Monday, July 18, 2016

Ellie's 1st Oregon Trip with Dad

The long sought after and thoroughly planned Oregon Adventure for Ellie finally happened this year.  This trip was costly and logistically tough to pull off requiring my 70 year old mother to travel from Albany, through Fort Wayne in a way that allowed for Ellie to attend her final Sunday reading class, pick Ellie up and escort her on two flights through Chicago's nightmare airport out to Portland, arriving at nearly 11pm or 2am their time.  It was extremely tough on my mother who was only able to get a few hours of sleep on her layover in Fort Wayne at Nicolette's mothers house before continuing on with Ellie to Portland.  Thankfully, the effort was well worth it as I think they both had an amazing visit with Emily and I.  Read on to hear of our adventures!
Emily and I spent Sunday cleaning the house and getting things ready for Ellie’s big visit.  This meant borrowing a sleeping bag and pfd from Sandra and shopping for food for their stay and camping as well.  In the early evening we met up with Nate, Anna, and Caitlin at Woodlawn Park for a “movies in the park” featuring the Sandlot.  Unfortunately, by the time the movie got going around 9:30pm we could only watch about 30 minutes of it before heading to the airport to pick up our guests.  It was about 2am “their time” when we got them back to our house so my mom went straight to bed and I was agreeable to curl up with Ellie on the office pull out bed for the night.  Of course it took a good while to settle her down for bed.  

Monday - Zoo, OMSI, Jungle Book

On Monday Emily had to work and my mom wanted to take the day as a rest day after her big travel day.  This left Ellie and I a day to ourselves so we decided to stick around Portland and visit some local attractions after first having breakfast at home with my mom.  Our first destination was the Portland City Zoo which is always a good bet.  Ellie and I easily found parking on the weekday and headed in to start our circuit tour of the zoo with Ellie using the map as our guide.  We did need to exit the zoo as soon as we got in to get a pen from the truck for her to check off all the animals we saw, making sure that I took a photo of each one for documentation.  So cute, and very much something dad would do too… ;)

Ellie had brought along her “bug catcher” from home and after having checked out the black bears, mountain goats, and eagles, realized she had lost it.  Thankfully, we were able to backtrack and find it before continuing on to the otters, mountain lions and then to the condor exhibit where we found the giant bird snacking on what appeared to be a dead baby cow.  Ellie was super grossed out by it but we heard a zoo employee say that it was road kill that had been donated to the zoo for food which seemed to make her feel better about it being torn apart by the condor!  

From there it was on to the goat pen where we were allowed to enter and interact with the goats which Ellie seemed to really like.  By noon time we were getting pretty hungry so after visiting the primate section we stopped at a zoo cafe for some fried chicken, a burger and a giant basket of fries which we ended up giving to a family to save them spending the crazy amount of cash for them we did!  I made a deal with Ellie, which became common place on the trip, that if she finished a certain amount of her normal food we could get ice cream after/later.  Thankfully, she did finish her food as I was stoked to get us both bags of dip n’ dots ice cream which I rarely can find!

After lunch Ellie seemed to be growing pretty tired of the zoo so we checked out the new elephant exhibit, and then pretty much speed walked through the African exhibit which I had wanted to see more of just getting back from the trip but Ellie was becoming more impatient so we moved onward towards the zoo exit and then took the slightly longer way down Zoo Bomb and through Forest Park so she could see the city park before continuing onward through downtown under the skyscrapers of Portland to OMSI on the East side of the river.

I was very excited to get Ellie to the Museum of Science because she doesn’t receive very much factual scientific experience through the creationist teachings by both her Lutheran Elementary School or their church.  This was my time to expose her to real science about the age of the earth, dinosaurs, space exploration etc.  I really wished they had a dinosaur exhibit but the current one was space travel which was still great as all in the information talked about the planets and stars being billions of years old.   Not sure she paid much attention though.

