Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Back Home, remembering Moab


What is it, like, a month since I've been home from my trip? And still I haven't posted about one of my most favorite stops on the road. Sheesh!

My life is like that. I hop off of one thing, sometimes a hair too soon, and I'm ready to get cracking on another. Of course, the current 'another' is finding a job and settling down into my house. Not quite as alluring as a road trip, unless you've been on one for three months.

I had a choice while back up in Washington state of routes through Utah. One would have taken me to the Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, and for a while that was the plan. Then a friend called and told me she'd be in southern Colorado, and would I be into meeting up in Taos, NM. I said hell yeah, and so my new route would take me through Moab. Oh well, I thought, I'm sure it's pretty there, too.

Oh my God. Am I on Mars? This one's from Canyonlands National Park, a vast landscape of sandstone sculptures, winding riverbeds, buttes and canyons. I went on a six-mile hike in the Needles District on fine day, and it was amazing. Except for those kids...there was this young couple of yups and their two wild boys just ahead of me who all felt that the 'Stay on the Trail' did not apply to children, who were free to stomp up the delicate plant life to their heart's content. Little fuckers.


Now you know how I love my roadside attractions. Just about forty-five minutes south of Moab is Hole 'N The Rock, which delivered all the things I crave: a great story, endless kitsch, and emus. Albert and Gladys Christensen called this 5,000 square foot excavated sandstone home, and both were buried in a little grotto just outside of it (check out the website for photos of the inside.)
Ah, Albert was such a multitalented man: Frankenstein like taxidermy, oil paintings of FDR, Indians and Our Lord, and...well, blowing giant holes in rock. His wife favored beadery and doll collections. The two of them lived inside the rock and ran a cafe in front of the living quarters during the uranium boom. He was working on an elevator shaft that would access a desert rock garden at the top of the rock when he died in 1957. Gladys stayed in the house until her death in '74 and even fashioned herself a rock bathtub. It has since changed hands a couple of times and now belongs to a family from SLC whose youngest son---I'm guessing 13---was the consummate tour guide. Onsite emus will give you dirty looks for free. Don't pass it up if you're ever out there.

Arches National Park is just a hair north of Moab, and was the inspiration for all those Road Runner cartoons. The most famous formation, Delicate Arch, is the shamelessly ubiquitous image on every liscense plate, body shop sign and plastic cup in the city. I was determined to see it right at sunset, when everyone scrambles up a half mile of slickrock to see the play of deep orange light on the sandrock. I was so busy with my dinner at Buck's Grill House (which I recommend) that I lost track of the time and had to haul ass and still missed the Golden Moment. I sat in the waning light and watched an old man walk around the base of this gorgeous formation, and It Was Good.

Oh, man, what else? There was horseback riding and rafting and the German woman who took off her pants. A few of the local servers were surly, and for the love of God, do NOT eat at the Slickrock Cafe. The service will make you feel like killing someone.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Please Stand By (Glass in Hand, Of Course)

Some dastardly imp has wiggled into my system and taken out my Mobile Technology, dammit. But don't despair. I may even be able to get an adapter and post tonight after a scheduled interview today. To keep your spirits (and interest) aloft, here's a list of Coming Soons:

  • There are four categories of scenic beauty: Pretty, Beautiful, Gorgeous, and I Just Crapped Myself. Find out where in the world one can find that last category.
  • Crazy for Americana Roadside? How 'bout paintings of Jesus, blowing holes in sandstone, or taxidermy? Southern Utah's own Hole N The Rock Rules.
...And much, much more.

Now go have a nice glass of Mer-lott and relax. I'll be back soon!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Waitsburg, It's Gonna Happen

So, you've been to all the wineries in Walla Walla, you've cruised Main Street for hot octogenarians, been to the coffee shops to listen to the teen gossip, and you've tripped on the balloon festival. Now what?

Drive half an hour's worth of east. Seriously. First of all, it's a jaw-dropper drive, especially now in the springtime when the big rolling hills are bright green with new wheat. You'll pass a few teeny picturesque villages with the requisite crumbling barns, then head into what looks like a freaking ghost town. Then you'll be pissed off at me, wondering wtf I made you drive out here for. But you gotta look a little closer.

Ah-hah. There's something. It looks like a cool dive bar. Sure 'nuff, you've found the Lyon's Den, a true specimen of the Renaissance Dive, having all the scruffy edges intact, but with a replenishment of spirit vis a vis a newly built, see-through cooler trimmed in polished wood. There's a good collection of local Washington vino, freshly made pizzas, pool tables for the brave who dare challenge the locals, and a growing list of live music. Really bitchin' tee shirts, too. Gotta have one of those.

