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The Adventure Coast: Coos Bay, Oregon

Coos Bay, Oregon

Katherine Hoppe, Director of Promotions and Conventions for Coos Bay, Oregon found out I was traveling up the coast, sent me a quick email, and that’s how it all began.  After a few exchanges I knew I had to meet her.  She, like all of the tourism professionals I’ve met on the road, is so cool, so helpful, and so ready to show off her town.  It was hard not to break the speed barrier driving into town to meet her.

With Coos Bay and I it was love at first sight—it’s not your typical coastal tourist town.  This

Katherine Hoppe

is a town with industry- lumber and fishing.  This is a town where you can settle into seeing all sorts of action instead of just dropping in and skimming the touristy surface.  Of course, Kat made sure I got to see it all.

The first thing she deciphered – do I like clam chowder and oysters?  Yes and yes.  Do I want to go crabbing?  Yes.  Do I want to go surfing?  Yes.  Do I want to see the giant sand dunes?  Yes.

She said, “I’ll pick you up at 9am and wear sneakers.”  The plan?  To wear ourselves out with fun.

COOS BAY HIGHLIGHTS

32.000 Acres of Natural Sand Dunes

1. First up, the picturesque 500 foot natural sand dunes—31,000 acres of rolling, white sand mountains— on top of 400cc Quad ATVs.  Spinreel Dune Buggy Rentals provides a thorough explanation of how the dunes were formed, and their future.  Then they show you a safety video, strap a helmet on your head, and turn you loose to experience their magnitude by doing your best Evil Kneivel.  SO. MUCH. FUN.  Then, full of sand and on an adrenalin high, the Spinreel guys had a treat for us— the RZR 800cc 4-seater.  This state of the art dune buggy is fully equipped with seat belts, hallelujah.  The ATV is rough and tumble but the RAZR is like a hovercraft. I don’t think we had four wheels on the ground for more than a few seconds at a time.  Here we are screaming our faces off in terrified delight.

2. Next up— crabbing with locals on the docks at Charleston Boat Basin.  I helped Kat carry the pods and bait to the

Off to see…

dock, and picked up a six-pack of local beer.  That’s what you do when you go crabbing— hang out, talk, drink beer, throw the pods out,  and pull them back in.  You take a bunch of chicken legs and secure them to the inside of the pod and whirl the pod out into the water like a frisbee.  It sinks to the bottom and you leave it there while you drink your beer.  It’s a stress-free sport.  When you’re about 3/4 through your beer you pull up the pod.  People gather round ooohing and ahhhing over whether he’s big enough to keep— females and babies go back automatically and males have to be a certain size.  We caught only one keeper and gifted him to the crabbers sitting next to us.  The hours gently drifted by.

Our catch

I squeezed as much of myself into this thing before I asked for help.

3. Rounding out the first day– a special humiliation associated with booking a surfing lesson.  Trying on a wet suit.  This whole rigmarole would be a lot easier if you could just slick your epidermis from the neck down and wheel a pulley system into the dressing room.  Getting into this thing was a pride swallowing event for me and endlessly entertaining for my new friend Kat.  Brian, owner of Waxers Surf Skate Shop, is a natural teacher– amazing and unbelievably patient.  A total man’s man.  He put me at ease right off the bat.  I felt  like a real surfer girl carrying my  board on my head down a harrowing makeshift trail to Bastendorff Beach.  The water was freezing but totally worth it.  Brian  taught me how to use the current as a guide, when to scoot my body back on the board, and when to paddle like hell.  I caught a dozen waves and didn’t wipe out once.  (Notice there are no photos of this glorious morning on the water.)  Even if you don’t surf, which you should, check out  Bastendorff for watching the waves roll in.

Brian heading to the water on Bastendorff Beach.

4. Finally— Kat’s Culinary Tour.  In two days I compared six bowls of clam chowder.  Coos Bay claims they have the world’s best.  It comes down

The Unbelievable Crab Melt Sandwich

to personal taste– do you like thick, potato-y, thin?  Kat wouldn’t tell me her favorite but she did narrow it down to a nice sample set.  My favorite was from Shark Bites— their broth is on the thinner side, really tasty, and they use red potatoes thinly sliced.  We also compared oysters from three different locations.  Again, they’re all delicious but my personal favorite was Hilltop House.  Below you will find name and location of the places we tried.  Don’t miss the crabmelt sandwich at The Mill Casino Hotel— I will dream of this sandwich all my days to come.

