Saturday, July 22, 2017

Flying Down to California Wine Country

Flyout number two for the summer was last weekend.  We flew down to Healdsburg, California.  That is a little outside of my comfortable flight time.  Two hours and under are what I like with being stuck sitting in a seat for so long and the absence of bathroom facilities but with proper dehydration, I made it okay both ways.  Flying down there we had a little bit of a headwind so it took just short of four hours.  Coming back we made a little bit better time and got home in about 3 and a half hours.

Healdburg is a cute little town north of Santa Rosa.  There are some neat 18th century buildings there and a nice walking trail that Bill and I took advantage of to get some exercise.

We stayed at the Dry Creek Best Western.  It is an older motel but they have done a really nice job remodeling the rooms to be updated.  My only complaint was that they didn't have a microwave in the rooms or in any centralized location for guests to use.  We were hoping to eat some of our HMR diet meals on the trip but it was too much of a hassle.  The only microwave available was to have the front desk staff take it back to their break room to heat anything up.  It was also a mile from downtown so it was a little bit of a hike to get to any of the restaurants or shopping.  In the heat of the afternoon, that wasn't any fun.  I had a much more enjoyable hike early in the morning while it was still quite cool.  It definitely isn't inexpensive to stay there but compared to the hotels downtown, it was relatively reasonable.

Our first full day there, we signed up to do a safari tour at Safari West.  I was kind of excited about it because I had never been to a place like that.  Three other people from our CAA group signed up for the same tour so we spent the day with them.  We really enjoyed going there.  They have 900 animals from 69 species.  Lots of birds and animals.  The majority of the animals and birds were from Africa but there were some from India and other continents as well.

The tour is a combination of an hour walking around the grounds where they have animals and birds in more contained settings.  Then a two hour tour on their 400 acre wildlife preserve.  Bill and I got to sit on the top of the truck for about half the tour which was fun.  There were a lot of different kinds of antelope.  I think that is what they probably had the most of.  I took about 100 photos and I didn't scrapbook nearly all of the animals I took photos of but figured devoting four pages to the safari was probably a sufficient documentation of our day there.

My favorite part of the tour was seeing the giraffes.  This baby giraffe really stole my heart.  He was two and a half months old and so cute.  He kept trying to communicate with some birds which was really interesting.

My second favorite group of animals to see were the zebras.  We stayed to watch them for quite awhile.

After the tour, we had a nice buffet lunch at the restaurant at Safari West and then our friends wanted to do some wine tasting at Frank Family Vineyards near Calistoga in Napa Valley.  We didn't have any other plans so we were game for it.  We all were used to wine tasting in Washington and California where typically it only costs $10-$20 to do wine tasting and they usually waive the tasting fee if you buy bottles.  I guess that isn't the case in California wine country.  We were a little taken aback when they told us it was $40 per person and when our friends bought some bottles, there was no credit back for the tasting.  But we were there and decided to stay and do the tasting.

The tasting room and grounds at Frank Family Vineyards are beautiful.  The current winery is set on the former Larkmead Winery property which was built in 1884 so many of the buildings are from the old winery.  We didn't go into the building where they make the wine but it looked very cool from what we saw from the outside and is on the National Register of Historical Places.

Friday night we had a fabulous Portuguese dinner at Cafe Lucia with the whole group from CAA.

I scrapped most of my wine tasting photos in my journaling album so you get to see another page from my journal for this posting.

Saturday was spent going to the Alexander Valley near Healdsburg to do some wine tasting there.  Our first stop was Hawkes Winery which is a newer winery compared to a lot of California wineries but were one of the first wineries to plant grapes in the Alexander Valley in 1972 when the valley was mostly planted with prunes, apples and hops.  They had a really cute garden and pleasant patio to enjoy a little of their wines and a lunch from the Jimtown Store which was right next door.

The next stop was the main event of the day--a wine tasting tour at the Jordan Winery.  It was interesting that when I told one of my doctors that I was going there, she was so excited since she had just gotten back from a visit there the week before and said I should make sure to go to the Jordan Winery.  The chateau and the grounds were absolutely spectacular.  Normally the tasting would occur in their cellar room after the tour but they setup tables outside for us to do our food pairing with the wine.  This was my view of their gorgeous chateau from my tasting spot.  This was another $40 wine tasting but with the tour and food pairings, it was fairly reasonable by California standards I would guess.  And a lovely elegant table setting and view to boot.  The only thing that made it a little less than enjoyable was that it was 100 degrees so I was really hot.  I was so glad when we got inside the air conditioned barrel and tank rooms.  What a relief that was to escape the heat for a little while anyway.

