A Travellerspoint blog

July 2011

3 Reasons to Visit Idaho Other than the Potatoes


sunny 75 °F

When I (someone living in the opposite corner of the country) think of Idaho, I think of the Idaho potatoes. I have never met anyone from Idaho, and I've never been there personally, so there really hasn't been anything or anyone to educate me about the state. Well, I am going to set you straight (if you are as clueless about Idaho as I used to be). I am going to share 3 reasons to visit Idaho other than the potatoes (although there is a 1 in 3 chance your potato came from Idaho)!



Western Idaho (along with eastern Washington) is known for its great tasting wines. Vineyard after vineyard passed by the first hour driving through Idaho. The slightly arid climate and hilly landscape give long period of sunlight during grape-growing season. The grapes have a concentrated fruit flavor, perfect for making wine (similar to the wine country in South Australia). Here is one of the vineyards we passed just after we entered Idaho.


The hills grew larger, eventually forming mountains. Trees filled the countryside, and lakes filled the valleys. Western Idaho is very scenic. We turned north to head to Sandpoint, ID in the skinny northern section of the state. Few cars were on the road, and there were even fewer towns. Most of the area here is reserved for National Forests. This leads me to Reason #1 to Visit Idaho Other than the Potatoes: Lots of forests, trails, and rivers. It's an outdoorsman's paradise. As far as the eye can see, the land is unspoiled by humans, and the land that is being used is for growing grapes for wine!

We eventually wound our way into Sandpoint (couldn't miss it, the highway slows to 25mph when it forms the main street in town). It had the feeling of a small beach town. Most of the people were on foot wearing bathing suits or riding bikes. We parked the car and walked through the town. The town was only about 5 blocks long, but it was the biggest town I had seen since entering Idaho (most of the people in the state live in the southern end near Boise). It was relaxing, no one seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere. A bluegrass band played some mountain music while people moved in and out of the shops.



Megan and I went into one of the wineries in town to try some of the wine we passed by on the road. The winery was called Pend D'Oreille, named after the local Indian tribe that lived around the lake. They had a variety of wines, choosing not to focus one particular type of grape. Megan got excited when they had 3 different types of desert wine for her to try.




We chatted with the bartender about being from North Carolina, and he kept our glasses filled. I could have sat in there all day, but we wanted to see Lake Pend Oreille and some of the trails in the area. We thanked the bartender and headed back out onto main street.

We walked through town towards the lake access. To my surprise, a giant beach surrounded the park next to the lake. No wonder it felt like a beach town! This was the closest beach for some of these land-locked Idahoans.



It wasn't exactly hot outside compared to a North Carolina summer, but it was roasting for northern Idaho. Everyone was at the beach, playing in the sand and splashing in the water. People were riding skateboards and bikes along the walkway lining the beach. We both waded into the water, and then promptly got out (it was chilly!).


We continued down the beach. People were grilling out and sunbathing, while kids dove off floating logs serving as a swimming barrier. Every person for miles was probably on the beach, and it was hardly crowded at all. The mountains rising over the clear, blue water was very pretty. Reason #2 for Visiting Idaho Other than the Potatoes: It is hard to beat the views.


We followed a trail going around the lake. A few people passed us on bikes, but for the most part the trail was empty. We passed by some swimmers that were doing half mile loops in the lake (most of them we wearing wetsuits). Megan found the "biggest dandelion in the world", and proceeded to blow the seeds into the wind.



The trail eventually went over a bridge, so we stopped to watch the sun set over the water. The lake and surrounding mountains were absolutely beautiful. The air was clean and refreshing. A train went over a nearby bridge, adding to the backdrop.



We walked back into town to try the local brewery and get some dinner. Megan has come a long way, from disliking all beer to now enjoying a few of the darker varieties. It is my belief that she makes up her mind whether she is going to like something before she even tries it, so I challenged her to a blind beer taste test. I ordered a sampler of beer and had her blindly taste all the varieties in the brewery.


She started going through the beers randomly, ranking them 1 to 5. The darker beers scored much higher than the hoppier beers, so it seemed that she genuinely didn't like the bitterness of a hoppier beer. Instead of randomly handing her beers, I started just handing her only the hoppy ones, just to see her bitter-beer face. It was hilarious. After taking a sip, she involuntarily shuttered and made a bitter-beer face.


