Travel At Home to Ireland

In this months installment travel inspired multi media and foods we are going to travel at home to Ireland. A couple years ago now I hiked for a week on the western coast of Ireland and had the absolute best time. In preparation I read as much as I possibly could to try to get my head in the right space to be in a new place. I have included all my favorite books that I read during that time period, as well as movies I love and movies that were filmed where I visited. Ireland History I am not a historian and would never be able to do any place justice by recapping its long and complicated history but somethings to note before you start diving into Ireland multimedia. The first settlers of the area were neolithic people, hunter gatherers who wandered up into land that was newly released from last glacial period. During the Iron Age the Celtic language and culture emerged, though from where and how is still largely debated. Between then and now they were invaded by Vikings, Danish, Romans and the English. Through all the invasions, the brutal political upheavals and oppression they still maintained their Celtics past. In fact even though English is the official language of Ireland, Irish (celtic) is primarily spoken on the western coast of the island. For those folks of the Gaeltacht region English is second language and people from all over Ireland send their children to schools on the west coast for immersion programs to learn the ancient language. Ireland Books Before I left for my trekking trip in Ireland I wanted to get a good sense of the history of the place so I made sure I read Edward Rutherford’s books The Princes of Ireland and Rebels of Ireland. What I learned very quickly was that there hasn’t been a lot of cheery goings on in their history. But what I learned immediately upon entering the country is that despite that fact they are the nicest people on the planet. Needless to say it can be difficult to find books that take place in Ireland that aren’t completely gut wrenching but that’s kind of okay I think. It’s important to understand the struggles of our pasts, so I cannot guarantee any of these books will be tear free. The Yellow House is a novel about politics in Northern Ireland during the 20th century which is only really touched on at the very end of Rebels of Ireland. For something a little lighter Santa Montefiore wrote a series called The Deverill Chronicles which are easy reads but still provide a feeling of being in Ireland. Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes was quite popular for a long while. Forever by Peter Hamill takes place mostly in New York but the first bit takes place in Ireland and was a really incredible read. Or you could go classic with James Joyce’s Dubliners. Or if you do not like the sounds of any of my suggestions there are nearly 600 books set in Ireland listed on goodreads to help you find your way. Ireland Movies If you aren’t in the mood for books there are quite a few movies with Ireland scenery or about Ireland. Angela’s Ashes again as the book was made into a movie in the late 90s. Far and Away as well as Ryan’s Daughter were both filmed where I was hiking a couple years ago, as well as scenes from the new Star Wars movies. Braveheart, Enemy at the Gates, Saving Private Ryan and Princess Bride all have scenes filmed in Ireland even though they did not take place there. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Leap Year and Laws of Attraction two very cheesy romantic comedies that are easy watching and oh so happy. I should also mention there is a very lovely youtuber that goes by the name Fairyland Cottage who lives in Ireland and discusses slow living and sustainable choices. She is wonderful and her videos are so relaxing. Ireland Foods I was a little hesitant to try Irish food, by no fault of theirs I was more worried about the English influence. This was before I had spent any time in England and my only experience was terrible airport food during a terrible layover. Turns out Irish food is phenomenal. There is nothing quite like tucking into a good Irish Stew with Soda Bread, it will warm you right up on the coldest winter days. My favorite meal while over there was actually a zucchini soup, topped with cheese toasties. The area of Ireland I was in was especially know of their shellfish, particularly oysters and mussels but I cannot eat them so I never got to experience that part of the cuisine. Fish and chips in all the pubs though were honestly some of the best meals I have ever had. We also saw a lot of oatmeal at breakfast (if you weren’t eating a full Irish) and mushy peas on the side of dinner dishes instead of potatoes. As well as simple tomato and cheese sandwiches which were packed in all our hiking lunches. And you can of course wash it all down with a nice glass of Guinness or Irish Whiskey. Or if you are a lightweight like me a nice hot cup of Irish Breakfast tea. I hope this little snippet of information will help keep you busy in the coming months. And helps inspire you to travel to new places whether that be physically or travel at home to Ireland.
Continue reading

