August 14-16, 2014
San Francisco to Glacier Park, Napa Valley, Crater Lake, Mt Hood, Lewis and Clark Steamboat Cruise on Columbia and Snake Rivers
I’ve spent 48 very exciting years in the Travel Industry starting as a secretary to an upscale FIT Expert back in 1966, progressing to the top agent at the local American Express Office 7 years later. I started my own agency of 33 years duration when I was 29 back in 1973. I designed and operated unique escorted tours and cruises all over the world to the most exotic destinations: China, S.E. Asia, Kashmir, India and Bali, Indonesia, among others; to S. American, S. Pacific, and all over Europe. You name it! We were there! So it was about time that my husband Dick and I started digging into the corners of the USA we’d never visited. Here is my Blog on our wonderful 3-week adventure:
We are filling in Bucket List destinations we’ve never visited and started out in one of our favorite cities, San Francisco, to visit an old high school friend. We stayed right off Union Square at a 4 star Boutique Hotel, the Kensington Park, on the corner of Post and Powell. If you like friendly, intimate hotels which serve coffee, tea and sherry in the lobby and the staff really wants to know if everything is fine, this 1920s redo is great for you! It is connected to the FARALLON Restaurant, reputedly the top seafood restaurant in San Francisco. Try the soft-shelled crabs and Mediterranean Sea Bass.
Neither Dick or I had ever been to Alcatraz so we booked an afternoon cruise tour which we thoroughly enjoyed, but were glad we could “spring out” without swimming in the frigid bay! Reserving in advance is mandatory as everything is sold out months in advance. We also enjoyed the very new Exploratorium Museum which was very interesting for all ages, located at Pier 17.
We took off for Napa Valley over the Golden Gate Bridge in our Enterprise Rental Jeep and made 5 Winery Visits. The first was VIANSA in the Caneros District of Sonoma, a really lovely tasting/restaurant. Second was the home of my favorite Chardonnay, WILLIAM HILL. They sell it for $25.00 and Kroger’s has it on sale sometimes for $15! Next was ROBERT MONDAVI, and as you can imagine it’s a huge operation also with a very good winery tour, voted best in the area, but since we have been on dozens of winery tours in Europe, we are into strictly sipping! We saved the best two for the last. We loved CAKEBREAD Winery in the Rutherford area offering a really personalized tasting for $25.00 which was worth the price. Since Dick was the DD, he shared all tastings with me – the Wino getting the largest benefit. Our final stop was V SATTUI our favorite! This historic 130 yr old hacienda style winery only sells direct to the customer, so Dick got me a Wine Club membership for my birthday. Their wine is the finest either of us have ever tasted! This winery is a must as they also have free cheese tastings in their Italian Deli and by the time you work your way up to St Helena area you are hungry!
We crossed over the mountain range separating Napa and Sonoma past the Petrified Forest Park to our digs The DOUBLETREE HILTON, which I can strongly recommend. We were welcomed and were just in time for a wine tasting!! which no true Wino should resist, so I didn’t! and was introduced to another direct selling winery HANNA located in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa. This winery rivals V Sattui in quality.
We were staying in the town of Rohnert Park midway between Santa Rosa and Sonoma, so we headed south to pick up the Sonoma Wine Trolley which took us to 4 of the best wineries in Sonoma Valley:
IMAGERY was a very upscale Designer Winery offering mostly elegant Estate Wines only sold direct. It’s owned by Benzinger Winery which we visited next with a complete winery tour with tasting among the Vineyards. It was an excellent value at $20 per person including a full tour and tasting. Chateau St Jean rounded out our active wine tasting. We cried “wolf” on the last one and had a gelato instead.
Dick did a harrowing drive all the way up Calif. Hwy One from Bodega Bay north to Fort Bragg which was a beautiful drive along the surfing beaches near the bay, then driving along the steep cliffs overlooking the huge offshore rock -studded coastline, further north. Dick missed his calling as he should have been a race car driver in Monte Carlo, he is so good at it! However, we DON’T recommend driving the very winding mountain route north of Ft Bragg. Just cut over to Hwy 101 on 20 just north of Mendocino as there isn’t much to see in Ft Bragg anyway, and continue up to the “Avenue of the GIANTS” which you will access at Phillipsville. This 31 mile road is probably the most amazing forest drive in the world. Dick wanted to drive our car thru a Giant Redwood Tree which we did and jumped back on Hwy 101 as my stomach told me it was time to eat and proceeded to dinner in Eureka at Cafe Marina on Woodley Island in Humboldt Bay.
The only way to describe today’s sightseeing is AWSOME! We drove up to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and walked up several of the shorter hiking trails past the tallest and fattest trees that exist on earth, averaging 1000 years old. It was a jaw dropping experience that every red blooded American should have. We also weaved through the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and drove the HOWLAND HILL RD, where you were sometimes driving through Redwood Trees only inches on either side of the car, one car at a time. Incredible! At the exit we hopped right onto US 199 direct to Grants Pass where we over nighted at the HUMBOLDT Best Western where I was able to get in a much needed swim.
