Saturday: Brian graciously agreed to keep the baby all day so I could go play on Mt. Hood with Grace.
We stopped for a quick lunch at the Mt. Hood Brew Pub (formerly the Ice Axe Grill), and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. We sat at the bar, and service was speedy and friendly. Grace had a gorgeous salad of greens, dried cranberries, blue cheese, nuts, and green apples. I had the Flat Iron Ciabatta sandwich (sliced beef, caramelized onions, and a yummy spicy sauce on thick peasant bread) with fries. Both dishes were excellent and arrived quickly from the kitchen. We also ordered the beer sampler, which featured a nice variety of dark and pale beers brewed on the premises. Prices were a bit high (mainly because of the restaurant's location on the mountain), but I thought the food and the service warranted the money we paid.
While Grace took care of a few work responsibilities, I made the short hike to Zig Zag Falls (at left). This was a quick hike down a beautiful trail with a gorgeous payoff at the end. I really enjoyed it. What's striking about hiking in Oregon forests is that they feel almost primeval. The trees are huge, everything is lush and green, and plants - ferns, mosses, wildflowers, understory trees - are literally growing everywhere. It's like something out of a fairytale. You know those babbling brooks and rushing mountain streams you used to read about? Well, in Oregon, they are EVERYWHERE. Waterfalls are rushing down right by the side of a regular old road. I wonder if people who live there even notice them anymore. It's absolutely beautiful.
After that, I spent a little time at the Mt. Hood Cultural Center, learning about the area, its settlement, and the adventures (and disasters) experienced by hikers/climbers on Mt. Hood. It was pretty amazing to see the evolution of climbing. They had gear from different periods on display, as well as some atmospheric photos of the mountain throughout the seasons. They also had a book of newspaper clippings that reminded me how dangerous climbing Mt. Hood can be. There have been quite a few fatalities over the years.
Once Grace finished up with her work event, we took a quick drive to Summit Meadows (at right), which is a large, green meadow filled with tall mountain grass. It was a place where settlers traveling through the area would stop and rest a bit before continuing the grueling journey through the mountains.
We also stopped by Trillium Lake, a clear, blue, man-made lake with stunning views of Mt. Hood. (Well, the views WOULD have been stunning, if the darn clouds weren't in the way at the time.) There were tons of people out on the mountain, and also at Trillium Lake, enjoying the scenery. (That was something I really noticed in Oregon. The people there don't take their public lands for granted. They are out there camping, hiking, fishing, you name it. It was actually kind of inspiring.)
After enjoying the lake a bit, Grace took me to Timberline Lodge (at left) on Mt. Hood. The lodge was built as part of FDR's Works Progress Administration, and it has been meticulously preserved. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Grace gave me a fabulous tour of the place. After kicking back a bit in the lodge lobby, we ordered two hot coacoas, which we sipped by the big picture window as we discussed what to do next.
We decided on an easy hike at Salmon River. You can drive right up to the trailhead, and the hike takes you parallel to the river's course. There are tons of old-growth trees there, and the river makes for beautifully changing scenery.
We worked up an appetite on our hike, so we decided to have dinner at the Skyway Bar and Grill (in Zig Zag). This place is an absolute gem. Though there is an indoor dining room, featuring a full bar as well as a stage for the live music (something like 5 nights a week, I think), I thought the real scene was in the "backyard area," where they had plenty of tables for you to eat at, as well as a roaring campfire and a view of the sun setting behind the trees. The Skyway serves up fabulous barbeque (with a selection of delicious homemade sauces - huckleberry, blueberry, traditional, chipotle - we ordered a sampler of the sauces so we could try them all), and I chose the ribs. As as side item, I ate perhaps the most heavenly macaroni and cheese that has ever passed my lips. Creamy and cheesy with the crunchiest breadcrumb topping EVER. Plus, they have local beer and wine at the bar in addition to all the standard offerings. As we were finishing our dinner, some of the other diners pulled out their guitars and sang around the campfire. I know it sounds hokey, but it was totally magical. I sipped my wine and warmed my feet by the fire. One of Grace's friends brought her guitar, and she and Grace sang and played. This was perhaps my favorite evening of the trip.
We drove back down the mountain afterwards and rested up for the next day of fun! Grace dropped me off at Brian's hotel, so I spent the remainder of the evening with him.
Sunday: We slept in! When we awoke, Brian and I headed down to one of the hotel restaurants for a big breakfast. (Even though I ate like a horse while we were in Oregon, I didn't gain a single pound. It must be the mountain air. Or all the hiking.) We had HUGE plates - Brian got the breakfast buffet, and I had the Boursin omelette. Clay enjoyed liberal helpings from Brian's plate - yogurt, egg, some criossant, fruit. The kid is a bottomless pit. (He must take after his parents.)
