Adventures in Portland

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As we came creeping up through Oregon, not one, but two different Portland friends got in touch via Facebook, offering a place to park the truck. And showers.

Our friend Jon used to work with Michael at Colterra, and he rents a place on the southeast side of Portland. He’s been there for about 2 years and was excited to show off the city to us.

The neighborhood he’s in – nearest to Cesar Chavez Blvd and Division St – is pretty cool. We arrived on a Friday so that night we all went for a walk down Division Street, past the bars and sweet shops, all the way to the corner of Division and 28th. That corner is reserved for a food truck court called Tidbit and you can find everything there from burgers to gyros, sushi to hawaiian bbq, ramen, waffle sandwiches, dessert, and even a beer truck.

The food truck scene in Colorado is a shame by comparison. Hell, this is the best food truck scene that we’ve come across, in all of our travels. Portland is a foodie town.

The next day John was happy to drive us down to the Saturday Market, right on the river.

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GoGoTacoNegroOccurring every Saturday and Sunday, the Portland Saturday Market is an open air arts and crafts market, although there were a spate of food trucks there too. I saw several people walking around with a large, very pink box in their hands. Jon said those were boxes from the legendary Voodoo Donut.

Donuts….. mmmmm…..

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We saw a ton of awesome things but we didn’t see the whole market. It’s huge! So much arts, crafts, food, and entertainment. No wonder it takes up both days of the weekend.

 

 

In the afternoon Jon had to work, so Michael and Bailey and I went for another walk, this time up to Hawthorne Street. It was a beautiful day, sunny but not too warm, and we had fun walking up there. We even stopped for a swing.

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The sign nailed to the tree says “Take A Ride!” How could we refuse?

Hawthorne Street was similar to Division Street, but it had a few more shops and a few less bars. We splurged at Blue Star for donuts. Even me! I have to say that my maple-bacon donut was totally worth it. Michael enjoyed his peanut butter & jelly donut.

Barber shops seem to be a thing here in Portland. The first one we saw had this fabulous sign out front:

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However, when we passed by Bishops Barbershops, we saw that they take nothing but walk-ins. Haircuts were $33 and beard trims (for Michael, of course) were $10. We went in to see how long the wait was (remember, it was a Saturday afternoon) and the guy at the counter said no more than 10 minutes.

It might have been an act of vanity, that I signed in. Everyone who worked there looked pretty young and hip and had good hair. I desperately needed a trim – my last cut was in November – and I figured a place like this would be capable of giving my a good cut, instead of something that might make me look like an old lady. It’s happened before. As for Michael, well, he recently broke his favorite clipper guard, and his beard had been getting to the “bushy” stage. He signed in for the beard trim.

I had barely gotten Bailey to lie down then they called my name. And by the time my cut was done, Michael had gotten his beard trimmed and was letting everyone in the waiting area pet Bailey. Success all around!

Everywhere we took him, Bailey was a big hit. I mean, two of the ladies at the hat shop gave him treats. He looked like he’d died and gone to heaven. He might not be the brightest bulb, but it’s kinda nice to have a dog who actually, you know, likes people.

Sunday afternoon, I checked yet another item off the bucket list: Oneonta Falls.

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We left Bailey in the truck for this one. The trail is only about a half mile, through a narrow canyon, and it involved some wading, all of which he certainly could have handled. Jon suggested not bringing him, though, because of the Log Jam.

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The hardest part of the log jam for us was avoiding all the other people (Oneonta Falls is pretty popular) but this could have been disastrous for Bailey, as strong as he is. It just wasn’t worth it. Bailey didn’t seem too disappointed. We’d parked in the shade so we left him a bowl of water and told him to guard the truck.

Luckily for us, after the Log Jam the crowds thinned out a little bit.

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At certain times of the year, the approach to these falls involves wading through chest-deep water, but it was high summer when we arrived, so there was only one spot where the water was about hip deep (on me).

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That’s Jon in front.

This was the kind of hike that I wished was longer. It was too much fun. It was a lot like that slot canyon hike we did back in Utah. I even was able to take a couple of pictures with no people in them.

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This hike was magical. The water was chilly though, and by the time we got back to a dry trail I couldn’t feel my toes. So we walked over to Horsetail Falls and Jon took our picture.

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Such a great time. But we weren’t done with Portland yet…

Beyond Bend

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During our stay in Bend, OR we had a lot of camping options, as Bend is pretty much surrounded by National Forest land.

Such is not necessarily the case throughout the rest of the state.

We left Bend on a Thursday and drove west to Eugene. Along the way we had a pleasant stop at Sahalie Falls in the Willamette National Forest.

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We hiked for a bit and even brought Bailey. No swimming this time, though. That water was moving waaay too fast.

Onward to Eugene, where we had two goals. The first was Falling Skye Brewing, where our latest shipment of Cholaca was waiting. We invited the staff for a tasting and they happily obliged. It’s good stuff – I sure didn’t mind a shot of pure liquid chocolate.

After picking up our Cholaca gold we hit our next goal in Eugene: REI. It’s not my goal to hit every REI in America or anything. No, really. But when we pass through a city that has one, we tend to stop in. Check out the sales, pick up some supplies. The Eugene REI was a cool little store. We hit up one of the green vests for info on where to camp that was close to town.

His first suggestion was the mall. No, really. We’d found that suggestion on FreeCampsites.net and were skeptical, so an REI employee vouchsafing for it made it seem like an option. One other suggestion was an overflow parking lot for something called the Ridgeline Trail, north of town.

We decided to check out the overflow lot first. Gravel is preferable to blacktop. The not-very-level parking lot was deserted when we got there, around 7pm. We made dinner and watched the traffic go by. There really wasn’t much traffic – a good sign – but there were some houses visible nearby. Michael decided he wanted to check out the mall.