So you now have your beer buzz on, and wanna know what else is up in this teeny town. Is it 3pm yet? Good--go on out the door, and jaunt your hungry ass over to the destination place all the Walla Wallans are rightfully screaming about.

The Whoopemup Hollow Cafe is--how do I say this properly?---The Shit. Not since Gramma have I had such tender corn fritters. Scratch that, they're better than hers. But what I really dug was that this place takes the essential ingredients of beloved Southern and Cajun cooking and reinvents them anew. I had a dish that simply blew me away: the sweet potato ravioli served in a tomato sauce with country ham and wilted greens. Familiar flavors rearranged into something completely unique. Excellent work, people.

So now I have to know what dessert's like. The Coca-Cola cake reminded me of all the crazy vintage Better Homes and Gardens magazines I so treasure, so I ordered that.

This is the kind of dessert that widens your eyes like when you were a tot, and the Baskin Robbins 7-scoop Matterhorn was laid before you. It makes you giggle. You dig in and find that the combination of chocolate, cola and super creamy meringue makes this baby way more than a cute presentation. Damn, that's good.

You're not going to find much more out of the ordinary in Waitsburg...yet. But there's a lot of buildings that have been bought up lately by key players like Charles Smith of K Vintners. You'll get the feeling, though, that this is a tiny town on the verge of becoming a bonafide destination. And you can say you were there in the old days, before the Starbucks moved in.

Better visit now.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Judd Cove Oysters

I couldn't have told you how oysters were farmed, either, until I went to Orcas Island. Yeah, water's obviously involved--the average oyster filters fifty gallons of it through its body a day--but beyond that, I had no idea.

As you head east out of the small village of Eastsound, you turn a bend that suddenly reveals a picturesque cove lined around with a wide band of flotsam, mostly water-bleached tree trunks and abandoned clamshells, with a gull or two pecking around for scraps. You might mistake the oyster beds for sticks peeking out above the water at high tide, but when the tide's out, it's obvious...sort of.

Neat rows of what look like sticks lined with rope kinda look like the rows of vines I've been photographing this whole trip. Several rows seem only to be a single oyster shell attached to the yellow rope, while the others are gnarly, amorphous clumps of shell and barnacle; the individual oyster is hard to pick out. I'm all questions at this point: how many oysters are in that mess? How long do they take to grow? Do I get in a lot of trouble if I eat one?

As if by edict of the Cove God, a big yellow truck rolled up and out stepped Bill Bawden and his assistant Elijah. I'd been advised to look for "the tall fair-haired guy with the huge hands" by my friends at the Inn at Ship Bay. Lo, there he was. I shook one of those big hands, which were every bit as rough as the oyster shells that had rendered them so. "You're gorgeous!" he exclaimed to me with a big boyish grin.

Aw, shucks.

Bill and Elijah rolled gray wheelbarrows out to a lot of rows. Harvesting is done by sawing the oyster-heavy ropes off the pvc that holds them, and is done to-order rather than all at once. Bill names off the amount each restaurant has requested, including the Inn at Ship Bay, which has ordered several dozen. It's an approximate business, since it's difficult to tell exactly how many of the little guys are hiding in one big chunk. After they're harvested, they go to a separate processing plant to be separated, de-barnacled and sorted for delivery.

"See this little guy here? He goes for about thirty dollars a dozen in New York," Bill says as he shucks one open for me. Wow. I had no idea I was in the presence of such oyster greatness. It's only right then that I realize the prestige of the farm I'm standing in: Jude Cove is one of the most beloved of the oyster beds on the Pacific Coast. Bill explains the price tag: these crustaceans are raised the old fashioned way, seeded on a 'mother shell' attached to the rope, rather than in mesh bags. The oysters that grow on the bottom of the clump have much thinner shells, and therefore spend more time growing their own bodies rather than worrying too much about protection. It takes around three years for the oysters to reach maturity, so seeding and harvesting are in constant cycle.

He hands the oyster to me. I knock it back. It tastes like seabreeze and butter. Fantastic.

I wondered why a famous restaurant on the opposite coast would be into buying from somplace so far away. Surely they've got an oyster or two over there. Water quality has a lot to do with the high regard for this farm. "I sent my water in to be tested, and they joked with me that I was cheating, it was so clean," Bill says.

I naturally had to have a dozen after my visit. I must testify: they're oysterlicious. And knowing where they're grown kinda makes me feel special. Like I'm in-the-know. I know the oyster farmer, so there.

I'm easily amused.


