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Puerto Peñasco birds March 2019

Arizona’s Beach

One of Puerto Penasco’s broad beaches

In mid-March, we drove six hours to the Sonoran town of Puerto Peñasco, known by many Americans as Rocky Point, its meaning in English. Drive due east on Highway 8 for three hours, and you’ll reach the twin towns of Calexico and Mexicali. Then drive southeast, down the coast of the beginning of the Sea of Cortez, due south of Yuma, Arizona. Puerto Peñasco has beautiful expansive beaches, some lovely Mexican resorts and not much else yet. But it’s the site of spring break for all the Arizona universities, with its beaches, good food and 18-year-old drinking age.

We’ve been members of the Vidanta group of hotels for eleven years, having signed up in 2007 at the Mayan Palace in Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Peñasco has, not only a Mayan Palace where we stayed, but a Grand Mayan resort with fabulous golf course next door.

We were also attracted to the area by the quantity of bird species, and saw 61 different birds while we were there, checking out its estuaries as well as the northern end of the Sea of Cortez. Here’s the entire list: Puerto Peñasco birds March 2019

When we arrived in time for a late lunch, we tried out Cholla Bay Oyster House at the northern end of town, right on the beach with a grand view, lovely local oysters on the half shell, and maybe the best crab cakes we’ve ever eaten. The manager, Edgar Silva, was a terrific host, and we ordered a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon blanc once we discovered that there’s not a single craft beer anywhere in the town! No bottles, cans, taps or growlers. Craft Brewing hasn’t arrived yet. Hopefully, it will before our next visit.

We left Cholla Bay for the rather long drive to the Mayan Palace, which is several miles south of the town of Puerto Peñasco, but when we got there, the drive was worth it. Seeing that we are members, the front staff upgraded us to a bedroom suite with a kitchenette and a wonderful view of the ocean and the pools that fill the resort. We rested a while after the long drive, then found the sports bar for happy hour, when the drinks are two for one.

Bakal Restaurant

The dining room, called Bakal, has an extensive buffet and also a menu, and the food turned out to be excellent, so we ate dinner there several times, since it was a half-hour drive into town, and Puerto Peñasco’s roads are very dark at night.

The next morning, we rode on the shuttle to the golf course and walked around part of it, logging in the first selections for our bird list. One of the birds we saw was a Loggerhead Shrike. Those of you who are interested in birds will be as surprised as we were that we saw perhaps twenty shrike while in Puerto Peñasco. They popped up on bushes and power lines everywhere we went. Always solitary, but so many of them!

Chef Mickey’s Place

We had read very good reviews on a restaurant called Chef Mickey’s Place and decided to drive into town to try it out. They weren’t quite open when we arrived, so we sat out in the Sonoran sun at one of their outside tables while we waited. Presently, a young woman brought us menus, then another brought water and silverware. We ended up staying right there and ordered a bottle of chardonnay. While we waited for our Caesar salads, a man walked into the courtyard and introduced himself. He was Mickey himself, and he welcomed us to the place and said that he hoped we would enjoy the food. He was born in Guadalajara, grew up in Las Vegas, and now had this restaurant.

Laurel ordered blackened grouper with shrimp, and I chose the giant bacon-wrapped local shrimp. The food was outstanding. I can’t remember Laurel raving so about a plate of food, and my prawns were incredible. We were so impressed with the food that we ordered two desserts, something we rarely do, and were rewarded with a perfect classic flan and apple-strudel-topped cheesecake. The manager, Miguel, was all smiles when we left, hearing all our oohs and ahhs.

Tonio at Three Boys Fish

We promised to come back later in the week, and we did, on Friday for lunch. Mickey does two or three wonderful things with the local grouper, and also with flounder, neither of which are common in San Diego. We talked to him about the quality of his fish, and he called his supplier, Three Boys Fish, and told us to see Tonio on our way north the next day. On Saturday at the Malecon, we did just that, and brought back two pounds each of flounder and grouper, as well as a couple of pounds of colossal shrimp. The shrimp was seven dollars a pound, and the fish only three.

The weather forecast predicted rain for Monday, and it was right. We got up Monday morning to see the skies gray and the resort pools pelted with rain. We had decided to visit the Malecon anyway and drove up to the other end of town, looking for El Oktopus, which we found near the end of the street. After circling the area three times, we paid the five dollars to park in the large parking lot at the east end, then walked nearly the length of the strip to the restaurant. At this time, the rain was more of a drizzle, and we made it there without too much worry. They were just opening up, and we sat at a window table and looked out at the gray day, sympathizing with the vendors whose stalls had already gotten plenty wet during the morning.

Grilled octopus and blue corn tortillas with octopus and pork belly

Laurel ordered whole grilled octopus, and I thought the blue corn tacos with grilled octopus and pork belly sounded good. And both of them were terrific. A few minutes after we sat down, it started to rain again, and this time it was pounding down, splashing off the pavement and flowing like a river down the hill at the corner. The outside vendors gave up and shut down, taking their tarps and carts with them. Too many people on the street were caught without umbrellas and got soaked, hurrying inside or to their cars.

That’s a lot of mud

Fortunately, it eased off again before we left, and we headed back toward our car at the end of the street. We stopped and talked to the owner of a restaurant on the bay side of the street. His place was closed, and he took us in and showed us his terrace wall which looked out onto the water. The wall had collapsed and been washed away during one of the recent storms. We drove back to the Mayan Palace through the soggy town, trying to avoid flooded intersections and mud that was more than a foot deep. By the time we reached the resort, our car was thoroughly coated with a thick layer of mud, and it stayed there until we returned to San Diego and had our regular carwash do a triple wash on everything and scrub as much from the engine block as they were able.

