Until We Meet Again, Oregon

The time I spend in Oregon always seems a little short. It feels like I get there and before I know it, I need to move on again. Most of the time I get there after a long grueling time of work, and I need a big break. By the time I leave, I feel well rested and ready to take on another year of teaching.

This time was no different.

I spent most of my time in Central Oregon during my last visit, and though it was incredibly hot while I was there, I still found time to get among the forests and mountains that surrounded me. It was exactly what I needed. I have learned a lot about myself over the last couple of years, as I am sure that many people have. The biggest thing that I learned after spending time on beaches and diving in the ocean is that I am a mountain man. I need those rugged landscapes, and the opportunity to play in the lakes and trails that take me to hidden gems.

Oregon allowed me to visit these again after a long time away from them.

I also learned that I am a dog person. I really always knew this already, but after spending a good month with Maggie, a new dog that my in-laws rescued, I got remember how great it is to have a dog around all the time. She was a little nervous around me as she is with all males, but after a month of getting used to me being around, she started to allow me to pet her and even put a leash on her to take her out on a walk. We created a bond that I hope she does not forget about by the next time I come around again.

That unconditional companionship brings a smile to my face even thinking about it.

Even though I have been to Oregon on numerous occasions, I am still able to be surprised by the beauty that it has to offer. Around any corner in the central part of the state, I don’t know what I will find around it. It might be the perfect landscape picture. It might be a herd of deer or elk frozen in jump waiting for one of us to make or move. Or it might be a rainbow reaching over the trees framing one of my favorite places in the world.

Thank you, Oregon, for the time I got to spend with you, and I look forward to the next time we will meet again.

Sparks Lake, Oregon

As my time in Oregon started to come to a close, I took the opportunity to get out on one of its many lakes one last time before I am able to get back out here. I am pretty sure that it will be in a year, but I have said stuff like that before and was disappointed in the results. I also don’t see another world wide catastrophe happen again any time soon that would cause me to delay this plan, but at the same time I understand that I need to make the most out of the moments while they are still available.

This time I went behind the Sisters and up by Mount Bachelor, one of Oregon’s premiere ski resorts, to check out one of those lakes. There are many lakes in this area, and I have been to Elk Lake before even though that was many years ago, so I decided to check out the other big lake they have out there, Sparks Lake. This is one of the more popular lakes in the area, and is one of the ones that allow motor boats though they cannot travel faster than ten miles per hour while out on the lake.

I was really surprised that they allowed motors out on this lake, and I didn’t see anybody out there with one while I spent the day there. The lake is sprawling and it is rather deceptive about the area that it covers. I entered on the eastern side of the lake, and the water was not that deep over there. In fact, there were many times that I was worried that I would beach my kayak as I tried to navigate through the weeds and the rocks that were all over the place. I couldn’t imagine how difficult this would be if there was a motor attached to the boat. I think most of the people that were out there thought the same way, and that is why the whole lake was covered with canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards.

Once I got over to the other side of the lake, the depth changed and landscape changed drastically. There were many places over on this side where I could not see the bottom, and there were a lot of little tributaries that I could explore. The coastline of the lake was also covered with lava rock that gave for many interesting formations to stare at and ponder. As I looked closer at the coast I could also see a yellow line where the pollen in the area showed where the height of the water reached recently. It shocked me to see that the water in the lake was easily a foot or two below where it usually rested. It explained the problem that was occurring with other side of the lake and why the water was so shallow. It also reminded me how dry Oregon has been this year, and makes me worried about what might happen in the next couple of months if they do not start getting some rain.

That did not stop the wildlife making its way to the lake. You have to look carefully in this picture, but beyond the ducks, there are a couple of deer grazing on the edge of the lake. I tried to get a little closer to get a better picture, but as soon as they heard me creeping closer, they dashed off into the wilderness. I am sure that on any given day out there, the opportunity to see the wildlife is always present which just adds to what this lake has to offer.