Now, Eugene is not set up on a grid. I found navigation there to be difficult at best and it took us almost a half hour to reach the mall. I lost track of all the lefts and rights. But when we arrived we saw a few RV’s around the paring lot, and it looked pretty okay. We located mall security to check in and she said no problem, she’d meet us at our RV.

That should have registered. But it didn’t. When the mall security lady met us at the truck 10 minutes later, she said, “where’s your RV?”

This is it, we said. It’s a roof top tent.

“That’s a problem,” she said. “We don’t allow tents of any kind. RVs only, with a flushable toilet.”

Eugene must have a homeless problem. Why else would they need to make sure you weren’t pooping in the bushes? Well, at least the security lady was friendly. She gave us a free map of the area with a couple of campground suggestions.

We spent another 30 minutes getting back out to the Ridgeline Trail, because the other campground suggestions were all fee areas. By the time we got to the overflow parking lot it was 9:15 and the crazy thing? It was still light outside. At this point Michael was a little paranoid that maybe we really couldn’t camp there, so we didn’t pop the tent until 10pm. Even then it wasn’t exactly cover of darkness, but close enough. For me, anyway.

In the morning I took advantage of being 50 feet from a trailhead and went for a run. Well, it was mostly a walk on the way out – the first mile of the eastbound Ridgeline Trail was a steep uphill. But I had fun anyway. The trail was lush and green, and it was overcast out. This is more of what I pictured Oregon looking like.

After I got back to the truck Michael said he wanted to get a workout in too, but not in a gravel parking lot. A quick Google search brought us to Alton Baker Park. One of the bigger parks in Eugene, it was right on the Wilamette River and it also had a dog park. The dog park was not on the river, but it was huge and Bailey had a great time chasing the tennis ball there.

Once everyone had gotten their workout in, we set out for the Willamette Valley, which runs roughly between Eugene and Portland. The Willamette Valley is really known for their wines. Especially their pinot noirs.

The drive was beautiful. A lot like California’s San Joaquin Valley, but without the sweltering heat. And a lot more hops farms. Seriously, they were everywhere. Is it because everyone’s drinking IPAs these days?

GoGoTacoNegroAnyway. I knew I wouldn’t make it through more than one winery (I’m a bit of a lightweight) so we chose the Chehalem Winery in Newberg, OR. I sampled three pinots, but Michael did most of the talking. See, when he was a working chef, Michael used to host wine dinners at Colterra once a month. So he’s awfully knowledgeable. So he did the talking and I did the drinking. I actually had a full glass of their Wind Ridge Block Pinot that I enjoyed very much. (Not enough to buy the bottle though, which was $50.)

 

We struck out eastward from Newberg, looking for the Molalla Recreation Area, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. One of the things I love about the BLM is that, generally speaking, there are no rules. Sometimes anything goes. So we weren’t surprised when we didn’t see any designated campgrounds, just a couple of trailheads and several pullouts. Some of the pullouts had big signs nailed to the trees: DAY USE ONLY. But some of those pullouts didn’t have any signs at all. So we picked a big pullout that didn’t have a sign and set up shop.

While we were setting up a Sheriff’s Deputy drove by without even glancing in our general direction. Safe for another night, it would seem.

The Molalla RA was a pretty area, right on the Molalla River, with some really cool rock formations across the way.

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Crazy to think that we were only an hour south of Portland, home to 600,000 people.

Now, Portland was kind of on my bucket list, and kind of not, if that makes any sense. In our 11 months on the road, we’ve hit very few metropolitan areas. When we drove south through Florida, we went right by Miami, even though I would have loved to check out Little Havana.

There’s a couple of reasons we skip the cities. First, the stuff we love to do (bike, hike, paddle, trail run) is not generally found in a city. We spend most of our time in National Forests. That’s also where the free camping is. But the second reason is that we worry about our stuff getting stolen. We carry a lot of gear in the basket above the topper, and there’s no way to secure any of it. There’s more stuff (like the Yeti cooler) in the topper with Bailey (who, let’s face is, is not exactly a guard dog).

But we have friends in Portland, friends who reached out to us and offered us a place to park and a shower. Free showers are hard to turn down.

Besides, I wanted to see how accurate “Portlandia” really was.

Bend, Oregon (Part 2)

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After July 4thwe finally had a chance to really check out Bend, which we did… for a whole week. I have to admit that I went back and forth with this love/hate relationship with Bend.

Love: bike lanes everywhere. Bikes everywhere. Boats (kayaks and SUPs) everywhere. Friendly people. Friendly drivers. Tons of great restaurants, parks, coffee shops, you name it. Also, Bend is ridiculously close to a huge amount of outdoor activities, like trail running, mountain biking, and paddling. Our nightly campsite was a mere 20 minutes from downtown Bend.

Hate: Bend is overwhelmingly white, and from what I could see, pretty straight. Not that I was checking to see who was holding hands or anything, but it seemed like I just didn’t see too many gay couples. The lack of diversity is odd. But here’s the thing for me, my most overwhelming impression: This town is money. The cars are new and shiny. The houses are gigantic. The people have all the latest toys. Hell, even the tattoos here are money. People here don’t just have a little bit of ink on their arm or on a shoulder. It’s a sleeve, rich with detail. A full back piece. Stuff like that.

Some days, I looked around, and I just saw all the things I will never have.

Michael had to remind me to stop playing the comparison game. Because really, our rig is pretty awesome. Our life is pretty damn awesome.

And Bend is a pretty sweet place.

