Thursday, November 26, 2015

Arches National Park

North Window
       This has been one of our 'Bucket List' items ever since we began planning our retirement.  The vast open spaces and beauty of Southern Utah can only be believed by visiting.  Arches, slot canyons, stacks, and hoodoos.  These are some of the terms we would come to know.  The best possible online resource for any of the parks in Southern Utah is 

      Arches NP is 269 miles SE from Odgen near the town of Moab, a full days drive via Interstate 15 and US 6.   I do have to say that Utah has some of the finest highways I have seen cross country.  US 6 is no exception.  This time of year all of the campgrounds in Utah's National Parks are first come first serve and as such we set up camp in Devils Garden CG. 
       This is the only campground in Arches NP and is 18 miles from the entrance.  The park itself is beautiful, but there are several things worth mentioning for campers.  First, the campsites are pretty small, no matter what their website says.  We tried several on for size unsuccessfully before finding one that we could into.  Of course, our RV is 34', but any RV 30' and larger may be a bit challenged.  Second, be prepared to haul water in your RV.  There is no water spigot available except for the one on the shallow sink in front of the bathrooms for washing dishes.  We ran the travel relay with two 6 gallons jugs back and forth for several days and alternating our shower days to make it work.  The campground itself is nestled at the top of a high summit with spectacular views around.   Pets are permitted within the campground, but NOT allowed on the trails.  The camp host is very friendly and helpful, he brings $5 bundles of firewood around each evening for anyone who wants them.  Cost per day for this campground is $25, $12.50 if you have the Golden Access or Interagency Pass.  RV parks in nearby Moab are much higher. 
      There are nearly 2000 arches within the park. We visited all those we could either drive to or hike a reasonable distance.  We took nearly several hundred pictures.  The ecology and science of what transpired to result in this environment staggers the imagination.  I would recommend the Visitor
Center Tour.  There isn't much else I can say except to enjoy just a few of these photos of some spectacular scenery. 
Balanced Rock

Hoodoos & Arches
North Window Arch
The Three Gossips 
Double Arch 
Landscape Arch
Delicate Arch
      Since retirement we cherish our holidays more than ever and this Thanksgiving was no exception.  We AusSpit our Cook's Ham over the fire pit with some Baked Sweet Potatoes, Steamed Asparagus, and Pecan Pie for desert!  We tried a new glaze on the ham today:  Boar's Head Brown Sugar & Spice.  It is delicious!


      We spent 6 wonderful days exploring Arches NP and although we didn't see everything we enjoyed mild weather, ate well, and had a blast.  Always good to reaffirm your faith in Mother Nature.  There is something here for everyone.  Hiking, mountain biking, off road adventures, and of course the most beautiful scenery you can imagine.  The nearby town of Moab is only 5 miles south and has everything you will need except a Wal Mart.  There are hotels, RV parks, restaurants, fast food joints, every adventure tour and rental imaginable, decent prices on gas, grocery stores, propane, and several places to do laundry.  We wholeheartedly recommend this park to anyone; your adventure awaits. 
NOTE:  We had 2" of fresh snow the night before our departure from Arches NP.  It was really pretty and provided a peaceful feel to the area.  Mother Nature does have a habit of having things all her own way sometimes.  We have been keeping an eye on the weather at Bryce Canyon NP this week.  Unfortunately the canyon sits at 8000'-9000' and they have a reputation for some pretty heavy snowfall.  It is known as a Mecca for Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing in the winter.  This latest storm not only provided them with lots of new snowfall, the forecast temps for the coming week were for only in the lower 20s for highs and down to the single digits at night including some forecast nights below zero!  We really have no desire to tough out such brutally cold weather especially at night in the RV....we decided to forego our stop at Bryce Canyon this trip and will catch it perhaps next trip in the spring or summer.  We will now move on to Zion NP and the St. George area next. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Road to Utah

       Leaving Tumwater, WA we headed south to the Columbia River Gorge then east along it's length to the town of Pendleton, Oregon.  This was to be Stop #1 for us enroute to Utah.  It was an easy drive, but the gas mileage suffered a bit as the drive through this area is often home to some winds as well.  We spent our time hooked up in Pendleton at the Wildhorse Casino Resort where full hookups with Good Sam discount came to a decent $26/night.  They have great bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and of course the casino offers a free shuttle, but we did not avail ourselves of this feature this trip.  We had only planned on staying a single night, but with the arrival of gusty winds up to 60 mph and plenty of snow on the coming mountain pass we thought better of staying an extra night.  Who's in a hurry?  I was quite pleased to find the price of diesel at a 'trip low' of $2.21 which was a welcome sight. 