I am so very far away from Orcas Island now. On the opposite end of the state, as a matter of fact. Give ya a hint: glowing balloons.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Shh...Don't Tell Anyone: I'm on an Island

If you follow both this blog and The Cork and Demon wineblog, you're probably assuming I'm somewhere in Oregon still, photographing starfish and winemakers. I actually slipped off last week to Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juans, between the coasts of Victoria, BC and Washington state. It's an hour's ferry ride from Anacortes. I've been posting the wine stories at my leisure, fitting them in between hiking, beachcombing and stuffing my face with some of the best food I've had on this trip. My friend Luke, who I've known since we were eighth-grade troublemakers in Catholic school, is the innkeeper here at the Inn at Ship Bay, which is so very cool that it warrants its very own post which will come up soon.

The first full day I was here I spent the morning exploring the odd and amusing landscape revealed by the extreme low tide in Ship Bay. The first several yards of beach is covered with the ubiquitous barnacle encrusted rocks, creating an unsettling crunch underfoot. Being the softie I am, I'm all worried about what--or whom-- I'm crushing as I walk. But the petrified barnacles and abandoned clamshells are so much sea-junk at this point; the real activity is going on ahead of me in a wide band of green seaweed.

I didn't notice it until my leg got a suprise squirt of salt water. I sat down on a big rock in the middle of the mucky sand and watched as scores of little jets erupted everywhere, sending water in arches as high as several feet in the air. These are horse clams, or geoducks maybe, turns out; expressing their displeasure with the proximity of nosy seagulls.

For a local, the beach and its inhabitants might have already blended into the mundane, but not for me. I'm feeling like a wee tot on her first visit to the ocean, and I stop to inspect anything that moves, has color, or glints in the sunlight. There are dead crabs to turn over, more giddily fascinating purple starfish, and great big oyster shells laying open like expensive glass ashtrays, all usually hidden under the tide.

As I'm inspecting the underside of an ancient piece of metal, a man and his son greet me. He tells me they're searching for 'Captain Vancouver's Cannon', an artifact alleged to be visible at very low tide. He describes it to me before continuing his search, and I tell him I'll keep an eye peeled.

Luke wants to make sure I get Moran State Park under my belt a couple of days later, so we leash the collie and head off to a trail that will take us up Mount Constitution for one of the most fantabulous 360 views in the Northwest.

Redwoods are beautiful, and I've hiked through a lot of them on this trip, but there's something about the Washington pines that I love even better. The color palate of this forest is cooler, and I dig the soft, bright green fuzz of skinny saplings. It seems quieter, more remote. Luke tells me there are very few beasties that live in this area; no predators or badgers or snakes, but a few deer and scads of tiny birds. But even these are elusive, and the thickest part of the forest is uncannily still.

At the summit there's a stone tower, built as part of the New Deal/WPA as an observation deck. Closed for intense remodeling recently, it was open for us. I did my usual lazy thing where I skip the obligatory informational displays about Mr Moran and his legacy and blah blah blah and ran right up to the top. You can see all the islands, the shorelines, the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. On a more clear day, you can see Vancouver and Seattle.


The shore is irresistible. I went again and found new creatures washed up into the sand: moon jellyfish. Hundreds of them. Hard to spot at first, they look like discs of ice. Later, on my way back from the oyster farm down the beach, I found live purple sand dollars and spotted a juvenile bald eagle perched on a rock. I could stay out there for hours.

And...what's this? I stumbled over an ancient rusted tube about three feet long, covered in the barnacles of the ages. Nearby was a piece that looked like the end of a small cannon. Was it the famed Captain Vancouver's Cannon? Maybe. Or an old pipe, whatever. In the absence of proof, I get to decide.

More to come about this place. It's really amazing.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Random Special Moments in Portland

Before moving to Portland, B. Deckert got pickled one night and extolled the virtues (read: went on and on) of the city: it was beautiful, it was clean, well placed within an hour's drive either way of stunning scenery, it was tolerant and friendly and intelligent and little faeries of happiness washed your ass for you every single day.

I had no doubt when I got here that I'd like the city a lot. And I really have. So I thought I'd share a few special moments.
The Japanese Garden is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. Apart from the groundskeeper, a loud guy who looked like he just stepped out of a Kurosawa movie barking at a little kid for running on the grass, it was quite serene. A bit lacking in the koi department, however, which is a drag.