Sitting on the docks, watching the sea lions dive for tuns scraps, pulling up our pods and sorting the keepers from the throw-backs is where I got to know Kat.  She’s been the Director of Promotions and Conventions for Oregon’s Adventure Coast for 5 years.  It’s obvious she loves what she does.  In fact, everyone I’ve met who’s working in tourism really enjoys their work and find themselves creatively challenged every day.

She moved to Coos Bay 7 years ago and had a hard time adjusting to the small town life after years of big city California living.  Trading in her heels and regular mani-pedis for the slower pace and focus on the outdoors wasn’t her plan.  But, that turned around when her family visited for the weekend and she planned the ultimate tourists’ adventure right in her hometown.  From that moment on, she realized she was living in a dream location and began promoting Coos Bay to potential visitors around the world.  She’s a one-man-band but cultivates partnerships with local businesses, is a social media marketing maven, and everyone’s favorite around town.  There wasn’t one place we visited where someone didn’t light up when she walked in.  The charm of a small town.

KAT’S FORMULA FOR HAPPINESS

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO:  I enjoy the diversity of what I do. I love showing off the area off to writers and visitors and letting them in on the secrets that the locals know. I work on so many different things that I am never bored. Perhaps my favorite thing is cultivating a relationship with travel writers and seeing that moment where they get how special this area is. Seeing that translated into print to share with a larger audience is extremely satisfying.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT COOS BAY: Almost everything… I love being so close to the beach

Kat Hoppe with her kids.

and that I can let my dogs run free. I love going crabbing on the docks and making new friends each time I go. When you first come into town it has a very industrial feel; you can see the boats coming in and the wood chips being shipped out… and then you turn… and there’s an unimaginable beauty that makes it feel like a secret that was meant just for you. It’s a combination of timber, fishing, small businesses and a seclusion that you don’t find many other places.  It’s also the little things; In the morning when I’m contemplating going crabbing, I call the fish market on the docks and find out if I should wear pants or shorts that day, and no one thinks its strange that I call.  If I’m taking a trip out of town, I always run by the airport the night before and weigh my suitcase to make sure it’s not too heavy.  I drive through my favorite coffee shop and I don’t have to order, they know exactly what I want. There’s a friendliness here that allows you to come as you are and never feel out-of-place.

WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPY:  My dream is to retire here and have a house overlooking the beach. The beaches here are so scenic and rugged, I love falling asleep to the sound of the ocean and watching the waves come in. I can think of nothing better than waking up every day to a view of the ocean and taking my dogs for a morning walk on the beach.

Kat at The Polar Bear Plunge

Dune Adventure Riding: Spinreel Dune Buggy Rentals

Crabbing:  Davey Jones Locker
 Cape Arago Highway & Boat Basin Road
 Charleston, OR 97420 (541) 888-3941 and Basin Tackle Shop
 63510 Kingfisher Rd Charleston, OR 97420 541-888-3811

Surfing: Brian Menten  Waxer’s Surf Skate Shop 242 South Broadway (hwy 101) Coos Bay, OR 97420 541-266-9020

Recommended Restaurants: 

Shark Bites Seafood Café 240 South Broadway
 Coos Bay, OR 97420 
(541) 269-7475 My pick for best clam chowder. 

The Coach House 604 6th Avenue
 Coos Bay, OR 97420
 (541) 267-5116 A great dive with delicious oysters and chowder.

Miller’s at the Cove 63346 Boat Basin Road
 Charleston, OR 97420
 (541) 808-2404 Don’t miss the fish tacos and chowder.

Hilltop House 93405 Wilsey Lane North Bend, OR 97459 541-756-4160 My pick for best oysters.  Also, don’t miss the prime rib sandwich.

Mill Casino Hotel  3201 Tremont Ave., North Bend, OR 97459 541-756-8800 Best crab melt sandwich I’ve ever had. 

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Categories: People on The Stretch, Stays on The Strech | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lipgloss on the Sacred Peace Pipe

One of the only pictures I have of me in Taos.

When I was in Taos I so badly wanted to deep dive into its cultural DNA.  It’s a magical place with much insider seduction.  I’m told it takes about a year, or more, to become part of the the fabric there.  Sadly, I didn’t have that kind of time so I looked for an accelerated immersion program.

The Taos Pueblo, the area’s Native American nation, has been operating for more than 1000 years.  Tourists are welcome to visit the adobe village. Parking is free. You register at the front desk, pay a $10 camera fee, roam the designated areas, then leave.   Their ceremonies are not for outsiders.

When I saw a listing on the community events calendar for “Sacred Peace Pipe Ceremony and Spirit Balancing”  though, I bit hook, line, and sinker.  Native Americans believe the peace pipe connects the physical and spiritual worlds and it’s one of, if not the most, sacred of all ceremonies.