What did spark her curiosity was all the children’s activities located in the exploratory wing of the museum.  These included making paper airplanes to test wind currents, sailboat construction on water, funny mirrors, pendulums that drew designs by their swinging actions, etc.  We stopped at a whole bunch of fun exhibits including going into the “inventors ball room” for quite a while and chucking foam balls into all the contraptions  

At one exhibit mirrors were used to challenge people to right their names correctly on a paper below the mirror but by looking in the mirror.  I bet Ellie $10 she couldn’t do it and she ended up writing her name backwards and giggling at herself for failing.  She also was brave enough to place her hands on a massive tesla electricity conducing ball that made her hair stand straight up!  

One of the highlights of the afternoon at OMSI was Ellie being able to take a ring out of the center of two horseshoes chained together.  I was feebly trying to do it for about 10 minutes when she came over from another game, took them from me and to my shock and embarrassment solved the puzzle in about 20 seconds!  She asked me to tape her doing it again but this time she had more trouble and couldn’t figure it out.  But, the first time certainly made dad look like an idiot!  

At 4pm we rushed from the space exhibit into the massive IMAX theatre of the museum to watch The Jungle Book which was my favorite childhood cartoon movie.  With movie technology today they had made it into a live action movie this time and it was simply incredible!  I had asked Ellie to save watching the movie for her visit and she had, really enjoying it there on the biggest screen she’d ever seen.  She did ask a whole lot of questions though, throughout the movie with dad telling her each time to “just keep watching” and she’d “find out”.  

We spent the evening relaxing at home watching the first of the Jurassic Park movies and grabbing some dinner of goulash which we had plenty of, having made a big batch of it prior to their visit.  We also spent some time relaxing in the hot tub as the weather was thankfully cool enough in the summer to go in.  Ellie didn’t like the smell of it though she said… “like soap”.  Once again I crashed with Ellie on the pull-out bed but this time Leo joined us for the night as well for some cuddle time.

Tuesday - Waffles, Ape Cave, Curious Snail

On Tuesday Morning I got up before my mom and Ellie and came down to make my famous waffles for everyone.  Fresh strawberries, vanilla ice cream and vanilla creamer are some of my tricks and I knew Ellie would just love ice cream first thing in the morning!  We definitely took our time relaxing in the morning and it wasn’t until about 10:30 or 11am that we actually left the house under rare cloudy skies to head north to Mt. St. Helens.

On the way to the 3 mile long lava tube cave the skies opened up and it started to rain.  Thankfully, with us being under ground for a several hours, the rare summer rainy weather would have absolutely no effect on us.  We brought warm clothes, extra flash lights and head lamps, and headed down into the tunnel.  We chose the easier half of the cave to explore as I think it would have been too much for “nana” to do the other half which required climbing over many more collapsed ceiling sections.  

This was Ellie’s first time exploring a real cave to my knowledge and I think she thought it was pretty cool running a ahead of us and occasionally yelling loudly to hear the echoes in the massive chamber.  I told her that these lava tubes were formed from previous eruptions of the volcano many thousands of years ago but not sure if she was paying attention.  My mom had a great time on the walk as well, having never been through a real lava tube before either.  

The side we took was about 1.5 miles round trip and it took us around an hour and half to walk the whole thing.  We made our way through sections of the lava tube were the ceiling was just above our head and through other parts where it was 50 feet above us!  I showed Ellie the “meatball” which was wedged between lava tube sections we made our way through and at the end where we had to turn around due to the cave narrowing she met a young boy her age for some further exploration.  

The boy and her both took flashlights and crawled deep into the narrow recesses of the end of the cave and with his mom’s permission I boosted them both up to an upper platform where we went a little bit deeper before having to turn around as well.  It was a very busy day in the cave with a lot of school groups going by and Ellie thought it was hilarious to try to trick me and jump into the school groups to sneak by me…. never worked as I had a keen eye on her in the darkness.  At one point we let everyone get far from us and when nobody was around us, deep in the dark cave I had us all turn our lights off and just stand their quietly to see how it felt.  I think it spooked Ellie a little bit as she quickly turned her lamps back on!

By the time we made it back to the entrance I think her and Nana had their fill of the cave with no interest in exploring the other section of it thankfully.  It was a rainy drive out of the thick forest from there back to I-5 where we stopped at a Burgerville to get some late lunch and yummy milkshakes!

