Thursday, December 17, 2015

Best Western United States Travel Experiences of 2015

In looking back over 2015, I had some amazing experiences that I enjoyed sharing with readers. They are experiences I'd highly recommend and would be thrilled to repeat. Some were close to home and one actually enticed me to board an airplane, something I've avoided for awhile. My favorite experiences of 2015 were:

Watch the waves crash at Washington's Waikiki Beach
Washington's Long Beach Peninsula: I love the wild beauty and surprising culinary delights to be found on the Long Beach Peninsula. In early 2015 I had the pleasure of returning to the Long Beach Peninsula to explore an extension of the Discovery Trail, visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and stay at the Inn at Harbor Village in Ilwaco.

On another trip to this Longest Beach in the World, I had the pleasure of connecting with nature at the antique-filled China Beach Retreat.  Although not so far from Ilwaco and Long Beach, I recommend the retreat as a place to get away from it all.

And, of course, dining at The Depot Restaurant in Seaview is always a favorite part of returning to the Long Beach Peninsula. The Clamshell Railroad history is interesting, but always topped by a bowl of Chef Michael's clam chowder!

This Longest Beach in the world is not just for summer fun. It's a great place to go in winter and spring, to experience the storms, high waves and, perhaps, do a little whale watching.

High Desert Beauty of Bend and Sunriver Oregon: In April, enticed by the Travel and Words
Luscious Ocean Rolls
from Bend's Sparrow Bakery
Travel Writer's conference at Sunriver Resort, I drove over Mt. Hood and down to Bend to tour beautiful Central Oregon. Memorable were the mountain views, the smell of the pine trees and the fun of golf boarding at Tetherow Golf Resort.

Sunriver Resort, on the Deschutes River, was busy finishing a new pool area and creating new restaurant menus. This alone, is reason to return to experience more! The conference was held on site and so we walked the wooded trails on breaks and to and from our mountain-view accommodations.

The nearby Oregon High Desert Museum provided an experience with local wildlife and a look at pioneer life.

Local cuisine didn't take a back seat to all this natural beauty. I had the pleasure of touring some local farms and wineries, devouring an Ocean Roll and dining at the excellent Zydeco Kitchen in Bend.

Bend's Ale Trail and visiting a local brewery with hops growing out back in the garden has to be mentioned. Lot's of reasons to return!

Smoking away at SMOKED!
Exploring the Best Cuisine Oregon has to Offer: My first exposure to Feast Portland,  Oregon's huge multi-event culinary festival, was a memorable one. I tasted my way from the Feast Portland welcome party at Jacobson's Salt to the Sandwich Invitational and finally my favorite, Oregon Media Group's SMOKED!

Feast Portland was both an indulgent feast and an in-depth learning experience leading me to some excellent locally sourced wines and cuisine.

Overall, Smoked! was my favorite event. Treated to a rousing ride on the Old School Karaoke Bus, we arrived at The Fields park in Portland's trendy Pearl District.  The sun, reflecting on the new glass and steel buildings, was ready to set. Smoke was rising from barbque grills, paella pans, and smokers all around the grounds.

I started going from booth to booth. Talking with the chefs as they cooked was so intriguing, I barely noticed when Country Cat Dinner House, a restaurant known for huge down-home portions, started serving up bites of succulent Tomahawk Rib Eye chops with slightly spicy tomato chimichurri butter still warm from the grill.

And it went on well after dark. I couldn't taste everything. I couldn't attend all the events and after parties. So, I'll just have to return!

Wild About Game at The Resort at the Mountain
I think Feast Portland whetted my appetite for local cuisine and so was very happy to accept an invite to Nicky USA's Wild About Game. The location couldn't have been better, either. Imagine fall scenery at The Resort at the Mountain in Welches, Oregon. That was the backdrop for this gathering of chefs and purveyors of local foods and drink.
The backdrop for Nicky USA's
Wild About Game

This year’s chef competition featured chefs from Seattle and Portland who were assigned specialty game around which they would create their dishes for the competition. The game included Nicky Farms water buffalo, rabbit (which was how the company started), quail and the new addition to the family, Hawaiian venison.

Purveyors of everything from local cheeses to Salt and Straw ice cream were there. The wine was flowing and there was plenty of food to sample. By the end of the event, I was happy that I had booked a room and could enjoy a quiet night on the mountain.

