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Will and me partway up Beacon Rock, on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

Will came to visit from Rhode Island for two weeks. Prior to this visit he had never stepped foot into Washington or Oregon. I was delighted to be able to show his virgin eyes my favourite part of the world. On our first day back home after Seattle, the day dawned sunny once more, and that meant we had to get outside and explore!

Beacon Rock beside the Columbia River. Photo by Jen Thomas.

This time we went out into the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side because Will was interested in climbing Beacon Rock. The rock is not only remarkable to see, standing alone like a sentinel as it does, but it also has interesting stories behind its formation and its use as a viewpoint.

The rock is a remnant of a volcano that erupted 57,000 years ago – recently, in geologic time. When the eruption was finished, lava that had filled the core cooled and hardened. Between 15 and 13 thousand years ago, a massive event known as the Missoula Floods sent wave after wave of incredibly high floodwaters crashing to the sea, carving and shaping the gorge that I love today. The water eventually eroded the mountain, leaving only the hard lava core.

In 1805, William Clark described and drew the rock in his journals, and in 1806 his traveling companion Meriwether Lewis gave it the name it still holds today.

They were obviously not the first people to note the rock. American Indians used it as a landmark to identify the last dangerous rapids to negotiate – if traveling by boat – before reaching the sea. The Bonneville Dam is visible from the trail as one climbs the rock.

View from the top, looking east toward Bonneville Dam. For a larger image so you can see the dam, just click!

In 1814, Nicholas Biddle edited the journals of Lewis and Clark for publication. Almost exactly 100 years later, his descendent Henry J. Biddle purchased the rock for $1 and began building a trail. He finished it in 1918. Biddle’s children gave the rock to the state of Washington in 1935 so that it could be made into a state park.

My purpose in acquiring the property was simply and wholly that I might build a trail to the summit.   ~H. Biddle

The trail remains today and is one mile long with 53 switchbacks. There is a small viewing place at the top, 848 feet up. There are great views all the way up, so you don’t have to reach the top for a reward. However, if you do press on (and if you skate over the icy patches we found on the shady west side), you have a 360-degree view from the top.

It looks scarier than it is. But yes, it’s basically a path on the side of a rock.

The view west toward Portland/Vancouver.

There are many many switchbacks that make you gasp for breath.

The solution for gasping is to take photos along the way.

Will climbs a rock staircase onto the viewing platform at the top.

At the bottom of the hill, we next crossed the Bridge of the Gods, which gets its name from an American Indian legend that talks about another Bridge of the Gods found in this same place in the river. If you read the book, or saw the movie “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon, the character chooses the bridge as her final destination before quitting the Pacific Crest Trail.

On the other side of the river is the state of Oregon. We hit Interstate 84 and turned west toward Portland again. But we had to make another stop. Will’s virgin eyes needed to see the astonishing waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge. I pulled off the highway exit to Multnomah Falls, one of the most visited tourist attractions in the state of Oregon. It is named after one of the gods in the bridge story I mentioned above.

Multnomah Falls is a familiar sight, but I never tire of it.

Looking from the bridge out to the tourists below and the Columbia Gorge out there in the sunshine.

Sometimes the best view of the falls is from the parking lot, where you can see the whole thing. On this day, the snow and ice confused the view. The Blue Star Highway sign honors US Armed Forces.

We walked up to the base of the falls and Will was duly impressed with the 620 foot falls. “Just like in Rhode Island!” he joked. We hiked up the trail to the bridge you can see in the photo.

By then we were starving, and it was time to indulge in the fare at the Multnomah Falls Lodge. The lodge is gorgeous outside and inside, featuring walls of glass panes so that we could look at the falls while we ate. The lodge theme is maintained inside the restaurant, with rustic and historic decor, and a massive fireplace. The food is always high quality.

Adventuring spirits and bellies sated, we made the long drive back home to Rainier.

Only Multnomah Lodge can make a burger and a gyro sandwich look so good.

Karen, me, Will, Ian, standing atop the Graduate Seattle Hotel, at The Mountaineering Club.

In the weeks before his visit from Rhode Island, I told Will what weather to expect over here in March: rain every day, temps in the 40s and 50s. This is what happened instead: the first three days it was in the 20s and snowed, and from then on skies were sunny as it slowly warmed up day after day till it was in the 70s under blue skies the day he left. Will still has no experience of a typical Pacific Northwest day.

But all the sun made for some spectacular touristing! Will and I went to Seattle for a weekend, to visit my brother, Ian, and his girlfriend, Karen.

Space Needle rises above the tracks of the monorail.