One of our first discoveries was the dog “beach” at Riverbend Park. There wasn’t any sand in the dog area – just a bunch of giant rocks – so I don’t know why it’s called the dog beach. But Bailey had an absolute blast launching off those rocks and into the water. We kept throwing the tennis ball until we realized he was actually shivering. That water was pretty cold! Riverbend Park became a daily stop for us. Especially since we tended to wade in to the river as well. Almost as good as a shower.

On Thursday we found ourselves a shady spot alongside Drake Park. (There are lots of parks in Bend, and most of them border the Deschutes River, which runs through town.) Lucky for us the spot we found had shade for the entire day, so we were able to check out the weekly “Munch & Music” event in Drake Park.

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Dump City Dumplings had the longest line – all night.

Good thing the event was better than the name. There were food trucks and carts, beer aplenty, and live music. Thursday the 6th was actually the first Munch & Music of the summer, and the band was called Arrival From Sweeden. They’re an ABBA tribute band so they played all ABBA’s greatest hits and dressed like it was 1980.

As hokey as it sounds, it was a blast. Arrival From Sweeden was pretty good and the crowd was into it. I’m not sure if the band brought the dancing T-Rexes or not, but either way we had a ton of fun.

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And you thought I was kidding about the dancing T-Rexes.

We checked out the nearby Newberry National Volcanic Monument, including the super cool Lava Cave and the Big Obsidian Flow. The mile-long Lava Cave is actually a tube, formed by an eruption long ago. It’s the largest intact lava cave in Oregon. The thing I actually liked the best is that you need to bring your own light source. Places like Carlsbad Caverns are already lit up, but you see the Lava Cave pretty much how the early explorers saw it. Well, more or less, unless you go in there with candles or something, but you know what I mean. You can rent lanterns for just $5 from the Forest Service (they manage the cave) but I wore my headlamp and carried a flashlight. I also wore a jacket, a hat, and wished I’d worn pants and gloves, even though it was 90o outside. Cave temperature is constant at 42o.

Michael and I went separately into the cave. It was hot out, like I said, and there was no shade to be found in the parking lot and we were not about to leave Bailey in that kind of heat, even in the topper. I went first. It was a bit strange – the cave was pretty crowded, but people tended to bunch together. So there were times when I could see really well, even up to the 30-foot ceiling, from all the lights bouncing around. There were other times when I was the only person around. I couldn’t see any other lights. The only sound was the soft dripping of water. I felt like an intrepid explorer or something. It was cool.

I spent about an hour walking through the cave. When I got back to where we’d parked, Michael had set the hammock up between two trees, and he and Bailey were enjoying the shade. When we switched places I enjoyed my hammock time enormously.

After leaving the Lava Cave, we headed south, towards Paulina Falls. We found shade in that parking lot, although it was okay to bring Bailey with on this hike.

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I took a few pictures and then we hiked up above the falls. Maybe 500 feet from the lip we found this sweet little pool. Michael took off his shirt and waded in. I watched jealously. I hadn’t worn my suit but that water sure looked nice. Did I mention that it was hot out? And as I glanced around, the only other witnesses were a family of ducks.

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So did what Jack Burton always does in a time like this. And ol’ Jack says, what the hell. (If you don’t get that reference, click here.) I tied Bailey to a tree, stripped down to my undies, and waded in after Michael. The water was deliciously cold, and about 4 feet deep at its deepest. Right about the time I was ready to get out I heard voices. An older couple came up the trail. The guy noticed me straightaway, even though I was submerged almost to my neck. Then – and I swear I am not making this up – he got out his camera.

*Sigh*

I guess if he ever bothers to enlarge those pictures, he’ll see I wasn’t actually naked.

Eventually the people wandered off, and when they did I climbed out, got dressed, and headed back to the truck. Our next stop (and last for that day) was nearby, part of what’s called the Newberry Caldera: The Big Obsidian Flow.

Volcanic activity in this area goes back some 70,000 years but the Big Obsidian Flow was formed a mere 1,300 years ago. During that eruption, a 100-foot tall “wall of lava” flowed across an area about one square mile. As this lava flow cooled, three layers emerged. White pumice on top, obsidian (or volcanic glass) in the middle, and gray pumice, the heaviest, on the bottom.

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Heavy is a relative term.

Obsidian forms when lava cools rapidly, which prevents an orderly crystal growth. Pumice is the result of gas bubbles in the lava as it cools (again, rapidly).

There is an interpretive nature trail winding for about a mile through the Big Obsidian Flow. We were there in late afternoon and the light was wonderful. Shades of gray broken with shiny bits, as well as the occasional tree. It was beautiful.

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We camped out that night on the east side of town, close to Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Bend is surrounded by National Forest and we never once had a problem finding a place to camp.

We’d arrived at a curious time, though: an outbreak of Pandora Moths.

Pandora Moths are native to central Oregon, and these “outbreaks” happen about every 10 years. The moths have a 2-year life cycle, you see, but their numbers build up over time, and this year the numbers were high enough to call it an outbreak. Apparently after an outbreak such as this one, their numbers drop. So next year, nobody will be sitting on a bucket toilet in the middle of Deschutes National Forest and watch a brand-new Pandora Moth come crawling up out of the ground between their feet like something out of a horror movie. Or worse, be standing at the table making coffee, and suddenly feel something crawling up their leg. Something that looks like this.

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I’m not even going to ask forgiveness for my girly scream.

The wings don’t stay that small for long, which helps make the Pandora Moth a lot easier on the eyes.

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Our last hike in Newberry National Volcanic Monument involved the Lava Cast Forest. This area was formed from an eruption 6,000 years ago and covered about 5 square miles. This was slow-moving lava that surrounded the trees, which killed the trees but left many of the stumps intact. Eventually the stumps rotted away, leaving behind tree molds, also known as lava casts.

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We both thought the lava cast forest was super cool.