Cathy, my dear friend and hostess who’s quite dialed into the community, wasn’t endorsing it but didn’t want to deflate my enthusiasm.   I was going to be part of this sacred ceremony come hell or high water.

After driving in circles for a while, I finally found the “spiritual center”— home of this peace pipe.  It was a townhouse  in the middle of an ordinary neighborhood.  No cars were parked out front. Seemed like I was the only one there.  This wasn’t matching my mind’s eye.

Rev. Running Cub* met me at the door to the spiritual center/townhouse.  Very friendly but curious about me.  Curious about me?  I was curious about her!  First of all, she revealed right off the bat that she moved to Taos from Long Island ten years ago.  Second, it was clear that Running Cub wasn’t her given name.  Third, she was living in a townhouse with a floral couch in the living room, a tv in the corner, and a dining room set off to the side.

Where were we going to have the sacred ceremony?  And, where were all of the Native Americans?

Road not far from the Spiritual Center.

Turns out they weren’t coming.  Because, they have an actual sacred ceremony.  Within the Pueblo.  This one was…adapted.  It was a sacred ceremony in a way.  It was sacred to Rev. Running Cub and to Lisa* who showed up just as I started to feign a stomach flu. The ceremony was real and important to them.  To me, it didn’t seem very authentic. I wanted this to be what I wanted so badly that I refused see any of the signs that my peace pipe fantasy doesn’t exist.  Outsiders aren’t invited to sacred ceremonies.  The people of Taos don’t congregate once a week to smoke a sacred peace pipe.  If they did, Cathy would’ve known and told me about it.

The ceremony started.  Rev. Running Cub played the drum. Lisa sang.  I “participated” silently/reluctantly.

Rev. Running Cub did her best to make me feel comfortable and keep me abreast of the ceremony’s flow.   Lisa knew all the words to the songs and even made a request— a tune asking Grandfather  to keep watching us…all of the time.  I cringe at the thought of my grandfather knowing, much less watching, what I’m doing all the time.

After a while, it was time to offer up prayers for ourselves and others.  I wasn’t prepared for this to be an out-loud offering so I shot from the hip.  Lisa came with pages of prayer offerings beautifully and specifically written.

Taken at the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow.

After the prayers, out came the peace pipe. FINALLY.  Rev. RC explained the whole thing step by step— this is the bowl, the stem, this is the tobacco, this is the tamper, this is the lighter.  The pipe is the link between earth and sky.  The fire is the source of life.  The tobacco’s roots are deep into the earth.  The smoke rises to the heavens. Don’t inhale.  Pass clockwise.  Rev. RC lit up.

Holy crap, all I could think about was opening a window.  The smoke.  So thick.  So fast.  Damn, I could barely breathe.  My mind turned to  Mayor Bloomberg, his smoking laws, and how I’m 100,000% behind him.

Lisa finished her turn on the pipe, peeled the back of her thighs off the linoleum, and brought it over.  My turn.  Rev. RC asked Lisa to keep the pipe lit for me.

I pulled the smoke into my mouth and blew it out first to the north, then to the northeast, and on around the compass.  I had to, or Lisa actually had to, relight the pipe a few times before I could get all the way around.

The only time Rev. RC wasn’t on board with me was this moment.  I finished smoking  and was handing the pipe back to her when I noticed my cherry red lip gloss ring around the pipe’s stem.  I had nothing to wipe it off with and when I noticed it was too late.  She was already taking it from me.

Rev. RC zeroed in on my lip print, cocked her head, and shot me a look that could’ve slayed the spirits in our midst.  She took a moment then mentioned, pointedly, how sacred the pipe is.

We sang a few more songs and then Rev. RC offered a spiritual balancing for just one of us.  Not having a clue what this entailed,  I deferred to Lisa.  I thought if she busied Rev. RC with a balancing I could jet.

No such luck. I was asked to softly play the drum while Lisa laid down on a table and Rev. RC appeared to adjust her chakras.  Do you know how hard it is to play a drum softly?

When it was finally all said and done Lisa seemed happy and balanced.  Rev. RC mentioned an upcoming potluck and sweat lodge event.  We made small talk about the problem of people who don’t spay and neuter their pets— I don’t know why that came up.  I put five dollars in the donation jar.  Then I got to leave.

Here’s what I learned from this…

1. Sacred ceremonies are sacred.  If you’re not invited by the inside circle don’t force it.  If you force it you’ll

The Grand Entry Parade at The Taos Pueblo Pow Wow

find yourself sitting on a linoleum floor with a woman from Long Island who legally changed her name to Running Cub.