Back at the house Ellie spent much of the afternoon cuddling with Leo on the couch.  I took Leo for a walk in the early evening and found a huge snail I thought would be interesting to bring home.   Ellie was pretty fascinated by it and I spent some time getting some neat macro shots of it before cooking up some pizza for us all and Emily who had gotten home from work.  We watched Jurassic Park II and Ellie convinced Emily and I to let her join us in our bed for the night!

Waterfall Wednesday - Silver Falls, Sahalie Falls - McKenzie Bridge Camping

On Wednesday, after cuddling for a good long time with Leo in bed, I cooked up some breakfast for us all, packed up, unrolled Ellie from her purple blanket she taco’d herself into and we headed south towards Silver Falls State Park.  Tim and Amber had actually visited this park the previous summer on an Oregon vacation they took so I though Ellie might be able to go home and share some memories with them of the waterfalls.  Unfortunately, Leo was with us and was not allowed on the Trail of Ten Falls trail so we had to leave him in the truck in the shade under a big pine tree.

We got to the falls just after lunch time and took our time exploring the river above South Falls before descending the trail down and underneath it.  Ellie had a wonderful time exploring all the nooks and crannies of the geology behind the tall waterfall.  So much so, that I had to keep reminding her that we had a ways to go and the longer it took, the hotter and more miserable it would be for poor Mr Leo in the truck.  Tough tradeoff between animal cruelty and letting my daughter explore an area freely she’d never been too.  I tried to strike a fair balance while Emily kept her moving along.  

As we continued on down to the riverbed Ellie explored all the side trails she came across as well as the dead trunk of a big tree I crawled into with her.  She also found one of the coolest leaf skeletons I had ever seen!  Great find Ellie!  Soon we found ourselves descending the steps down to the Lower South Falls and for some reason Ellie decided it was a good time for dad to chase her… which I did, all the way to behind the falls where I put her up on my shoulders to get splashed a bit by the water.

From there it was a slow walk back up the canyon hillside with nana, stopping at benches along the switchbacks to rest and catch our breath, as well as take some great family photos!  When we had made our way back up to the park we pulled up some chairs at the park eatery and got some sandwiches and cold beers while I ran back to the truck to get Leo to join us.  I forgot to grab my wallet so Emily also had to run back to the car as well.  Oops!  We relaxed in the sun and fed Leo baby carrots before jumping back in the vehicles to continue onward towards the Mckenzie River.  

When we hit highway 126 we stopped at Sahalie falls around 6pm to go for a short hike below the trail down to the falls.  I ran down the trail with Ellie and we both walked right up to a height of land covered in moss right below the falls to get absolutely blasted by mist.  We paused only momentarily for some photos before I picked her up and whisked her down the slope towards the edge of the river to jump rocks back up to the trail.  Ellie veered off and next thing you know had sunk up to her knees in mud so we had to take a detour to the frigid river to wash her off!

On the way back up the trail she spotted a big frog on a wet log that I caught in my hand to show her but she ran back scared of it!  A frog!!??  I encouraged her to come closer to see it promising her that I had a good grip of its legs and wouldn’t let the terrifying creature jump at her.  Reactions like these and ones towards harmless bugs really make me wish I could find a way for her to spend more time out here with us away from church and screens and connecting with nature instead which I feel is “God’s” greatest gift to mankind… well, maybe right behind dogs ;)

We then went on a fun hike down to Koosah falls along the shore of the Mckenzie River.  This was all a descent so when we had made it to the falls we pointed my mom to the lower trailhead and raced back up the trail with Leo happily bounding along next to us to get the vehicles and head dow the trail to pick her up.  This was a really fun hike with Ellie and I’m glad we took the extra 20-30 minutes to go on it as it was even more wilderness experience for her that she just can’t get at home in Fort Wayne, IN.

I was literally running on fumes when we got to Mckenzie Bridge, OR so I had to stop at a gas station before we made it to the campsite I had booked for us at the McKenzie Bridge Campground.  The online reservation site had said that it was a riverside spot but we were several hundred yards from the shore of the river which disappointed me.  