To make Megan feel better, I started making a bitter-beer face after every drink. Here is my bitter beer face.


To try some authentic Idahoan food, Megan and I ordered the Idaho specialty, the magnificent spud. Megan opted for the french-fried variety, while I stuck to the homemade chip.



Reason #3 to Visit Idaho Other than the Potato: It was one of the most relaxing days I've had in a long time. And the potato was pretty good too!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:44 Archived in USA Tagged mountains beer beach local_food Comments (0)

Seattle—Music, Starbucks, and Flying Fish


sunny 75 °F

My road trip through the Pacific Northwest continues as I leave behind the beautiful city of Portland and head to Seattle where I was meeting Megan. The drive was fantastic, passing by Mount St. Helens and the other giant mountains in the Cascade Mountain range. My excitement rose as I drove along the sound, passing the Seahawks and Mariners stadiums, and seeing the Space Needle off in the distance.



We found a place to park on the south end of town and immediately stumbled into an outdoor music festival. The square we were in had a music festival every Friday, during the middle of the day! It looked like a crowd people had come down on their lunch break to listen to some jams. A gym advertising a hula-hoop fitness class was there as well, so I shook my booty to the beat of the music to show everyone how a real man hula-hoops.


There were also some crazy statues, so of course we couldn't resist mimicking them.


The two top attractions we wanted to see in Seattle were Pike Place Market (where they throw fresh fish around) and the Space Needle. After consulting a map, we saw that both were a decent walk away. We detoured down to the sound to walk along the water instead of cutting through the highrises of downtown. Near the harbor, a group of Native Americans were carving a totem pole. One guy was wielding a chainsaw like a surgical weapon to make fine-tuned carvings. Several other Native Americas were standing around offering to talk about why they were making the totem and about the process of completing one.



A delicious smell made its way to our nostrils, overpowering the salty-fishy smell of a wharf. Listening to the rumbling of our stomachs, we got a table overlooking the water. The pacific northwest is known for the dungeness crab and for smoked salmon, so we ordered one of each. Along with some local beers, it was a near perfect lunch.



After lunch, we headed away from the water and up towards Pike Place Market (and I literally mean up). The city rises sharply from the shorefront, and I felt like we were mountain climbing to get up the steep incline. Pike Place Market is series of shops built into the side of the hill, with a farmers market on the top at the street level. Megan and I stopped in some of the photography and knick-knack stores, but we wanted to get to the top and see the real action in the farmers market. I wanted to see fish flying through the air!



We walked out into the crowded street level and were presented with rows of fruit stands, stacks of fresh fish, and colorful arrangements of flowers. We watched people pick out their fish and the fishmonger heave it to the back to get wrapped up.


The flower shops were amazing. Giant arrangements of colorful and aromatic flowers were listed for $5 and $10 (super-cheap compared to the flower shops back in Raleigh). People were buying them as quickly as the ladies could make them. Not wanting to carry around a full bouquet, I bought Megan a single pink daisy.


We continued through the market, sampling fresh cherries and other fruit from the stands. Megan tried a variety of honeys. We looked at all types of arts and crafts. It was a pretty cool atmosphere, enhanced by the view of the sound in the background and the music being played in the street.

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Before leaving Pike Place Market, we stopped by the original Starbucks located in the middle of the plaza. The line reached out the door and down the street (which was ironic, because the Starbucks down the block sold the same coffee with no wait). Megan stopped for a picture at the front door, but we passed on waiting in line.


Leaving Pike Place Market, we headed towards the Space Needle. Now that the tallest skyscrapers were behind us, the Space Needle was easily visible.


The Space Needle is located on the old fairgrounds, so there was a big park around the structure. Several sculptures were on display. One looked like a kids playground slide viewed through a kaleidoscope.

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It was over $20 a person to get to the top of the tower, so Megan and I opted to pay to go into the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum adjacent to the Space Needle (it seemed like a weird combination to put Music and Science Fiction together in one museum). The first exhibit was all about Avatar, James Cameron's big-budget 3D movie. They had masks and props from the movie, as well as an in-depth look at the technology used to make the movie. People could recreate scenes using green-screens or use the virtual 360° filming technology to film their own scene.


