Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Beach of the Month: Lake Travis, Texas

When Mr. UR hatched the Beach of the Month plan way back at the end of last year, I knew some months it would be tough to get my toes in the sand due to time constraints or already made travel plans.  So I'm stretching it this month - because I make the rules - to a beach on a lake. That's right, a lake. When you think of sand by a body of water, lakes don't usually come to mind. But they do have sand by water.  I visited Lake Travis - about 45 minutes northwest of Austin, Texas - and it  has a beach. Well, actually more than one beach.

Lake Travis is a reservoir on the Colorado River that was established to contain floodwaters in the flood prone region. A year round playground, Lake Travis suffered severe drought in 2008 and has only recently come back to full capacity, though there is much of the lake that still looks dried up - particularly in the coves - and the water level still fluctuates. But I think you can still enjoy this large lake and find what you're looking for.

There are deer everywhere at the lake

Texas or Italy?

A popular spot in Texas Hill Country, Lake Travis is a short drive from Austin, Temple, Waco or even San Antonio. One of the most famous spots on the lake is The Oasis Restaurant which is the 5th largest restaurant in the US. If you've been on Instagram or Pinterest, you've probably seen the images from here.  It is a 5 level complex including a restaurant on multi-levels, a brewing company, shops and a live music venue. Known as "The Sunset Capital of Texas", you can't beat this restaurant with it's terraced views of the sunset sitting some 450 feet above the lake. Be prepared for crowds - especially on weekends - because everyone wants to see this view. We went on an extremely hot weeknight, though, and there were no crowds and no wait.

The Lakeway Resort and Spa is another popular spot on Lake Travis. Sitting right on a point on the lake, Lakeway includes 4 pools, fine dining, a spa, a marina and is surrounded by golf courses. It didn't work for us this time but I'd love to stay here sometime.

You can also rent a boat and enjoy swimming, skiing or wake boarding, try ziplining over the lake on the longest and fastest zipline in Texas or enjoy Volente Resort and Waterpark.

If you can't get to the shore, and you feel the need for water then a lake may be just what you need. And if you're in Texas, then Lake Travis may be that lake.Like everything in Texas, it's  big - 18,000 acres and 270 miles of shoreline - so I'm sure you could find what you want here. Even just a few hours of peace and water. Or maybe you'd just like to see one of those famous sunsets in person. 

How about you? Have you been to Lake Travis?

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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Driving the Columbia River Gorge through Oregon and Washington

In September 2017 nearly 50,000 acres of the Washington and Oregon sides of the Columbia River Gorge were burned in the Eagle Creek Fire. The fire was started by a 15 year old boy  igniting fireworks during a burn ban. (The teen was sentenced to 1,920 hours of community service with the US Forest Service and 5 years of probation along with the possibility of having to pay $37 million in restitution) And though the fire was devastating, there is signs of regrowth some 9 months later though most hiking trails in the burn are still closed.

The Columbia River Gorge spans for some 80 miles where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountains divided between the states of Oregon and Washington. The Historic River Highway Scenic Byway was the first scenic highway in the US. It starts just outside of Portland and includes some five miles of waterfalls, a fish hatchery, a dam, locks and views of Mt. Hood - on a clear day, of course. We started our drive at Maryhill, Washington and drove west to Portland for one of the most scenic drives in the country.

Maryhill Winery
Maryhill Winery sits on the Washington side of the Gorge and has some of the most stunning views from a winery that you will ever see. You can take a tour or do a tasting of their wines or enjoy a meal on the outdoor patio enjoying views of Mt. Hood. Along with the winery, you can attend one of many scheduled concerts at their outdoor amphitheatre right on the river. Combining the accoustics of the Gorge, some delicious wine and all-star acts, Maryhill is considered a world- class concert venue. The line-up is announced in April and tickets go on sale in May - get your tickets early as most concerts sell out. If I'm in the Gorge again, I'm definitely trying to get to a concert there!