      Pendleton is the home to the world famous Pendleton Round Up, one of the top 10 rodeos in the country held each year the 2nd full week in September.  It is also the home to the world famous Pendleton Woolen Mills, makers of the finest virgin wool materials known.  We did tour the mill and then of course hit the Mill and Outlet Store.

      Prices here can easily shock the average person into defibrillation.  The average men's and women's sweaters here can run in the neighborhood of $200 and a wool blanket upwards of nearly $300!  Barb was fortunate enough to find a very nice quilt for our RV bed that was actually pretty reasonably priced.   She got a nice discount cause it was on sale, a senior's discount, and another discount cause her husband is so damned charming and good looking.  Most of this is true. 

      Leaving Pendleton we headed over Deadman's Pass and along the eastern edge of Oregon crossing into Idaho west of Boise.  The pass just east of Pendleton is especially treacherous due to double hairpin turns and a steep downgrade.  Weather can add extra challenges.  We waited the extra day in Pendleton just because of the snow and wind on this road. 
      We arrived in the town of Jerome, ID our next night and had planned to stay at the Fairgrounds, but this was not to be.  The campground is advertised as being open year around, but we found it empty with power/water shut off, presumably for the winter.  We were able to water up at a local truck stop and then found a nice, quiet corner of the local WalMart to settle down for the night. 

      Our next stop was in Odgen, UT to visit another old high school friend, Chuck Frady.   We hadn't seen other in 44 years, but we decided we were both still as handsome as ever!  He is still the same laid back, friendly, golf nut I remember from 'way back when'.  Chuck also spent 20 years in the Air Force and is finishing up another career at Hill AFB, UT as a Airfield Heavy Equipment Supervisor.  We did tour his shop and I found the airfield snowplow equipment to be pretty damned impressive.......definitely a MAN SHOP!  He and his wife Nettie were wonderful hosts and they love the area.  Nettie was incredibly helpful as she guided us around the general Odgen area and Hill AFB so we could get restocked, mail packages, and pick up prescriptions before heading further south.  We found Ogden to be a beautiful city with so much to offer.  We had a very nice visit.  There is a 3 lane FREE RV dump station on the north side of the Clinton City Maintenance Bldg just off 1750 West behind the Wal Mart.  Easy in and easy out to get back out the Interstate from here. 
      Next up for us is Southern Utah which has a wealth of incredible and national parks.  It would probably take the better part of 2 months to visit them all.  We will spend the next several weeks, including our Thanksgiving visiting Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Essence of Cuisine in the Pacific Northwest

Photo courtesy of McGrath's Fish House

      Perhaps the best part about visiting the area where I grew up is the abundance of seafood available.  From a myriad of freshwater fishing to the cornucopia of delectable from the ocean:  salmon, oysters, prawns, crab, cod, rockfish, and halibut to name a few.   Of course it all depends on when I visit as to what I can expect to enjoy.  Barb and I do try and harvest our own when we are here; it's just the best part of the experience. 

      The past several visits have centered on razor clams as the seasons have been generous and the clams readily available.   Clam digging is a matter of going out at a very low tide, locating 'shows' or holes where the clams are and digging them.  They live about 18" deep and each digger is allowed 15 per day.  The 3 day non-resident license is only $6.  They provide a delicious treat when fried. 