From Mountains to the Sea: Exploring Northwest Washington
Wondering how I would see Washington's Olympic Peninsula AND Mt. Rainier in less than a week, I packed everything from hiking boots to fine dining attire. After a wonderful welcome dinner at Seattle's Aqua by El Gaucho with the sparkling Seattle skyline as a view, I found I would no longer need anything other than hiking boots and jeans for the rest of the trip.

The next day our small group boarded a ferry to Bainbridge Island and left the big city behind. We explored Poulsbo, Port Gamble and, finally, the Victorian town of Port Townsend and Fort Worden. I vowed to return as there was so much history, art and waterfront scenery to see.

Historic Lake Quinault Lodge
Our whirlwind tour of the Olympic Peninsula included stops at the Olympic National Park including Hurricane Ridge with stunning views of the snow-peaked Olympics.

We experienced this history and lakeside views of two grand lodges: Lake Crescent Lodge and Lake Quinault Lodge and ran into an international crowd of Twilight groupies in Forks. We walked with a ranger in the rain forest and enjoyed burgers on the porch at the Hard Rain Cafe.

And that was just the beginning! The next leg of our journey took us to Mt. Rainier National Park where we learned that park roads were constructed with sight-seeing in mind. And there were sights galore. My favorite was scene of brilliant red bushes with a backdrop of snowy Mt. Rainier. We took short hikes and enjoyed Mt. Rainier's Paradise Lodge which turns 100 next year.

And, of course, we were treated to local cuisine. My favorite was Alexander's Fine Mountain Dining in nearby Ashford. While my colleagues fished for dinner in the restaurant's trout pond, I was thrilled when the chef brought out his "catch," local Chanterelle mushrooms. Chef Troy suggested his veal and chanterelles for dinner. The veal dish was sautéed with lemon and fresh herbs, then topped with white wine beurre blanc and served with herb-roasted potatoes.

Soon we were whisked back to the big city. Although arriving late in the evening, I enjoyed a restful night at the elegant Mayflower Park Hotel.

Again, each experience was much too brief and left me wanting to return, to write in-depth articles and experience more of Washington State.

Southwest Adventure - Ancient Cliff Dwellings and Stunning Natural Beauty: I had been secretly yearning to return to the beautiful, culturally rich American Southwest. Just when I thought I'd have to see the year end without a glimpse of sandstone formations or Native culture, I was invited to join a Grand Circle Association press tour starting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

And, adding to the excitement of the trip was the fact that I hadn't experienced or written about the majority of places we would be going. I was excited!
Amazing views in Canyonlands National Park
Our first stop was a familiar one... Acoma Pueblo. I was able to reconnect with potter friend Emil Chino, and take a tour of the mesa-top village with Guide Turtle. I always marvel at the endurance of the people and how they maintain their culture and arts. After a traditional meal, we enjoyed a Buffalo Dance.

We toured Chaco Culture National Historic Park and reflected on the abilities of late stone-age people to construct massive hand-hewn stone complexes that seemed to align with astronomical events.

We found that there were many more sites in outlying areas that connected, somehow, with the ancestral Puebloans. We had the fortune of touring Aztec Ruins with a local archeologist. My first article for Sunset.com was drawn from my experiences touring Aztec Ruins and visiting their museum.

Out of Durango, Colorado we had a luxurious ride on the Durango and Silverton narrow gauge railway high into the mountains, often looking down into a gorge at a rushing river. Silverton was a restored boom town and a great stop after a scenic ride pulled by a real steam engine.

But then there was more! We climbed 32 foot ladders into cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde and went on a wild off road adventure in Canyonlands National Park. What we saw was nothing short of amazing. At every turn there was a natural bridge, sandstone formation, rushing river or historical site. Touring the Four Corners area deserves many weeks. But we were there less than one week. Oh well, I must return! I must write more!

To Travel is to Live Life
I don't know how people go through life without traveling, without a thirst for the knowledge of other cultures and other lands. In this one year, I have experienced traveling to see unusual sights and cultures different from my own, all without venturing past the Western U.S.


I look forward to what 2016 will bring.

Elizabeth
Photography copyright: Elizabeth Rose Photography