Negronis and Caesar salad

Folks in the know told us these two days brought in more rain than the town normally gets in an entire season. But by Tuesday afternoon, the storm had blown itself out, and the sun came out to start drying up the impromptu lakes and puddles. We drove back into town for an early sunset dinner and found the perfect antidote for the prior rain and gray sky. Next to the Malecon is a hill called Cerro de la Ballena, Whale Hill. At its top sits a fine Italian restaurant called Pane e Vino. Our table looked out and down the steep hill to a panoramic view of the entire end of the town and Bahia la Cholla, with the Sea of Cortez gleaming to the west. We ordered Negronis, our favorite Italian cocktail, and two Caesar salads. For entrees, Laurel had grouper with artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes, and I couldn’t pass up Jack Daniels bourbon shrimp. Excellent food and very good service from our waiter, Angel. One of the best in town.

Flounder with artichokes and tomato and Jack Daniels shrimp

On Thursday, we got seats on a boat for a ride to what’s known as Bird Island, real name Isla San Jorge. It’s about an hour out from the beach—a bunch of big rocks populated by sea lions and topped by lots of birds, mainly Brown Boobies, Blue-footed Boobies, pelicans, gulls and the occasional shearwater. Quite a few people went snorkeling or used the kayaks onboard to enjoy the spot, but the water was too cold and rough for us. The wind had come up by the time we headed back to the resort, and it was much rougher than the trip out. Unfortunately, the captain didn’t use good sense, and gunned the boat too fast, creating a very rough ride back that, to me, turned the entire experience sour.

Brown Booby

Overall, we came away with mixed feelings, partly because of the rainstorm which was nobody’s fault. The Mayan Palace Resort is a high quality place, and some of the seafood and restaurants are superb. We did quite of lot of birding there, and saw some very uncommon species. We were disappointed with the lack of paved roads in much of the town, but we’ll give Puerto Peñasco another try during the warmer season.

Blue-footed Booby

Return to Paradise, Part 1

Plumeria in paradise

On Thursday, September 13th, Laurel and I flew to the Big Island of Hawaii, just a month shy of five years after we left the island and moved to San Diego. It was a trip full of joy and remembrance. If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you know that when you step off your plane and feel the air and smell the blossoms, you’ve arrived in a special place. And Thursday felt just like that.

We picked up our rental car and phoned our hosts, Cecilia and Neil Paulsen, who run a VRBO up the beginning of Kona’s mountain, Mt. Hualalai, which stretches up behind the town some 8,271 feet. (Two directions that come into play everywhere on the island are mauka and makai. Mauka means up the mountain, and makai means toward the ocean. Wherever you are on the island, those directions are important.)

Banana Hale bedroom

Cecilia and Neil’s place, which they call Banana Hale, is at about a thousand feet mauka Mt. Hualalai. It’s a comfortable home (hale means home) surrounded by, of course, bananas, as well as pineapples, papayas, guavas and all sorts of local fruit and flowering trees. The owners live upstairs, and they play host to a one-bedroom apartment and a studio on the ground level. We stayed in the one-bedroom, and it was a lovely, quiet place to spend the week, except for the early morning symphony of birds.

Around the island, things were unfortunately quiet, too. The recent eruptions of Mt. Kiluaea have scared many would-be visitors away, even though the island is more than 4,000 square miles in size, and the eruptions only affected 3% of the island in the far southeast corner. Friends on the island told us that now that Kiluaea has quieted down, the air is clearer and brighter than it has been in more than 30 years.

Sam Choy’s

We drove down to Keauhou, south of Kailua, for our re-introduction to Hawaiian food. Sam Choy’s sits up high on a slope with a view of the Pacific that’s almost as spectacular as the food. We ordered the Local Mix Plate—teriyaki beef, teriyaki chicken and fresh fish of the day, which was opah, also called moonfish, because it looks like a big round flat silver moon. If you’ve never had opah, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s one of the best-tasting fishes in the Islands. The trio also came with a side of potato salad, made with local purple potatoes. We topped it all off with a couple of Castaways, the excellent IPA made by local Kona Brewery. Wow! Welcome home!

Since we had our own small condo unit, we spent part of the afternoon shopping at Safeway, KTA and, of course, Costco, for easy-prep dinners. We decided to save going out for dinner only for a couple of splurges.

Friday is discount evening at the Kona Brewing Company, so we had to head there and fill our growler with the day’s IPA, which was Kua Bay IPA for 20% off. Their slogan is “Liquid Aloha,” which we are in total agreement with. We stopped for dinner and had their terrific bacon cheeseburger pizza. I don’t know why more pizzerias haven’t discovered this taste treat. The chilled lettuce and tomato on top are a nice constrast to the rest of the pizza.

Daniel Inouye highway

On Saturday morning, we hit the holoholo trail, which is the Hawaiian way of saying, “We went for a trip.” We drove across the newly finished belt road named for Hawaii’s famous senator, Daniel Inouye. Forty-nine years in the Senate, Hawaii’s favorite son. The new highway is a major improvement over the curvy old road to Hilo on the east side, the windward side, of the island. Hilo is the largest city in the island, with a population of close to 50,000. It’s also the rainiest city, so it’s not always our cup of tea. But, besides just driving there to see the new road, we have a favorite pond over there where there are always interesting birds, and right nearby is Suisan Fish Market, where we stopped for a nice piece of ono and some of their terrific poke. Ono is known as wahoo in California and Mexico, and it’s a terrific firm whitefish. In fact, “ono” means “delicious” in Hawaiian.

Anthuriums by Laurel Scott

On the way across the island, we drove through a couple of downpours, but when we drove into Hilo, the rain abated, and the sun actually came out for a while, so we attended the weekly farmers’ market and picked up a nice pot of anthuriums for five bucks to liven up our home-away.

We left Hilo and drove north up what’s known as the saddle road, through the Hamakua Forest Reserve and west to Waimea, the island’s cattle country. Home of the paniolos, begun in the 1700’s when Captain George Vancouver brought longhorn cattle as a gift to King Kamehameha. The original paniolos came from old Mexico and taught the Hawaiians how to be cowboys, pre-dating the more famous American cowboy by decades.