Thankfully, there was a very nice older couple next to us who was more than happy to let us run through their campsite to check out the river.  Emily had to make a run to the store as I forgot a lighter (epic fail in the backcountry but fine with a general store a quarter mile away).  I set about methodically setting up our sight and making sure everyone was comfy with stuff in their tents.  

We set up mosquito sticks to burn around our campsite and after a while of trying with wet wood we had bought near Silver Falls (really pissed about that) I finally was able to get a decent fire going for S’mores later in the evening.  I pulled out our big green coleman stove and got hot water boiling and spaghetti sauce warming up for us all for dinner.  By that time it had gotten dark so we had headlamps on by the time we were eating dinner.  

This was Ellie’s first real camping experience and probably the first one for my mom in 20+ years.  I had brought all sorts of blankets, inflatable mattresses, etc to ensure everyone was happy and we all definitely ate well with the pre-cooked food I had made the weekend before.  Because my mom was alone in a tent we put Leo in with her but he cried and cried wanting to be with us nearby so she let him out to join us in our crowded 3 person tent with Ellie.  

Thursday - White Water Rafting, River Dips, Phase 10 and S’mores

Today was the day I was looking forward to the most, getting Ellie out for her first real white water rafting experience.  I had planned the very easy 2 hour section of class-3 rapids from Paradise Campground to Bruckhart downriver of the town of Mckenzie Bridge, about 9.5 miles.  We awoke around 9am and I cooked eggs, bacon and raisin bread for us all as we had a leisurely morning in camp, not feeling rushed as we wanted to make sure it was as warm as possible on the frigid river when we put in.  

We made it to the Paradise campground after shuttling the Prius to the takeout by about noon.  It took 30-45 minutes for us to pump up the raft and get all the gear squared away.  Even though we had asked Ellie if she had all the warm clothes she needed we found out that she had forgotten her warm pants.
Thankfully, it had warmed up enough and with Emily’s splash jacket on her she was warm enough to go on the trip.  If she fell out for any reason she’d surely be cold for a little while but she’d be fine.  Leo hung out in a shady hole he dug while I went over the safety tips with nana and Ellie 3 different times making sure that Ellie was paying close attention and could answer key questions after wards.  

From there we put on the river and headed out with Ellie in the front and nana and Emily on the sides with paddles.  I could tell my mom was a little nervous but I reassured her that Emily and I knew what we were doing and it would be safe.  The river turned out to be lower than when we were on it in May over Memorial day weekend but over time I’ve gotten pretty good at steering through rapids and reading water currents so I felt pretty confident with Emily and I doing most of the work and I yelling commands for help from Nana on just a couple occasions when I needed it.  

When we made our way around the paradise campground I had a particularly tough line to take through a big boulder field and the front of the raft did get caught up on a big rock swinging us around 180 degrees in the rapids.  There was literally no chance of flipping but we did get ourselves pretty stuck for a long awkward minute of Emily and I shuffling the raft and pushing off the rocks with our paddles to free us.  Other than that one hang up, the rest of the trip we had no other hangups that I can recall.  A few times I strongly asked for help powering us around some big rocks in the river, but otherwise those in front of me pretty much just had a ride along while I navigated us down the bony river with Leo sitting between us happily the whole way.  

When we made it Bruckhart we got some help pulling the raft up on to the shore by some others that were on the river at the same time we were.  They were really nice and Ellie was super happy to find out they were “Christians” when she asked them like she asked nearly everyone we met.. but that’s another story… :(.  We were all hungry so after shuttling the car with my mom to go get my truck while Ellie and Emily deflated the boat and packed up, we returned and headed to the newly renovated McKenzie General Store for some very late lunch/dinner around 4:30pm.  

They had a great patio built up in the back where we ate at covered picnic tables then played a totally epic game of corn hole.  I love her but Ellie was absolutely terrible at first at the game as I was her partner.  But, to all our amazement she and I caught up quickly with some lucky shots by me to tie Emily and Nana.  Then out of nowhere Ellie secured our win with two amazing shots that ended the game.  It’s like she was sharking us from the beginning and was an actual pro at this… Mischievous little girl… I’m not even sure she knew what happened but when I explained that she had single-handedly won the game for us she was pretty stoked :).  