Travel At Home to Barcelona

Barcelona, what can one possibly say about Barcelona and do it any sort of justice. The city is a city apart in Spain, the capital seat of the region of Catalonia which if you have ever met a Catalan, they will tell you they are not Spanish nor a part of Spain. Here are some of my favorite books, movies and foods to help you get the flavor of the gorgeous city so that you can travel at home to Barcelona. Barcelona Spain History of Barcelona The city is quite old, not much is know of the early settlements but according to legends in the 3rd century BC a settlement in the area was named Barcino by Hannibal’s father Hamilcar Barca. If you aren’t looking for legends but known facts, in 15BC Roman troops created a camp in the area which was later conquered by the Visigoths in the early 8th century. The are was then united with all of Spain when Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabelle Castile married creating the boundaries of what we know as Spain today (mostly). They are known perhaps best for the Spanish Inquisition, it was politically a move consolidate power under the new monarchs and all the people as Roman Catholics. It effectively drove out the Islamic Moors who had long lived in the southern parts of the country. Though largely what we hear of the Spanish Inquisition is actually rhetoric from the French and an overstatement of brutality. Don’t get me wrong I have no doubt it was a terrible thing to live though, but the French certainly had their reasons to exaggerate. They are also known for their particularly bloody civil war, their fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Their alleged neutrality during WWII but historians still debate which side they helped more. But of course Spain and specifically Barcelona is probably best known for Antoni Gaudi whose architecture is ever present in the ancient city. Barcelona Books My trip to Barcelona actually started with a book. I don’t know how my step-dad wound up with the book. But he read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz-Zafon, and then my mom did and then I did. And before I knew it we were planning our first international family Christmas trip to Barcelona Spain. When we read the Shadow of the Wind it was one book, many years later it is now four total books which make of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. The books focus mostly around the early 20th century. If you are looking for fiction that takes place closer to the unification of Spain then The Queen’s Vow by C.W Gortner is quite good. I have never been a big fan of Hemingway but I always did love For Whom The Bell Tolls, it is a terribly depressing novel but if you are interested in the era around the Spanish Civil War it would be a good read. And if you are looking for something a little more on the medieval side of things Cathedral of the Sea is a really incredible book. If you are looking for nonfiction, Barcelona: A Thousand Years of the City’s Past provides a really thorough explanation of the conflict between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. For a personal and detailed account of the Spanish Civil War you could pick up George Orwell’s book Homage to Catalonia which is his personal experiences fighting against Franco’s Fascists. Or of a similar name Homage to Barcelona which details the personal account of author Colm Toibin’s life living there. Barcelona Movies If you are more of a movie watcher than a reader then I would first and foremost recommend Viki Christina Barcelona. I know that Woody Allen isn’t for everyone but the movie actually does a really nice job of making you feel like you are in Barcelona, with gorgeous street scenes, it is a very slow paced romance/comedy but not a romantic comedy you will see why when you watch it. Todo Sobre Mi Madre by Pedro Almodovar starts in Madrid but very shortly moves on to Barcelona where you get the joys seeing the true spirit of the city. Land and Freedom directed by Ken Loach is actually an homage to the previously mentioned Orwell book, while you don’t get a lot of Barcelona scenery in the movie, you do get a very visceral idea of what the Spanish Civil War was like to live through. Movies you don’t expect to have been filmed in Barcelona, would be titles such as The Machinist, Perfume, The Gunman, Grand Piano and perhaps the most surprising Beyond Re-Animator the third in the Re-Animator horror trilogy. Barcelona Foods To complete the at home travel experience try adding in some Catalan dishes to your kitchen. Tapas are an easy commitment free way to try new dishes, small and usually made from only a few ingredients you will get all the flavors and none of the fuss. For a great at home Tapas recipe book a local Portland restaurant called Toro Bravo put together this gem a few years also. You could go simple with a bottle of Tempranillo and some Imberico Ham and Manchego cheese for a snack. Or if you are feeling something sweet Churros and Chocolate are always a favorite with my family. Whether you are looking for travel inspiration or looking for a way to experience another culture without leaving your home I hope this post finds you well. And perhaps this winter you will be able to travel at home to Barcelona even if its just for one meal or one book.
Continue reading