Great drinks at Merriman’s

Today, Parker Ranch is the largest and most famous of the ranches in this area, but we had reservations at a restaurant named Merriman’s. We had heard great reviews about Merriman’s, but had never been there. Today, however, we learned that the reviews were all accurate. Located in a simple-looking little house, Merriman’s has some of the best food and drink on the island. I had a Kalua Pig & Sweet Onion Quesadilla, and Laurel ordered Prawns in Kalbi Sauce. The drinks we chose were both inspired—my Manhattan had an infused sauce in it I’ll never be able to describe, and Laurel’s Mai Ttai was topped with lilikoi (passionfruit) foam that was pure delight.

Valley Farm by Harry Wishard

One of our favorite places on the island is the tiny town of Hawi, tucked in the far northwest corner of the Kohala range. It’s a few blocks of art galleries, coffee houses and shops and is easy to check out in an afternoon. About an hour northwest of Waimea, it seemed like a good spot to go before driving home to Kona down the west side. We had a nice chat with Wendy Williams (not the Wendy Williams, but a woman worth talking to). She was host at the Wishard Gallery, an eclectic collection of paintings, photographs, sculpture, jewelry, and just about anything that’s artistic or interesting. Harry Wishard, the owner, is an inveterate collector as well as an excellent painter. Born and raised on the Big Island, he fills his gallery with all manner of fine art.

We left Hawi and drove south, back to Kona, pleased with a holoholo well done.

—to be continued—

 

Seven Nights of the Iguana

In 1964, Puerto Vallarta was a sleepy little beach town of about 20,000 people. That’s when John Huston decided to film “The Night of the Iguana” there, and the ensuing media frenzy over the affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton put PV on the map in the eyes of U.S. tourists. Partly in response to that, the Mexican government gave a green light to an international airport, and PV hasn’t stopped growing.

Puerto Vallarta zocalo

In 2007, Laurel and I decided to visit Puerto Vallarta and liked what we saw. By now, it had grown to over 200,000 and was a full-fledged city. We found a restaurant called La Palapa right on the beach and went in for lunch. The long wall on the beach side is completely open, and you have a lovely view of the ocean. They almost didn’t take us because they were setting up the place for a wedding: Flowered platform on the sand, rows of linen-covered tables, a classical guitarist playing in the corner. But they offered us a booth in the back and we sat down and ordered drinks and lunch. After a while, with all this happening I couldn’t resist, and I asked Laurel, “When we get married, where do you want to have the wedding?”

She was surprised at the way I proposed, but there it was, and eventually we decided that the LA area made more sense for most people, even though Mexico and Hawaii both seemed romantic. This year, after more than ten years later, we decided it’d be fun to have a sort of anniversary down there.

Green Heron at Estero de El Salado

The town definitely keeps growing. It’s up to about 275,000 now, and a lot of the growth is good growth. There are many new high quality restaurants and hotels, and the state of Jalisco government is doing admirable things in preserving the quality of the natural surroundings. We spent a morning taking a boat tour through a mangrove estuary and were pleased with our guide, Flor, and our driver, Luis. It’s called Estero de El Salado, and it’s a very large nature preserve right in the city.

But there is growing poverty, as well. The magnetism of the place attracts a lot of people from other parts of Mexico and Central America looking for jobs, and its rapid growth has caused pollution in Banderas Bay, the large bay where the city is located. In fact, the people at the estuary have established a breeding program for the local crocodiles, which are dwindling because of the growth and are a major part of the ecology of the bay.

Sunset at La Palapa

On the evening we arrived, we went back to La Palapa, and, true to form, they were setting up another wedding. Folks see pictures of weddings on the beach and flock to lots of beachy spots in PV. And La Palapa, with its excellent food and location, is a major draw. We stayed over dinner long enough to see the ceremony, and I was tempted to approach the bride and groom afterward and tell them how the romance of La Palapa worked for us. In July, we’ll be nine years married.

Monday morning, we took the bus back down to next door to La Palapa. Today we were meeting our guide for a boat ride across Banderas Bay to Yelapa, a cove on the southernmost corner of the bay, for snorkeling, sightseeing and lunch on the beach. By the way, the buses in PV, while some of them are rattletraps, perform punctually every 15 minutes for only 15 pesos a couple. Less than a dollar for the two of us. Travis, our guide with Jet’s Boat Tours, met us on the pier, and we climbed down and boarded a nice, covered panga for the trip over.

Los Arcos

The bay was calm, and we passed by many palatial homes on the way to Los Arcos, a collection of tall rocks jutting from the bay. The rocks are home to the massive numbers of Brown Pelicans that patrol the shores of the bay, as well as a Snowy Egret rookery, where their chicks were visible in nests. We were also lucky enough to see three Blue-footed Boobies, an uncommon bird that lives in scattered spots along the Pacific coast.

Before we reached Yelapa, we stopped in a small cove, and Laurel went snorkeling. She said she saw plenty of fish, but the water was green, and the visibility not great. Travis told us that the bay tends to be a little murky this time of year. One major problem with murky water is not being able to see sharks that might be lurking nearby, but he assured us there are no sharks in the bay, because the dolphin keep them out.

Yelapa

We cruised into Yelapa and saw a broad stretch of beautiful sandy beach with restaurants and a few shops at the top. We waded in, and three employees from Tino’s Oasis, the restaurant we were heading to, helped us out of the water. We took a table at the front of the place, looking right onto the beach and ordered two Pacificos. Laurel had lobster, and I had a whole red snapper which fit perfectly on my plate. The service and the food were excellent, and we discovered why everyone raves about Yelapa.

By the way, we met Travis and the boat on a pier called Los Muertos, which means “the dead” in Spanish. Curious about the grisly name, we asked and were told that in days past, pirates used the beach to bury their dead. Ignoring the negative sounding name, there’s a very good brewery a few blocks from the pier. It may be called Los Muertos, but its brews are alive and kicking.

