Friday, February 23, 2018

Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

We were driving in western Colorado to what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, chatting  and enjoying each other's company when we rounded a curve - and this is what we saw. I'm not sure what I expected but it certainly wasn't the jaw dropping scenery of the Black Canyon.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has some of the "steepest cliffs, oldest rock and craggiest spires in North America. The Gunnison River has been working for some two million years to sculpt this vertical wilderness of rock, water and sky."*

Starting out as a national monument, Black Canyon became a national park in 1999. It's named Black Canyon because it's walls appear black and some of the canyon is so deep that it never sees sunlight. It has some of the world's oldest exposed rock - estimated at 2 billion years old. Yep, billion. 

The South Rim is 14 miles from Montrose and the North Rim is 63 miles from Gunnison. It's truly very desolate. And since there isn't a bridge to cross the canyon, it takes about 2 or 3 hours to drive from rim to rim. We drove the South Rim Road with it's 12 overlooks - and then, though we had planned to head out for another destination after that, we decided that we had to drive the extremely steep (16% grades) East Portal Road down to the bottom of the canyon and the Gunnison River.

Our first stop was at the South Rim Visitor Center with it's viewing platform and movie about the park. I highly recommend viewing the movie to learn about the beginnings of the canyon and it's intrepid explorers - including the 1883 Bryant Expedition who were searching to see if a railroad through the Canyon was feasible, the 1900 Pelton Expedition to see if the Gunnison could be used for irrigation and Abraham Lincoln Fellows and Will Torrence who successfully surveyed the canyon in 1901 to finally get a tunnel built there   for irrigation in 1905.

How green is that water?

Today you can drive the scenic North or South Rim drives with their viewpoints, fish the Gunnison River, wildlife watch including bald eagles, kayak the Gunnison - if you are an extremely experienced kayaker - and rock climb, but as the park service states the rock climbing is "multi pitch traditional routes and not for the faint of heart." The only lodging at the park is camping with 88 of the sites located at the South Rim and available in summer only with another 28 available year round. 

Can you see the fly fisherman? Still don't know how he made it there - waded across the river? Hiked down a trail?

How about you? Have you been to Black Canyon of the Gunnison? Or even heard of it?

*quoted from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park website

Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global,The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog PartyTravel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox  and The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Seoul: The War Memorial of Korea, Cruffins and Craft Beer

Seoul is the capitol of South Korea. It's a mix of modern and ancient with palaces and temples right up against skyscrapers and a modern subway system. And right now, as host of the Olympics, the world's eyes are on this capitol city. 

On my visit there last spring, I was able visit a dog cafe, take a day long tour visiting ancient homes, palaces, and temples, eat kimchi and donkkaseu, and drink soju. On one of our final days in Seoul, Mr. UR and I were on our own while our daughter was working. A few people had recommended we visit the War Memorial of Korea. I'm not much of a War Museum or Memorial type visitor. Military history just isn't my thing. What I really wanted to do was go up in the North Seoul Tower and see the awe inspiring views of the city. Unfortunately, the air pollution was so bad that there weren't any views. It was getting worse each day so we scrapped the tower idea and decided to heed the recommendations and head to the War Memorial. 

The War Memorial of Korea The War Memorial of Korea is part museum and part memorial. Entrance is free and there are lockers for your belongings along with a small cafe for refreshments. I have to admit that I knew nothing about the Korean War. And I have to admit that this was quite the museum.

Upon arrival you walk down the outdoor corridor with memorials to different troops including a state by state memorial to US soldiers. There are six separate indoor halls including a War History room and a large machinery exhibit. We concentrated on the Korean War Room which leads you through the North and South Korean conflict in chronological order. Next we made a quick stop to see The Turtle Ship - a ship used by the Royal Korean Navy during the Joseon dynasty -  in the War History room. Then it was time to rest our feet before taking in a few of the outdoor exhibits. One could seriously spend an entire day here learning and browsing.

Once again, I'm not much on military history but it is part of Korea's past - and now I understand a bit more about Korea and it's people by learning what they have been through. The museum is very tourist friendly with signs in Korean, English and Japanese and you can spend as much or as little time here as you would like.( And I'm told that the memorial service they hold each Friday is something to witness.)

