MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Adventures at Home

Sometimes I can forget just how much fun living in and around Washington DC can be... there is a lot to do.  It is nice to remind yourself of those benefits once and awhile - especially since most of them are closed once you get off work... YES, to take advantage of many of the glorious things to do around this city, you have to have a day off; museums, galleries and buildings do close.  Then when you do have off, you have to run errands and take care of all those house-keeping things that you miss during the week, and next thing you know, the weekend is over, and you miss an opportunity again.  So, you have to plan if you want to get out and visit some of these great features.

This past weekend, was one of those weekends.  The National Zoo celebrated the birth of 7 lion cubs this fall... and finally, the adorable cubs were strong and independent enough to be shown to the public.

My extended DC family and I watched their antics for a long while... the cubs did not disappoint.  I have mot seen crowds surrounding one area in the Zoo since the debut of the panda baby...  people, ohhed and ahhed, laughed and shreaked... the lions were vocal and mobile.  Cubs ran and tackled, jumped and climbed; the dad growled and the cubs mimicked... the sister moms watched and tried to keep them out of trouble.  It was adorable entertainment.  Not a bad way to spend a nice day.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Smooth Jazz in the City of Roses

Traveling for work means that you miss a lot a local has to offer; by the time you get off work, most galleries, stores and boutiques are closed.  Often you are left trolling the malls if you want to shop, and let's face it, you can get the most of the stuff in the mall in other namesake stores across the country.  I want the fun and unique - places that you can only find in that city/region.

Mel Brown Quartet at Jimmy Mack's
In Portland, friends and I gathered for our last night together and sought out something relaxing... we were looking for music.  We walked through the Pearl District to find some jazz and we found Jimmy Mack's (apparently one of the top 100 places to hear to jazz.)  There we were treated to the smooth stylings of Mel Brown's Quartet.  The master percussion beats were a fabulous way to roll off the exhaustion of the week.  The familiar face of Mel Brown really struck a chord with our group; googling him, we found the rich storybook history of his music career... we were truly being treated by a jazz great.  Exhausted as we all were, we stayed until we could not push it anymore... happy and relaxed.

That close to the Pearl District, I needed time to wander a few boutiques... and I squeezed it in before I left the next afternoon.  Wandering the streets looking for familiar places, I stumbled upon a "new-to-me" gallery, right next to the home decor favorite Bella Casa, The Dapper Frog.  Full of fun, color and glass, this lifestyle gallery calls for a lot of time to soak it all in.  Yes, there were plenty of frogs (and I love frogs)... fun, colorful frogs.  I was able to pick out a pink fella for a niece that plays with my bronze frogs every visit.    The gallery had plenty to offer beyond the webbed amphibians - fish, birds, pottery and sculpture.  I fell in love with a $10,000 chandelier.  Too big for my room, and too much for my pocketbook.  Doesn't matter, I still loved it.  In fact, I loved much in this place.  If I get back to Portland again, I will definitely make this a  stop.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kissed by an Octopus for Valentine's Day

A visit to the Oregon Coast is not complete without a trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and for someone like me that loves to visit aquariums, this visit could not have been more special.  I don't know what it is about a good aquarium that makes me so happy; sure there are colorful fish, there are the silly antics of marine mammals and there is always something to learn, but the great aquariums, like Monterey, Baltimore, offer something extra special... and that is what I found here at the Aquarium in Newport, Oregon.

The volunteer staff surprised my friend and I with a few unique experiences.  It began as soon as we arrived, when we meandered to the "touch-me-tank".  Feeding time, and I finally got to see those creatures in motion.  Better yet, I was allowed to feed an abalone; the ribbony black lips reached out,  grasped a piece of kelp and pulled it inside its half shell.  It was too cute!  The lips were soft, slightly sticky but surprisingly strong.  Another danced for us by rotating 180 degrees on its foot.  Yet another abalone was eating while stationed on a glass wall; this afforded us an opportunity to watch and we even got to see its tongue.