While still in San Diego, we read plenty of 5-star reviews on Trip Advisor about a birding guide named Gerardo Hernandez and had booked two mornings with him. Per the schedule, he showed up punctually at our hotel Tuesday morning at six o’clock. Today, he was driving us an hour north to a dry riverbed in what he called a dry tropical forest. Gerardo has been guiding birders in PV for more than 35 years, speaks fluent English, and knows the area’s birds incredibly well.

Golden-cheeked Woodpecker

When we got to the dirt road where we would start, he rolled down the window and slowed the car to a crawl. We heard a bird sing in the trees nearby, even though it was still only faintly light. Gerardo mimicked the bird perfectly and waited to see if it would repeat the call. It turns out that he knows just about every song of the birds in the region. We got out of the car, got our binoculars and packs on and walked to the riverbed, which was completely sand, and spent the next four hours walking on a beach in the middle of a dry forest under the gaze of grazing cattle, some of them Brahmas, all of them with horns, but completely indifferent to us. He told us that in a month, the rains will come, and the river will be totally filled with water, and this hike will be impossible until next year.

 

 

In El Tuito with Gerardi

On Thursday, he took us south to the small town of El Tuito, which he told us began in the sixteenth century, when the Spanish first came to Mexico. On this hike, we were up at about 2,000 feet on a dirt road in a jaguar preserve. There was no danger, as jaguars are very endangered as well as very shy. We saw many different birds, plus a few of the same. Altogether, Gerardo’s outings brought us more than 50 species, many of which are life birds. (For you bird geeks, here’s a link Puerto Vallarta 5-2018 to the complete list, along with others Laurel and I saw on our own.)

 

If you’re curious why I named this piece “Seven Nights of the Iguana,” I’ll explain by telling you that we stayed at a luxurious resort hotel called the Mayan Palace.

One of PV’s iguanas

The grounds are covered with trees and gardens, and a canal runs through the property and empties into the bay. Anyplace you have green in Puerto Vallarta, you have iguanas. They munch on the grass and eat leaves from all kinds of plants, and they are plentiful at the Mayan Palace, so we saw them every day lying on the walkways or climbing up into the trees. Ergo, seven days and nights of iguanas.

Earlier, I mentioned that the growth in PV has resulted in some high quality new restaurants. One of them is called Tintoque, and it’s just a few blocks from our hotel at the end of the marina shops and restaurants. We had dinner there one evening and were quite impressed. Besides single dishes, the chef prepares either a six- or eight-course dinner that’s fantastic. And the design on the plates is as elegant as the taste of the food, so Laurel had to take a few pictures. You can make reservations through Open Table, and we both highly recommend it.

Three of our fabulous courses at Tintoque

If you’re into craft beer, as we are, you’ll find another new place downtown on the Malecon. La Cerveceria Union has a beautiful view of the bay, a large list of craft beer and wonderful seafood, including oysters on the half shell and grilled octopus.

Misty morning view from our hotel room

Gaining two hours on our flight back to San Diego, it was strange that we left Puerto Vallarta at 4:15 and arrived in San Diego at 4:45, a nice, quick flight after a too quick week in a gorgeous place. PV, we’ll be back.

The Best Coast

Incredible! Wild! Spectacular! Rugged! Bucolic!

Just five of the words that came to us as we drove up from San Diego to Seattle. Wordsmith Laurel said bucolic. As many of you know, I’m originally from Seattle, and I have two daughters and grandchildren up there. So we fly up every year to see them. This year, with all the buzz about road trips, we decided to rent a car and drive up, then fly back.

Why the 5?

Friends have asked us why we didn’t drive up the more scenic highways 101 and 1. First of all, the area around Big Sur is undriveable right now, thanks to a massive slide. But mainly, we chose the sights we wanted to see: San Luis Refuge. Sierra Nevada Brewery. Crater Lake. Eugene. Portland. Mt. Rainier. String them together, and the 5 only made sense. I have to mention that I guess I’ve become a Californian. No one in Seattle says, “The 5.” They call it “I-5.” But with so many highways in Southern California, we’ve learned to call them “the 110,” “the 91,”   or “the 5.”

We left on Friday, June 30th at 5:30 in the morning and beat a lot of the awful rush hour traffic in Los Angeles. We only had one slowdown all the way to the Grapevine north of LA. By about 1:30, we reached Merced. Like most towns in California, it has several new craft breweries. We decided on the 17th St. Public House. Merced was in the high 90s, and the AC inside the place was a welcome relief. We asked to see the menu, and the beertender apologized, explaining that they only serve beer, but we were welcome to buy food elsewhere and bring it in. We followed her advice and walked down the street to Donut King, which had three menus on the wall: Donuts, Subway-style sandwiches and French-influenced Vietnamese bahn mi. We brought a foot-long bahn mi and a bag of chips back to the public house and ordered two pints of one of their India pale ales. The IPA was quite good and refreshing, and the bahn mi was excellent.

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, a few miles back south of Merced, is the main reason we made this side trip. This refuge is one of the most important wildlife preserves in all of California, for animals as well as birds. Talking to the game warden at the visitor center, we learned that thousands of Sandhill Cranes fly south from Alaska to winter here every year. A few years ago, we saw a small flock of the cranes in Fairbanks, but seeing these kinds of numbers would be a real thrill, so we’ve decided to head back up next February.

Swainson’s Hawk

In the meantime, we drove out into the preserve, where there are several self-guided auto tours to take. One tour travels five miles around an enclosure for endangered tule elk, and we got a good look at a herd of about 30 right near the dirt road. The next morning, we headed east to a trail where the ranger said we might see some good birds. Sure enough, a fair number of birds, including a beautiful Blue Grosbeak and unexpected Swainson’s Hawks.