Today was full of thrills and adventure. We had already booked the HELLGATE Jet-boat Lunch Excursion but I had my doubts the nite before due to having to sign my life away regarding any back problems etc. Since I do have some problems and remembered the Jetboats from Queenstown, NZ which scared me to death when they whizzed too close to cliffs for my taste, I really debated if I should do it. However, after looking at their UTUBE advertisement, my hesitation wasn’t warranted. I was able to brace my back when we did the 360 spinning and skimmed over some rapids, but overall it was a wet and very scenic, fun experience. I’d recommend it and the cost including a great lunch was only $53.00. We drove 40 minutes to today’s destination, ASHLAND, OREGON for a two night stay to experience its Shakespeare Festival.
August 19 and 20
We took a break and enjoyed this walkable, charming Theatre Mecca on foot. After a little pampering for Pat at Cloe’s Spa for face and feet, we hiked along the Ashland Creek at Lithia Park, keeping our eyes peeled for the bear that was sighted that day. You must drink the Lithia Water to recapture your youth, “A la Ponce a De Leon!” I’m looking in the mirror with great anticipation! Ashland has 3 theaters, one an outdoor Theater In The Round. This town is similar to Niagara on the Lake with its Shaw Festival, or Stratford, Ontario. It’s best to order tickets online to guarantee availability but you can scalp them as well to fill in additional plays after arriving. We are glad we stayed at Abigail’s B and B here as you always meet interesting travelers who you can share local travel tips with, coming or going in the direction you have been or are heading! We got all kinds of tips on Crater Lake, about the grueling hike down and 65 flights back up from the two hour lake cruise.
On your way up to Crater Lake on Rt.62 don’t miss stopping at the Natural Bridge Park to see where the Rogue River disappears into an old Lava Tube and stop for lunch at Beckie’s Restaurant and Homemade Pies, and then around the corner take in the breathtaking Rogue Gorge and Falls. Continue the short distance to Crater Lake National Park. At 7100 ft elevation, the lake was formed about 5700 BC after a volcanic eruption and it was made into a National Park in 1902. Due to the fact that our next overnite was at the destination Resort of Sun River just south of Bend, Oregon, we took lots of turquoise colored pictures of the Lake and descended the mountain for a quick 90 minute drive, and were glad we did because there was lots to see and enjoy here.
Sun River has 3 championship golf courses, Horseback Riding in surrounding mountains, kayaking and fly fishing and river rafting on the Sun River, biking and hiking the myriads of trails honey combing the resort, not to mention its world class Sage Springs Club Spa. I got to do some much needed swimming in their Lap Pool. We had an excellent Trout dinner in their Meadows Restaurant, overlooking Mt Bachelor Ski Resort in the distance. This upscale 4 diamond resort is ideal for Multi Generation Family Reunions, Destination Weddings, Girls Getaways, First and Second Honeymoons, Equestrian or Tennis Groups, you name it. We hated to leave our cozy golf front condo, but TIMBERLINE LODGE on Mt. Hood was calling.
We drove north a short 2 and a half hours and climbed up 6000 ft. all the while passing hundreds of runners descending the mountain, who we found out were participating in the famous HOOD to COAST Relay Race which started in the parking lot of this rustic iconic hotel which we fell in love with. In talking to some teams we found out there were over 14,000 runners who ran 200 miles to the Pacific in overnight relay teams! Being the old skiers that we are, we couldn’t resist taking the Magic Mile Quad Chair lift almost to the top of The Hood to stand on the glacier where we saw skiers returning from their early morning runs with skies in tow. Some people just can’t get enough!! Mt HOOD is reputedly the only place in the USA to have year round skiing. I think it was a windy 35 F at the top of the lift, so be sure to bring a knit hat when you go to TIMBERLINE LODGE. This hotel was built in about a year and a half during the Depression in 1937 as a WPA Project and FDR dedicated it at its grand opening. A stay here will be one of the highlights of anyone’s travel experiences; it sure is at the top of our USA list. Dinner is a must at the Cascade Restaurant and the Osso Bucco was superb, well worth the elevated price.
After taking our last picture of Mt Jefferson in the distance, we put the jeep in gear and rolled down the Mountain to the Colombia River which neither of us had ever seen and we were amazed how wide and swift it was, and how AWSOME and beautiful the Colombia Gorge is as well. We drove along the Historic Colombia River Hwy. and stopped at the third highest waterfall in the US! Multnomah Falls where we hiked up to the bridge spanning the Falls. This falls was one of 5 more on this scenic road, magnificent!
We continued into Portland, the City of Roses, and when you see her expansive Rose Garden located in nearby Washington Park, you will see why! The Portland Zoo is there along with the Japanese Garden. We had heard about the famous Saturday Market so we drove straight down to it in the heart of town along the river, which was a great experience with live bands playing and lots of international food stands, and tons of imported Clothing stalls etc. Well, our first 10 days of our adventure had come to an end, and every time we said we can’t top this day, it keeps getting better, Amazing! We checked into the Vancouver, Washington Hilton for our Pre-cruise overnight and dropped off our car. Tomorrow begins our AMERICAN EMPRESS Columbia and Snake River (a la Lewis and Clark) cruise.