2019 Wrap Up

It is officially nearing the end of 2019 and the blog is taking a much needed vacation. We are off to Austria for Christmas with family and so I leave you with one final post, a 2019 Wrap Up of all that has happened this year. Winter 2019 Wrap Up The year opened with me deciding I should get off the pot and turn this blog into a business so I did all the necessary paperwork and started consulting for Beautycounter until I can start making revenue in other ways. 2019 Wrap Up Uncle Sam only lets business not make money for so long before you get shut down and I wanted to start out on the right foot. So if you have any interest in safer skin care products let me know. You can also support this effort by buying prints of my travel photos or my packing guide on my shop page. Below is one such photo which I took in January 2019 in Seaside Oregon during an unexpected snow storm. Seaside Oregon 2019 Spring 2019 Wrap Up In March In March 2019 we visited Silverton Oregon for a quick little local adventure to break up the winter blues. We tried to go hiking at Silver Falls but we were bested by the late snow fall. Silver Falls Oregon We instead toured the Gordon House which is the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oregon. And while it was unseasonably cold we did manage to keep our selves warm at the Oregon Garden Hotel. Gordon House Silverton Oregon In April we took a short trip down to Ojai California for a family event and got to stay at the gorgeous Ojai Valley Inn. We wound up going back to Ojai in October to visit family and spend a more relaxed time there. One goal in 2020 is to do a full round up of all our favorite spots in Ojai. Ojai Valley Inn The big trip for the year up until this point was a week in England. We had grand plans that had to be paired down since we were only there for a week. But we go to explore a good deal and I entirely fell in love in England. Bath England For all the BBC shows I watch and historical fiction I read England had never been at the top of my list but it took no less than 3 hours for me to be entirely smitten and I was extremely sad to leave. We spent the majority of our time in Bath, where I finally got to see the Royal Crescent. Royal Crescent England We toured the Costwolds and it was every bit as gorgeous as is shown in shows. I could have scooped up any one of the small cottages in any random village out there and been perfectly happy. And perfectly poor, it is incredibly expensive to live in England. Costwolds England We also visited Bristol for a day, and I got to see a Banksy Mural in the place that the man is allegedly from. Banksy’s Girl With the Pearl Earing We made a cross country train trek to Dover and while it is a little rough around the edges I very much loved that town too, the castle was incredible and walking the White Cliffs of Dover was a dream come true. White Cliffs of Dover Our last day in England was spent at the Kew Gardens, a must see when in England and also a perfect location for our last night as the taxi ride to the airport is cheap and quick. No missing planes for us, though I wouldn’t have been too sad to have stayed another night or two. Kew Gardens England Summer 2019 Wrap Up Summer was a bit slower after a very busy spring. We visited family in Southern Oregon and I finally got to visit and shop at the darling town of Jacksonville. Jacksonville Oregon In June I celebrated by birthday with a live showing of my favorite podcast and a overnight shopping trip in downtown Portland. Crystal Hotel Portland Oregon I went on a quick road trip to South Eastern Oregon to finally experience some of the more remote features of this rather large state I live in. The high desert in Eastern Oregon is truly stunning and towns like Burns the heart and soul of rural Oregon. Due to the late snow we didn’t get to hike the Steens Mountain as planed but we did get to stay at the Frenchglen Hotel and see the Alvord Desert. Alvord Desert On the same trip we drove up into the Owyhee Mountains and spent the night entirely off grid in a ghost town. The drive was entirely worth the experience and going back for more than one night is the top of the list for next year. Silver City Idaho Fall 2019 Wrap Up The only trip we took in the fall of 2019 was back down to California to Visit family. We mostly spent the week relaxing in Ojai or hiking in the hills. Which as I mentioned will be a post coming next year. We did get visit Disneyland while we were down there which is always a family favorite. I hope you enjoyed this 2019 Wrap Up. And with that I wish you and yours a very merry holiday season. I will be back next year with updates from our time off.
Continue reading

Jacksonville Oregon

Jacksonville Oregon is a small historic town just a little under 48 miles north of the California border. Situated near enough to Ashland and Grants pass that you could make a nice weekend visiting some charming old southern Oregon towns, or make it a longer trip and drive up to Crater Lake which is only a two hour drive. History of Jacksonville Oregon Jacksonville Oregon was officially founded by 1852, a small settlement that quickly boomed when gold was discovered in the area. It was also home the Oregon’s first Chinatown, populated with former residents of San Francisco who had moved up to the area following the prospects of gold. Sadly like most of Oregon’s historic towns, the mines ran out, and the gorgeous town centers that were built are left behind when the trains stop running. In the case of Jacksonville in 1884 the train bypassed the town entirely. Supplies were too difficult to bring in, and without the mining income most residents left. Jacksonville Oregon Today Luckily for us fans of historic buildings the town was never entirely abandoned. In 1963 a Portland Orchestra  Conductor was visiting the area in the hopes of locating a place to play music in the summer. A site was selected, on the land of former resident Peter Britt, for it acoustic qualities and beautiful surroundings. Ever since then the British Arts and Music festival or Britt Fest is held in the small town, brining some world class music to the small southern Oregon community. Visiting Jacksonville Oregon When I visited it was only for an afternoon and not during Britt Fest. I was there for lunch and to check out some of the superb shopping that the town has managed to maintain thanks to its appeal to the tourist types that like charming old buildings and quaint little shops. There isn’t a lot of parking in the small downtown, but plenty in the residential parts of town. There is also a historic trolley that will pick you up from the public parking lot and take you all over town. We strolled the town, went into every shop and had a nice lunch before taking off right around the time it got really busy. Just perfect for me. Since Jacksonville Oregon is such a small town it isn’t necessarily a destination on its own, especially if making the 6 hour drive from the Portland area, but is a must see if already in the area and will nicely round out a wine or hiking trip what ever flavor suits you best.
Continue reading