One last stop we made in Bend was the Cascadia Vehicle Tents showroom. The company originated in Bend (they have a new showroom in Chattanooga, TN) so we wanted to drop in, check it out, and say hi. Which we did. And then (eventually) walked out with a new addition to the rig, thanks to Michael’s parents. (Thanks, Beth and Steve!)

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Yep. An awning. Can’t wait to run the Revel Gear lights around this one!

Bend, Oregon (Part One)

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Heading out from Crater Lake National Park we headed north, towards Bend. It was 4th of July weekend and we steered towards an area south and west of Bend called Cascade Lakes. Tons of lakes there and lots of camping opportunities.

The biggest lake around was Wikiup Reservoir. But after seeing the crowds Michael decided we needed to get farther out. He found a spot on the map, a little place called Irish Lake, and was even able to pull it up on Google Maps. It looked pretty easy. The paved road became crushed gravel, then dirt, then rough and rocky. I was driving so we were making pretty terrible time. I don’t do a lot of 4-wheeling. And while Michael tries to be helpful, it seemed like that for every “you’re doing great!” I heard at least three “Jesus Christ”s muttered half under his breath.

As we went along, I have to say that we did not pass any acceptable camp sites. Oh, we saw a few, but they were all either too sloped or directly underneath a wall of dead trees. Sometimes both. I was starting to lose hope. Then, a dream of mine came true. We came around a corner and the sky opened up, the trees fell away around a beautiful lake.

An empty lake. With a big established campsite right alongside it.

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I could not believe our luck. This site was amazing. Homemade picnic table? Check. Giant fire ring? Check.

A nice breeze kept the bugs away (for the most part, anyway) and we were the only people there. Or so I thought. I was upstairs in the tent getting out the sleeping bags when I heard a voice outside.

A young man approached our camp and said his truck was stuck in the snow about a quarter mile further up the trail. He had a bottle of whiskey if we’d help pull him out.

We declined the whiskey but broke down the tent and gave the kid a ride back up to his truck. It was an F-150 up to its rear axle in the snow. Yes, snow. We weren’t all that high up, but Oregon got a lot of snow this winter. Anyway the kid and his friend had dug out the wheels but not the axle, so they weren’t getting anywhere. Michael got out our trusty traction plates and a tow rope and had them free in under 15 minutes. I think it took longer to hook up the tow rope than to pull them free. They thanked us profusely and (wisely, I think) turned around.

We went back to camp and set the tent back up. Michael even set up the hammock.

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The problem began when the sun went down, and the wind died off. We were swarmed with mosquitoes. I put on long pants and a jacket, and doused myself in bug spray. The problem was my face. No way was I going to put Deet on my face. Guess where the bugs swarmed?

I hid out in the tent and refused to come out, not even around 9:30 when Michael swore that all the skeeters had gone away.

So the next day, we reluctantly left our lovely Irish Lake campsite and headed in to Bend. We needed to resupply, especially with ice, and we wanted to visit the Bend REI.

I’d heard from more than one person that Bend was almost eerily similar to Boulder. They are both cities on the eastern edge of a mountain range, at a similar altitude. So yeah, the area looked kinda familiar. But the Bend REI was like a mashup of Denver, Boulder, and Westminster.

The Westminster REI is in the middle of a big, outdoor mall. Same as Bend. The Boulder REI is full of white college-age kids with money. Same as Bend.

The Denver Flagship REI is a historic building – it used to be the Forney Museum of Transportation History, and before that it was a power plant for the Denver Tramway. I don’t know what the Bend REI used to be, but it looks like it was some kind of power plant, as there were three smokestacks on top of the building.

At any rate – REI. We wanted to pick up better bug spray, as well as a very particular item. Head nets.

Yep. Mosquito netting just for your head. Look, when you’re out in the woods, surrounded by biting skeeters, you quit caring if you look cool or not.

Armed and ready for our next encounter with the insect world, we drove back out to Irish Lake, excited to get back to our fabulous spot. Only when we got there, it was occupied. As in, a white Toyota Tacoma with a RTT, and in our exact spot.

Well, shit.

Actually, there were half a dozen other vehicles up in that area. Who were all these people? I mean, I know it was 4th of July weekend and all, but it was Sunday night.

After only a little bit of searching we found another spot. This one was on Taylor Lake, and while not as ideal, we had our head nets to deal with the swarms that night. I’m happy to say they worked like a champ.

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Too bad we couldn’t get a mosquito net for Bailey.

 

I started a giant fire anyway, adding in some green wood to make as much smoke as possible. After 9:30, the skeeters really did die down, so I was able to enjoy our Revel Gear lights.GoGoTacoNegro

 

 

 

And the next morning, thanks to my trusty head net, I was able to take some fabulous pictures of Taylor Lake.

 

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We hung out at Taylor Lake until Tuesday, July 4th, when we went back to Bend. Some locals had told us Bend puts on a good 4th of July fireworks show, and that since the fireworks are set off from the top of Pilot Butte, the show would be visible from multiple spots in town.

The park we ended up at actually ended up being a popular place to watch the fireworks. And to set off your own, too. Apparently fireworks are not illegal in Oregon. These were not weak little sparklers – no, these were the real deal. I felt pretty bad for Bailey. He hates loud noises, especially thunderstorms and fireworks. But we kept him in the back of the truck, trying to minimize his stress.

The amateurs quieted down when fireworks show began promptly at 10pm.

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The “show” consisted of 1-2 fireworks going off at a time, and ended exactly 15 minutes later.

 

 

I found this disappointing. But then, I grew up outside of Chicago, and in Chicago the fireworks (always on July 3rd) are lit from a barge on Lake Michigan. It’s a spectacular show accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Call me spoiled, I guess.