They have a longer three hour tour including seeing more of the property including the vineyards, lakes, apiary, etc. which you can take for $120 per person.  Not sure if that would be worth it or not.  This particular winery has a few guest rooms for their rewards customers.  I wonder how much wine you have to buy to score a night in the chateau.

We didn't have great sightseeing conditions for our flight down to California but it was better on the way back.  I just took a few photos of the mountains and Trinity Lake but we saw at least six or seven volcanoes all at the same time which was really fun to see.

Flying to California requires getting to elevations of at least 11,500 feet to clear the Siskiyou Mountains.  Bill had ordered an oxygen tank and pulse oximeter last year in the hopes of using them on his flight down to see Chuck and Suzanne but it was on back order and didn't come in time so this trip was the first time we used oxygen on one of our flights.  We look a little geeky but here is a photo of us with our oxygen cannulae.  We look quite fashionable, don't we?

We had a great time.  Two flyouts down and one to go next month.  That one will be filled with more adventures to share so stay tuned for when we get back from McCall, Idaho.

Doing the Ragnar

Chris participated in the Ragnar Relay with folks from work this last weekend.  They needed another team member and they asked him to join them.  He isn't a runner and doesn't enjoy running but he thought maybe he would do some training and get in better shape.  He did do a few 10K runs in preparation but for the most part it didn't happen.

The team was made up of 12 people and they each ran three legs in the 200 mile race.   Chris managed to finish all his legs.  It was a grueling two days of no sleep and pain but he made it and says he had a great time doing it.

The day before the race the mission posted this photo of Chris picking up a donation of 500 cases of water from the Lakeway 7-11 in Bellingham.  I was so happy to see a picture of him doing his work.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Friday Harbor Flyout

Flying to the San Juan Islands is my all time favorite flying route.  Western Washington has the Cascade Mountains and volcanoes, the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound dotted with hundred of islands that make that trip absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.  Bill and I flew up to Friday Harbor for a CAA Flyout.  The club quite often plans flyouts there because it is a relatively close destination to get to and those that don't want to fly can drive and take the ferry over.  The airport is so close and convenient to town and it is just a really great place to visit. We had four fantastic days of weather to fly there and home.  Bill made an interim trip to Bellingham to pick up Chris to bring him to Friday Harbor to spend an evening with us on the island.

The group always stays at the Earthbox Inn when we go there.  It is owned by the daughter of one of the club's members so we do our lodging business with her.  It is an old travel lodge but it has been remodeled and is decorated in a very modern European style which is fun.  They did a really nice job with the remodel.  I've only stayed at one other motel/hotel there and it is also owned by her.  Of the two, I recommend the Earthbox Inn.

After we arrived on Thursday, I decided I wanted to go find where PeaceHealth Peace Island Medical Center is located.  It has one of the ORs that I support but I have never been there.  It is located right next to the airport--a little more than a half a mile from the motel.  It is pretty quiet little place but I walked through just to see it and say I was there.  Then I walked around town and to the marina before heading back to the motel.  Bill decided to take advantage of the spa and get a massage.

That evening we went to Mike's Wine Bar and Cafe.  We tried out some wines made by the owner and had some appetizers.  The entire menu is vegan so we had hummus and tried out some vegan cheeses.  We went to the Rumor Mill for dinner afterward.

We thought we were going to be going on a tour of San Juan Island on Friday but as it turned out, our flight leader had the dates mixed up and our tour wasn't until Saturday.  I hadn't made any other plans and didn't want to sit idle all day so I scouted out some whale watching tour companies.  Things were fairly booked but I found a spot on a Zodiac boat tour with the Western Prince Tours company.  I had always gone on the bigger vessels to go whale watching in the past and I got skunked seeing any Orcas on my last tour so I was a little reluctant to schedule a tour but wanting something to do got the better of me and that was the easiest thing to arrange and get to.  I went on my own.  Bill wanted to work and take a walk on the island.

Going on the little Zodiac boat was quite an adventure. We had to suit up in water survival suits and keep cameras inside our suits when we were traveling to protect them from the salt water that we got sprayed with on occasion.  We traveled quite a distance because there were no whale sightings near Friday Harbor.  I was actually feeling fortunate that I got on the Zodiac tour because I am not sure if I had taken a traditional one that they would have been able to go that far in the amount of time that the tour takes.  We were skunked on the last whale watching tour I went on there as far as seeing Orcas so I'm not sure if I would have seen any taking the bigger boat.

