.  This year I discovered a "new to me" area, the gorgeous Memaloose Hills.  Always fun to discover a new hike, this one had amazing vistas and slopes chock-full of colorful blooms.

I'm thankful for.......vibrant spring wildflowers that brighten the world just as I'm getting tired of dreary gray skies.


Sunset in Hawaii

My big trip of the year, in May my husband and I traveled to someplace we'd always wanted to visit - Hawaii!  We had a wonderful time exploring the big island, and I enjoyed capturing it's sights with my camera.  I especially loved the colorful ocean sunsets.  This one, taken on our final evening while killing time waiting for our red-eye flight home, became my favorite.

I'm thankful for........a job that provides adequate leave time and salary to allow travel.


Tunnel Falls, Eagle Creek Trail

This is a bittersweet photo.  Taken on late spring hike, I decided to traverse the Gorge's famous Eagle Creek Trail to the final waterfall, Twister Falls, 6 1/2 miles from the trailhead.  Little did I know it would be the last time I'd see this fabulous green wonderland as it was.  A Labor Day wildfire destroyed this special place.  It won't be the same for many years, possibly not in my lifetime.

I'm thankful for.......the many photographs I have of Eagle Creek Trail so I'll always remember this special place.


Wildflower explosion on Silver Star Mtn Trail

Summer treks to high elevation places always produce some of my favorite images.  It's always hard to chose just one photograph from a month of hikes, but a visit to Washington's Silver Star Mountain at peak wildflower bloom was hands-down one of the year's most memorable hikes.  I think you can see why.

I'm thankful close to such amazingly beautiful wild places.


Burroughs Mtn Trail, Mt Rainier National Park

August was a month of trying to hike despite a very sore toe (later I'd discover it was broken).  Not one to let an insignificant little digit stop a planned Mt Rainier trip, I went anyway, and hiked three days in a row.  One of my bucket list trails, the amazing Burroughs Mountains were just as spectacular as described.  Another memorable hike from 2017.

I'm thankful for........the beautiful National Parks in my country.


Smoky Mt Hood from Paradise Park Trail

September was a month of many downs.  Learning of the injury to my toe, hiking trips were curtailed.  A huge wildfire swept the Gorge, destroying many of my favorite trails and cloaking Portland and Mt Hood in thick smoke.  I didn't have a lot of photos to choose from this month, but this one from a trek to Paradise Park stood out.  From the Zig Zag Canyon overlook; a hazy Mt Hood appears through the smoke

I'm thankful for.........still having places to hike despite the many wildfires that plagued the Pacific Northwest this year.


Fall colors on Clear Lake Trail

Fall is my most favorite season to hike.  There's so many wonderful places to see autumn colors, it seems I never have enough time to see them all.  I tried to pare this month down to one photo, but  I  had favorite photos from two very spectacular hikes and just couldn't choose.  So as a special bonus, I've included them both.  The top photo is from an early October visit to Central Oregon's Clear Lake (best fall color ever!)

More fall colors, Wilson River

And this bottom photo is from a spur-of-the-moment late October trip to the coast range's Wilson River.  I most certainly hit the fall color jackpot that day, not only with peak leaf color, but also perfect sunny weather.

I'm thankful close to so many areas of beautiful fall color.


Dog Mountain Trail

Although the Oregon side of the Gorge remained off-limits for hiking (no Gorge fall color tours for me this year!) the Washington side was very much open for business.  In the span of two weekends, I hit the highlights - Cape Horn, Hamilton Mountain, and finally, Dog Mountain.  A place I usually only visit during spring wildflower bloom, I learned that it can be just as beautiful in autumn too.  A great hike with good friends, this trek was one of the surprise hidden gems of 2017.

I'm thankful for.........hiking buddies that will join on the trail me no matter the weather.


Ghostly bare branches in the Columbia River Gorge

In early December, I learned a small portion of the Gorge spared by the fire was once again open.  Eager to revisit favorite places, I made a small trek around Latourell Falls.  Although plagued with camera troubles, I was able to capture quite a few good images, such as this one of the moss-covered, ghostly tree branches in a foggy forest.

I'm thankful that..........some of the Gorge trails and waterfalls were spared from the fire and able to be reopened.

A big thanks to all my faithful readers who keep coming back year after year.  I appreciate all your comments, page views, and likes on my Facebook page.  You are the reason I get out there with my camera and continue to share these outdoor adventures.

Onward to 2018!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reopening the Gorge

As most of my regular readers know, Oregon's world-famous Columbia River Gorge was the victim of a massive wildfire in early September.  One of my favorite places to hike, I was devastated to learn many of the trails had been affected.  The Gorge was closed to the public both during and after the fire was finally controlled.  Sadly that meant no Gorge fall color hikes this year.

