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August 29, 2017

Our Return to San Diego - via Snohomish and some wine country

We know that I-15 south runs from Idaho Springs to San Diego, a much shorter route, and we could easily toss in our favorite spots in the Eastern Sierra.  But Michael and Lori have bought a new home and we want to see it!  The timing was such that Lori could not join us for the eclipse and we want to see her too, of course.

The route will take us through Coeur d’Alene where we like to stop for a leg stretch at McEuen Park.  A paved bike trail follows the water front to the University of Idaho campus and beyond.  It is part of the 60 mile Centennial Trail from Nine Mile Falls, WA to Higgins Point on Lake Coeur d’Alene.   McEuen Park offers lots of play areas in the form of a pirate ship, a fort, slides, water park, swim beach, tennis and pickle ball courts.  It is an amazing city park with the world’s longest floating boardwalk.  It’s always a fun stop.
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Today we are just looking to stretch our legs and opt to do the Tubbs Hill loop.  The loop is under a mile and offers views of the lake.  Atho short, it offers a variety of terrain and access to favorite swimming holes for the locals.
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At the bandstand the Live After Five program will present Charlie Butts and the Filter Tips.  But that would make for a long day to keep our proposed schedule, which includes a service appointment for Rufius on Friday.
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We leave the freeway near my old collage town of Ellensburg to take the scenic backroads through Leavenworth and over Stevens Pass.  We’ll avoid the worst of the traffic in the greater Seattle area by coming into Snohomish from the east. 

Wenatchee and west past Levenworth was aflame for 5 months during the 2012 wildfires.  I’m looking for a 2012 estate wine that shows the pain the grapes endured during that time.

There are quite a few good wineries along the route as well.  A favorite is White Heron, high on the hill overlooking the Columbia River.  White Heron has no 2012 wine and is sold out of everything but the Malbec.  They were first to grow malbec in Washington so I take a bottle to test against the famous, and less expensive, South American malbecs with Doug when we get home.  I’ve known Doug forever and he knows a good malbec and is still a pretty good volleyball player.
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Levenworth is a small moundain town in the Central Cascades that recreated itself as a Bavarian village, although it is now easier to find a good wine in Levenworth than an authentic schnitzel and spaetzle lunch.  There are more wine tasting opportunities in a couple blocks here than I’ve seen any place else.
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It was at Stemilt Creek Winery I found a 2012 Cabernet and a CabFranc, each 100% barrel aged estate wines.  Pretty much anybody who can follow a recipe can make good beer, son Michael makes really good beer.  But wine, especially estate wines, are a reflection of their environment and the conditions of their year of growth.  I could feel the pain of those 2012 grapes with the first swirl and sniff. 
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On the west side of Stevens Pass is a pullout for Deception Falls.  This is another nice place to stop before heading into the traffic that will build near Monroe.  The half-mile loop trail will lead over to the Tye River and back. 
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We arrive at the ‘old’ Snohomish home late afternoon.  The kids have completed the packing, the movers are coming in the morning … I think that’s pretty good timing!  Aspen knows something is up and keeps guard in front.
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Our job on moving morning is to entertain Jm, as he gets one last morning in his favorite park. 
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After a few hours on the playground we need to drop the RV off at Mercedes Benz of Lynnwood for service.  We’ll wait for them at the beach in nearby Edmonds.  There is an eagle nest at the south end of the beach, we seem to always see them here.
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Before we even finish lunch the RV is ready and it’s time to check out Jm’s new estate.  WOW! that’s Rufus parked in the driveway, it is huge!, with a large backyard too.  The new home is located near Kirkland, where Lori has accepted a position as principal at Carl Sandburg Elementary, her name is already listed as the gal in charge!
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We spend the entire day unpacking and putting things back together.  It’s a long day with the reward of dim-sum at Din Tai Fung (DTF) in Bellevue Square as our reward.  In the morning I picked some blackberries at their new backyard and made blackberry pancakes for our breakfast. WOW fresh makes a difference!  We started south after breakfast …