But I will say one thing about Bend’s fireworks show: for all the people at that park, it was the easiest exit ever. People was so polite. I was able to back out of my parking spot because someone let me out. Merging was never so easy. Everyone was friendly.

I thought it was crazy. But I sure didn’t complain. We left Bend and went to a camping area just west of town, in Deschutes National Forest. In spite of it being July 4th  and after 11pm we didn’t have any problems finding a spot for the night.

Next post: Our Bend adventures continue, with Lava Tubes, giant moths, and swimming in the Deschutes River.

It’s Just So Blue

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After leaving Oregon Caves National Monument we headed north towards Crater Lake. We stopped in Grants Pass for a bit – specifically at Rogue Coffee Roasters. In addition to excellent coffee, this large coffee shop had power strips at every table so we could charge all the electronics while I worked on the blog.

We also stopped to resupply at a grocery store, as well as get gas. However when I pulled up to the pump, nobody came over to me. After a while I started to wonder if Oregon’s gas-pumping law was really a thing (it’s supposed to be illegal to pump your own gas here), so I got out, swiped my credit card, selected my grade. I was all alone at the pump. I pulled the nozzle and was halfway to my gas tank when I heard a haughty voice from behind me.

“Are you not aware of Oregon’s gas pumping laws?”

I turned, nozzle still in hand, to see a short, pudgy dude with acne and glasses.

“Did you not see the Colorado plates?” I snapped, going back to my Chicago roots. No way I was going to take any shit from a guy shorter than me. “What do you think?”

He just reached out for the nozzle. I handed it over and got in the truck. Who knew getting gas here would be such an ordeal? And a slow one at that. The pudgy dude was helping other customers, too, so the gas pump had long shut off when he returned.

Personally, I think that if you’re going to forbid me to pump my own gas, then then the whole process should be faster than if I had to do it myself. Ah well. If nothing else, I guess this memorable lesson should prevent me from trying to pump my own gas in Oregon again.

“Do you want a receipt?”

“Yes, please,” I said, that extra word flying out before I could stop it.

But that extra word was awfully helpful, because as he handed me my receipt he apologized. “Sorry if I sounded like a jerk back there,” he said.

I told him that it was all right.

When we arrived in Crater Lake National Park, the first thing we saw after the entrance booth was a turnoff for the campground. We decided to check it out. Camping turned out to be $22 per night, and there was space available that night. Pretty cool, considering it was Friday, and we had plenty of room for it in the budget. So we went for it. After selecting a site we drove on to check another item off my bucket list.

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It’s just… so…. blue. This is not Photoshop, folks. Crater Lake really is this color. We were there early enough that the wind was pretty still – giving the lake a mirror-like quality.

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And it’s not just that blue color that makes Crater Lake so amazing. The water is also incredibly clear. Scientists have used something called a Secchi Disk to measure the clarity of the water. A Secchi Disk is 8″ in diameter, with alternating black and white quadrants. The disk gets lowered into the water until it can’t be seen from the surface anymore.

Crater Lake’s clarity has been measured at 143 feet.

I wish I could have gotten closer to the surface of the water, to try and show you some of that clarity. But Crater Lake received about 48 feet of snow this past winter, and most of that snow was still there. More than half the Park was closed. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through Crater Lake National Park, and the thru-hikers had to walk the road (believe me, they were easy to spot). In order to get to the boat launch for Wizard Island, we would have had to walk the last 2.5 miles.

That wasn’t a big deal, but the boat cost $30 per person, which we didn’t want to pay. We couldn’t rent kayaks or anything, either. No other boats are allowed on the water as the Park Service doesn’t want to risk contaminating that clear water.

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Bummer.

For all you science nerds out there, Crater Lake itself was formed by a volcanic eruption over 7,000 years ago. Max depth of the lake is an astonishing 1,946 feet. The small island in the center, Wizard Island, was formed by a smaller eruption a few hundred years later.

After driving as much of the Park as we could, we headed back to camp. The fire ring at our site was full of snow, but it was warm enough out that we didn’t mind. We set up our new Revel Gear lights. Kody sent us a goodie box full of awesomeness: several strings of USB lights (white lights, colored lights, and changing lights – check out our Instagram feed for more images!), coozies, even a light up dog collar.

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We haven’t had much chance to use the dog collar yet… it doesn’t get dark here until 10pm, and Bailey usually goes to bed by 8:30 or so.

And yes, he does “go to bed.” Sometimes it’s while I’m cleaning up from dinner, but no matter where I am he’ll sit down right in front of me and give me The Stare. So I ask him, “do you want to go to bed?” I have to make sure the path to the back of the truck is clear, though, because once permission is given nothing will stand in that dog’s way. Not the cooler, not the pantry, not a full bag of trash.

Bailey is a dog of particular focus.

 

Leaving California

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After spending the morning of June 26th looking for abalone shells in King Range NCA, and the afternoon finding out all the interesting nuances of Eureka, California (read my last post for that story), we were both tired and a little cranky as we approached Trinidad and our (possibly illegal) rest stop campsite.

The sun set at almost 9pm and we arrived at the rest stop around 9:15. It was already filling up. We pulled past the regular parking lot and over to the area where the big rigs would park. We pulled in behind an R-Pod trailer and next to a truck camper. About 10 minutes after we arrived – I was getting the bedding in order upstairs – a sprinter van towing a pop-up camper pulling in next to us. A family of 5 tumbled out and I’d say the oldest kid was maybe 5. They ran around with mom while dad set up the pop-up camper.

At that point I figured we were safe. That pop-up took waaay more time to set up than our sweet little RTT.