If you’re really into birds, here’s a link to the full list of what we saw on the trip: Birds sighted on our trip to Seattle

We spent the night in Los Banos, a few miles south of San Luis, and stopped in at Paraiso Brewery, a friendly place that is brewing some very good beer. While we were there, they poured us a taste of a brew in progress. It had cucumber and chile flavors in it, but it was still flat in the barrel and yet to be carbonated. Nevertheless, both of us liked what was happening with it. For dinner, we discovered great Bar-B-Q, as Hot City BBQ & Bistro spells it. A major smoker sits next to the entrance, and you can often find Steve Weaver, the owner, who calls himself Boss Hog, sitting out there. This is BBQ to write home about, and after our first long day on the road, we went to bed happy.

A tip to those of you with big appetites: Wool Growers Restaurant has two branches, Los Banos and Bakersfield. We’ve eaten before at the Bakersfield place. It’s run by a Basque family, and everything is served family-style and in large portions. You won’t go away hungry.

In defense of the Central and San Joaquin Valleys, I need to point out that all of the miles through these areas are not necessarily a boring drive. At times, it’s inspiring because of all the produce California provides the country. In fact, the state grows more than 90% of the country’s almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, olives, clingstone peaches, pistachios, pomegranates, walnuts, garlic, plums, broccoli, nectarines, canned tomatoes, celery, apricots, wine grapes, strawberries, and cauliflower. Laurel had selected an album of iconic country singer Merle Haggard’s, and it fit perfectly with our drive through this rich countryside. While I’m at it, I should remind you that whenever you’re traveling on a secondary highway, don’t forget to stop along the way at local produce stands. Their produce is very fresh, and sometimes you find tasty things that you haven’t tried before.

Sierra Nevada Brewery

We drove north to Chico and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company for lunch. Opened in 1979, Sierra Nevada is now a major beer destination in Northern California. They’ve grown into a large facility with tours, a taproom and a restaurant. We saw families in cars from all over the map. After a tasty lunch and brew, we left Chico and headed up to Redding, where we spent the night. It was over 100 degrees, but our room was a very nice, air-conditioned Super 8 on Churn Creek Road. Nearby Final Draft Brewing had plenty of excellent beers and, believe it or not, peanut butter chicken bites, which were crunchy and tasty. It put us in mind of chicken satay, and, now that we’re home, we’re going to see if we can recreate them on our grill.

On Sunday morning, we visited the Sundial Bridge, a large pedestrian bridge that crosses the Sacramento River. Turtle Bay Exploration Park is right next to it, and there are lots of activities, trails, and a museum. We’ll experience more of it sometime in the future, but today we have to drive to Crater Lake, take a look at it, then drive to Eugene for the night.

Into Oregon

Crater Lake

A small aside: A few years ago, we went to Yosemite over 4th of July weekend. We decided to drive in to the visitors’ center to get current information and a map. We sat in line in our car for over three hours, and by the time we reached the center, it had closed. We had to turn around and drive out of the park to our motel, then come back the next day—early! One would think, lesson learned. But no, we’re at it again, sitting in our car and idling up the mountain for two hours to see the stunning lake. It was worth it. Laurel was amazed at how blue the deepest lake in the country is. But never again will we travel to a big deal national park on any holiday.

The drive back down the mountain and north to Eugene was a long stretch of forested country, made better by the fact that there was almost no traffic. After checking into our motel, we took a look at Laurel’s Android for local brewpubs and found one less than half a mile away. We decided to walk there and reached Falling Sky Brewery after Google Maps took us on a silly route that became a full mile instead of half. The brews were very good, and the menu includes an excellent lamb burger. The secluded courtyard made it all even better, and the walk back was only a half mile, as originally advertised.

Hendricks Park

I had checked on local parks and other options for a little morning birding, and we chose Hendricks Park, with its famous rhododendron glen, only seven minutes from the motel. The park was green and lovely, and there were some late rhodies and azaleas still blooming. As far as the birds go, most of them were absent, but we thoroughly enjoyed the walk through these lovely gardens.

It’s a fairly short drive from Eugene to Portland, so we’d decided to check on some of the vineyards in the Willamette Valley on the way north, but we stopped for lunch in Salem first. When we arrived at the industrial park, a rainbow flag led us to Southside Speakeasy. Inside, the large room was empty, but our host, Russell (R.D.) Dean, appeared almost magically and greeted us warmly. As more customers arrived, we saw that the staff enthusiastically welcomed everyone, and most nights there’s live music and a large dance floor. Happily, the beer and liquor is legal now, as is gay marriage.

View from the winery

After lunch, we drove back south a few miles to the Willamette Valley Vineyards. The tasting room is high on a hill, with a terrific view of the vineyards below. Both of us love Pinot Noir, especially with salmon, and the Willamette Valley has a superior climate for that grape. We bought one of their Pinot Noirs and also a Pinot Gris, which is crisp and dry.

Halfway to Portland, in the northwest corner of the valley, is Purple Hands Winery in Dundee. They produce only Pinot Noirs, one from their own vineyard, and several from neighbors’ grapes. We tasted five and wanted to buy them all, but settled for just one, from the Stoller Vineyard in Dundee Hills. Jordan Ernst will probably serve you, and he knows a lot about this difficult but wonderful grape.

Just two doors north of Purple Hands is Deception Brewing Co. We stopped there for a flight of their beers, and they gave us some good advice for Portland, so, after arriving at our downtown motel, we looked up Breakside Brewery.

Breakside brew list

Breakside has three locations. We chose one that was across the Willamette River from us. (Portland is a city of many bridges, some of which connect to still other bridges.) We drove across and found this brewery, which was a total zoo overflowing with families and singles, all seemingly enjoying themselves. But it felt like too much to us, so we drove back to what’s known as the Alphabet neighborhood, which is also much closer to our Travelodge. This Breakside was definitely busy, on the large deck and inside, as well, but it looked doable. We went inside and amazingly got a table right across from the bar and its giant menu of beers. We split a pulled pork sandwich that hit the spot, along with two West Coast style IPAs, Breakside and Wanderlust, which we liked so much that we bought a bottle of each.