It was at this tank where we spoke with the volunteers about the aquarium, my mission to visit, and the plan for the weekend and some knowledge about the facility and its creatures.  The volunteers provided us guidance on where to head next, and we ventured off to find the shark tunnels and the scuba divers cleaning the tanks.  Along the way we stumbled upon the art exhibit showcasing plastic pollution recovered from the oregon coast.  The artist created coral reefs, sea creatures and mosaics (as well as showcasing some work from children), and while the creations were fun and full of storybook whimsy, the point was made - the ocean is not a garbage can ... that trash ends up somewhere.

It was here in the tunnels that the volunteers found us.  They offered us the experience to beat all other aquarium experiences... because we traveled so far, were so excited about the aquarium and interested in the exhibits, they wanted to do something special.  We were shocked... and it was then I noticed that my camera was missing.  YEP, here I am being offered an unique aquarium experience and my camera decided to take a walk.  Volunteer and friends scoured the area, but it was not to be found.  (And I knew that I just had it).  The volunteer promised to keep looking and assured me that they recovered most lost and found items.  So off we went to this special experience without my camera.

We were taken into a room with floor to ceiling windows with a view into the shark tank.  Here we received a quick lesson in shark biology (pointing out the male shark graspers).  I was loving every minute... but this was not THE experience... they had more planned.  We were headed to the octopus exhibit for a hands-on experience, and I was without my camera.  =-(  Thankfully my friend had a droid camera phone and snapped a few shots.

We needed it, because once taken into the back of the exhibit we washed our hands and arms in salt water, and the octopus was called up.  Yep, you read that right - she, aka Peanut, came right up when the volunteer took her spot.  With clear instructions on the do's and don'ts of tentacle interaction, my friend and I were allowed to touch and be touched.

Have you ever felt an octopus???  Well, I can tell you that they are cold, a little slimy and very fleshy.  The suction cups do not hurt.  They don't even pull.  But, when they are pulled off skin, they sound like bubble wrap popping.  They whole experience was surreal.  We learned lots of cool octopus facts and experienced first hand out inquisitive the creatures are... Since they can smell with their suckers, the tentacles roamed our hands and arms, and even found their way up my coat.  I was amazed with the amount of control each cup had; while sliding over my fingers cups would wrap around the tips - kinka like holding hands.

After the octopus experience, the volunteer guided us around a few unique smaller exhibits, such as the wolf eel and the hagfish (nasty - think vultures of the deep).  While walking around with the expert, we were notified that my camera was found.

JUST AMAZING!  Loved this place... if you visit Oregon, this is a must see.

All other aspects of the central coast trip were cancelled.  A major storm was hitting the coast as we left the facility.  Driving rains and winds topping out over 70+ miles/hour does not make for great sightseeing weather.  We tried a few coastal viewpoints and state park points of interest, but it was impossible to do anything but look at the views through the window wipers.  I would jump out of the car, snap a shot or two and run back to safety... it really was too much wind.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

No Volcano, No Big Foot - Just Rain and Fog (and an earthquake)

Last Sunday I caught the early flight and headed to Portland.  I had some lofty goals of for the early weekend arrival.  My friend and I had ideas of things we wanted to see; too bad the weather conspired against us.

By the time we drove the hour plus north, the rain had rolled in.  We learned from a ranger that if we would have made it that morning we would have saw the legendary crater... instead, we were treated to a fog covered picture on the computer monitor.  The rangers also provided us some advice on scenery that was visible.  We walked some of the marsh plank trail - until the rain steady increased in intensity... besides the views were not as spectacular without the foliage.  Moss grows thick and soft in that region - in fact, it is pet-able and grows everywhere. I was fascinated with trees that grew in knots... but since the visitors center was closed by the time we walked the planks, I could not ask for information about them...