      This fall, however, the level of domoic acid is too high to allow safe, edible harvest of clams.  Domoic acid began showing up in Pacific tides about 20 years ago with the arrival of algae in warmer seasons.  Consumption of clams during these times can be dangerous, if not fatal.  Complete cancellation of clam seasons has happened 3 times since then.  Better luck next time for us. 
      This visit we spent our usual 5 day visit camping at the beach, but without a clam season and salmon fishing closing 2 months early we were left with recreational Dungeness Crab Fishing.  Everyone raves about Alaskan King Crab and I have enjoyed this myself, but I prefer Dungeness Crab which is sweeter in taste and an entire crab costs only about $7/lb (+-) right off the boats.  These are harvested from Southern Alaska south to California.   Commercial fishermen use crab pots in deeper water to harvest these tasty treats, but recreational fishermen have to resort to other methods. 

      There are collapsible traps and other gadgets, but I tried my luck with small bait snares attached to the end of a fishing line on a strong pole.  These work the same way:  fill the small cage with a dead, smelly bait, such as chicken livers or cut herring.  The attached snares are of heavy diameter fishing line and will ensnare the claws and legs of the unsuspecting crab.  Feel the tug.....reel them up slowly.  I set up my poles within the harbor marina of Westport off of Float #20 which is open to the public.  Many legal crab are taken here every year as they are drawn to the calmer harbor waters with the abundance of food discarded from fishing vessels.   Barb spent much of her time this trip frolicking the beach with our 5 1/2 month old pup, Roux, but I spent several hours each day at high tide waiting patiently on the docks.  Although I did catch several small crab, I did not out smart or harvest anything legal. 
       The nice thing about this area is even if you do not harvest your own crab, buying them fresh off the boats is a fairly inexpensive deal.  We bought two freshly cooked on Thursday and enjoyed a fresh cracked crab/corn on the cob feast in our RV.  Cooking crabs is simply a matter of boiling them in water for 18-20 minutes and then immediately submersing them in cold water.  They can then be eaten at your leisure.   This privilege at the docks cost $1 more, but worth it as we don't have to worry about keeping them alive till we get home and then setting up for cooking ourselves.  We did arrange to get 4 more fresh cooked crab from the docks our last morning there to take home for Barb, Mom, her friend Rose, and I to enjoy.  Crack the crab, dig out the meat, dip in melted butter and savor....usually with corn on the cob.  Always a feast to be treasured. 
     This trip we definitely ventured outside the comfort envelope.  I had tried to enlighten my wife (and others) over the years as to exactly to the realm and deliciousness of the Geoduck.  This creature is another relative of salt water clams except they grow to much larger sizes.  The average mature clam is right at 2 pounds with many more growing LARGER. 
 Photo courtesy of Taylor Seafoods   
      Many of these are harvested annually through a much more exhausting method which require digging holes at or deeper than 3 feet deep.  Some folks equate this to wrestling with a horse stuck in the mud. 
Photo courtesy of Taylor Seafoods

      We decided to obtain ours from a local fisheries business These are more expensive, but yield much more meat than the average razor clam.  They are primarily used, and are delicious in, fritters and chowder.  This treat will cost you $30/lb. and the average clam is 2 pounds.  After returning home with our fresh 'CLAM' (ours was about 1.5 pounds) we set about the cleaning process: 
1)  First you boil water.  Then place the geoduck into the boiling water for ONLY about 20 seconds.  The purpose here is to quickly blanch (not totally cook) the clam. 

2)  Then you immediately put the geoduck into COLD ICE WATER to stop the cooking process for about a minute.
3)  Third place the geoduck on a hard surface for prep.   After cooking the neck will usually relax and become quite elongated.  You will have to trim the siphon end snout and then remove the dark layer of skin that surrounds the long neck (siphon).  This will leave you with the more tender neck meat beneath. 

4) Next, place the geoduck on a cutting board and using a sharp knife gently pry the shell away from the meat to separate it.  Then remove the internal organs (just at the base of the neck) by hand.  They will come out easily leaving a thick layer of breast meat behind.  Then using your knife separate and trim the breast meat, siphon, and neck. 
5) Finally, select and cut the meat as desired for whatever you plan to prepare.  We chopped ours for a delicious clam chowder meal later this winter. 

      There is such a variety of delicious seafood here in the Pacific NW.  We try and return to our favorites and branch out and try something new when the opportunity presents itself.  We will depart within the next couple of days for the SE enroute through Oregon, Idaho, and into Utah for another friend reunion and then some Rich Barb time in the beautiful canyon country of Southern Utah.