A Fourth to Remember

Powells-City of Books

Next day, on the Fourth of July, we spent the entire morning at Powell’s Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. It was a morning of discovery for Laurel, since she had never been to Portland, let alone Powell’s before. They call themselves City of Books for good reason. New or used, chances are you’ll find it there.

Blinded a little from reading so many covers and flyleaves, we walked up Salmon Street to The Picnic House, which I had found on Yelp and seemed a good choice. Believe me, it was more than good. Picnic doesn’t really conjure up the classy place we found ourselves in, designed by someone with a flair for creative solutions, including several growing walls covered with plants and other areas with antique printing plates. The cuisine was equally good. Try the wild mushroom soup. And the service was outstanding. Right next door is Barlow Artisanal Bar, owned by the same owners. It wasn’t yet open, but we took a peek, and they’ve done the same thing over there in art deco that they did with natural ingredients at The Picnic House.

Haystack Rock

Taking a hard left off the 5, we headed due west to Cannon Beach on the northern Oregon coast. Full of charm, from cottages to restaurants, the beach at Cannon Beach is dominated by giant Haystack Rock, along the lines of California’s Morro Rock at Morro Bay. Beautiful and sunny but windy, we had to take our binocs out to the rock to see what was flying.

Parentheses: Like many birders, we keep what we call a life list, which is a list of all the species of birds we’ve seen, along with the date and location first seen. When we left San Diego, our list stood at 499, and we were extra excited to see what our number 500 would be.

Female Harlequin Duck, courtesy IllinoisRaptorCenter.org

Well, we found out at Cannon Beach. Bobbing around in the rocks below the big rock were a couple of female Harlequin Ducks. We had never seen one before, so that was number 500. As I said, it was beautiful and sunny, but the north wind was blowing hard, a very cold wind. As we continued to search, my hands got so cold that I couldn’t hold my binoculars steady. My eyes were watering, and the wind blew our tripod over. We finally gave up and decided to drive back down the next morning.

Bridge over the Columbia River

We drove the forty minutes to Astoria, where we had reservations at the Columbia Inn for the evening. I had also made reservations for dinner at Bridgewater Bistro, which has a major view of the mammoth bridge that crosses the Columbia River at its mouth. The restaurant was getting excellent reviews, and, since it was July 4th, we figured we should reserve a table. It turned out to be a wise decision, since the back end of the place was reserved for a wedding party. The bride and groom were still in their wedding clothes, and everyone was making speeches and toasting the happy couple. It made us feel good, since our own eighth anniversary was coming up during the month. We toasted each other with artisanal Martinis. In addition to the very fine food, the service was terrific. Our server, Sharon, lured us into a dessert which we didn’t regret.

Back at our room at dusk, we crossed the street to a viewpoint deck that jutted out into the river. There were about twenty people already there, and in ten or fifteen minutes, the fireworks from upriver began. The neighbor cities of Astoria and Warrenton did themselves proud. When it was over, we walked back across the street to our room. What a nice, easy way to see some terrific Fourth of July fireworks!

On the morning of July 5th, the sun was shining, and the wind was calm in Cannon Beach. We went back out to the rock and saw several Tufted Puffins flying to a grassy area at the top, where they have dug burrows. Number 501! Driving back north, we stopped at Lewis & Clark National Park, site of Fort Clatsop where Lewis and Clark’s party spent the winter as the guests of local Indians who saved their lives. It’s a delightful park with trails that follow in the steps of the explorers and exhibits and demonstrations illustrating everything from the making of tallow to firing and loading a flintlock rifle. We continued up to Astoria and crossed the long bridge that spanned the Columbia between Oregon and Washington, then drove to Long Beach, the home of Willapa Bay oysters. We had a creamy dozen on the half shell and the best clam chowder we’d had in years at Castaway’s Seafood Grill. The new manager/chef Stephen is also a attentive server, and we had some interesting chats about all kinds of seafood.

Now we headed back across the bridge and east on Highway 101 to re-enter Washington at Longview. Coming down the long hill to the city, the view is dramatic, with several pulp mills and stacks and stacks of logs. We turned north onto Highway 5, then east toward the largest volcanic mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier. Paradise Inn is a classic lodge at 5,400 feet on the 14,411-foot mountain, and we had a room reserved. The weather was warm and sunny, and we had some spectacular views of the mighty mountain as we drove up, but we arrived fairly late, about 7:30 in the evening. At the reception desk, it turned out that an error had been made, and they had no room for us. (Later I discovered that I had mistakenly booked an inn at Paradise, CA.)

A Sweet Discovery

Dejected and worried about finding any room nearby, we went back down the mountain to the nearest tiny community of Ashford. If there were no rooms there, we would have to drive nearly an hour more to the outskirts of Tacoma. We passed two places with No Vacancy signs, then saw a neon sign in the window of Base Camp Bungalows which said OPEN. When we knocked, the owner came to the door, looked at the sign and said, “Oh, I forgot to turn that off.”

She could see the disappointment on our faces and asked, “How many nights do you need?”

“Only tonight.”

“Well, I have one bungalow left, just for tonight. Would you like to see it?”

We followed her back on a brick walkway between several cottages and mini-gardens. Back around the corner, she stopped and opened the door, “This is “Songbird.” Come on in.”

Inside was the prettiest little cottage you could imagine. Straight out of classic Disney. Polished wooden floor, which I later learned was ash. Everything detailed out, down to fresh-ground dark coffee and a real coffee pot. The view through the multi-paned window was filled with green, plus a little shrine that had two bird feeders on it.

View from Songbird

“Here’s a little bird seed that you can put out in the morning while you drink your coffee,” she said, handing Laurel a jar. “Then sit and see what comes.”