Hot Lake Hotel

The last stop on our summer road trip through Eastern Oregon was Hot Lake Hotel. We didn’t stay there, though I know people who have. I just wanted to tour it now,  in the off chance the rumors of changing owners came true. I am so glad I did as the owner was lovely and accommodating, for a small fee which came with unlimited coffee we got a grand tour of the once hospital turned resort.  It gives off serious Miss Havisham vibes in the best possible way (if you don’t know who that is you best go read Charles Dickens novels now).

History of Hot Lake Hotel
Well before any modern day structure existed on this spot of land just outside La Grande, Oregon the native people of the area were well acquainted with the  spot which is known for its mineral hot springs. The area was well documented by Washington Irving in his recordings of the Astor expedition in 1812.  And for many years leading up to the building of the hotel it was used as a trading post between natives and recent settlers and those passing through in search of gold. The trading post still exists on the grounds today and is included in the tour. 

The first incarnation of the Hot Lake Hotel was built in 1864 in the Colonial Revival style. At the time of the original construction the hotel operated as a multi business complex complete with post office, blacksmith, barber shop, spa, bathhouse as well as other small businesses.

In 1904 the original structure was demolished and John V Bennes (whose name is also attributed to the Geiser Grand Hotel) started construction of the Georgian style structure you mostly see today. With 105 guest rooms, 60 surgical bed and a 1,500 person ballroom.

When Hot Lake Hotel opened it opened as a luxury resort and sanitarium, advertising the healing properties of the sulfur rich water to cure what ever ails you. Unfortunately in 1934 half the hotel burned. The glorious beginnings of this luxury spa were not seen again as it was used as a retirement home, asylum and a nurses training station during WWII. The building was abandoned in 1991, even though it had been added to the National Registered of Historic Places in 1979.

In 2003 the building was purchased by David Manuel a rather well known bronze statue artist in the Pacific North West. He and his family worked for two years in order to open it back up to the public, and continue to work on it now. Today it operates as a bed and breakfast, spa and restaurant as well as a museum of native and munitions artifacts which is the private collection of Mr. Manuel.
Experiencing Hot Lake Hotel
It is important to remember when visiting Hot Lake Hotel where it started when it was last bought, and that the restoration work was done with private funds. This is not a billion dollar restoration project done by a team of professionals. This was a restoration project done with money raised privately and done as a family because they loved the building so much. As such you will see it is an eclectic mix of furnishings and styles.

As a part of a the tour or as a paying guest of the hotel you will be offered the chance to view a video put together by the owners detailing some history of the building but more importantly the history of the family and the work they put into the restoration. I would highly suggest taking them up on the viewing.

There are several floors of rooms, and each floor as seating areas both inside and outside. There are also several museum type rooms in the guest room section of the building that provide information regarding the surgical suites and exercise facilities that used to be on site. And of course there is the onsite spa, both indoor and outdoor pools offer up a cooler version of the mineral waters that exist in the area for your soaking pleasure. The cooler part is important to note as the small lake in front of the hotel that is fed directly from the underground hot sprints is so hot it will disintegrate bone, best not go swimming in it directly.

There have been rumors of hauntings, though I did not experience anything odd while there. The owners are reluctant to say much about it, but that isn’t surprising when you meet them. They just aren’t the type to suffer that type of rumor or gossip.  I did not stay at the hotel myself, it was just a stop off on the way home. But if I was out in the area for a night I most certainly would spend the night at Hot Lake Hotel. I do not mind the slightly rambling and mismatched d├ęcor. I am quite frankly never looking for a 5 start resort. Just a clean place to stay with nice folks running the place. The interesting history is of course a huge bonus.

Continue reading

Geiser Grand Hotel

The Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City is a place I have been dreaming of visit for probably over a decade. A chance scanning of an Oregon travel magazine in a waiting room left me gawking at the interior shots and gorgeous stained glass ceiling of this hotel. I may have stolen the magazine from the waiting room (this was before I owned a cell phone that took decent pictures). So when I planned the road trip this last summer I knew this hotel was on the list, truth be told I planned the entire trip around three hotels I wanted to visit (Frenchglen, Idaho Hotel and Geiser Grand).