2. People make themselves vulnerable when they participate in spiritual ceremonies—especially when they offer up prayers for themselves and the people they love.  Don’t fake a stomach flu in the face of this.

3. Be polite.  Maybe this was sacred ceremony, maybe it wasn’t.  If there are no safety concerns, an hour or two anywhere won’t kill you.

4. The best way to get a taste of Native American culture in Taos is to time your visit to mid July for the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow.  It’s AMAZING.  The photos sprinkled throughout this post were taken there on the night of The Grand Entry.

*Name changed but only slightly.

Categories: People on The Stretch, Stays on The Strech | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Foul Tasting

Beautiful View

I was traveling up California’s beautiful coastline and wanted to have a nice dinner with a beautiful view.  I didn’t make a reservation because so far it’s been easy to slide in at the bar for dinner—it’s low maintenance, there are usually interesting people to chat with, and locals know the best things on the menu and have the inside scoop on the town.

I stopped at the first spot recommended— stunning.  Oceanside.  A gorgeous drive up.  Really pretty.  They had valet service which seemed a little over the top since the place is so small.  I just self parked and took the flights and flights of stairs up to the entrance.

I passed a couple about my parents’ age on the way up who were positively glowing.  They commented on the beautiful night, the amazing view, and their delicious meal.  They were carrying two paper bags which I assumed were full of pastries for breakfast.  He had on pants and a golf shirt and she had on capri pants with walking shoes.

After the long hike up, I made my way to the maitre d’s stand.  As I approached I watched her eyes start at my feet, work their way up my body, and back down again.

The outfit I was wearing could be described as bohemian chic— on a good day.  I was casual and had just come from a spa.   Skinny olive colored pants, black top, hooded sweater, open toe sandals, hair in a bun.  I suppose, to the untrained eye, my outfit could be interpreted as thrown together, haphazard, slightly wrinkled.  It’s fair to say that I’d not spent a ton of time primping for dinner.  But, the judgemental body scan I got from this maitre d woman, whose own ensemble was not far from thrown together, I did not deserve.

“Do you have room for one for dinner?” I asked, noticing my voice sounded less confident than I wished.

Maitre d glanced to someone to my left.   She paused.  I got the feeling she was summoning security.

“Let me show you the menu, first.”  She pulled the bi-fold paper out, splayed it in front of me, and pressed out the crease.  “The

There isn’t a bad view along CA Hwy 1.

dishes on the left are appetizers and they’re all $50.  On the right are our entrees and they’re $75.”

I tilted my head to the left, looked her in the eye, and waited to see what she would say next.  I think she was waiting for me to say something.  I was speechless.  I’ve never been shown a menu or  given the prices of the items before I was seated at my table.

Turns out, I’ve never known what it feels to be unwelcome.

Truth be told, I didn’t want to spend $125, or more, on dinner.  But, if I did I could.  Was I dressed to the nines?  No.  Did I look horrendously out of place?  No.

“Perhaps I can show you to our bar?”

“No, thank you.  I think I’ll try another place.”  Again, with the soft sounding voice.  Surprising mostly myself that I didn’t have much more to say to this woman.

“But, you’ve come all this way and you don’t even want to see it?”

“No, thank you.  I’ve seen enough.”

Here’s the thing…

1. People are treated like this all of the time.  It’s not at all fair, it’s an awful business model, and it’s life.  There was a time

Steve and Machelle

when I would have stayed to prove some mythical point.  But, had I done so I would’ve only been supporting a place that is undoubtedly unfair to people.  Plus, bitter tastes terrible.

2. If I’d stayed I wouldn’t have found Big Sur Bakery where I ordered the world’s best crab cake and roasted vegetable salad at a fraction of the cost.  Plus a perfect glass of Sauvignon Blanc AND a butterscotch ice cram pie.  You read that right— butterscotch ICE CREAM pie.

3. If I’d stayed I wouldn’t have met an academy award-winning actor, whom I admire,  and his lady friend.  He too was rocking a bohemian chic look.  So was she.  I wondered if they were also discouraged from the same restaurant.

4. If I’d stayed I never would have met Steve and Machelle who invited me to join them at their table.  Steve’s a cowboy and  businessman.  He asked if I could saddle a horse.  I said yes.  So, he invited me to his ranch in Kansas where he’ll introduce me to a bevy of cowboys.  To that I say, “Giddy up.”

Categories: People on The Stretch, Stays on The Strech | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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