Sparks Lake is a treasure, and a great place to go out kayaking on. Just to warn you though, I have been told that it gets rather busy during the summer and it might be hard to find a place to park. It is also a little more rustic than other lakes in the region, but there are plenty of places to camp, and if you get there early enough you should be able to stake out your own spot somewhere along the shore. The road in has not been groomed recently, so if you are going out there, you will want to go with an SUV or truck though I did see a couple of sedans struggle up the path just fine. It will probably be really busy during the Fourth of July weekend, but after that, it is a great day trip if you find yourself in Bend or the surrounding area.

The Food Truck Stop

When did this start to happen?

Don’t get me wrong. It is pretty cool, and it is fun to have this dedicated place where you can get a drink, and a choice of some delicious food from five or six options. But I did not know that food truck stops have become such a big thing. I traveled down to Bend last night to visit with an old friend at one of these places, and along the way I could see a collection of food trucks gathered together like a small herd at many locations along the way. According the local news, there are even more of these spots all over Bend. I was even invited to go to a different one while I was staying outside of Portland but couldn’t make it because I was still under quarantine protocol at the time.

My point is that I have been away from the country for a couple of years, and all of a sudden, it has become a thing. I know that the food truck is not a new thing. It had been around long before John Favreau highlighted the story of a man’s adventure with one in his great movie, Chef, and I had even eaten from a few of them from time to time. I also knew that there were places where they would gather in order to sell their feasts; I had visited them in Colorado and Seoul, but usually during some kind of festival so they had a reason for gathering. It is just that they are all over the place now, and seem to be more ubiquitous than a regular restaurant, especially in the Central Oregon area.

The one I went to last night was called On Tap, and it was located by the St. Charles hospital underneath the shadow of Pilot Butte in the eastern part of Bend. It boasts of having the most beer on tap than any other location in Bend, even though it does not brew any of the beer that it serves. Most of the selection comes from local breweries even though I did see a couple from the east coast and one from Colorado on the list. They also had a nice selection of wines, and various ciders (which has also become a thing while I was gone). You go up to the counter, order your drink from a couple of pushy bartenders (they could have been a little more patient as I read through the selection), and then find a spot at one of the many picnic tables found on their grounds. It has a very communal atmosphere, and I would imagine would be even better if people did not have to socially distance themselves due to the straggling effects of the pandemic still lingering on. I don’t know what happens during the winter. The bar is located in a permanent structure that can be closed up with some seating still available, but the amount is severely reduced because of this. But then again, Bend is a big tourist destination during the summer, so maybe On Tap can make a bigger chunk of its money during these months, and allow that to give them what they need to coast during the rest of year.

The food I had was really good as well. I had a shrimp po’ boy, and it was nice to have some cajun food again after not seeing a place where you could get for so long. It was really tasty though I wish it could have a little bit more of a kick with it, but then again I am in the Pacific Northwest, and this is not something that is always offered with the food out here. They had a lot of other selections as well with vegetarian, Mexican, Asian fusion, bar-b-q, and Philly cheese steak sandwiches. Of course, I couldn’t taste it all, but the food that I saw being carried around all looked delicious.

Families and dogs were even welcomed. I saw many children run and duck through the tables, and they even gathered on the grassy patch at the far end for a game of tag. The dogs were always looking for a piece of dropped food or a pat on the head from the people passing by. The food, drink, outdoors, and people created the perfect atmosphere for a great summer evening. It does not mean that I will hunt out another one of these herds every night, but I would enjoy finding different ones, or coming back to this one so I could try some of the other cuisine. It was all around a fun evening.

I guess I now understand why this has become a thing.

The Neighborhood Pool

In the land without air conditioning, many people are asking themselves how to stay cool during this period of unprecedented heat. If have heard some unique solutions to that problem, some of which I am sure worked and some that might still be in the developmental stage. Some people would sleep with ice packs wrapped around a towel and resting on their necks. Some people would stand in front of the open freezer, or if they were lucky enough to be at a place that had them, would spend time in a walk-in cooler. Some people would run over to the faucet in their kitchen every once in a while to run the head underneath the cool running water. The main thing that everybody in the Pacific Northwest had in common the last couple of days has been that they have been looking for a way to beat the heat.