History of Geiser Grand Hotel
The Geiser Grand Hotel opened in 1889, designed by John Bennes in the Italianate Victorian Style. Bennes is responsible for a number of buildings in Oregon including 35 on the University of Oregon campus, as well as the Hollywood Theater in Portland and the Liberty Theater in Astoria (both incredibly gorgeous and still working theaters).
The hotel was build during the Oregon Gold Rush and as such saw its fair share of incredibly wealthy and incredibly shady characters throughout its history. In 1968 the hotel closed and in 1993 it was reopened after an enormous restoration effort which brought the hotel back to life with historic fixtures, paint colors and furnishings. Including an enormous research process to design and remake the stained glass ceiling which had long since been destroyed in a hail storm.

Hauntings of the Geiser Grand Hotel
For those of you interested in the paranormal the Geiser Grand Hotel has had numerous spectral sightings. Which include a young girl, a saloon dancer, a cowboy, a headless chef, and a lady in blue. A quick internet search will bring you all kinds of confessions of sightings and even information about a ghost hunters type crew that camped out set on finding definitive evidence of the hauntings.

For those of you not interested in the paranormal I can tell you without a doubt that I experienced nothing but a stellar stay and an excellent nights sleep.

Out Stay at the Geiser Grand Hotel
I was so thrilled to finally be experiencing this incredible historic hotel, I was on cloud nine the entire stay. It probably helped that I hadn’t had a decent shower in a couple days or a very great bed in the last couple days. I was beat.

I wandered around the hotel for a good while snapping pictures and seeing that all the hotel had to offer. A reading/game room, a gym, a dining room and a store were all on premises. And the store even had movies for rent that could be played in the room.
Once I had sufficiently went everywhere I could without risking  ejections from the hotel, we got ready for dinner. We chose not to eat at the hotel because I had found a steak house in Haines that looked like a hoot. But we returned with full bellies, dessert to go and settled in for a couple movies. This was the first time we had decent wi-fi all week so we picked a few Netflix movies and streamed them from bed.

The rooms are absolutely stunning, well decorated, large windows and gloriously tall ceilings make the rooms seem palatial. The beds and pillows were superb, I don’t think I have had a better nights sleep since. We had breakfast in the dining room and then set off toward Portland. All in all I give the Geiser Grand Hotel 5 stars, beautiful, historic, comfortable, interesting history, and no actual ghost encounters.

Continue reading

Oregon Trail Center

Right off I-84 in eastern Oregon is the Oregon Trail Center. Providing visitors a variety of experiences related, well, the Oregon Trail. I have very little reason to be approximately 6 hours away from my home, but this last summer as a part of my ‘getting to know Oregon better’ quest I found myself way out east. And knew I needed to make a stop at the museum.
Overview of the Oregon Trail Center
The museum itself lies just north of Baker City, which in and of itself is not a very large town, but it does happen to be a very important role in Oregon’s history. A lot of wagon trains passed through this area. After long harrowing journeys families were greeted with wide open pastures and the unfortunate realization that they still had mountain passes to traverse.

The Oregon Trail Center is an incredible museum maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.  It offers sweeping view of the area, as well as life sized displays, films, exhibits, presentations and more.

The buildings and views are well worth the drive, sitting on top of a large hill in the middle of BLM land, you get the opportunity to experience an unobstructed view of the valley and Rock Creek Butte. You can also hike all over this area, BLM lands are open for recreation. The types of recreation are always clearly marked or communicated on the areas website if you have any questions regarding land use.

The facilities also have a very nice walking path down the face of the hill and out toward some mines that are set up for educational purposes. I being terrified of ticks, did not choose to go tromping through the open lands and stuck to the path being sure not to brush up against any long grasses. We saw plenty of ticks just walking by. So if you choose to hike through the pastures be sure to come prepared and always check for ticks after being outside.

My Impressions of the Oregon Trail Center
We had been driving for quite a few hours by the time we got here, and having left Silver City behind (sadly) I think we were both a little dazed. And for some reason I had in my mind that it would be providing research materials to look through in order to locate names and dates of family members that passed through the area but it did not. And that is okay, it is a lovely area with a wonderful exhibit.
There isn’t really anything in the area of the museum, hence the beautiful sprawling views. But just down the road is an excellent steak house Haines and Baker City is only about 10 minutes down the highway so it is an easy jaunt into town for excellent hotels, restaurants and other museums.
I thoroughly enjoyed by time at the Oregon Trail Center in Baker City Oregon. One I highly recommend if you are interested in Oregon history and find yourself in the area.