Latourell Falls

But Thanksgiving weekend brought good news - a small portion of the Historic Highway had been reopened.  Two waterfalls, Latourell and Bridal Veil, spared from the flames, were once again accessible to the public.

Closer view of the falls

After seeing a bunch of Latourell Falls posts from Thanksgiving weekend, I knew I needed to get my Gorge waterfall fix.  So the following weekend, I made an early morning visit. 

And another close-up

Latourell Falls, the closest waterfall to Portland, is one of the Gorge's great cascades.  Plunging 249 feet over the lip of a tall basalt cliff this waterfall is a breathtaking sight.  A short 2.3 mile trail loops around the upper creek, taking visitors to the waterfall's very top and past another smaller cascade.

Latourell Falls is 249 feet high

I decided to see how my new Fujifilm mirrorless camera would perform photographing waterfalls.  From the parking lot, I gathered up my camera bag, backpack, and tripod and climbed a steep path to the first viewpoint.

Creek below the falls

But once at the overlook, I began fussing with my tripod and not paying attention to the open camera bag swinging from my neck.  My brand-new camera rolled out, crashing onto the pavement.  To make matters worse, my tripod then toppled onto the camera.

Another view of this lovely creek

Oh this day was not starting out well!  Luckily, despite the hard landing, my camera still worked.  It's lens hood had taken the brunt of the fall, and the tripod had only scratched the screen.  I fired off a few test shots and then breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Falls and footbridge

This first overlook was definitely bad luck.  Time to pack up and walk to the bottom of the falls.  As I was stowing my gear, raindrops began pattering on the ground.  Wait a minute - this was not in the forecast!  Luckily I'd grabbed my rain jacket and backpack cover.  (This is Oregon in the late fall after all, you never know when it might get wet).

Underside of large auto bridge

At the bottom of Latourell Falls is a lovely mossy creek and picturesque footbridge.  Setting up my tripod on the bridge, I heard a clink.  Another nearby photographer altered me that my polarizing filter had fallen off my lens and was teetering on the edge of the bridge.  Stepping down to grab it, I slipped on the wet deck and almost went over the edge!  Luckily my filter stayed put and after hoisting myself back up I was able to retrieve it. 

Gorgeous moss-covered trees

Oh boy, what else could go wrong today?  After spending a good half hour at Latourell Falls' base, it was time to move on.  A footpath led visitors along the creek past beautiful moss-covered trees.  The path then ducked under an old roadway bridge before switchbacking up to the Historic Highway.

One leaf still hanging on

Crossing the highway, the trail climbed steeply through a lovely forest.  A few straggler yellow leaves still clung to bare branches. 

Collection of color

I was having a good time capturing this most splendid forest when I noticed a red blinking icon in my camera viewfinder.  Low battery? ...... Oh no!

Fall leaves are almost gone

With a little over a mile to reach the upper falls, I definitely wanted to save some battery power to capture them.  So off went the camera, back into its bag and I had to pass by more beautiful sights that I couldn't photograph (about killed me!).

Viewpoint at the top of the falls

At the top of one switchback I noticed a steep side trail leading down to an open spot.  Curiosity got the better of me so I gingerly climbed down to have a look.  The tiny clearing gave a birds-eye view of the top of Latourell Falls.  Although impressive, it was difficult to capture in a photograph.  But the foggy forest surrounding this viewpoint was especially scenic.  (Worth using a tiny bit of precious battery power to capture!)

Interesting trees

For such a short trail, the upper falls seemed to take a long time to reach.  As I finally approached the roaring upper cascade, my friend the rain decided to make a return appearance. 

Upper Latourell Falls

Not wanting to further soak my new camera (it had been through enough already today!) I opted to snap a couple of quick hand held shots of the upper falls and call it good.  Shorter and partially hidden in a shallow cavern, it wasn't as impressive as it's lower cousin anyway.

Back past the lower falls

Upper falls now captured on my memory card, it was a quick downhill march along the opposite side of the creek.  A short distance from the parking lot, I got another great view of Lower Latourell Falls, this time from a side angle.

Looking out towards the Gorge

I liked this view of the falls.  Surrounded by a mysterious mossy forest, you could also catch glimpses of the Columbia River through the trees.

Fire damage on the Historic Highway

Driving back on the Columbia River Historic Highway I passed several areas charred by the fire.  It appeared the flames had hopscotched across the forest, torching some spots, while leaving other areas green and untouched.  I pulled over and used my camera's remaining battery power to capture a few shots of the damage.

Scorched rock

Very sad and sobering to see some of the beautiful forests reduced to black scars. 

Blackened hillside

I'm grateful the authorities were able to open a small stretch of the Gorge Scenic Highway.  Although a large piece of the Gorge will likely be closed for a year or two, it's comforting to know at least a couple trails were spared.

(And to continue my day of bad luck, once safely back home, I discovered my lens cap was missing.......Ugh!)