Back at camp we spent the late afternoon exploring the shore of the river with Ellie bravely taking a dunk in the river that most of my adult friends are too scared to do themselves!  I kept a close eye on her that she didn’t wander too far out into the rapids and Leo kept an eye on us all as well.  Back in camp we relaxed with some music and a much better fire and once again we cooked up some yummy s’mores while Leo napped alongside us.  

Later in the evening when it got real dark Ellie taught us how to play Phase 10, one of the longest card games I had ever encountered.  For a while I had a really good lead in the game but that was quickly squashed by everyone else as the game takes so long to actually progress to higher levels.  Ellie wasn’t pleased about the moths flying around the lantern I hung over our table but I thought they were cool and got some great macro shots of one of them on our speaker before we all grew tired of the game and headed to bed.  

Friday - Lava Fields, Volcanoes, Bungee Jumping and Alpine Sliding

We had a very relaxing morning in camp once again cooking up eggs, bacon, raisin bread, yogurt, bananas and juice at the picnic table at our tent site.  Before leaving camp we also spent some time down by the river again.  Emily and I quickly packed up all our gear and we headed out of the campground onto Highway 242 which would take us over McKenzie Pass.  I strapped the Go Pro to the windshield of the truck and we headed up the road to get a time-lapse video of the journey home.  Instead of backtracking to I-5 I wanted Ellie to see the unique vegetation and very different geology of the Oregon High Desert on the way home.

It didn’t take us long to reach the amazing Dee Wright Observatory at the top of the pass.  Ellie wanted to play games on her phone but I told her instead to pay attention to where we were driving as we drove past vast lava fields on our way over the pass.  The observatory is built out of the lava rock and there is a wheel at the top pointing towards each of the huge volcanoes visible in the distance.  

Inside the observatory windows of various sizes were built so that when you look through them you can only see the volcano they are pointed to with a sign beneath the window indicating its name.  Belknap, Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Jefferson, and Hood to the north with North and South Sister visible to the south of us.  I chuckled when Ellie asked if we could drive up them, telling her that they were many miles away still with no roads and that it takes a great deal of effort and multiple days to climb, and that her Dad had climbed everyone she could see in the distance.  I also asked her to consider in her head how hard it had been for settlers to traverse these sharp lava fields with horse and buggy!  

After sufficient exploration and seeing that Ellie was growing tired of being there we jumped back in the vehicles and continued on towards the small town of Sisters for some pizza and frozen yogurt.  On the way in I told Ellie the story of the class valedictorian who burned the McDonalds to the ground in town and she didn’t understand why saying that her mom and her ate Fast Food a lot.  This led me to explaining to her how bad big fast food companies were both for their employees, the environment, and especially the humane treatment of animals.  I told her of the cruel way animals are forced to live their lives then how they are painfully slaughtered.  Yes, she’s 9 going on 10 but no better time to teach her how to eat more sustainably and I used her love of animals to encourage her to tell her mom not to support these terrible corporations!  

After Sisters we drove north up highway 99 and stopped at the Peter Skene Ogden Park to show Ellie the huge river canyon the Crooked River ran through 300 feet below us.  We walked to the overlook and I noticed something new… a van on the old highway bridge with a platform setup nearby… and then someone jumped!  Bungee!!!! Emily and I walked over to inquire about the new company operating there.  They had begun in August 2015 and it cost $100 to jump.  Emily said, “It’s on my bucket list” and I was wavering on the price, until they added “It’s the tallest bungee currently in North America”.  Yup, had to do it!

We decided to let Emily go first so I ran back to the truck to get the camera and video tape it.  They told us they could get us both debriefed and jumped in under 30 minutes and nobody else was in line to go at that time.  By the time I got back to the overlook Emily was already being walked to the end of the platform where I yelled “I love you” to her (just in case).  Then, without any hesitation from my adventurous life partner, she jumped!  On the video you can definitely hear my mom whooping in shock behind me with Ellie giggling in excitement having also talked us into doing it!  