Although I was not safe from the 6am wakeup call by a screaming baby from said pop-up camper. Earplugs don’t seem to work on that particular sound. Michael tried to sleep through it, but at 6:15 the sanitation truck arrived, and it sounded like a 747 trying to take off. I’d be curious to meet the person who could sleep through that.

We were on the road pretty early that day. That was actually pretty okay by me: it was time to see the Redwoods. But first, coffee. By the sea.

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This pullout was maybe 10 miles from the rest stop. Maybe we should have illegally camped here?

The Coastal Redwood Forest is a combination of State Park and State Forest, and it’s all amazing. Hard to photograph, but amazing.

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We ended up stopping at the visitor’s center that was part of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and running an out-and-back along the Prairie Creek Trail.

This was a flat trail, and not technical, but I ran three miles to a junction with another trail called Zig Zag #1 before turning back. Because it wasn’t very technical, I could run while looking up at all the trees. This area was just so lush. And dense. Even though the trail ran fairly close to the road, you couldn’t see it. In fact, it was easy to imagine that there was no road nearby at all, or that a dinosaur might be waiting just around the next turn. This place just felt old.

I loved it. I kind of regret not bringing a camera, but then those six miles would have taken all day because I would have stopped every fifty feet to take a picture.

I did find this interesting display at the Visitor’s Center.

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That’s a slice of an ancient redwood tree. The tags are historical markers in the tree’s life.

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This tree was a sapling when the Vikings discovered North America. Crazy.

After the run we had a fabulous tailgate lunch, featuring fish tacos. (We were given free ling cod and rock fish from some friendly people we met while looking for abalone shells, which I wrote about in my last post.)

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…they tasted even better than they look.

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Parking around these trails was… interesting. There were a few spots near the trailhead, but the vast majority of parking was right on the road. One of the many awesome things about our setup is that we can cook essentially anywhere, anytime. (Well, weather permitting.) Our tailgate lunch, in spite of not looking all that different from our tailgate coffee a few hours earlier, drew a few comments and stares from people heading towards the trails.

 

I would love to come back to this area and explore the other trails – in particular the James Irvine Trail, which heads west for 4 miles to something called Fern Canyon (which is supposed to be spectacular) and the ocean.

But we had to move on, because there was no free camping anywhere nearby and we were making for Oregon. Along the way, though, we passed through Crescent City, and because we had time we stopped in their visitor’s center to ask where we could take showers.

The girl there looked at us strangely, as if we’d asked where the nearest bell tower was while holding high powered rifles or something. She suggested the new pool that was right across the street, where open swim was going on until 4:30. She offered nothing else.

Well, it was right across the street, so we walked over there. Open swim was $5 per person, the kid behind the counter said. But when I mentioned that we just wanted to take showers, he changed his tune. Showers were $6 each, he said, and were only allowed at specific times. We were not there at one of those specific times.

He didn’t really specify why this particular rule existed, but I’m guessing it’s because of Crescent City’s homeless population, which seemed to be rather large. Maybe they were taking over the public pool and scaring the children.

I resisted the urge to tell this kid that the rule was asinine. Don’t you have to take a shower just to get into the pool? But the kid was just a kid, and he was just reciting the rules to us. Not his fault.

We’d like to swim, we said.

It was a nice shower facility, at least. Plenty of hot water, although the water pressure was like to flay the skin right off my body. I brought my razor in there with me and was shaving my pits when I heard this voice:

“What are you doing?” I turned and this little kid, maybe 10 years old, was standing there, staring at me. “Are you taking a bath?”

“Uh…” Was I about to get busted by a little kid? “I’m getting ready to get into the pool,” I told her.

“Oh. Me too,” she said.

“I’m just a little dirtier than you are,” I said, and she nodded and wandered off. Crisis averted.

We hung out in the pool for about 20 minutes as a show of good faith that we weren’t there stealing showers or anything. It was a nice little pool. I went down the slide twice but Michael refused, saying it didn’t look like it would be any fun. Pfffft. He missed out.

After our shower/pool adventure we hit the laundromat. No special rules there – they even had WiFi. So with clean bodies and all clean clothes, we hit the road towards Oregon.

Our Paige Snow Park campsite that night wasn’t anything to write home about. Apparently the Snow Park is used by snowmobilers in the wintertime. How does Colorado not have these? The high country gets lots of snow. I hear snowmobiling is popular in Colorado, too. We saw at least one warming hut, complete with a pot-bellied stove. Everything was covered in graffiti and a little trashed, though.

When we were back in civilization (Cave Junction, to be exact) we saw a USFS field office and stopped in. I tell you, those Forest Service offices have banker’s hours. But if you can get to one when they’re open, the people there are a wealth of information. When I asked for a map of dispersed camping, the man who introduced himself as Sonny said that there was no map. Within Forest Service boundaries, we could camp wherever we wanted – just stay 100 feet from any water source. That was it. There’s a LOT of Forest Service land in Oregon.

So we breathed a bit easier. We were back among friends.

Sonny also gave us a little heads up on a “secret” campsite that was on the way to Oregon Caves National Monument. Just a little flat spot off the highway, but it had a trail that lead to a secret waterfall and an old miner’s camp.

The campsite was right were Sonny said it would be, although we didn’t make it to the secret waterfall. The trail was pretty overgrown, and as we tried to progress we saw that the trail was overgrown with more of that pesky poison oak. Maybe next time.

We did get to Oregon Caves National Monument, though, and it was awesome. We went on the 2pm cave tour, which lasted around 90 minutes. I put on pants and a jacket, since the temperature inside the cave was a chilly 45 degrees. At the start of our tour, our Ranger guide asked the group if any of us were over 18 and vaguely responsible. Michael stepped up and said yes.