Continue reading

Silver City and The Idaho Hotel

The absolute best thing I did this year was spend the night in a ghost town. Silver City and the Idaho Hotel are truly a treasure of American history and the old west. I cannot wait until next summer so I can make the grueling 500 mile drive back to spend more than just a night in Owyhee Mountains, it is well worth the drive.
History of Silver City and The Idaho Hotel
Silver city was a mining town, mostly silver but some gold as well. It was a very bustling town in the 1800s with a population of 2,500 it boasted 75 businesses and was the county seat until 1934. In the late 1880s one of the largest stage coach lines in the west operated through the area and in the 1890s electricity was brought to the area. It was even once considered one of the four major settlements in the Idaho Territory.

However about the time that Idaho officially become a state the mines were depleted and people slowly moved out of the area. The electricity was removed and rerouted to a nearby airbase and due to its remote location the city was left largely abandoned.

It was never entirely abandoned though, descendants of original settlers and intrepid mountain folk have keep the spirit of the place alive through handwork and a love of the unique site. Several families maintain houses in the area, returning each summer once the mountain roads are open again to spend their summers in the solitude of the quite community. During the open season there are several events to help raise funds to pay for a winter  watchman who spends the winters in the cold mountains accessible only by snowmobile until the weather turns each year.

The Idaho Hotel was originally build just down the road in Ruby city, but in 1866 Rudy City lost the county seat and so the Idaho Hotel and many other buildings in town were dismantled, loaded on sleds and moved up the river to Silver City. In 1868 the popular hotel got running water, making the stay for those in town on business with the county much more comfortable. By 1889 a gambling hall, barroom, kitchen, bathrooms, and billiards parlor were all completed with hand milled woodwork from local craftsman. And by 1898 a five story addition was completed which included two stories of rooms, a dining room and a basement with storage tunnel beneath the hotel connecting to the mining shaft.
In 1942 due to the city losing the county seat, its power lines and the mines being shut down the hotel was closed and soon fell to disrepair. But In the 1972 Edward Jagels bought the Idaho Hotel which had been previously abandoned 30 years prior and began the slow process of restoring the old hotel. The current owners bought the hotel from Ed in 2001 and continue to operate the hotel and restore it.
Getting to Silver City and the Idaho Hotel
I won’t lie to you and say getting to Silver City is easy. Even if you don’t live several hundred miles away it is still quite the adventure. Today the city sits on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, so the roads are somewhat maintained. I say somewhat because yes there are roads, but you need a four wheel drive vehicle with plenty of clearance to get there safety. I was told the fire department is dispatched several times a summer to rescue folks who have gotten themselves stuck. Before you embark on your trip be sure to have written directions, a map and a compass. You will not have cell service or GPS satellite.

If coming from the Oregon side, when you leave Jordan Valley, it is a left at the first fork where you leave the pavement behind in favor of a gravel road. You will encounter three more forks in the main road, but with no road sign to follow. The first fork is a right (there is a sign for Silver City here), the second a left (a sign for a mining company) and the third is a right ( at the public restroom). The Oregon approach is by far the harder of the two, the roads are in much worse condition. From the Idaho side, take the main road up from the main highway continue left at the public restroom and you will be there in no time. We came from the Oregon side having driven over from the Frenchglen Hotel.

Visiting Silver City and the Idaho Hotel
There are several events throughout the season in the area, mostly to help raise funds to pay for building repairs and the winter watchman. The area usually opens in late May around Memorial Day Weekend and stays open until the first snow. The main event is the open house which takes place two weekends after Labor Day every year, where local families open their houses for the public to walk around and learn about the town. There are also holiday celebrations for the 4th of July and Labor Day.

We went for the sheer joy of staying in and exploring a ghost town and spent our time either hiking around or chatting it up with the hotel owners. It may have been summer, but it was the beginning of summer and it was cold. At six thousand feet above sea level, the snow had barely cleared from the  mountain passes and it had been snowing the day before we arrived. We didn’t see any ourselves, but it was raining a bit when we got there. After checking in and being shown to our room, one of four with a working heater, we put on as much of the clothing as we had packed as possible and set out to walk around.

Every building in town is privately owned so exploring was done with utmost respect. We wandered around the roads, which are more four-wheel tracks than anything. And found ourselves at the top of the ridge overlooking the hotel where the school and church buildings are. Both of which were closed. Had we visited during the open house week however, we would have been able to go inside.

There are several building for sale at present, one of which is the masonic building that spans the small creek that runs through town. However no bank will ever loan money to buy buildings in town (as confirmed by the hotel owner) so individuals looking to own a heavenly slice of this secluded town must bring cash offers, plus plenty of money to help restore the old buildings.

