Summer Postcard: Sand in The City

A few weeks ago (oh gosh, it was probably months ago now), I took the kids downtown to check out the annual Sand in the City contest. I love our city and will pretty much look for any opportunity to catch the train downtown (or drive if we’re lazy) to visit Powells or check out a photo gallery or just to see what’s going on. There’s an energetic vibe in the city during the Summer time that’s only beaten by the vibe at Christmas (I LOVE Christmas in Portland).

Although I have lived here for more than 10 years, this was my first visit to Sand in the City.

At first the kids weren’t overly impressed but then they started to spot some of their favorite characters from the Lego movie…

and Star Wars…

…and, of course, once they started they couldn’t stop pointing out their favorite sand sculptures. I wonder what drew them to this one?

You can’t beat a little family-friendly fun in Portland.

Not So Sunny, Sunriver

I think this might have been the very first year that we’ve actually planned a Spring Break location. Spring Break seems to sneak up on us and every year I find myself wishing we’d done something fun. So, on a whim (and after a few drinks on Superbowl Sunday) I signed up to organize a group family vacation to Sunriver, Oregon.

This was our second trip to Sunriver. Last year we stopped for a couple of nights as part of our Great Oregon Road Trip. We went in August. It was sunny and warm (although bug-filled). This year was much different. I suppose I should have realized that heading to a higher altitude in March was not going to bring me the warm weather I craved, but I truly didn’t expect snow. Of course my “friends” at work told me that snow was normal over Spring Break AFTER I returned.

Still, we didn’t let the weather dampen our spirits. The Mums (and one of the dads) all headed up on Wednesday afternoon, with the rest of the Dads joining us on Friday. We stayed in a large vacation home that didn’t feel too crowded, even with the full group eight adults and seven kids. We spent our time playing board games, swimming in the SHARC indoor pool, taking a trip down the tubing hill, playing tennis in hail (yes, hail) and relaxing in the hot tub while the kids were occupied with a movie. It was a wonderful chance to connect with old friends and let the kids loose to explore – when it wasn’t snowing, raining or hailing, that is.

And I took about 20 photos. That’s well below my average for a four day vacation. I think I need to get out of the winter photo rut and start shooting again soon.

Here are the few I did manage to take of a great vacation with great friends – but next time, let’s try for Hawaii.


Boys Will Be Boys

We returned home yesterday afternoon following a brief Spring Break adventure in Sunriver, Oregon. The biggest part of adventure turned out to be predicting the weather from minute to minute. We’d move from a brief moment of sunshine to rain, then hail and snow. Apparently Sunriver is not the destination for Spring Break if you’re looking for a warm weather recharge.

Still, we managed to squeeze in a bunch of activities to keep seven children entertained and I even challenged my husband to a couple of games of tennis while we dodged a light hail storm. He won, but I blame the distraction of the hail storm.

I’m back at work today and trying to turn the switch in my brain from vacation mode to work mode. It’s an uphill battle.

I haven’t had a chance to edit all of my photos from the trip but this one stood out to me. Who needs a toy gun when you have fingers and the ability to make someone walk the plank? I promise I don’t teach them this stuff – it’s just boys being boys.

Great Oregon Road Trip: Crater Lake, Day 2

Read all Great Oregon Road Trip posts here.

We decided to spend just one night at Crater Lake and it turned out to be the right decision for us at the time. By our second day, Kei was downing the cold medicine and my Dad was starting to fade quickly.

So what you do when people start getting sick? Take a strenuous 1 mile walk down the side of a cliff of course.

We’d decided the previous day to take a boat trip around the lake. Tickets for the boat rides are only available 24 hours in advance from special kiosks inside the park. By the time I located the kiosk to purchase our tickets, our options were 9:30am and 1:30pm. I opted for the earlier time and, despite having to get up at the crack of dawn (you need to arrive at least an hour before the boat leaves), it turned out to be a great decision. The tour takes two hours and there is no shade on the boat so we were well and truly sun kissed in 80 degree sunshine by the time we got back to the dock at 11:30.