Still, I did learn some interesting tidbits from them before they closed up shop - The whole preserved area is not part of the US Forest Service.  In fact, it is not always part of the state park system.  They shift between county and state park land depending on funding levels!  (ouch, that has to be stressful to not only not know your funding levels, but where you are getting paid.)  In fact only one unit of the Mount St Helens site is part of the federal system... the part closest to the crater.  In that area you find the observatory named for the USGS scientist that died getting the last warning out - Dave Johnson.

Mount St Helens has a series of visitor centers that focus on different aspects of the environment surrounding the mountain, highlighting the eruption effects.  Due to the season, many areas were closed, so we went to the areas available and recommended; after the marsh we headed east and continued to the  -  Toutle River Valley.  Rangers promised the area would be open for Valentines Day Dinner at the lodge; views were to be spectacular, because from this center you could see the mountain/valley regrowth developing after the volcano eruption mudslides.

As promised, the views from the valley, even with the fog were spectacular.  What added to the scene were the couples in love, taking in the evening, while the fog rolled in, while dining in a lodge that chronicled the horrible deaths and amazing survival stories of locals during the eruption.  Not exactly the most romantic place... but then again, the long drive up to the valley was a far way from any major town or city.

The lodge/visitor's center's gift shop embraced a different side of the area.  Beyond the information on plants and trails, the center provided a whole section on the hunt for the the Sasquatch.  Yes, there were  the easy reads for the casual interests, but they also carried books by regional university professors on the area lore and the myths surrounding the search for the giants as well as others by journalists promising "never before written about encounters."  So, for everyone that knows me, yes, I picked up a book because I am curious.  But no, there was no encounter.  But then again, with the fog and rain, I would not have seen anything if it was there.

I learned the following day that earthquakes were recorded at Mt St Helens.  The USGS announced that it was a 4.3 with 30 aftershocks... guess that is life on the mountain.  I just can't comprehend why people still live there.  Sure, it is beautiful, private and remote... but from everything that is chronicled from the past, that is not something that I would want to experience 2x.  Not my choice, but I still ponder...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Big Surprise, It is Raining in Oregon

I leave tomorrow for my quick excursion around the Oregon coast (well, really for work, but fun comes first)... just checked the weather to pack, and of course, it is raining.  I should have known better than to get my hopes up for a nice hike around the sand dunes, or the quick trip north to a view point for Mt St Helens.  Here's hoping that the rain isn't a downpour or create a mist.  I would still like to enjoy this outing.  The aquarium will be fine in the rain, and I know that I can kill hours in there, but I do not know if my friend will be as excited as I to watch an octopus or read the displays on tide pools.  Reading up on Seal Cave, it does not seem like there is a lot of activity in the winter, just them congregating in the cave - so that should be okay in the rain as well.  But there will not be a short hike in Astoria around the Lewis and Clark Historical Site if the weather does not cooperate.  And, I will not be able to take many noteworthy pictures... guess I will find out soon...

I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Does Big Foot Come Out in the Middle of Winter?

Apparently there have been Big Foot sitings near Mt St Helens for years!  Why didn't I know that?  Why did I think that Big Foot was in the Appalachian Mountains.  Well, looks like Big Foot gets around, or there are more than one.  Must be, because while looking up information for my short trip in the Pacific NW, I found information on sightings:
Neat.. but 2 problems for this fun seeker.  (1) Big Foot only seems to be seen in warmer months according to the sites.  YMaybe it is because more people are out hiking, fishing and hunting in the warmer months.  Or maybe it hibernates.  No matter - not much to see in February.  (2) What are you looking for?  Unlike ghost tours in set location... there is no consistency here.  It is spotted all over the place.  Pictures are online... footprints are not permanent.  Can't do a tour of the forest... what are you going to do? 

The stories are fun, but I am not going to trounce around looking for a footprint in the snow.  I'll just ask my company to watch the forest as we drive to the look out point. 

 Back in Portland,  I will take my friend to the haunted pizzeria and hope for a ghost siting instead.