After breakfast, we met up with Grace and headed for the Portland Saturday Market (which, oddly enough, is held on both Saturday AND Sunday). The market reminded me of the Mississippi Craftsmen's Guild. There were tons of booths featuring homemade items - fused glass jewelry, intricate wood carvings (we bought some little wooden cars for the baby), handmade soaps, food items, cute cloth bags, knitted hats and accessories, paintings and photographs, just a ton of beautiful, handmade items. There were also the less interesting booths (lots of tie-dye, incense, etc.), as well as some performance artists (some neat, others not so much) and food booths. We shopped for a bit, then got lunch from a cart (spiced chicken with tabbouleh and hummus).
Be aware - the Portland Market is a magnet for bums. There are lots of them there with signs and hats for money. What I noticed most, though, were how many of them were really young, just kids. It was heartbreaking.
At any rate, we enjoyed the market, and then we decided to take the rest of the day off from sightseeing.
Monday: Grace and I took the baby for a drive up the Columbia River Gorge. We stopped at all of the lookouts and many of the waterfalls. The Vista House at Crown Point is beautiful and offers 360-degree views of the gorge. We stopped there for a little while and stretched our legs. We also stopped at Latourelle Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and Multnomah Falls (at left). I really wanted to hike some at the stops, but it was not a possibility with the baby. So, feeling a bit like a tourist, I got out of the car, snapped a few photos, communed with nature, and climbed back into the passenger seat. Oh, well. Next time . . . !
The area is amazing, though, and the views are breathtaking. On the way back, our rumbling stomachs led us to TippieCanoe, where I had a HUGE plate of fried halibut and french fries and Grace ate maybe half of one of the biggest sandwiches I've ever seen. We also both sampled the restaurant's seafood chowder, which I can highly recommend.
We spent the afternoon at the apartment before heading out to Toro Bravo for dinner. I'd heard wonderful things about this Spanish tapas bar, and prices were supposed to be reasonable, so I couldn't wait to check it out. They don't take reservations, so we showed up at 5 p.m. (when they opened) to LINE UP (I swear, there were already people lined up.) and get a table. Luckily, we were seated immediately, and we were served iced water and a lovely little dish of toasted, spiced chickpeas to munch on while we perused the menu. We ended up choosing several small plates: 1.) Manchego and spicy chorizo with peasant bread; 2.) grilled sweet corn with a dusting of herbs; 3.) polenta with vegetable ragout and melted cheese; 4.) cheese-and-nut-stuffed dates drizzled with honey; 5.) pork croquettes. Each plate was delicious; the quality of the food here is beyond reproach. Some serving sizes were a bit small (the dates, in particular), but others were generous (the polenta - YUM). We washed our food down with two glasses of Oregon wine. All told, our tab was $50, which was a total steal for the dinner we had.
Tuesday: On our last full day in Orgeon, Grace and I headed to the Pearl District to window-shop. We checked out Powell's Books first, a HUGE book store that is independently-owned. The store is more than one story, and it covers a full city block. Inside, the most extensive collection of books I've ever imagined sat on meticulously tagged shelves. The tags were EVERYWHERE, and they denoted anumber of things - book-award-winners, staff picks, cross-references with other authors/books, even full reviews, signed by staff members. I loved this book store.
After that, we legged it around the area for a bit, stopping for a bit of Stumptown coffee (which is locally roasted) as a souvenir. When hunger struck, we hopped over to Chinatown because Grace had never tried dim sum. I'd read in my trusty guidebook that Fong Chong's served a good version of it, so we bellied up to a nice table there to find out. Now, Fong Chong's doesn't look like much, I'll grant you. It's kind-of a hole in the wall, and the bathrooms are less than appealing. But you might decide that doesn't matter when the dim sum carts come out. We loved the ginger chicken, and we ate a huge variety of steamed and fried dumplings. The carts kept coming, too, with sliced meats and green beans, more dumplings, more of everything. We got a ton of dim sum, with tea, and paid something like $23. Great food, and lots of it, at reasonable prices. I think Grace really enjoyed herself, and I did, too.
After lunch, we headed back to the apartment to relax before dinner. Grace made a delicious chicken parmesan for us that night, and we prepped for our departure. The next day, we just finished packing and hit the airport! Clay was an absolute angel on the flight from Portland to Houston, sleeping most of the way. After about an hour and a half layover, we boarded our flight to Jackson, which was blessedly uneventful. (The baby ate his snack and watched a Baby Einstein DVD for most of this flight.) Then it was home, bath, and bed. Ahhhhhh!
We had a great time in Portland, and my sister was a wonderful host!