One of the most obvious ones has been the neighborhood pool. It is a staple that can be found in many of the communities across America, and it is on days like these ones that it really brings the community together. All of the neighbors can come to this place to shed their work clothes for a more casual approach, relax in the shade with the good company of neighbors or a book, and cool off in the water with family or friends. All pretensions seem to melt away at this place, and people can really just enjoy themselves. The place is made for relaxation, and becomes hard to do anything else while being there.

Growing up, this is where I would spend most of my days during the summer. Both my mother and father worked, and they did not want anybody at our house while they were away. They did allow us to go to the pool though and we would arrange to meet all of our friends over there during the day. I know now that it was because we could be supervised while we were there, but I look at how the herds of children move around the pools now and think back to those days when I was among their numbers. It amazes me how we could be easily entertained all summer long by diving after different things we would throw in the deep end, or show off our skills by jumping and eventually diving off the diving boards, or playing intricate games of keep away with all of the other kids in the neighborhood. They have become some of my favorite childhood memories.

The pool that we went to had ten minutes at the end of every hour designated for adult swims. It was basically a time during every hour where nobody would be in the pool and we always wondered why they would do this if nobody took advantage of it. I wonder if it is still a thing at some pools because I have not run into it for years, and I still can’t think of what the purpose of this time was. Even though I would complain about it as a kid, I still enjoyed those ten minutes every hour. It was a time where we get our drenched bodies out of the water and lay down directly on the hot concrete around the pool. That heat always felt so good on the skin, and I remember enjoying the way it would dry me off after a good hour of swimming.

The Snack Shack was also a favorite of ours. We would scrape together our nickels, dimes, and quarters, and bring them with us every time we went to the pool so we could spend it on candy. A snickers bar got quickly devoured; whereas, a box of nerds became a treasure that we would slowly share with everybody else in the group as we experimented with the combinations of all the different fruit flavors. It is probably where I developed the sweet tooth that I still have today.

I may not be as active when I go to the pool anymore, but I still enjoy going. I’ll hop in every once in awhile to cool down while trying to find a corner where I can talk with my wife while avoiding all the kids that are around. (Maybe that is what adult swim is for.) Most of the time, you will find me in the shade with a good book, and of course, I will always find a reason to visit the Snack Shack if they have one. Nothing exciting every happens at the neighborhood pool, but that does not mean that I still don’t get excited to go to it when I have a chance. I am glad that I had one growing up, and if you find that you have one in your neighborhood, you might want to think about checking it out a couple times this summer, just to see what they are all about.

What I’ll Miss About Thailand – The Food

It may not be one of the first cuisines that people think about when walking about the best food that this world has to offer, but Thai food is often high on many people’s lists. It would definitely make it on my top three, and living in Thailand, I learned about so many new dished that never make their way on to the menus of the Thai restaurants invading America.

You are guaranteed to see pad thai and pineapple fried rice on many of those menus and those are regular staples on many of the menus in Thailand, and yes, these are tasty dishes, but when I discovered all of the other ones available out there, I realized that many American had no idea the culinary delights they were missing out on.

When eating Thai meals, it is important to recognize that it is a family affair. Many dishes are ordered at a Thai restaurant ant they are brought out and placed in the middle of the table. A heap of rice is put on your plate and then you dig in, passing dishes around and trying a bit from each culinary delight. When I was at a restaurant I knew I was eating, but there were a couple times where the meals were designed for us at some of the hotels we stayed at and I was introduced to a couple new dishes in the process.

There are a lot of dishes that can found everywhere in the country such as somtam, a spicy green papaya salad, or tom yum soup, a spicy shrimp soup with a hint of coconut milk. They can be found from the southern beaches to the northern mountain with the only thing that each dish has in common is the fact that the word, spicy, is used in the description of the dish.

There are some regional dishes as well. My favorite would have to be a northern Thai dish called khao soi. It is a rich brown curry usually served with pork, but you can find options with chicken if that is what you prefer. It is topped off with fried rice noodles to give the dish the impression of a mountain filled with winding mountains which is what the name of the dish actually translates to. This is one of those menu items that I don’t think will be found in the United States at a Thai restaurant because it has not made its mark on the rest of Thailand yet. There were a couple of places in Bangkok where I could find a good imitation of this dish, but the best version remained at the small stalls, and mom and pop establishments in Chiang Mai.