His responsibility was bringing up the rear. That way the Ranger would know he hadn’t lost any members of his tour. The tour was really cool and informative. Oregon Caves is different from other caves in the west (like Carlsbad Caverns) because Oregon Caves is a marble cave. (Carlsbad Caverns caves are limestone.) Marble is a metamorphic rock – it used to be limestone, before it changed from prolonged exposure to heat and intense pressure.

After the tour was over, the Ranger thanked Michael for being vaguely responsible and keeping the group together, and gave him this pin:

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I’m so proud.

Next post: Crater Lake!

Adventures along the Northern California Coast

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After spending our first day at King Range NCA at Black Sand Beach, we wanted to see more of shelter cove. So the next day when we headed down the hill, we went straight instead of turning right, and ended up at Mal Coombs Park. Next to the parking lot sat a lighthouse and a big grassy area. Plenty big enough to run Bailey. Finally!

See, my only complaint about our Wailaki campsite was the poison oak. It seemed to be everywhere. And while Michael and I could avoid it, Bailey didn’t exactly care. So at camp he was leashed up all the time. Bailey doesn’t complain about anything, of course, but I was happy to give him some time to stretch his legs.

Mal Coombs Park is a tidal pool area. Unfortunately for us, when we arrived the tide appeared to be coming in. We talked to a local who confirmed that for us, and he gave us a fabulous heads-up: The next low tide was 8am the next day. Also, it was going to be a negative low tide, so the water would be even lower than normal. He suggested that if we were looking for abalone shells, the best time to get there would be around 7am or so.

I hadn’t thought to look for abalone shells before. But that sounded like a great idea and Michael agreed to get up early. Again.

With that plan in place we checked out the other areas of Shelter Cove, like Seal Rock and Abalone Point. We had fun watching the harbor seals, and I got to use my zoom lens.

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The harbor seals were all out sunning themselves. I swear, they look like Bailey when he’s getting snuggles. My friend Kevin once called it Blissful Dog Face.

 

 

At one point, though, a big set of waves rolled in and a lot of the harbor seals got swept off this rock.

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Of course, being harbor seals this wasn’t a real problem – no, the issue seemed to come with the resettling. There were a couple of kerfuffles as everyone re-established their space.

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Eventually the darker seal moved away.

Abalone Point was also great for pictures.

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The next morning my alarm went off at 6:15. I guess it was lucky we had some recent practice in the “putting the tent away before breakfast” thing, because we were underway to Shelter Cove just before 7am.

When we arrived at Mal Coombs park there was only one other car in the parking lot. We saw more turkey vultures than anything else as we headed out, looking for shells. The water was incredibly low.

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High tide…
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Negative Low Tide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I saw crabs and starfish and hermit crabs. Honestly, I didn’t actually know what to look for, as far as abalone shells went. I found my first one by accident.

Michael got the hang of it a lot more quickly. He had a little help, though. After a short while we did start to see other people in the tide pools. Most of them were wearing neoprene wetsuits, and going out a lot further into the water. Michael sidled up to one of them, who was on his way out, and who gave him a nod and said something that sounded like, “gone ab’n?”

After Michael figured out that the guy meant if we were collecting abalone, he asked for tips on finding the shells. You have to look in the crevasses between rocks, he said, and near sea grass or kelp.

Of course, he was talking about the live ones. Yep, a lot of the people we saw out that morning were gone ab’n. Apparently people eat them. (I looked it up later – abalone can be eaten as sushi, but are also excellent sliced up into steaks and pan-fried.)

After an hour, this was our haul.

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I have no idea what I’m going to do with these shells. Probably ship then off to San Luis Obispo. Anyway, we talked with a group of people on our way back to the parking lot, and they happily showed us their (live) haul. You need a permit to catch abalone, and there are also size restrictions. Each catch was looked over by a monitor we saw in the parking lot.

I should have taken a picture – but here’s what live abalone look like. The link is for an article in the LA Times, about the dangers of diving for abalone. But the picture is pretty accurate. The people we talked to were not diving and we asked them how, exactly, you catch an abalone. There seemed to be some difference of opinion as to the best way.

The older folks claimed that speed was your friend – and a big knife to help pry them off. Abalone are mussels, and if you don’t get them off their rock right away, they hunker down and are impossible to remove.

The younger guy in the group said that slow and quiet was the way to go, that he could gently remove an abalone from a rock without them putting up a fight.

Things to keep in mind if I ever take up abalone hunting.

We all arrived at the parking lot together. The group had been there for a few days, fishing, and told us that they had more fish than they could eat. Ling cod and rock fish. Did we want some?

Is the Pope Catholic? We happily said yes. Fish tacos, anyone?

Still, it was with a bit of sadness that we departed from the Lost Coast that morning. This was such a beautiful area, and after the crowds of places like Yosemite, the King Range NCA was delightfully empty.

Our next stop was Eureka, California. It’s a big town so we knew we’d be able to resupply on everything, which was what we needed at that point. Even dog food, which lasts a lot longer now that we have just one dog to feed.

Eureka’s WalMart was pretty much right next door to PetCo (or was it PetSmart? I can never remember)…. On a map. In reality, the WalMart is part of the Eureka’s mall. Well, one entrance is. We asked when we went in, and the guy at the door suggested we go around the mall, to the back, and park at the main entrance.

The more time I spend in northern California, the more confused I get. In central and southern Cali, the coastal areas are generally where you find the wealthy. Poor people live inland. And yet in NorCal, these coastal towns have more rednecks than a trailer park in Arkansas.

Case in point: Eureka’s WalMart.

I’m pretty sure that the website PeopleOfWalMart was created because of this WalMart. I think our truck was the nicest vehicle in the parking lot. The store’s produce “section” was a laughably small corner of the store. We quickly decided to just resupply dry goods, like almonds and paper towels, and then find a real grocery store.