Kitties agree that they do not want to visit the Space Needle.

The first thing we had to do was visit the Space Needle. Last spring the whole top was encased in plywood, making it bulky and ugly. Ian told me that they were planning upgrades to include a glass floor. I had to see that, and Will was game. It took 45 minutes from the moment we first got in line to purchase a ticket, till the moment we entered an elevator – and this is in March!! Just imagine how crazy this place must be in the summertime. The good news is: On your ticket there is a time for when you must return to get into the elevator line. Just go do more touristing if the wait is going to be long.

More important than the glass floor are the new glass walls. Compare the photo of my friend Mads from our trip up the Needle in 2015, to the one of Will and me this month:

Mads in Seattle, March 2015

Will and me in Seattle, March 2019. Glass walls and glass benches!

So yes, those of you with the jitters just looking at the photos…those are valid feelings. Wow! It’s woozy-making to look out through the glass at a 520-foot drop to concrete below. But get a load of the width of the glass (which I’m sure is not merely glass, but a reinforced material of some kind). You can see the edges to the left of Will in the photo above. Up close it looked a couple inches thick and could hold us up easily. It was designed to withstand storms as much as people.

We looped the upper observation deck and got photos in every direction, even scrutinizing the nearby neighborhoods till we picked out Ian and Karen’s house! We went downstairs to the rotating restaurant, and there we found the glass floors. That is when my stomach really began doing flip flops.

Me on the new glass floors in the Space Needle.

Eeeeeyikes!! Will’s feet and my feet as we look directly below at the base of the tower holding us up.

Someone has a sense of humour: this daddy long legs mural is painted on the roof.

Termination point of the monorail is just outside, after passing through the Museum of Pop Culture.

We rode the monorail to the Pike Place Market and then returned early to meet Ian and Karen and go have dinner and drinks at a bar atop the Graduate Hotel, called The Mountaineering Club. A friend of theirs is the kitchen manager and gave them the heads up that it’s now open. On such a spectacular day, it was a perfect place for even more amazing views without buying a ticket or waiting 45 minutes. We chose the outdoor seating at first, and were provided with blankets to stay warm out there while we watched the sunset. Then we moved inside to eat our meal at themed tables holding old mountaineering equipment. I had the most delicious drink of my life called “We Put Nettles In This,” with Bolivian Brandy, Aloe Vera, Grapefruit Cordial, Suze, Lime, Celery Bitters, and Nettle Fizz.

After returning home, we met an old school friend of mine from Brandeis who recently moved to Seattle. We walked up to Kerry Park to gaze at the spectacular city lights, then we walked back down the hill to share coffee and a pastry and catch up on each other’s lives. It has been 12 years since I saw her last. Wow!

Looking toward the Space Needle from The Mountaineering Club.

The view from the 16th floor of the Graduate Hotel, at the Mountaineering Club.

Waiting for my friend at Caffe Vita, my fave Seattle coffee shop.

Brandeis Anthropology kids

Lamps decorate a restaurant front in Seattle.

The next day Ian took us to the Ballard Locks, which dates from 1917. While we waited for the boats to fill the lock between Puget Sound and Lake Union (and Lake Washington, on the other side of Lake Union), we spotted wildlife. We saw Seattle’s official city bird, the Great Blue Heron. Their most serious predator in the area is Bald Eagles, and the eagles do not like all the noise of the locks, the train, and the people, so they stay away and allow the herons to raise their young.

Kingfisher inside the empty lock.

We got tired of waiting and walked over to the fish ladders. This is an important route for salmon migrations, so the locks are designed to make it easy for fish to climb or descend the 26 feet between the fresh water lakes and salt water sound. There is a educational center that has been closed for a long time and not yet made ready for the public, so we were able to get up close to the glass viewing windows, but as you can see from the photo, we did not see any migrating salmon.

Great Blue Herons in a tree near Ballard Locks.

Seagulls at the locks, making their own racket.

Educational facility at the salmon ladder is not quite ready for the public until the glass is cleaned. The window on the right is opaque with green slime.

While we were viewing the fish ladder, the lock sent a load of boats out and we missed it! This time we stayed put until a group of small boats collected inside the lock and then we watched the water fill it up. When the gate opened and the boats were free to go, we left too.

Standing at the fish ladder site, looking back toward the main building of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, better known as the Ballard Locks.

Looking toward the train bridge.

We stood with 100 other people, watching the locks operate.