The curries are delicious out in Thailand, and can be made to order with varying levels of spice. They can be served with rice or roti, a flatbread designed to scoop out the sauce, meat, and vegetables hiding just below the surface. It became a joke with my friends when we talked about how this option would be taken away when we traveled back to the United States. The Thai restaurants would only have names on the menu such as red curry or green curry, and not even allow their guests to attempt the name of the dish. I am sure I will find a version of my favorite, panaeng curry, but I will just have to hope that is what it is until it arrives in front of me, and I am sure it will never reach that level of spice that I had become accustomed to in Thailand.

There is always the street food as well. This is the main way that most people eat in Thailand. They go down to the main street in their part of Bangkok and look at what food options are available and pick the one that they are most interested in. I will admit that it is a little nerve wracking the first time you do it because you do not know how fresh the food is you are picking up, but there is a trick to finding the best food. Watch the crowd for a bit. See where most of the people go, and then you know that they are moving through their supply fast enough that the food will be fresh by the time you order, and it must be good if so many people are eating there.

Thailand is not just a great spot for its own cuisine, but it also specializes in all the other styles of food as well. They do a great job as well. If I got bored with Thai food all of the time and as long as I was in the bigger cities, I could find Italian, Mexican, Bar-b-q, Korean, Japanese, and Swiss. They put a little twist on it to make it their own, but the food was just as good as if you were getting it in the country where it originated.

I would have to say that they did breakfast the best. There is nothing better than going to a good breakfast place and having them make a fantastic meal for you, and in downtown Bangkok, there is an endless supply of them. I would always want to go back to the one that I just enjoyed, but would rarely do it because I would find another one that would be just as good or maybe even a little better.

The point being is that Thailand is a foodie’s paradise. They know how to cook out there, and combined with the pandemic, it made it a struggle to stay in some form of shape without having to buy a whole bunch of new pants. I will find the food like this again in other places, but nobody will be able to do Thai food like they do in Thailand, and for that reason, it will be one of the things that I will miss the most about that country.

Run Indoors – Escaping the Heatwave

I knew that it wasn’t going to be cold when I came back to America. I knew that I was going to have to face the heat of summer. I knew that when I finally made it back to Colorado during the month of July, I would probably face a string of 90 degree days that would cause me to return to the air-conditioned environment created by the great indoors.

What I didn’t know was that I would have to face these kinds of conditions while I was in Oregon.

That is not to say that Oregon never gets hot. I have experienced some hot days during all of my time out visiting the state. There have been strings of hot days that have made me want to stay inside until the sun dipped over the horizon, but most of those days have come in late July or early August. Oregon is usually trying to work its way out of the cool spring during the month of June, and when I first got out here, that was the weather I was experiencing. But the news in Oregon has been focusing on the heat wave that is about to hit the not only the state, but all of the West. It is not just a small bump in temperatures either. What they are predicting could break records for the longest streak of 100 degree days in a row, and in the middle of it all, the hottest day ever on record in Portland. Needless to say, there is a little bit of panic going on in the state right now.

Now, it is not the kind of panic that has people running to the grocery store stocking up on toilet paper. Only a world wide pandemic can cause that kind of panic. No, this is more of a reserved apprehension about how each individual will be able to handle this extreme heat. There is talk of running down to the coast where the temperatures are always cooler and will only reach the 70s, and they are setting up shelters to pump out cool air-conditioned air during the hottest parts of the day.

It appears that many people in Oregon have already decided that it has gotten too hot out there because a lot of the places are missing the people I would normally see there. I do not think that it is that hot outside yet, but I know when it starts to hit those triple digit numbers that I will be running inside with the rest of them. It is all a sense of relativity though. Most Oregonians have spent the last couple of months shaking off the colder parts of the year, and to be thrown directly into this heat wave is a shock to the system; whereas, I have been spending the last couple of years living in one of the hottest and most humid cities in the world. It will have to be those extreme temperature that they are forecasting this weekend that will get me to start to feel the heat, and like a lot of those people who are inside right now, I am not looking forward to it either.