Exiting the Avatar exhibit, we walked into a student group giving a percussion concert of Caribbean style music. The students wore tie-dye clothing and Rastafarian headgear while playing steel drums and bongos. The music sounded cool, but seemed out of place in Seattle. Going further into the museum there was a giant guitar-cyclone sculpture. The craziest part, it actually played music!


Some of the electric guitars were wired with servos that plucked the strings. The music came out of speakers hidden in the sculpture. In this part of the museum, one whole room was dedicated to Jimmy Hendrix, a Seattle native. The next room over was dedicated to grunge music. Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam were only a few of the featured artists. The display did a great job showing how the bands were all interconnected to create a "new sound" originating from Seattle. There were booths set up where you could listen to music from all the grunge-era artists (pretty much an exact copy of what was already on my iPod).


We went upstairs to the sound studio, a series of rooms that allowed you to create your own music. They had a guitar, bass, and drum set up so that you could follow tutorials to learn how to play (and even join in with the others to actually play a song). Megan went through some of the tutorials on the guitar while I banged on the drums.

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A series of private recording rooms surrounded the instruments, so you could grab some friends and slip off to record a CD while in the museum. Megan and I sang a duet in one of the booths, it was pretty fun messing with all the audio sound effects.

Sitting right next to the sound studio was a giant exhibit dedicated to Battlestar Galactica. Megan tried to show her geekiness, but unfortunately she had the wrong show in mind (give her a break, she just started watching Star Trek).


Unfortunately I had never watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica, but they did a good job explaining the premise of the show and how the 70s version is different from the 2000s version. Costumes and ship replicas used in the show were on display, along with with very lifelike character representations. They had some interactive displays too, like one where you acted as the captain in deciding how the crew reacted to a particular situation. It was supposed to show how the show handled contemporary moral issues in a futuristic setting (is it right to torture an enemy to save lives, do you break a treaty to save your ship, etc).



It was getting a little late (Megan was still recuperating from the 3 hour time difference), so we started walking back to the car. We passed the Space Needle again and continued through downtown. Megan's flower was getting droopy from being out of water for so long, so we began to look for a place to grab some dinner for us and water for the flower.

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As we got closer to the car, I noticed a lot of foot traffic passing us. Everyone was wearing Sonics jerseys, which seems a little odd (the Seattle NBA team, the SuperSonics, moved to Oklahoma City a few years ago). I realized that everyone was walking towards the Mariners stadium for the beginning of the baseball game. We forgot about dinner and hustled to the stadium to make the opening pitch.


Everyone was wearing Sonics jerseys because they were honoring the Sonics at the baseball game. Greats like Nate McMillan and Gary Payton were in attendance and generated about the only cheers of the game. The Mariners are doing horrible this year, and were down 9-0 by the end of the 3rd inning. I still loved every minute of the game, there is nothing like watching baseball on a summer evening.


From our seats we could see the football stadium and the city skyline. It was a pretty cool view.


After the game it was past 3am on the east coast, and Megan was struggling to stay awake. I had picked a hotel in Redmond, a suburb of Seattle, so we could visit the campus of Microsoft. They have a Microsoft Museum, but unfortunately it closes on the weekends. We still walked around the campus, and I posed for a picture on the company sign.


We still had a lot of Washington to see, but it was going to be the part along the interstate. We were driving to Idaho for the next leg of the road trip. To keep me alert on the drive, I bought my first ever drink from Starbucks (where else to get my first except in Seattle!).


Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:29 Archived in USA Tagged museum local_food professional_sports Comments (0)

Portland—Where Great Beer Encouraged Me to Join the Army!



I am in Portland for a week-long Open Source Conference called OSCON held at the Oregon Conference Center (pretty cool building shown in the picture below). Basically, take a couple thousand of the nerdiest people in the country, confine them in an enclosed area, and let them discuss topics that use more acronyms than the US military. It is great to be able to speak geek with others (most of my friends and coworkers shy away from technical conversations), but after 10 hours listening to presentations and participating in group sessions, I was ready to de-geek.


Geeks know a lot of useless information (like the max warp capacity on the Enterprise), but thankfully they also know a lot about good beer. I was able to score some great recommendations on where to go when the conference sessions closed down for the day. The first recommendation was Henry's Taproom in the Pearl District (the hip section of town with loads of restaurants, bars, and shopping). The hotel I was in was located a couple miles from the center of downtown. Portland has an awesome, free light-rail system that serves the downtown area. However, after sitting down all day, I preferred to walk across the bridge to see the city by foot.