Papa Haydn is a favored spot in the Pearl District for their desserts. It's a great yellow affair of a place, and Mrs. Deckert and I sat out on the patio for a bite. I had an asparagus/goat cheese ravioli with a tangle of pea tendrils on the top. Now, I ask you, can you resist a dish garnished with pea tendrils? I cannot. The ravioli....it was okay. Kinda lackluster. But the lemonade, now that was the stuff right there. Lemonade the way the Lord intended. After lunch we split a banana cream pie, made with a lot of chocolate and coconut and foo-foo. The waitress warned us about the dif in style, to be fair, but ultimately it didn't really scratch the banana cream pie itch. I'm a purist about these things. Maybe they should call it 'Chocolate Coconut Banana Foo-Foo Pie' for clarity. I'm just saying. It's not like you can actually bitch about eating pie in Portland on a sunny afternoon.Now Mother's Bistro's a fun joint, except for the intimidating wait. I had a simple lox bagel for brunch, but it was done as good as one could ask, and went one better by letting me put it together myself. See, I like the capers underneath the salmon, so they stick in the cream cheese and don't roll off. Kudos to Mother's for saving me the trouble of disassembly. I visited later on for a Mexican chopped salad. To the manager, I said, "This reminds me exactly of a salad my mom made when I was a kid." And of course, that's the idea.
Hooray for conveyor belt sushi! It's cheap, it's halfway decent (except for the canned corn roll...wtf???) and if you have no one to talk to, you can zone out on the gentle whir and clink of passing plastic plates.

This is only scratching the surface of my culinary discoveries, let alone the whole of Portland, but hey, I'm here for a few more days. I'll leave you with Multnomah Falls, and the assurance that yeah, Portland is as cool as they say.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Northern Oregon Coast


I told B. Deckert, my Oregon host, that I needed Bald Eagle action before I left. He recommended a couple of hiking spots where the elusive raptor flies, but beyond that, it was all about being in the right place at the right time. Fine, I said, then let's hit the coast.

An hour's drive from Portland is the Ecola State Park, where the aquamarine licks black craggies for your viewing pleasure. Except for the requisite Pacific chill, the weather is flawless. Only the slight fogginess keeps distant objects from clear sight. Just beyond the parking lot and before you get to the vistas, there's a grassy picnic area dotted with teeny daisy-like flowers, as if spring could get any lovlier here.

On our way down to the shore, Deckert points out areas where forest clearcutting (you know, that Bush Administration brain child where you strip the trees so they won't burn?) has cut unsightly chunks into the hills. Politics aside, the shit just looks wrong.

We make it to a vista point where a cheery couple in their late forties or so are taking photos with an enormous panoramic lens. I ask them what's the main attraction and the man points to the large viewfinder bolted to the ground and says, "Don't move it, just look straight through."

Far away, on yon big-ass craggy rock, are a pair of bald eagles, sitting pretty as you please.

"They mate for life, don't they?" I asked, wanting in my current personal circumstances to romanticize the birds for it.

"Yup," the man said. We all traded off staring at them through the lens, then passed on the tip to everyone who came up there after us. Its a times like this, in places like this, that people are with each other the way they're effin' supposed to be.

Hunger demanded to know why we didn't bother to bring a damn picnic lunch, so Deckert and I headed off to Cannon Beach. After much inquiry of passers by, we decided on a seafood joint that proved to be precisely what we were looking for: superfresh fish and steamer clams on paper plate for fair prices. Ecola Seafoods Restaurant and Market is the joint. We came back after our adventures and bought our fish for grilling later, and it was even better the second time.

A horrific stench hit us as we decended the steps to the beach, and there seemed to be this strange band of purple gunk running a long length of it. Upon closer inspection, the gunk seemed to be bazillions of tiny purple mollusks who had died en masse and created a thick reeking paste. Weird. We passed over that quickly and headed toward a great big rock down the beach.

"It's called Haystack Rock," Deckert informed me, "And it's the biggest...something or other kinda rock in the Pacific." I think he meant basalt, but who knows what goes on in that boy's mind. He's always eager to boast. What's completely fabulous about it is that, at low tide, it's a Marine tidepool garden brimming with the bizarre and beautiful creatures of the coast.

At this point, I'm giddy like a kid at the candy shop, snapping shots until Deckert assures me that fifteen images of the same anemone is probably enough.

We discovered a group of teens up on the rock beyond the 'CLOSED' sign, passing around some kind of mini bong with their ass cracks facing us like they're invisible. I dissuaded Deckert from messing with their heads, asking him to recall the days when they could've been us. We saw them later walking down the main street in town, their cheeks fat with taffy, looking for the pizza place, and we just about fell the fuck out. Ah, sweet, tolerant, mellow Oregon.

This place is the first that has tempted me to consider leaving Austin. That ain't sayin' I plan on it, 'cause I don't. But for a dyed-in-the-wool Texas gal like myself, that's saying a lot.

And BY THE WAY, if you're one of those annoying-ass people who feel like you just have to make a crack about my home state, please save us both the formalities and kiss my ass. I know damn well that some krazy shit happens in my state, but your preconceived notion of me and everyone who lives in Texas is unwelcome like a hot poker in your ass. Thank you.