That’s not to say that everything was warm. While we were waiting to board our boat, a few insane people decided that jumping off a small cliff into the frigid waters. I was happy to stand by and take pictures.

We boarded the boat and were told to prepare ourselves for some bumpy waters (it wasn’t too bad).

Then the Ranger started the tour. Despite the investment of time and, of course, money, this really is the best way to see the lake. I don’t think you can fully appreciate the geology and beauty without getting up close and personal. You find out that the water really is that blue and clear and that the cliffs are far higher than you imagined. I even learned a thing or two (or 10).

The rocks in this photo lie about 50 feet below the surface. The water was incredibly clear and I added no filters to the color. Stunning.

The boys loved the boat ride at first…

But two hours is a long time to ask them to sit in one place and keep themselves entertained without the aid of an iphone.

The complaining really kicked in about 30 minutes before the end of the tour and then abated when they worked out how to build a fort between the seats using a collection of sweater and jackets.

After two hours, we arrived back at the dock and, while we took some time to mentally prepare ourselves for the steep uphill climb, we dipped our toes in the water.

But only because the line to jump in off the cliff had grown too long. I would have totally jumped in otherwise (ummm, no).

It was then time to make the steep climb back up the hill. Mum and Dad had a head start so we caught up with them on the way. Then Thomas decided that, since he is never first at ANYTHING, he wanted to reach the top first. I decided to walk with him while the rest of our group took it a little more easy.

We passed a lot of people on their way down to their own boat tour and were sweet enough to let them know that the walk down is a lot easier than the walk back up so they should enjoy it while they can. And then an 87 year old woman passed us coming down the hill and I saw a 70-something year old man pass us for the 4th time (he was training for something and had walked the trail both ways over and over again). Suddenly I felt like I shouldn’t be complaining at all even though my face was red and my lungs ready to burst. I mean if an 87 year old woman can do it… I just wonder how long it took her to get back up.

Still, the steep climb didn’t stop us from enjoying the view.

And Thomas’ wish to be first was granted.

After a big drink of water, we headed back to the lodge for a well-deserved (and delicious) lunch. It’s a little spendy for dinner, but I highly recommend lunch at the Crater Lake Lodge.

Finally, with our bellies full, we hit the road for our next destination.

Coming soon: We explore the Oregon Caves


Great Oregon Road Trip: Crater Lake, Day 1

Read all Great Oregon Road Trip posts here.

We spent three nights in Sunriver before embarking on the next part of our adventure.

For years, Kei dreamed about a visit to Crater Lake but I didn’t share his enthusiasm. Here’s what I knew about Crater Lake before we went: It’s a long way away and fairly remote, closed for 6 months out of the year due to snow (snow equals cold) and has limited (and expensive) accommodation options.

And here’s what I learned: It’s really not that far from Portland and even closer if you’re coming from Bend, if you’re lucky then you’ll enjoy the lake on a sunny 80 degree day in the middle of Summer and the accommodation is not fancy but worth the convenience of staying close to the lake.

It’s also an incredible place and quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

We headed out from Sunriver early in the morning, stopping along the way to pick up some sandwiches from the grocery store and stop for a photogenic train.

Google (or maybe I) miscalculated the distance so, what we thought was going to be a 4 hour trip, turned out to be just a 2 and a half drive to the north park entrance.

Then we drove just a few more miles to our first view of the lake and it was, well, underwhelming. It turned out that fires burning in the western part of Oregon had filled the lake with smoke so, instead of the deep blue waters that we had expected, our view looked something like this…

Beautiful, sure, but as impressive as I’d hoped. Still, we made the most of our first stop by walking alongside some poorly constructed fences. I mean,  would they really stop, say, a five year old from plummeting over the edge? I spent a lot of time saying “stay back from the edge” and “don’t run!” (Between photographs, of course)

The kids soon found some tree stumps to climb (I was happy as long they weren’t climbing fences).