Then it was my turn, 12 years after I did it last into a lagoon in Cairns, Australia.  I convinced the guys that I didn’t need the face cage of my helmet that Emily had worn promising them that I would launch myself outward enough to prevent getting slapped in the face by the cord.  It was incredibly quick how fast I was on the platform then walking out to the edge to jump and to be honest the jump was so quick that it’s hard to even recall the feeling of free-fall before the cord snapped be back upwards.  It’s one of those things you wish you could do 5 more times in a day to really enjoy the thrill of… but we don’t have that kind of cash!  

Emily will agree that as we piled back in the vehicles and headed north towards Mount Hood that the rush of the jump faded all too quickly from our minds.  Ahhh, my adrenaline junky wife and me, so right for each other.  Along the way Ellie begged to watch the iPad so I agreed with the condition that she looked up when I asked her to see some cool terrain as we passed down into the Deschutes River Canyon then back out.  Before long we were back in the thick Doug Firs headed up Mount Hood towards Ski Bowl for some alpine slide fun.

We got to Ski Bowl with about 45 minutes left before the alpine slide closed.  Enough to buy one run for Ellie and I down it.  I wasn’t sure if she would feel comfortable in her own sled but she asked for it and met the height requirements so I was all for it.  Emily rode up on the chair behind us taking pictures of us on the ski lift during the middle of summer.  Unfortunately, Mount Hood was obscured by clouds behind us.  

We loaded up on the track and I made sure my Go Pro was running as we pushed off down the track.  Ellie got a good head start but I caught up quick and got some fun footage of her in front of me until we slowed to an absolute crawl behind two kids whose age and height seemed questionable to be on the slide in the first place.  Emily was on the opposite track and flew by us.  Despite the signs everywhere saying not to stop I was behind Ellie protecting her from others coming down so I told her to stop completely and let the kids get far ahead before we continued down.  

When we got to the bottom, again catching the young kids, we walked back to the loading platform and I told the lift operator what had happened.  He was kind enough to understand and let us take another run down the mountain before it closed for the day.  This time Ellie and I gave the people in front of us a long time to head down before we pushed off, enjoying a fun and fast trip down the slide.  Emily even ran up to a bridge over the slide to snap some fun video of us scooting by under her.  I think this was one of the highlights of the trip for Ellie and she definitely wants to return on her next visit.  By the time we left Ski Bowl it was nearing 7pm and we got home in time to eat some dinner and relax watching Jurassic Park III before heading to bed, this time with Ellie in the room by herself upon Emily’s encouragement.

Saturday - Cheese Factory, Loads of Ice Cream, Seals, Clamming & Coastal Camping

On Saturday we had a relaxing morning at home with my mom finally enjoying the early morning hot tub with some coffee with Emily.  Ellie to our shock and almost concern didn’t emerge from her room until nearly 11am!!!  Our guess was that she went to bed with her phone and was playing with it until the wee hours of the morning before falling asleep because it’s battery was clearly dead in the morning when she came down.  

We packed up around noon and headed in the Prius with Leo, my mom and Ellie in the back to the coast for the weekend.  Our first stop after the drive through the beautiful coastal range that Ellie didn’t care to see was the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  This place got her full attention as they are famous for their both their cheese and their ice cream!  We skipped the tour but did go upstairs to see the factory floor below with the cheese going by on long conveyor belts.  

We snapped some photos of ourselves in the Tillamook Cheese wagon as well as with some cows before ordering bowls and waffle cones of ice cream.  I had totally forgotten how much they give you so when we all asked for 2-3 scoops each we found ourselves holding massive bowls of ice cream that felt like we had been handed a gallon each!  Needless to say, Ellie was super excited and actually had a hard time finishing all of hers!  

We then headed out to the actual ocean for Ellie’s first real view of the powerful Pacific Ocean.  The road up and around Cape Meares was closed due to storm damage so we ended up parking in a small lot on the edge of Bayocean Peninsula Park which is a long spit of sand beach separating the Pacific from Tillamook Bay.  Ellie ventured out into the cold surf with Leo following us around and crazily drinking the salt water to our dismay!  