Next Ian took us to Gas Works Park. It is the site of a coal gasification plant that operated in the first half of the 20th century. Contaminated soil and groundwater were cleaned up when the former Seattle Gas Light Company site was made into a park. I absolutely love the look of the abandoned natural gas generator towers, and the other structures remaining. Much of the pump house and boiler house still contain original pumps, compressors, and piping and are open to children or adults who want to climb around or picnic, but the highest structures are fenced off.

Remnants of natural gas generator towers at Gas Works Park.

Will and Ian walk beside the generator towers.

Looking down onto the towers from the kite flying hill.

The view from Gas Works Park is outstanding.

To wrap up our wonderful weekend, Ian took us into the Queen Anne neighborhood to look at expensive houses and see the fabulous views their owners purchased. Lucky for us, the common people can come up and look any time we want, for free.

A gorgeous March day in Seattle.

Women head into the water to surf. Pacific City's Haystack Rock sits almost a mile offshore.

Women head into the water to surf. Pacific City’s Haystack Rock sits almost a mile offshore.

Confession: I live about 40 minutes’ drive from the Pacific Ocean and I hardly ever go there! That’s a crime, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is.

In 2016 I’ve been to the beach two times. I went to Astoria for my birthday in January, and later in the Spring, I went out with a group of friends. All the photos have been sitting here on my computer, patiently waiting to be posted, and now it’s time. This was a weekend in early May.

D is a serious cyclist and most of his friends are cyclists and their idea of fun is to rides their bikes a thousand miles to the beach and then party. Luckily, I was assigned car support duty. It’s a good thing because I have personally been upon a bicycle twice in the past twenty years.

Someone had rented a couple of houses across the street from each other in a cute beach community filled with houses that appear to only exist for that purpose. They were decorated as though a family lived there, with bathrooms stocked and children’s photos on the walls, and kitchen utensils available. But it was not quite lived in, and I guessed the places had been “staged” to feel like a family home. I find it interesting how I reacted to that idea, in this time of Air BnB popularity. While many people obviously love the idea of staying in someone’s home while they’re out, it’s actually an uncomfortable idea for me, and I feel the need not to touch anything, or disturb anything in their absence. I feel as though the owners have done a huge favor by letting me stay there (payment notwithstanding), and I can only repay them by not using any bathroom products and as few towels as possible. I remain uncomfortable the whole time. Whereas in a hotel! It’s purely built for transients. No one claims ownership. Every single thing in the room is MINE as long as I’m there, and I feel complete luxury. I use way too many towels, and all the shampoo, and I rearrange the furniture, click the remote control, fill up the closets and drawers with my clothes, and collect all the brochures and placards and pile them in a drawer somewhere to get them out of my way. If there’s a kitchen, I use anything I want and leave dirty dishes in the sink. Luxury.

Everyone chose a room in one of the houses and we dumped our gear and then went to play on the beach. Pacific City, Oregon is west and a little south of Portland, so still at the northern part of the state. It’s a small community that appears to survive on tourism, since that was the theme of nearly all the shops. I’m a fan of that sometimes, because it provides classy dinner options and great coffeehouses in rural communities that could never provide that without out-of-town tourists. In particular, this beach town hosts Pelican Bay Brewery, and a comfortable and friendly brew pub with burgers and fries and great craft beers on tap.

Our group climbed a sand dune at Cape Kiwanda and were treated with coastline views.

Our group climbed a sand dune at Cape Kiwanda and were treated with coastline views.

I found this sign somewhat disconcerting.

I found this sign somewhat disconcerting.


The weather was cool and and wet most of the time, but the second day the skies cleared up and we all decided to hike to a lookout point on Cape Kiwanda. The hike is literally straight up the side of a huge sand dune, so that was a bit tricky. But the views at the top were worth the long steep slog, and shoes filled with sand.

Whales are a big tourist draw, particularly during the height of migration season in December and January. In late May there were stragglers making their way from Mexico to Alaska for the warm weather. It didn’t take long before we began spotting their spouts just offshore. Gray Whales make this trip in about 3 weeks. The photos I took don’t do it justice, but it really is fun to stand on shore and see sea creatures as large as a bus exhaling a blast of water into the sky as they surface for air.

When we returned, we ate tons of food and played games together at the big family table and told stories. When the weekend was over nearly everyone rode home in a car, but one crazy person rode their bike back to the city again. That’s close to 100 miles each way. 200 miles in a weekend. Now there’s a person who is in good physical condition.

The white-and-gray speckled body of a Gray Whale is visible as she surfaces.

The white-and-gray speckled body of a Gray Whale is visible as she surfaces.

These whales are said to spout water and vapor up to 12 feet into the air.

These whales are said to spout water and vapor up to 12 feet into the air.