And then we jumped back in the car to drive 20 minutes to Rim Village… where the smoke parted and I began to understand why people make such a big deal about this lake.

That teeny tiny white thing in the middle is a tour boat.

After lunch, we went for a walk to check out the Crater Lake Lodge, a beautiful old building that perches on the edge of the cliff. And I found myself wishing that I had booked our trip earlier so we could have stayed in this wonderful place.

Alas, it was not meant to be so we made do with taking in the view from the rocking chairs that sit out front.

After using the facilities we walked back to the Ranger Station and gift shop (*there’s always a gift shop). It was here that we made easily the very best purchase of the entire trip – a Junior Ranger vest for Samuel. I mean, this thing has pockets and loops and zippers galore. It was the uniform of choice for the remainder of the trip and was, literally, filled with rocks by the time we got home.

Thomas bought himself a book about birds of North America which he used as a guide to complete one of the Junior Ranger activities.

Let me just pause and say that the Junior Ranger program is fantastic. Kei and I had been to National Parks before but, without kids, you really don’t appreciate how much these rangers do to share their knowledge with the next generation. And they take their jobs as educators very seriously. My boys loved the chance to earn badges and were generally interested to hear about how the crater was formed and the wildlife that surrounded them. I’m now motivated to take them to as many National Parks as I can before they become surly teenagers.

After we finished the Junior Ranger activities (it took a while), we spent some more time taking in the view.

At this point a couple of the adult members of our group began to fade. It turns out that Kei had come down with a flu-type illness so we headed to our cabins at Mazama Village where he could take a nap and I could try and keep the kids entertained. I booked the cabins back in January which was lucky as it turned out because they fill up fairly quickly. The rooms were simple, but clean and comfortable and even came with complimentary wireless internet. Dinner at Annie Creek Restaurant wasn’t the best meal in the world but our choices were limited.

After dinner, Dad and I took the kids for a walk through the adjoining campsite to listen to the Ranger talk. Unfortunately a combination of my poor map-reading skills and the pitch black darkness meant that we weren’t able to find the amphitheater and spent a good 45 minutes wandering aimlessly through the campground until we gave up and headed back to the cabin for an early night. The boys were disappointed but I secretly thankful for an excuse to get them to bed knowing we had an early start the next day.

Coming soon – you haven’t really seen the lake until you walk more than a mile down a 700 foot descent…

Great Oregon Road Trip: Lava River Cave

To see a map of our entire journey and photos from our first day of travel, click here. The first half of our Volcanic Monument visit is here.

More Great Oregon Road trip posts.

We decided to stop at the Lava River Cave on our way back to Sunriver. There was a little trepidation thanks to this warning on the website:

It takes approximately 1.5 hours to tour the entire cave. Initial access descends 150 stairs to an uneven floor and can be challenging. Please wear close-toed shoes and warm clothing. Average temperature in the Cave is 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

But of course we were all up to the challenge, even after we were told to rent a lantern because, and I quote the guide, “there is NO light at all down there”. Dum dum dummmmmmmm.

The most surprising thing to me as we approached the cave, apart from the swarm of bees that surrounded the entrance, was the dramatic drop in temperature. We hadn’t even reached the cave opening when it felt like the temperature dropped from a comfortable to 85 to around 60F. It was a little spooky.

We descended the 150 stairs which weren’t too bad at all. Five year old Samuel had no problem with them and my parents didn’t find them too strenuous. In fact Samuel wasn’t even the youngest child we passed in the cave. I’m not sure if I’d recommend it for younger children, however. Five seems just about right.

At the bottom of the stairs we found ourselves in absolute and total darkness. No false advertising here. So you won’t be surprised to know that I took very few photos in the cave. It’s hard to find focus when you can’t see what you’re focusing on. Still, we managed to have a little fun with the lantern light.

Disembodied legs. Spooky.

The cave itself was pretty fascinating. The beginning of it was a little rocky and we had to be careful with our footing but about half way through we found ourselves in a perfectly formed tunnel with a sandy surface. The hike was flat and easy for the most part.