We spent about an hour at the beach walking around and looking for shells and other sea life washed up on shore.  Ellie and I both buried our feet in the sand and I had to remind her that when she was little she had indeed visited the Atlantic Ocean on many occasions and even with me, but she was too little to fully remember it.  At one point she ventured so far out that a surprise wave smashed high against her legs getting her butt pretty soaked!  Oh well, beautiful day on the coast, no worries.

From there we drove south along route 101 to the Netarts Bay Shellfish Preserve where we stopped to photograph some seals lying out on the sand of the bay at low tide.  One of my original plans was to take Ellie clamming but I wasn’t sure about the tides.  We lucked out as we arrived at low tide so we parked and left my mom in the car to take Ellie down onto the flats and poke around looking for clams.  We rushed to see if we could get closer to the seals but other people and boats had scared them away before we got there.

Ellie, Emily and I with Leo spent a good amount of time out in the sandy bay exploring the sea life and digging for clams when we noticed holes or spouts of water coming up.  Neither Emily or I had shellfish licenses but Ellie was too young to need one so we gave her some pointers and allowed her to dig away.  Unfortunately, Ellie didn’t discover any clams on this trip, just a bunch of small crabs that we picked up to investigate.  Leo of course was no help at all ;)

After a short stop at the Sand Lake Recreation area to check it out along with all the redneck quad and dirt bike riders there, we continued on to Pacific City.  We pulled into the Pelican Bay brewery lot to check out the huge Chief Kiwanda Rock sea stack offshore and show Ellie all the vehicles driving on the beach but the restaurant was too packed for us on the busy Saturday night to get a table.  Thankfully Emily and I had a backup restaurant at the nearby Oar House Bar and Grill.  On the way to dinner we spotted some deer along the roadside and stopped for Ellie to see them before going in to clean up after the beach and have a nice dinner.  

We then drove down route 101 to our secret coastal camp spot.  At dinner we gave Ellie and my mom the option of either driving back that night to Portland in the dark or camping overnight.  Ellie chose camping which was great as it would be the first beach camping for both of them.  Emily and I had loaded up our backpacks to the brim with warm blankets, chairs, and other gear to carry down the quarter mile of beach to our site so my mom and Ellie wouldn’t have to carry much.  Ellie of course brought her backpack along with all her stuffed animals she came with.  

After setting up our site during the sunset my mom crawled in for bed early as it had been a long day for us.  Ellie, Emily and I stayed up longer to play flashlight shadow games against the cliff face behind us.  To Ellie’s disappointment we didn’t start a fire as we didn’t want to disturb anyone in the coastal rental houses on the bluff above us.  That, and I didn’t have any wood to burn or anything to easily start the fire with as we didn’t need to pack a stove in, having eaten earlier.  By 11 all of us were ready to turn in for bed and we all fell asleep pretty quickly.  

Sunday - Coastal Drive, Cormorants, Lighthouse, Octopus Tree 

On Sunday morning we packed up in the morning and headed out of camp around 9am, hungry to find some breakfast.  I asked Ellie to try to pick up my backpack so she would appreciate how much dad was both doing and carrying for her on all our adventures.  It was pretty amusing to see her try.  It was an easier walk down the beach at low tide down on the harder sand but still an effort for my mom who was happy to finally reach the sand and surprised to know the whole round trip had only been about half a mile total!

We had no luck finding breakfast in Pacific City but just up the road in Cloverdale, OR we were able to spot the “Dory” family breakfast diner and pulled over to give it a try.  What a find!  Ellie ordered pancakes and I ordered ham and eggs.  Ellie’s pancake was honestly the biggest I’d ever seen and barely fit on her plate, yet she ate it all!  My ham steak was bigger than my whole hand as well!  I guess we were all hungry as we all pretty much cleaned our plates despite the enormous quantity of food we were given!  

After stopping at the viewpoint overlooking Netarts Bay towards the Three Arches National Wildlife Refuge, and snacking on some blackberries we headed north to Cape Meares to check out the lighthouse there and look for cormorants and puffins.  At the viewing deck there was a nice couple there with viewing scopes who were kind enough to let Ellie and I look through them at the nesting cormorants on the cliffs below us.  We weren’t lucky enough to spot any of the rare local puffins though!