After walking every road in town, talking to everyone we came across, and making our way up to the cemetery for a little look around. We wandered back to the hotel, where I couldn’t resist a little look around, largely with my cell phone operating as a flash light since the small solar power grid only provides very weak LED lighting and not every room is wired.  I respectfully did not wander up to the third floor even though I was dying to see it, and also a little spooked thus a tad relieved to see the sign not to go up the stairs. After our look around we went back to our room cranked the heat, broke out the cheese and crackers and watched a downloaded episode of the Ted Bundy story on Netflix.

Since the power lines were diverted to the airbase many years ago, and given the lack of cell service we knew going in that if we wanted to watch anything we would need to download it ahead of time. We also knew we would need to have fully charged devices and backup batteries. Upon checking in the owners will remind you of the sensitivity of their solar power grid, long story short don’t even think about plugging in a phone or a hair dryer. You would kill the power to the entire hotel. And since the hotel is the only place in town to eat, you would be effectively ruining any chance of getting fed during your stay.  You would probably also be asked not to return.

At the appointed time we made our way down to the main dining room which leans ever so slightly outward so while eating dinner you feel a bit like standing on a cliff. The dining room is likely no different than it was in its heyday, a little rough and tumble flanked by a gorgeous hand plained bar on one side and antique shelves covered in artifacts from the town.  A veritable museum of the towns history which was thankfully heated by a gigantic cast iron wood stove in the center. It was the warmest part of the hotel and we wound up staying quite a while during both dinner and breakfast chatting with the owners and their daughter.  A couple hours after we had finished our dinner a group of locals made their way to the dining room and we made a graceful exit back to our room. The diner was delicious and huge, we were tired and stuffed so we went back to watching our downloaded Netflix and settled in for the night.

We had zero encounters with things that go bump in the night. The daughter of the hotel owners ensured me that never once had she experienced anything weird in the hotel. I felt 100 percent safe and comfortable the entire time. But that doesn’t mean I was thrilled to have to use the restroom in the middle of the night which was outside our room and down a very long, dark, freezing cold hallway. When morning came, despite the constant running of our heater (we got one of the few rooms with heaters) the windows were frosted over, and our truck had to be de-iced. We once again made a mad dash in all our clothes down to the dining room to fill up on hot coffee and stand around the stove.

We chatted with the owners more after breakfast, getting a tour of found objects in the area, like these opium bottles with intact labels. We learned all about the history of the town and the hotel. We got to hear funny stories about locals and what it was like growing up there. We listened with rapt attention to stories about renovations, brining ovens and fridges up to the hotel in the dead of winter on sleds. And thankfully unfounded evacuation plans during fire season. We were both reluctant to leave, feeling kindred spirits with this lovely family whose seasonal life and cautionary tales reminded us both so much of the fishing season. The migration every year, the off the grid lifestyle, the characters you meet and the friends that become your family. It felt like home and it was difficult to pull our selves away. But our long drive ahead and the trepidation of meeting tourists coming up the hill on the narrow roads finally motivated us to head down the mountain.

The drive down was blissfully easier on the Idaho side, though marked by the occasional traveler the road was much wider and entirely covered in crickets. Big super jumpy fat Morman Crickets which were clearly in their swarm phase. A couple times we wanted to get out and take pictures of the views but the fact that they were jumping close to two feet in the air kept us locked in the cab the entire way down the mountain.

We ended our ghost town adventure with smooth sailing north through Idaho to cross over to Baker City Oregon for the night. While our stay there was much more luxurious I will always prefer the adventure and sense of belonging from places like Silver City and the Idaho Hotel. I hope to make my way back next year, hopefully later in the sumer for a couple nights so I can make use of the ample hiking in the area.

Continue reading

Visiting the Pillars of Rome in Oregon

Visiting the Pillars of Rome in Oregon is not easy unless you are already in the area.For the sole reason that it is quite literally hours from most anything else. But if you do find yourself in the area of South Eastern Oregon, and want to see something really spectacular then you should certainly take the detour to experience it.

The Pillars of Rome were named by William F. Stine a homesteader in the area. And were a landmark for those crossing through the southern part of Oregon on the Oregon Trial.

The 100 foot tall, 5 by 2 mile site is a geologists dream. Layers of fossils, ash and sediment were slowly eroded by wind and rain to reveal the towering rock formation that today resemble roman architecture.

Visiting the Pillars of Rome in Oregon
Granted the drive to the location is likely not for everyone, but is a dream come true for photographers and rock hounds alike. The site can be accessed by a well graded gravel road just off I95 in Malheur County Oregon.