The real grocery store turned out to be a Safeway on the east side of town. When we arrived, I could tell we were definitely in a higher rent district. Safeway’s produce section was lovely.

Here’s the main problem I’ve found with coastal California: no free camping. I’m guessing it’s because of all the homeless people but we had a terrible time finding a free campsite without having to drive 2 hours out of our way. (All the State Parks were booked, in case you’re wondering – and besides, they cost $45 per night!)

We found a place on FreeCampsites.net, but it sounded iffy. And the last time we checked out an iffy site (just north of Fort Bragg) we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. That one was oceanside, a big gravel pullout from the southbound lane of Highway 1. We found at least three car bums in sketchy-looking vans. The last van had a rabid-looking pitbull that the owner, a tiny little woman, could barely control.

Needless to say, we didn’t camp in van-land. So we were a bit wary of this site, a rest stop off Highway 101, near Trinidad. Apparently you can stay in a California rest stop for up to 8 hours. This site had several reviews by people who had successfully stayed there overnight.

Well. It was 5pm and we were only about 30 minutes away from this site. When your campsite may be illegal, you don’t want to something stupid, like set up shop too soon, because then you might get noticed. The key to illegal camping is to keep it on the down low. We got that tip way back in Park City, Utah. So we found a coffee shop where I could work on the blog. This led us to yet another side of Eureka: downtown, aka the upscale boutique area. Eureka seems like a complicated place… someday I might want to check it out a little more.

Next post: highway camping!

The Isolated Lost Coast of California

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In my last post I said that we went back to our squatter’s site in Jackson State Forest, just east of Fort Bragg, CA. We were smarter about our second night of “guerrilla camping.” We still got up early and packed up before anything else, but this time we drove straight to the Fort Bragg Dog Park. The place was empty at 7:30AM on a Saturday, so we parked in a corner and set up our tailgate table. I took Bailey and the Chuckit over to the park while Michael worked on coffee and breakfast.

I met a nice lady in the park. She recognized our setup and told us that she and her husband had traveled extensively in Mexico when they were in their 20s. She shared a few great stories, but here’s my favorite:

They were driving this old beater truck, and things kept breaking on it, and they’d fix what they could. The brakes kept getting worse, but they kept putting off the repair because it was costly. Well, one day the brakes finally failed and they almost killed this group of Mexicans. In the end, they sold the truck to the group of said Mexicans, and continued on foot. Hitchhiking.

I hope none of my stories involve near-death for anyone, but it makes me so happy that I’ll have great travel stories to tell when I get older. It seems like more days than not the universe gives me confirmation that Michael and I made the right decision with this trip.

Onward, then, to King Range NCA. The drive north from Fort Bragg was beautiful. We stopped early on so I could photograph this trestle bridge over Pudding Creek.

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King Range was a gamble – we didn’t know anything about it, other than it was managed by the BLM, and didn’t find any reviews of their campsites – but this time our gamble paid off. This place was gorgeous. Shady and cool, and only 5 miles from the ocean. The sites were clean and level with trash bins and clean bathrooms. (Pit toilets – no running water – but clean nontheless.)

Plus, it was empty. We picked out our site, paid up, left some stuff behind to mark it, and headed for the beach. Black Sand Beach. With this view:

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Michael got out his pack for a ruck workout, and I went for a run. Or tried to. This black sand was like nothing I’ve ever run on before. Usually, when you get close to the water, the sand firms up and becomes a nice running surface. Not so at Black Sand Beach, where even the wet sand was soft and loose. My lungs felt great but my ankles and calves were in agony. I walked early, and often. Still, it was such a beautiful area that I couldn’t complain.

We saw a couple of people fishing but other than that we seemed to have this beach to ourselves.

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Black Sand Beach is also the southern terminus of the Lost Coast Trail, a 24-mile trip that most people apparently hike in 3 days. They also go with a tide chart in one hand, as several stretches of the Lost Coast Trail are inaccessible at high tide.

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Back at camp, we set up the tent and Michael set up the hammock. As I looked through our Revel Gear goodie box, I realized why sending everything to coastal northern California was kind of a mistake. These are solar-powered lights. And there was a definite lack of sunshine at our camp.

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Anyway. I was still excited to set up our new lights. Kody said in an interview with SGB Media that she used to haul Christmas lights and a generator on every camping trip, so I went with the multi-color lights in her honor. I love that I can plug up to 2 strings of lights into this handy little charger. (And that the charger can be powered by the sun or through the cigarette lighter in the truck!)

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While the Wailaki campground was not full, it was not empty either and several campers walked past our site, commenting on our setup. I mean, the RTT is an anomaly up here anyway, but the lights just took everything to the next level.

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In case you were worried, Savory Spice was not left out. Michael made curried chicken and vegetables for dinner, with the help of that Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry spice package.

 

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So delicious! And here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 whole rotisserie chicken breast, shredded
2 medium organic carrots, peeled and diced medium
4 organic mini sweet peppers, seeded and sliced
1/2 medium organic red onion, medium dice
1 cup organic sugar snap peas, sliced in half
1 cup organic crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 12oz can coconut cream
2 tablespoons Savory Spice Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry Spice
Sriracha chili sauce, to taste
Kosher Salt ,to taste (can substitute soy or fish sauce if desired)
1 lime cut into eighths, for garnish
Cilantro, for garnish
Method
  • In a meduim heavy bottom sauce pan, combine the coconut cream, curry spice blend, and chopped vegetables.
  • Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add the chicken and bring back to a simmer.
  • Taste and add Sriracha and salt (or soy or fish sauce) as desired
  • Ladle into two bowls and garnish with lime wedges and cilantro.

After that fabulous dinner, we sat under our Revel Gear lights and enjoyed the night.

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