The manager’s name is Wendy, and it was great fun to spend some time the next morning talking to her about what she and her boyfriend have done to the place. It’s a perfect jewel, and the next time we decide to drive up to the mountain, we’ll stop here for sure.

It’s now Thursday morning, and we’re due in Seattle today, but the road trip isn’t quite over yet. We bypassed Seattle and drove up past Bellevue and Redmond, what’s known as the Eastside in Puget Sound country. We drove to Woodinville, a few miles north of the tip of Lake Washington, which borders the east side of Seattle for 22 miles. We had an excellent lunch on the patio of the Barking Frog. (We heard no barks and saw nary a tadpole). Then we drove to one of the nearby tasting rooms. Woodinville has had tasting rooms for large wineries and breweries like Chateau Ste. Michelle and Redhook for more than twenty years. The grapes and most of the bottling happens in Eastern Washington, but major marketing goes on here.

But today we discovered that the place is filled with tasting rooms. We arrived at our destination, Airfield Estates, which grows its grapes in the Yakima Valley east of the Cascade Mountains. To our surprise, it was in an upscale strip mall with another dozen or so wineries. The brochure for the area lists 60 wineries represented right here. We got three bottles at Airfield and three more at nearby Goose Ridge, whose vineyard is in the Columbia Valley, nearly to Idaho and north of the Columbia River. We drove back to Seattle and spent three pleasant and summery days with friends and family.

Taylor Shellfish

We can’t forget to tell you about Taylor Shellfish. I wrote about them after last year’s visit to Seattle. This year, we discovered that they have three branches in Seattle: Lower Queen Anne Hill, Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill. We spent one evening at their Melrose Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill and reaffirmed our belief that they have the best oysters you can get. Served in a stylish setting and with great service. Once you’re there, you’ll probably talk to Lance McCune, the general manager, who knows more about oysters than you could imagine.

Oh, one last note: If you’re flying home as we were, Alaska Airlines will allow a full case or half case of wine along with your luggage. No charge. Ask for details.

This trip has gotten me so into the idea of road trips that I’m re-reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and this fall we’re planning a trip to the Southwest, including the Grand Canyon and Zion. I’ll tell you all about it when we get back.

Good travels,

Vic (and Laurel)

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Cuyamaca

Lake Cuyamaca

 

The areas marked with white lines are now under water.

Seamless in Seattle

 

During mid-July, Laurel and I flew up to Seattle for our annual visit with my daughters, Jenny and Emily, and my grandchildren.

I have to tell you about something I discovered before we left. I had booked our airfare and was looking for a rental car. The prices for six days were all coming in at $600 to $700, which we didn’t want to pay. I searched Expedia and told it low to high prices, and I found a car at National Car Rental for about $340 and grabbed it. When my confirmation came, I noticed that the pickup point was in downtown Seattle, not the airport, so I called National and explained that we were arriving by air. The agent did his alterations on our reservation and said, “That’ll be $660.”

“I asked what happened to our quoted $340 price, and he told me the airport location had more demand, thus the higher price. I told him to move the arrival back to downtown. I decided to compare airport and city hotel prices and found a Days Inn in the city for fifty dollars less than its equal at the airport. Then I went to look for transportation from the airport to downtown. A light rail train has recently opened in Seattle, and it leaves the airport every six minutes for downtown and the University of Washington. The fare is three bucks, and, since I’m a senior, it only cost me a dollar.

We’re thinking that this kind of cost disparity may be found in any city, so from now on when we travel, we’ll look for the differences. We saved nearly four hundred dollars in Seattle.

Mt-Rainier-in-the-Pacific-northwestOn the day we left San Diego, the forecast for Seattle was 77 degrees and sunny. All the big mountains were out as we flew north, first the Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor and Mt. Hood in Oregon, then Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens in Washington, finished by Mt. Rainier, majestic with its three peaks still deep in snow. As we began our descent, the flight attendant came on air and said, “Welcome to sunny Seattle.”

We picked up our downtown car and drove up to Capitol Hill to one of our favorite Seattle restaurants, the 13 Coins, one of the country’s classiest 24-hour diners. We began our quest for Seattle seafood with Seattle Scrambles, smoked salmon, eggs and onions, and a new beer to us, Elysian’s Spacedust IPA, which turned into a favorite. It was so good that after lunch we drove the twelve or so blocks to the brewery and tried a couple of their other brews. They recently celebrated their 20th anniversary and were purchased by Anheuser Busch. Hopefully, the larger company won’t mess with Elysian’s brewing techniques.

seattle_park_volunteer_artA couple of miles north on Capitol Hill is Volunteer Park, with its great view of the city and the Seattle Asian Art Museum. A fascinating textile show is going on right now—the impact of indigo around the world and throughout the ages. From third century China to Levi’s jeans, indigo has been a major influence to the textile world.

We spent the evening with my daughter, Emily, searching for Seattle seafood. She directed us to a place on the north shore of Lake Union, purported to serve great oysters, but it was closed for a private party. Next, Ponti’s Seafood Grill, which has served wonderful food next to the Fremont Bridge for years, proved to be permanently closed and is now an Elk’s lodge. However, just up the street is The Nickerson Street Saloon, and their craft brews and excellent fish and chips solved our dilemma.

zamboanga 1Friday arrived sunny and bright, and we met our friends Joe and Julia at Salty’s on Alki, which has a panoramic view of the Seattle skyline from its deck. While we were eating, Julia pointed up into the sky, and we saw our first Bald Eagle of the trip. Eagles are plentiful in Puget Sound country.