This was the view I had every evening as I walked to grab dinner downtown. Just like the view from the riverwalk in Milwaukee and the incline in Pittsburgh, the river accented the downtown skyscrapers nicely.

Henry's looked pretty crowded, so I killed some time walking around the Pearl District. The largest independent used bookstore in the world, Powell's Bookstore, is located around the corner. The bookstore is so large, it takes up an entire city block by itself! I decided to go take a look around, but navigating a bookstore this large proved a little difficult. There was row after row after row of book shelves, each one reaching to the ceiling. The bookstore was separated into multiple floors, and each room was color coded (although it didn't really help me to know which was the Rose room and which was the Orange room). I wasn't looking for anything particular, so I just meandered through the store.



I wandered up to the travel section to read up on Washington, Idaho, and Montana, the next few states I would be visiting, when my stomach flipped. I realized that I was carrying my used paperback book in my backpack, and there was no way to prove it that it was actually mine. I had scoffed at the giant signs at all the entrances indicating that "ALL BAGS MUST BE CHECKED IN", and the clerk gave me a weird look when I just walked past him. I was screwed. I was going to have to buy my own book for the second time. I walked through the store trying to find an exit that was loosely guarded. I'm sure that walking quickly from exit to exit, starting to sweat profusely, with a giant backpack on my back only drew more attention to me. After circling the store for 20 minutes, I decided that I would just have to make a break for it. I took a couple deep breaths, and then walked toward the rear exit while trying to wear an innocent look on my face. I looked down so that I wouldn't make eye contact with the clerk at the register, and prepared myself to be tackled from behind as the security guard ran me down. I burst out the door, and breathed in the sweet air of freedom. I was ready for a beer now.

Henry's Taproom is the type of place where they have 100 different beers on tap. As if that wasn't enough, they also had a ring of ice built into the bar to keep your beer cold! It was awesome. I took a seat at the bar, looked at the beer menu, and decided on the Rogue Double-Chocolate Stout. I ordered a bratwurst with bacon and bleu cheese, and opened the freshly-liberated paperback. I ended up going through another 4 local porters and stouts they had on draft before deciding it was finally time to walk back for the night. Good beer, a delicious bratwurst, and a book that only had to be bought once was a great way to spend the evening.


I repeated this process for the next couple nights (minus the terrifying Powell's Book Store episode). During the day, I scouted recommendations on good bars to try out for dinner. I ended up walking to a different part of downtown every night. One night I ate outside at the Green Dragon, while another night I ate a local brewery called McMenamins. Portland definitely had good beer figured out.

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The highlight of the entire trip in Portland was the night I attended the MLS game. The Portland Timbers were taking on Club Atlético Independiente from Argentina. I had tickets to stand in the section reserved for the Timbers Army, the animated supporters of the Timbers. I arrived 30 minutes before the game, got a beer, and got as close to the field as I could. The Timbers Army takes up the entire endzone of the stadium, and it was getting pretty crowded. The members of the Timber Army were dedicated. By the time I found a seat, everyone was already standing and doing the organized cheers. Everyone had green on, and nearly everyone had one of the Timbers scarves to wave around. Their energy was infectious, and I as I picked up on the cheers, I joined in the cheering and dancing.


Here is a video of everyone dancing while singing the Tetris Theme.

The cheers didn't ever stop. The drums, trumpets, and cheer leaders went from one chant to another. It was loud 100% of the time, but that didn't prepare me for when the timbers scored. The place went beserk. It was pandemonium, everyone acted like they had just won the $100 million lottery.

Just as the crowd settled back into the normal routine of chants and dances, they scored again. Pandemonium again. The noise was deafening. The Timbers were up 2-0, and apparently life couldn't get any better. After each goal, a giant lumberjack named Timber Joey saws a section of a log with the largest chainsaw ever built. He then parades around with it while everyone cheers.


No one left the stands until 30 minutes after the game ended. The players came over, applauded the fans, hoisted the cut sections of timber, and trotted off the field. The Timbers match had been a blast, and although I attended by myself, I never felt like I was cheering alone.