We then walked down to the famous lighthouse to check it out.  It was a busy Sunday so we didn’t time the tour of the actual light right but did explore the inside of it a bit and had fun reading about the history of it and why it was important for the shipping industry along the coast of Oregon.  Ellie purchased a couple things from the gift shop as well before we headed up the trail to check out the Octopus Tree.

The Octopus tree is one of the biggest sitka spruce trees found along the Oregon Coast.  It’s not very tall at only 100 feet but it is estimated to be 300 years old and has a base circumference of all eight trunks of 46 feet!  Definitely a tree that Ellie doesn’t get to see in Fort Wayne.  From there it was a long drive back from the coast where I took a different route around Forest Park to take us over the beautiful Saint Johns Bridge for Ellie to see.  We ended up following the route of a massive organized bike ride which was interesting to see.

Back at home we cooked a dinner of asparagus, grilled meat, and leftovers.  That night we witnessed the first Ellie tantrum as we asked her to finish her asparagus and enough of her food before she would be allowed ice cream and a movie before bed.  When she wasn’t getting anywhere with me and being stubborn she went to both nana and Emily who wasn’t having any of it either and when I threatened that we didn’t have time for a movie she lost it and ran up stairs crying to call mom and tell her how awful we all were… ha!  I sent her a text knowing she of course took her iPod with her and shortly after she came down to watch the latest and last Jurassic World with us and enjoy some ice cream…   One melt-down for the long trip we had wasn’t that bad though!

Monday - Park Playground, Sprinklers, Hot Tub Fun and Dinner Overlooking City

On Monday, our last day together, I had pondered heading up to Mount Hood to go up the Palmer lift again for snowballs and maybe the alpine slide again but the weather forecast was cloudy at best and I honestly had felt that I had spent enough and it would be ok to have a down day near home where we could walk Leo around the nearby Peninsula Park which also had a playground and sprinklers for children.  Emily unfortunately, had to work on Monday so she wasn’t able to stay home with us.  

We had a nice late afternoon walk with Leo to the park where Ellie played on the playground and swung on the swings with dad with Leo and Nana watching on.  She also had a heck of a fun time running through the kids sprinkler fountain over and over again until she was completely soaked.  It was a cooler day and I warned her that I had no towel for her to dry off if she did.  Not sure if she listened because after soaking herself she ran up to me saying “daddy, I’m cold, can I have a towel?” to which I replied with a towel, “nope”.  

Thankfully, she warmed up as we walked through the open and thankfully more sunny rose garden on our way back home.  When we got back to the house I encouraged her to jump in the hot tub and warm up.  This time she was happier in the hot tub and had more fun exploring the fountain features of the tub, blasting herself in the face by accident messing with them... Hehe.  

When Emily got home we headed to the Portland City Grill on the 30th floor of "Big Pink" downtown to watch the sunset over the city and get a fancy dinner to end their visit to Oregon.  There wasn't much on the menu geared specifically to children but Ellie was happy getting some stuffed pasta and several Shirley temples with lots of cherries.  It was packed so we weren't able to get a window seat as I had hoped but we did take a short walk around the restaurant on our way out to see all the city lights below.  We also had one final round of our guessing game where everyone guesses what that person is thinking of.  I dominated the day before with "school bus" which stumped everyone!  Can't remember what we finished this night with?

On Tuesday morning at 7am I took both nana and Ellie to the airport to drop them off for their flights.  It had been a wonderful trip for us all and I was super happy to have spent such a long time with her.  There had been some uncomfortable moments talking about religion and the usual questions from her of why I'm not Christian as a I should be.  It was really alarming to see how quickly she judged people based on their beliefs and I was disappointed to hear her disapprove of gay people as well.  In the following weeks after the trip there was a real falling out between her mother and me as I made my concerns as Ellie's father clear to her.  I feel that some of what her mom, church and school are teaching her is very damaging to her future and to her relationships with others that may think differently then herself.  I can only hope that her mother will allow her to visit me more frequently so that I can have more of a positive influence over her as well. 

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