There's another one!

There’s another one!

Haystack Rock from Cape Kiwanda

Haystack Rock from Cape Kiwanda

Lovely Oregon coast

Lovely Oregon coast

A lush valley of rice fields surrounded by browning bamboo forests

In 17 weeks I have not hit every tourist attraction, but one thing I have seen more than the average visitor sees, is scene after scene after scene of Japanese countryside, cities and towns. This post is dedicated to the indisputable beauty of the country of Japan. I am going to take this opportunity to display only train-related images. I took all these shots. Please click any photo for a larger version.

Glimpse of the sea as the Shinkansen passes north between the islands of Kyushu and Honshu

Murals at the Shin-Iwakuni station

Rice fields and green hills

Rocky cliffs exposed

Since June I have been riding trains in this country. The small ones I call the “clickety clack” trains. And then there are express trains. There are subways. There is the deservedly world-famous Shinkansen! I’ve been on all of them. Sometimes I’m crammed in and forced to stand; sometimes I’m practically alone; sometimes I find myself on the wrong one! Often I am the only non-Japanese person around.

From the new shin side of Tokyo Station, viewing the old Marunouchi side. The red building you see is Tokyo Station as it was constructed in 1914.


Every train is a potential adventure, and many trips turn out to be an actual adventure. All trains provide a seat and a window. I provide the camera.

Because they are my medium of travel, my portal to another world, the trains themselves fascinate me. The tracks that carry them. The stations where they stop.

I hope the trains and tracks and stations are not boring to you. They hold such electricity for me when I look at them; I simply can’t help myself but take more photos. My external hard drive here in my room is bursting at the seams with train photos.

Station stop for the Iwakuni Shinkansen station.

I know the routes so well that once I realized I was on the wrong train because I heard the announcement in Japanese for the next stop of Tokuyama, and realized I was heading south instead of north. I know the sights so well that I noticed a photo incorrectly placed in my digital folder for Misawa. It was a photo of Hakata station, which is not on the way to Misawa.

I know there are more pines in the north of Honshu, not only because I have seen them, but I can smell them up there. There are more tunnels for the tracks in the south. From the train in southern Kyushu, I can spot fields growing grains other than rice. There are more snow-capped peaks in the north.

With a quick glance, I can see easily that this is Hakata Station

So that’s it for today. Just photos. I’ve been spending the weekend catching up on very late blog posts, and publishing them with the correct dates, so if you’re interested, you can scroll back the last few months and find some new gems tucked in there.

I love this photo. Little sweetheart tired girl, waiting with the bags while her mom is taking care of something. It’s rare to see a child alone, but this is an example of how SAFE Japan is, even if a child must be alone for a few minutes.

An example of a clickety-clack train from up in Aomori Prefecture. When I ride this one, it’s typically two cars long, has no announcements, and no signs in English.

Express train for Huis Ten Bosh theme park on Kyushu. These trains are smooth and pretty fast, like a step between clickety-clack and shinkansen.

Nose of the shinkansen glides in slick like the head of a snake. These trains are thrilling to watch as well as ride. Cameras always come out when one shows up. The ride is smooth as silk, quiet, luxurious, and perfectly precisely on time. Like…to the second…

…except on September 17, 2012. These are the signs at Hakata station during Typhoon Sanba. The only time I have ever seen the shinkansen late. It apparently takes a typhoon to put a glitch in the schedule.

Tokyo station at night. Yes, most Japanese men do typically wear white shirts and black pants.


Seats inside the express train to Sasebo. Roomy, but not as nice as the shin.

Spring fields and a tractor preparing the soil for the year’s crops. In most of Japan, the season only allows one harvest of rice.

You can barely see the rice plants, set by hand, and now flooded to begin the growing season. Notice the houses set a few feet up on retaining walls, to keep the foundations dry.

A little later in the season, this is in northern Honshu, as you can see snow on the mountains. Rice is coming up in rows.

One field harvested; the others still maturing.

Wheat fields on Kyushu

Industrial center at Tokuyama seaport.

People waiting for the train at Yokogawa Station, south of Hiroshima

Beautiful Gothic style cathedral

yellow door

Ships and islands visible in the Seto Inland Sea

Going through Sendai made me just a little nervous so soon after the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Gazing out across the tracks.

Very typical view of densely populated valleys swelling into the foothills when the space becomes needed.

Maybe it looks boring to you, but I love this view from Hiroshima station! There is a cacophony here, even when I stand still and silent. Look at the men waiting at this small local station – it’s a peaceful scene in reality. But to me: this sight is ferociously loud.

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