Portland had been a great time, but it was time to leave the beer, the geeks, and the city. I was off to Seattle to meet up with Megan.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:57 Archived in USA Tagged beer local_food professional_sports Comments (0)

Columbia River Gorge


sunny 85 °F


This picture appeared in my National Geographic Traveler magazine that arrived just days before my trip out west. This picture is the reason I am looking forward to visiting Oregon. Waterfalls, giant trees, moss covered trails—a hiking wonderland. This specific waterfall was to be my destination immediately upon leaving the airport. Unfortunately it is a six-hour drive west to reach this waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge from Spokane, Washington where I landed.


To my surprise, the drive from eastern Washington into eastern Oregon looked nothing like the photograph in National Geographic.


Where were the trees? Where were the mountains? Where were the breweries and the birkenstock-clad, bearded men I had been promised? Much like there is more to North Carolina than sandy beaches and the Appalachian mountains, a large portion of Oregon is void of mountains. The Cascade Mountain range cuts through the western edge of Oregon, and along with a prevailing westward wind, keeps most of the moisture near the coast. I was driving through an arid plateau, and it would be a while until I see any trees.

In fact, the first trees I saw where obviously planted by man. The trees formed perfectly straight lines, it looked like a never-ending tree farm.


This tree farm was gigantic, stretching for miles down the highway. The Boardman Tree Farm stretches out over 30,000 acres. Eventually the tree lines ended, and I was presented with more dusty scenery. The highway I was traveling on, Interstate 84, runs along the Columbia River, the river that separates Oregon from Washington. Although the river was visible next to the highway, it was far from the view presented in National Geographic.


Way off in the distance, I saw what looked like a mountain. A solitary mountain surrounded by dusty plains. In the middle of the summer, it looked to be covered in ice. What I saw was Mount Hood, the tallest peak in Oregon. The Cascade Mountains are actually part of the the Pacific Ring of Fire, the volcanic hotspot that we all learned about in 4th grade that circles the Pacific Ocean. This giant mountain was actually a volcano similar to Mount St. Helens. I was finally getting closer to the mountains and the waterfalls.


The Columbia River Gorge is the only natural passage way through the Cascade Mountain range. The highway twists and turns as it follows the steep slopes of the mountains. I tried to follow the signs to get to the Eagle Creek Wilderness Trails, but I never saw the exit I needed to take off the interstate. After a couple wrong turns, I eventually was stopped by park security as I tried to enter a secure zone. Explaining that I couldn't find my exit, the park ranger informed me that the exits were only available on the westbound side of the interstate, there were no cloverleaf style interchanges. Following the ranger's directions, I was able to find the trailhead and start my hike into Columbia River Gorge.


A 5 mile trail from led from the parking lot to the waterfall from National Geographic. The trail was beautiful. Gigantic trees loomed overhead (although not quite as big as the ones I saw while hiking in Tasmania or the Tingles in Western Australia). A picture doesn't really show how big the trees are because no one is in the picture for a reference, but the smaller tree in this picture was easily 50 feet tall, and it would take at least 4 people to form a circle with their arms around the big pine.

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The trail hugged the slope of one of the mountains, and a large pass hung precariously over a drop. A steel cable was bolted to the rock for support, but it was nerve-racking when I had to let go to pass someone on the trail. You couldn't beat the views though.

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The trail started to make its way down to the bottom of the gorge, and I was presented with my first view of the falls.


Upon reaching the bottom, several waterfalls cascaded down the valley. People sat on rocks taking in the scenery, while others briefly swam in the cold waters. You can't see the waterfalls in this picture looking downstream, but it gives you an idea of what it was like standing on the edge of Eagle Creek.



Following Eagle Creek upstream, I finally found the waterfall that inspired the entire trip.


The waterfall (Punch Bowl Falls) is much larger than it looks in the picture (which surprised me). It is over 30 feet tall, but you can't get super close without swimming out to it. I saw a crowd gathering to watch the falls, and then noticed someone fly through the air and land in the water beneath the falls. A group of younger guys were jumping off a ledge 4 times higher than the waterfall! It looked insane, and only a couple actually braved the jump (I assume the rest climbed back down via a trail). I rested my legs and watched a dog fetch rocks from the water. I got someone to take my picture in front of the falls, and then hiked back to my car. My travel through Oregon has only started, as I planned to spend the next week in Portland, Oregon.


Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:14 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls mountains hiking state_park Comments (0)

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