Sadly we didn’t quite make it to the end. We arrived late in the day and they told us that there would be a ranger in the cave to start guiding people out with plenty of time before the park closed. I think we had about 10 minutes of hiking left to make it to the end so we were a little disappointed, but the ranger assured us that, by that point, we’d seen most of what the cave had to offer.

The walk back was a lot quicker and we soon found ourselves back outside in the Summer heat.

I’m glad we decided to tour the Lava caves. It was definitely unlike anything I’d experienced before. Here are a few tips based on our experience:

  • Don’t tour the cave if you’re afraid of the dark.
  • This cave doesn’t have any tight spaces so it’s perfect if you like your caves…well…cavernous.
  • I probably wouldn’t recommend the cave for children younger than five unless they have experience hiking.
  • Wear comfortable shoes (we saw some people hiking in flip flops – insanity!).
  • Wear sensible clothing and definitely bring a jacket. 90 minutes is a long time when you’re cold.
  • Bring your own flashlights and lanterns if you want to save a little money. They have kerosene lanterns for rent but they’re not for kids so we had to take turns with our headlamp. One more would have been useful.

Finally, leave plenty of time to walk through the cave if you want to make it to the end. We cut it a little close.

Coming soon: Spending some time with pioneers and birds of prey at the High Desert Museum.

Great Oregon Road Trip: Newberry National Volcanic Monument

To see a map of our entire journey and photos from our first day of travel, click here.

More Great Oregon Road trip posts.

Day one of our Oregon adventure found us in Sunriver, Oregon. Sunriver is a small resort town just south of Bend and is made up of thousands of vacation condos neatly nestled amongst the pine trees. While Sunriver is a popular vacation destination for many Portland families, this was our first visit and it was a good first stop on our journey.

For the kids, the highlight of day 1 was a visit to SHARC, the new Sunriver water park. We got there at 4:30 on a Sunday so we were spared the crazy crowds but also missed some of the sunshine. We decided it was time to leave when the boys’ lips started turning blue. Of course I didn’t capture any photographs because I was too busy ensuring my kidWe had a good (although salty) pizza delivered for dinner from one of the few takeout places in town. It was all we could manage after a full day of packing, driving and swimming.

Our condo backed onto a lake so, at dusk, I braved the mosquitos to take some photos of the sunset and an adventurous five-year-old. Probably not the best idea but I managed a couple of shots before the critters forced us back inside.

Day two marked the beginning of what I like to call our National Park tour of Oregon with a visit to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. This was Kei and my second visit to the monument – the last time we hiked the trails I was 6 months pregnant with Thomas.

It’s pretty incredible to see a landscape that is thousands of years old but still clearly identifiable as a lava flow. And it’s a lot of fun to introduce two curious boys to the wonders of nature. You want rocks? We’ve got rocks!

Before exploring the lava flow, we took a quick drive up to the top of the cinder cone which gave us some amazing views and a an appreciation for the size of the lava flow.

The air was a little hazy from all the forest fires burning in the Western part of the state.

After walking around the rim of the cinder cone, we drove back down the (VERY narrow) road to listen to a Ranger talk…

and take a walk through the lava field.

And then my boys decided to hold hands on the walk back to the car and cemented their reputation as THE CUTEST THINGS EVER!

We made a couple of stops to take a closer look at some crickets before heading to the gift shop – the first of many, many gift shops we stopped at during our vacation. I think we may have closed some of the National Park’s budget gap with our rock and crystal purchases alone.

Finally, we headed off for lunch at the Deschutes Brewery in Downtown Bend – although I don’t have any photos of that because we got lost and Kei and I had an argument and I didn’t fully let go of my grudge until we found some frozen yogurt. Frozen Yogurt is the best solution for most arguments.

I’ll be back tomorrow to share part 2 of our Volcano day which comprised of a walk through the lava tube – and I’ll end this post with another picture of my adorable boys. They were back to bickering a few minutes later so I’ll take these moments when I can get them.