That brutal heat of Thailand seems to have found me. It took it awhile, because I flew half way across the world to get away from it. Flying is way over the Pacific Ocean, it kept a watchful eye for me, and I should have spent more time indoors because it spotted me and is now bringing its fury down upon the innocent people of Oregon like they have never seen before.

I am sorry for that, but it was just a joy to have a change of season and be able to walk around outside without instantly sweating. The sad thing is that it seems to know what I will be doing next. I am moving on to my home state soon which is just east of Oregon, and this heat bubble is hanging over the Pacific Northwest just long enough to make the move over the Rocky Mountains. It looks like I will have to apologize to the fine people of Colorado in advance for the heat I know will be coming their way. But hey, it is summer, and you knew this heat was coming. It will only last for a short period of time before the crisp days of autumn come your way. Until then, look for those good people you want to spend time with, and run for that cool comfort you can get from an air-conditioned inside.

The Things I’ll Miss about Thailand – The Sunsets

Koh Yao Yai

Thailand has a lot to offer with its natural beauty, and I was lucky enough to have lived there during the Covid pandemic. It kept out the usual throng of tourists and made the prices for some of the more expensive hotels more affordable. I was spoiled a little bit because of this. Normally, I spend my time traveling in mid range hotels, Air b&b’s, or private rooms in hostels. The reason for this is not only financial, but because I like to spend more of my time away from the hotel, and see what the locations I am visiting have to offer. If I wanted to see the sunset over the ocean, I would have to find a good location, and stake out my spot. I was not aware that many of these luxury hotels were designed to give its visitors the premiere spots to watch the sunsets without having to leave their patios.

Koh Yao Yai

Because of this, I spent a lot of my time in Thailand chasing the sunsets. I never knew that they could be so dramatic and different depending on where I was and how the clouds hung in the sky over the horizon.

Khao Yai

It always meant that I had to rush to the perfect spot around six o’clock every evening during my travels to get the best shot I could. I always found that the best pictures came when I had a body of water to bounce the colors off of.

Hua Hin

But sometimes that would not be an option, and I would have to use what was available. Thailand offers enough landscapes though to make almost every sunset a perfect expression of color in the sky. Most people think of the ocean in Thailand, but there are enough mountainous locations that created beautiful sunsets that would rival the ones I used to see over the foothills on the western edge of Denver.

Phuket

I do believe that I got better at capturing the sunset as my time in Thailand grew. At first I was just trying to capture the sky, but I soon realized that the sunset was actually an event that brought the people of Thailand out to capture their own spectacular pictures.

Railay

There were stories to be told in those sunsets, and the color in the sky just became a backdrop for those tales.

Railay

It took my pictures to another level, and help me to remember those moments I had in Thailand that helped shape me into the person I am today.

Koh Yao Yai

So as my time sets in Thailand, I will always have these pictures to look back at think on the beauty that is this country. It will easily be one of the things I will miss the most about Thailand, and I know I will see other sunsets in my life, but I do not think I will ever witness ones that are as spectacular as they were there again.

A Walk Down the Metolius River – Central Oregon

Summer has arrived in Central Oregon. The last couple of days have been in the 80s, and it has been the perfect time to get out of the house and see what the area has to offer. There are many places to choose from, and one that is frequented by many people who come this is way is Camp Sherman. It is a campground located on the Metolius River that offers tent sites, RV locations, and the option of renting a cabin for the ones who are not as adventurous.

During the summer months, the campgrounds, and cabins are usually packed with visitors because of the various activities that this part of Oregon has to offer. There are some recreation centers, but from what I am told, they do not get as much use as the river itself. It is here where you can find fly fishing, hiking, either along the river or up the nearby Black Butte, and just general fun from camping. The tall trees and cool water running down the river keeps the place relatively cool even on the hottest of summer days which makes it the perfect mountain destination.

For those of you who like to dip into civilization a little bit, there are a couple of places along the river that you can visit. There is the general store where you can pick up your basic supplies, and if you are hungry, they do have a counter where you can pick up a really good sandwich or burger with a lot of vegetarian options available. If you want more of the sit down restaurant experience, there is Hola, a Mexican restaurant that will serve you some spicy delights as well as margaritas. I have never been to this one, but it is the same Hola restaurant that can be found in nearby Bend, and if the food is the same, it is worth the visit.