The northbound traffic is bumper-to-bumper from Olympia to Salem, glad we are going south.  Perhaps still from the eclipse??? Personally I think the Willamette Valley wineries lack the character of those in the Umpqua Valley.  But my favorites are found in the Columbia Valley.   But since we are in OR why not take a few minutes for a stop? or two? Oregon is having a record breaking fire year, it’s like sitting on the smokey side of a campfire.  At noon the sun can easily be seen without the eclipse glasses.
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We are actually trying to make some time and also get out of the smoke so chose only to stop at Hillcrest Winery, Oregon’s oldest estate winery and the first to grow Pinot Noir – the grape that later makes Willamette famous.  Melrose Vineyards is on the way to Hillcrest, with their often awarded wines.
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Hillcrest is about ready to harvest, with the heavy smoke and some ash I have to wonder what their 2017 wines will have to say.
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Continuing south on I-5 is Mt Shasta, I’ve never seen so little snow on Shasta.  This is our best, and fastest, route to our last stops..
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About 6 miles from Red Bluff on Hwy 99 is Pumpkinland Chocolates.   My favorite are the pecan turtles, but they are sold out.  As I settle for the cashew turtle Fran makes her selection(s). 
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We do not travel I-5 as often as we once did, thus have not had the opportunity to visit the New Clairvaux Abbey.  The abbey is in Vina CA (VY-na) also just off Hwy 99 and home to Trappist-Cistercian monks, an ancient Roman Catholic viticulture order.  Their winemaker is a fifth-generation Napa Valley winemaker, Aimee Sunseri, who still makes the wines at her family Nichelini Winery in Napa Valley.  The monks take a vow of silence, but if they staffing the tasting room (Saturday only), boy can they make up for the past week!
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The Aimee signature wines are not available for tasting.  A few years ago I picked up her Cabernet – best wine ever!, but At $50 now I chose her merlot and the Abbot’s reserve, Fran helped fill up my 6-pack.
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Nobody likes driving on the interstate, nor do we.  We typically use Hiwy 99 to the Grapevine, but today it’s I-5 with the petal-to-the-metal.

August 21, 2017

Eclipse - Idaho Falls for the main event

It did take us a couple long driving days to reach Idaho Falls, but we also made time for getting out as well.  We arrived a couple hours ahead of son Michael and grandson Jm, my younger brother Marty traveled with them.  The ‘falls’ in Idaho Falls is a long concrete barrier that provides the cities' power needs.  The barrier is constructed above what was the original ‘falls’ on the Snake River.

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Along the river is a biking/walking path and some interesting benches in the shape of potaoes, wildlife, fish and such.  Really it’s kinda clever.
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When we get together we often have a ‘wine-off’, where we each bring a couple wines ($25 limit) that are reasonably local to our individual areas.  Marty winters in Mazatlan where he teaches English, brought my favorite Mexican wine -  Monte Xanic.  Michael, now living in WA, can contribute anything from the Columbia Valley -  all good wines.  We’ve been on the road and offered wines from NM, MO and CA.  We each get to pick one bottle to enter into the competition, bag them and after mixing them around number the bags.

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There is no official scoring, it is all ‘hydonisic’ where it is rated by how each appeals to the taster.  In the end we end up with a wine that appeals the most to the group.  Here’s the score sheet that we developed over time, if you want to use it or modify it for your family ‘bake-off’ or ‘cook-off’ feel free. 

Jm has had a good time in the playground at Snake River RV Park & Campground.
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We made pin-hole cameras to have a little fun.  If one pin hole is good more is better.  Jm calls me Papa so here is my camera, where each pinhole shows the inversion of the sun being covered from the bottom, but when viewed directly the sun was being covered from the top.
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But that’s not why we are here …  there is an eclipse!  We all have our ISO approved solar glasses.  And a perfect spot on the grass all picked out.  I made a filter for my camera to capture a few pictures of the event.
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And the main event – our view of the Great American Eclipse, with the starburst that follows totality.
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We'll begin the ride home tomorrow ….