Our first stop was on the east side of San Juan to see a pair of eagles perched in a tree near their nest.  It was pretty obvious that the sunshine wasn't going to be able to let me see what I was taking photos of and that the distance despite having a pretty good zoom on my camera was too great for its capability.  But I did my best to see what shots I could get and hoped for the best.  Next stop was a little rock island with several harbor seals sunning themselves.  

The big event was about 25 miles away so we made haste in getting to the east side of Lummi Island.  I could see Bellingham as we traveled to get there.  I thought about waving to Chris across Bellingham Bay LOL.  When we were about a mile away, I spotted one of the whales breaching.  Oh how I wish we had been closer at that moment.  I have never see a whale breach and was hoping that they would do it again once we were closer but no such luck.  Boats are required by law to be at least 200 yards away from any whales.  One of my cousins had been on a tour out of Orcas Island a week earlier and had whales come right up to their boat and swim under it.  That would have been so awesome but this group of five were on the hunt looking for a seal along the coastline.  At one point, we saw an eagle on the beach watching the whales swim by.  When they got to the north end of Lummi, they started working on killing a seal.  I never saw the seal but those with binoculars and good lenses on their cameras were able to see it.  After about and hour, the captain had to take us away to get back to Friday Harbor in time to go on their next tour.  Another fast tracked trip back taking a different route south of Orcas Island that took about 45 minutes.

I should have known better but I didn't put any sunscreen on and my face got burned pretty badly-especially my nose.  My nose blistered and I lost the skin on my nose and it scabbed over.  Not very pretty.

We had some refreshments and snacks at the hotel with our group and then headed on our own to the Cask and Schooner.  Bill had a steak salad and I indulged in a lamb burger.

Our tour of the island was on Saturday.  I got up early to take a walk to the harbor.  I caught a glimpse of the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain as we were going in and out of Friday Harbor on my whale watching cruise but I wanted to go down and see them at the dock.  They are famous for being in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and were in port for tours.  I had taken the boys on them years ago when they were docked here in Washougal so I didn't need to get on the ships themselves but wanted to get a glimpse at them again.  The local pirate group decided to take advantage of them being in town and had their First Annual Pirate Festival in Friday Harbor.  We didn't actually go but saw a few folks dressed up as pirates around town and heard them.  There was also a tall ship battle in the harbor Saturday night.  We got to see it for a little bit during dinner but they soon moved out of view.  We could hear their cannons even when they were out of sight though.

Our tour of the island was very interesting.  It was a history tour and we had a local historian on the bus with us to give us the tour.  We started at American Camp and learned about the military occupation of the island and the Pig War with the British.  From there we went to Lime Kiln State Park to see the remnants of a lime kiln there and learn about the lime industry on the island.  There is also a lighthouse there and I always love to see lighthouses.  Next stop was Roche Harbor.  Bill left the tour to take a taxi to the plane so he could fly to Bellingham to pick Chris up after work.  I had lunch at the little cafe there and wandered around the shops and garden for a bit.  There is an old historic hotel there as well as two lime kilns next to the hotel to look at.  The gardens were so beautiful.  Our last stop was at English Camp and we watched a few demonstrations of wood carving, spinning wool into yarn and washing clothes before we headed back to the hotel.  It was a pleasant way to spend the day.

I had to wait a bit for Chris and Bill to get back.  Unfortunately they blew a tire out when they landed in Friday Harbor.  Bill was grateful to have Chris with him to help manhandle the plane and I was grateful I wasn't along.  He sent Chris ahead while he waited for a mechanic to come to the airport and help him fix the plane so Chris and I had a chance to talk for awhile which was nice.  Not often that I get an audience alone with him.  Bill got back just in time to head to Downriggers for dinner.

We took Chris out for breakfast before heading to the airport to take him home to Bellingham and then head home ourselves.  The temperatures were sizzling here in the Portland metro area over the weekend while we were enjoying warm but tolerable temperatures in Friday Harbor.  I wanted to get home before it hit the 100 degree mark.  It was 93 degrees when we landed--still too hot for me.

It was a great little getaway to get some island time.  One flyout down.  We have a few more coming up over the next couple of months to share when they happen.