If you don’t mind driving, you are only a twenty minute drive to Sisters, a charming town that will make you feel like you have gone back to the old west. It offers more restaurants and shops to browse through. But if you are looking for something a little more educational, there is the fish hatchery as well. You can see where many of the lakes and rivers of Central Oregon get its fish.

But the greatest attraction out here is the head waters of the Metolius River. This river is unique to Central Oregon because its main source of water does not come from snow melt from the surrounding peaks. The river instead spring out of the ground further upstream and you can go up there to wander around a series of paths to see how this imposing force of nature is formed.

Camp Sherman is a great place to stay at if you are looking for a camping spot in Central Oregon, but it also offers a great day retreat as well, the perfect place to take a leisurely stroll along the Metolius River to see some beautiful sights.

Clear Lake – Central Oregon

Tucked up in the mountains of Central Oregon, you will be able to find all kinds of lakes. Most of them have some sort of camping around them and a lodge where you might be able to get a couple of quick supplies or a bite to eat, and usually rent some equipment to take out on the lake. The lakes are used for different reason, so when you look at which one you would like to spend a day at, look to see what activities they allow at the lake, so you are not disappointed when you get there.

One of my favorites is Clear Lake. It is about six miles down Highway 126, off of Highway 20, just a little east of the Santiam Junction. It will get some crowds during the weekends, but nothing so extensive that you will want to avoid it altogether, and if you can make it during one of the weekdays, you can find your own little corner of the lake, even during the hotter summer months. The lake lives up to its name because the lake’s water is clear. Most of this is due to two things, the winter run off always filtering into the lake from cavern water from the surrounding mountains, and the restriction of any motor vehicles allowed on the lake.

Because of this, you are left with beautiful clear water that in most of the places allows you to look all the way down to the bottom of the lake. It gets a little deep in the middle of the lake, making it impossible, but for most of the lake, it is fun to see the life down there, and the many trees that the lake has gobbled up over the years. Because of the clear water, some scuba divers come out to explore the lake, and it threw me a little bit when I was paddling by and saw the bubbling coming up a diver from below me. There are a fair amount of fisherman also on the lake, usually paddling by in rowboats that are available at the lake’s lodge. Most people bring their own kayaks, or paddle boards to enjoy on the lake and there are various places to put them in the water with the parking lot on the western side offering the best spot.

Besides all of the fish, there are a lot of opportunities to see wildlife out there. I have been told that on any given day, you can see bald eagles or osprey, and it is along the path where many herds of deer travel throughout the year. Just because the opportunity exists does not mean that you will always see the more exciting wildlife. I was only able to see fish jumping out of the water, and a family of ducks, but it is always fun to keep my eyes open to see if I will spot something else.

There are many other lakes to explore in Central Oregon, but for the time being, Clear Lake could easily rank highest among the ones I have been to, and it might be hard to find one that can beat what this one has to offer.

A Walk Around Black Butte Ranch – Oregon

Summer has been hiding behind the clouds ready to pop out. It isn’t quite the weather for shorts and swimming pools yet in Central Oregon, but it will come soon. That does not mean that I need to hide in my house and wait for it to come. I could still get out there and enjoy the view of Black Butte Ranch. I just need to plan a little better and make sure I am wearing pants and warmer clothes.

Black Butte Ranch boasts some dramatic views no matter what the weather is. It might even be better during those cool, cloudy days because it add something more to look at in the sky than just a warming blue. It is also early enough in the season that the people have not flooded into the resort yet and taken over the paths. The cool weather reinvigorated me, making the length of this walk tick away with each happy step I took.

It felt as if the empty roads were built for me alone, and each bend gave me another view of the spectacle that is the natural landscape of Central Oregon. I am happy to be out of the towns and cities right now, and am able enjoy these quiet streets. It would be a different scene in Bend, or Redmond, or even Sisters as they get their businesses and restaurants ready for the summer rush that will happen as soon as the nod from the Governor comes, telling them that can ramp things up again.

It will nice to get back to that normal way of life, and hints of it keep peeking out from my periphery. But until then, I will enjoy the lack of crowds and having the feel that the ranch is mine alone.