Our daughter worked in the Gangnam neighborhood and we headed that way to meet her after work. Gangnam became famous when  K-pop singer, Psy, hit pop song gold with "Gangnam Style", a worldwide hit.  It's one of the most elite, upscale areas of Seoul with designer shopping, modern skyscrapers and clubs to dance in until dawn - and the plastic surgery capital of Korea. I was amazed to see at least 10 people walking the streets with bandages  covering their faces or necks.

Mr. Holmes Bakeshop
 Our first stop was the Seoul branch of the infamous Mr. Holmes Bakeshop. One of only two in the world - the first is in San Francisco - Mr. Holmes is known for one specific item - the cruffin. A cross between a croissant and a muffin (croissant texture and muffin appearance), we ordered one - we couldn't spoil our dinner, could we? - and a chocolate covered croissant.  The cruffin comes filled - we chose cookies and cream - and while it was good, I still preferred the chocolate covered croissant. But both were pretty delicious.

Pong Dang Beer Company
Seoul isn't exactly known for it's craft beer scene. But there are a few places to grab a cold one and Pong Dang in Gangnam is one. Their motto is "Never put off until tomorrow what you can drink today" We enjoyed a beer by the open window and did a little people watching.

Chicken and Beer
Koreans love their fried chicken - and they like it with beer. There are Chicken and Beer places all over the city - and we were about to experience it for our first time at Kkanbu Chicken. The chicken is fried and then different sauces are added along with some accompaniments. We had fried chicken - and spicy fried chicken, french fries and a nest - yes, a nest - of fried onions on top. With beer, of course. And I think they know what they're doing. It was one of my favorite meals in Seoul. 

A fun day - I learned so much at the museum, tried a cruffin and a craft beer and what's not to love about fried chicken?

How about you? Have you been to the War Memorial of Korea? Had chicken and beer in Seoul?

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Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond,  The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party and Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

STAY: McMenamin's Grand Lodge in Oregon

My friend Jo finds all the cool places to stay. When we went on our two week RV tour around Oregon, we had two nights that we wouldn't be staying in the RV. On our last night, before our flight out, she booked a night's stay for us at the unique McMenamin's Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Oregon, about 25 minutes west of Portland. (We also visited McMenamin's Old St. Francis School in Bend - you can read about that here)
McMenamins, a family owned chain, recycles buildings, such as former schools and makes them into hotels, brewpubs, restaurants or music venues. The Grand Lodge started out as a Widows and Orphans home but after a few years, there was a bit of a divide between the widows and orphans. The orphans were phased out and it became an Eastern Star and Masonic Lodge. After it's purchase by McMenamin's, it was turned into the Grand Lodge - with 90 guestrooms, two restaurants, bars, a movie theater and my favorite, an outdoor soaking pool. While you're visiting, you can also explore nearby wine country - which we did - or you can visit Sake One, the leading brewer of craft sake in the US - which we didn't make it to.


As with all McMenamin properties, the Grand Lodge is decorated whimsically with unique artwork and ceilings full of different dome lights. Our room was on the 3rd floor - or the attic - and was absolutely huge. It easily fit two queen beds and 2 easy chairs. Painted in a dark navy blue, light came in through the dormer window. Our package was a bed and beer - it came with a craft beer flight along with the room. We enjoyed the beer at the Billy Scott Bar - named for one of the first students at the University of Oregon, who also happened to be a resident here - along with some dinner at the bar.


Legend has it that the Lavender Lady walks the halls. Some have felt her spirit - and some say the scent of lavender lingers after she's been there. I didn't see or smell anything - but one never knows!

After our beer flight and dinner, we donned the robes from our room and spent the evening relaxing in the soaking tub under the evergreens - which was a perfect ending to a fantastic trip!

How about you? Have you stayed, or eaten, at a McMenamin's? It was definitely one of the most different places I've ever stayed!

Rates at McMenamin's Grand Lodge start at $60 for 2 people on a winter weeknight with the Beer flight rate starting at $93

Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global,The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!