Situated slightly North West of Rome Oregon, otherwise known as Rome Station, so named for the only business in the unincorporated community. You can find it tucked up in a narrow valley near a number of farms. It also happens to be near a landing area of the Owyee River, which makes the area a perfect stop for rafters.

For this reason if you plan on hiking around the area I suggest doing your research and ensuring you won’t be trespassing on a local farmer’s private land. Many of the access points were behind cattle fence, which also suggests a need to ensure you won’t be chased down by the local bull.

Additionally falling rocks are very common at formations like this, so please tread carefully as any movement could dislodge something. And given the area, be properly prepared with hat, water, tick and rattle snake prevention measures.

Our Visit
Our visit was mostly just a drive by. We had somewhere specific to be well before nightfall and didn’t want to burn too much daylight poking around this area. We got out stretched our legs, which was much needed after three hours of driving from the Frenchglen Hotel, we just took some pictures and carried on.

Visiting the Pillars of Rome in Oregon was an opportunity I was very thankful to have. Especially given how remote it is to most other things in the state. I wouldn’t often have the chance to be this far away from home, so I am glad we took advantage and the detour to experience such a magnificent geologic site.

Continue reading

Frenchglen Hotel

I can’t recall how I heard about the Frenchglen Hotel but it was years ago and I was entirely enamored with the idea of a historic hotel, so significant it was protected and run directly by state employees. I also loved the idea that guests ate family style with the rest of the guests at a specific time. It seemed so quaint and easy. And it was.

Frenchglen today is an unincorporated community in Harney County sitting at the foothills of the Steens Mountain. It sits next to some of Peter French’s original landholdings. After Peter French was killed the secretary  of his  company took over P Ranch and sold off some of the land the pay off debts. In 1906 P Ranch and Diamond Ranch were sold, and then partnership of a portion of this was sold 1916 to the owner of the  Swift Meatpacking Company.

The hotel was built in 1924 to house guest who were in the area to do business with the Swift Meatpacking Company.  As it was quite an organization and in 1924 it took more than a few hours to reach this remote part of Oregon.
For a few years in the 1930s Frenchglen also operated a school, which taught children of local ranchers though it has since closed. In 1934 The Department of Fish and Wildlife owned and restored the hotel, while also expanding it a bit. In 1959 the hotel got electric power, and in 1973 Oregon Parks and Recreation Department took over the property. In 1984 it was official added to the National Register of Historic Places, and ever since then the eight room hotel (plus a newly built overflow hotel) has been operated by the state department.

Staying At Frenchglen
To book reservations you need to call the hotel directly, they are a small staff and don’t always answer the phone. But they are rather good about calling back so if you miss them leave a message.
If you are looking for a nicer more modern accommodation I would suggest asking for a room at Drovers Inn (the overflow building) but in truth if you are all the way out here you probably aren’t that picky. The rooms in the hotel are modestly decorated with historic pictures, and antiques.

They do have running hot water, clean shared bathrooms (private single use but shared with all guests) and offer family style dinners as well as made to order breakfast during a couple set hours in the morning. They do have electricity and Internet but no television.

Things to Do at Frenchglen
There is an enormous about of things to do directly in the area. For one the hotel sits literally across the street from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. We started out to explore it before we took off in the morning and got eaten alive by mosquitoes in about 2 min. Bring lots of bug spray.

It is also a short drive to the Diamond Craters and Round Barn to the north and the Alvord Desert to the south. Heading south is also the road to go up into the Steens for a hearty amount of hiking, though sadly the roads were still closed from the late snowfall. The Steens is also home to several historic ranches which have since been abandoned and can be explored by foot if you can find them.

Exploring Frenchglen
Frenchglen itself is little more than the hotel and a few houses for people who work in the area. We spent a few minuets walking around taking pictures while we waited for the gas station to open.

The gas station is actually worth seeing the women who runs it has been in the process of fixing it up to provide tourists in the area a few amenities. She has included some basic groceries for camping or hiking. Some local antiques for sale and a sweet little coffee shop that I wished we had time to hang around in. But we had a long drive ahead of us and needed to get our gas and hit the road.
We had an absolute blast at the Frenchglen Hotel. And I am most certainly returning to stay here and explore the area in more detail. My favorite thing about the entire experience was that for one short night all the guests felt like a little family. We sat down at enormous wooded benches in the small front room, passed the dishes around, learned about each other, caught one another up on what we saw and did and everyone walked away with more idea and an urge to return.

Continue reading