Stonehenge Memorial
A replica of Stonehenge in England, the Stonehenge Memorial was erected as the nation's first WWI Memorial in 1918. Reinforced concrete was used for the Memorial after local stone was proved unsatisfactory and there are 14 names of local servicemen carved in memorium. Admission is free and you can also visit the Klickitat Veterans Memorial located nearby. Also a place for fantastic views on the Washington side of the Gorge.

Hood River, Oregon
Hood River is the "Windsurfing Capital of the World". It's a very pleasant - and a tad hilly - city located on the Columbia River. We watched the windsurfers from Waterfront Park  and then walked across the street to pFriem Family Brewers - an artisanal brewery and tasting room. We had a bit of lunch and a beer - it was recommended to us by someone we had struck up a conversation with in Bend  - and it wasn't my favorite brewery on the trip but it was in a good location and my belly was full. Then we walked the town of Hood River and a did a little shopping. A very pleasant visit and I highly recommend spending some time here. 

Drive the Gorge
We drove along the gorge and took in some magnificent views. It isn't called one of the most scenic drives in the US for nothing! We took in the views from both states - alternating between sides. And they were both fantastic.

Bonneville Dam and the Fish Hatchery
The Bonneville Dam is located 40 miles east of Portland. Operated by the US Army Corp of Engineers, it's a National Historic Landmark and you can start by viewing the water spilling over the dam. There is a Visitor's Center that features a movie about construction of the dam, exhibits on hydropower, fish and wildlife protection and navigation. And you can watch salmon climb fish ladders. We spent about an hour here doing all of the above. (Please be aware that you will need to show ID and pass through security to visit the dam)

Salmon and eels

Around the corner you can visit the fish hatchery and view one of the most famous fish in the Pacific NW - Herman the Sturgeon. He's 11 feet long and weighs almost 500 pounds and many consider him Oregon's unofficial state fish. He's in a viewing tank with 8 other sturgeon - and he's fed a diet of fresh salmon. At the ripe old age of 77, his keepers think he still has a few good years left in him. (Also, you can learn about raising fish at the hatchery and view the salmon rearing ponds)

One of Herman the Sturgeon's tank mates

Multonomah Falls
The fourth largest waterfall in the US, Multonomah Falls is 610 feet tall and is almost always flowing - even in summer - as it's fed by rainwater, an underground spring and snow melt. You can view the falls from the bottom, or walk several  hundred feet up the paved trail to view it from a bridge for a different vantage point. This is an extremely popular spot to visit - I believe it's ranked the number one thing to visit in Oregon - and it can get super crowded. There is a parking lot across the street but the day we were there, it was totally full with a mile back up just to turn in. There is also an overflow lot but we decided to have the driver stay with the vehicle - he couldn't go anywhere else - and just run up and see the falls. It ended up being quite an ordeal as the traffic was unreal, so we were able to get ice cream at the Multonomah Falls Lodge, located in front of the falls. I would suggest visiting here on an off-season weekday if possible. It's pretty all year long so why not make it easy on yourself.

Horsetail Falls
Horsetail Falls is located in the "waterfall corridor" of the Gorge and is easily accessible. A few miles down the road from Multonomah, it was quite the different experience. We found parking easily and it was just a short walk to view the falls. In fact, we decided we preferred this falls as it's just as pretty - maybe not as majestic - but still pretty. We visited the lower falls but you can also take a short, but steep, walk to the upper falls. There is a Horsetail Falls Loop trail that takes you by 3 falls and takes a bit more time, also. (Please check on any hiking you would like to do as most trails on the Oregon side are closed until Summer 2018 due to the fire)

Vista House
Vista House is one of the most beautiful scenic points on the Columbia River Highway. Built in 1917 as a travelers rest stop, it now houses a gift shop which sells local artwork and items and an espresso bar which are manned by volunteers with funds going back to the preservation of Vista House. You may take in the views from the lower level and climb the stairs to see the views from the balcony. And you certainly can't beat those views!

These certainly aren't the only stops you can make - you can spend a good amount of time here hiking, eating, drinking or taking in the views. But you can also drive the Gorge in a day. Your choice. Just make sure you get there once in your lifetime. You'll be so glad you did.

How about you? Have you driven the Gorge? What was your favorite part?

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