Joe and Julia own a couple of retail shops called Zamboanga. They import beautiful clothing they have made in Bali, and there are a lot of folk art imports, as well. After lunch, we stopped at their West Seattle store, and Laurel went crazy with her Visa card.

caribou at northwest trekOn Saturday, my older daughter, Jenny, and my grandson, Nathan, picked us up, and we drove south to Northwest Trek, the Pacific Northwest’s answer to San Diego’s Safari Park. Nestled in the shadow of Mount Rainier, this large piece of land was a gift from a family who wanted to create a tribute to the natural surroundings and inhabitants of the country, and the tram takes you past herds of buffalo, groups of moose, elk, white- and black-tailed deer, caribou, mountain goats and mountain sheep. Following the tram ride, we caught lunch, then walked through the areas where wolves, cougar, bobcats, river otters and the like fill out the wild population.

at Drunky's (Custom)By the time we got back to Seattle, it was dinner time, so we picked up Emily. She had just discovered a new barbecue place called Drunky’s Two Shoe BBQ, a cool spot with chainsaw chandeliers and plenty of good draft beers, plus a large open smoker. After dinner, the waitress came outside with us and took a group picture. After all, in Seattle in July, it stays light until nine-thirty or so.

Sunday, July 17th. It’s our seventh anniversary, and we plan to spend it doing things we enjoy most. Looking for birds and listening to jazz. It’s not an atypical day for Seattle in July—bright overcast with a chance of scattered showers. Originally, we thought we might head up Snoqualmie Pass part of the way, but farther inland the forecast is an 80% chance of rain. So we stay in the city and drive over to the Arboretum south of the University of Washington. Being July, there isn’t much action other than a flock of always hungry Mallards who come swimming our way when we stop at the edge of the lake. However, one of the thrills of birding is the unexpected that happens so often. Walking back to the car, Laurel spots a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a life-bird for her. It flies off before I can get back to share it with her, but now she has it added to her list.

Just south of the Arboretum is Madison Park, a ritzy little neighborhood where I lived back in the mid-eighties. It hasn’t changed much, although I’m disappointed to see that Madison Park Books is gone, another casualty of ebooks. We have lunch at The Attic, a bar and grill where I used to play darts, and it’s still the same except for the number of taps, a result of the craft beer explosion. Going into The Attic, we have to dodge a few raindrops, but it isn’t much.

Back at the motel, we take a small rest and change for the evening, then drive downtown. The Mayflower Park Hotel has a classy little bar called Oliver’s. In recent years, we’ve started a tradition of going there for a Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans. It’s rye bourbon with bitters and absinthe, and it’s pretty tasty. One drink each, and we walk the block north to Jazz Alley, Seattle’s top jazz club. Tonight, not necessarily in honor of our anniversary, Sergio Mendes is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Brazil ’66. It’s a terrific show, a good way to end our special day.
Hammeringman

Monday behaves itself, and we drive a few blocks south on Aurora to Beth’s Café, one of the oldest and best diners in the city. Their country fried steak, eggs and biscuits are to die for. A few minutes south of Beth’s is downtown Seattle and SAM (the Seattle Art Museum). They have a fascinating show about to end on August 28; it’s an exhibit of printmakers: Durer, Goya, Picasso, Hogarth and Rembrandt. R. Crumb, of “Keep On Truckin’” fame has done pages and pages of drawings with text, the entire Book of Genesis. Up the street and across from the Pike Place Market we find a new brewery—the Old Stove Brewery. The place is crowded with tourists, and they have quite a few brews worth trying.

At the foot of Queen Anne Hill lies Seattle Center, with its Pacific Science Center, opera house and Space Needle. But we were looking for something across the street—namely Taylor Shellfish Farms Queen Anne Oyster Bar. When we lived in Kona on the Big Island we learned about the Natural Energy Lab, an area on the coast where deep salt and fresh water occurs, and they raise Maine lobster, Japanese abalone, seahorses, octopus, and so forth.

taylor shellfishTaylor Shellfish grows the tiny larva for its oysters there, then raises them in many parts of the world. This place offered the best oysters we have ever eaten. Their geoduck plates were also delicious. An example of their attitude about what they’re doing occurred when two women came in, sat next to us at the bar and asked for two glasses of house red. The server said, “I’m sorry, but we serve shellfish here. There’s no red wine on the menu.” The exasperated women left.

For dessert, we drove to the top of Queen Anne Hill and found Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. Laurel ordered Earl Grey ice cream, and I had salted caramel. They were both wonderful.

We flew back to San Diego the next morning, after another smoked salmon scramble, this time at Anthony’s at the airport. I’m not really interested in moving back to Seattle, but I sure like to visit.

 

 

Big Island, Big Band

homeslideshow_2For any jazz fans out there, if you’re ever on the Big Island, there’s only one best way to spend an evening.

And that’s at the Blue Dragon in Kawaihae, which is near the northwest tip of the island, about half an hour north of us and well worth the drive. For starters, it’s a beautiful, open air restaurant in a lovely palm forest setting. The staff is beyond excellent, gracious and welcoming, and the food is five-star cuisine, using a lot of local seafood, island-grown steaks and vegetables. The chef is very creative, constantly coming up with pairings that you wouldn’t think of, then wonder why when you taste them.

olliephonic hornsHere’s the clincher. About every second Sunday, a jazz big band called the Olliephonic Horns performs. They’re a wonderful band, using excellent charts, and they play just about everything, from Fats Waller to Duke Ellington to Grover Washington. There’s even a large dance floor, and you won’t be able to resist using it when you hear some of their numbers.

The band was formed by Ollie Mitchell, who played with just about everyone on the mainland before he and his wife moved to Hawaii. Sadly, Ollie died earlier this year, but the band is still playing great stuff in his memory.

This is one evening that Laurel and I never get tired of repeating.

blue dragon logoAloha and Mahalo, Blue Dragon and the Olliphonics!

 

The TNT and “The Quartz”

For all you bartenders (and barflies) out there, Laurel has developed a tasty new drink that we call a TNT. It’s very simple, and very good.

lemonUse a lemon, and don’t be shy. We use a quarter of a lemon, cut in half and muddled in the glass, so you have juice, pulp and peel.

Now, think gin and tonic, then forget the gin and use tequila instead.

Top with ice and tonic water, or diet tonic water for a healthier, lower calorie drink.

This has become one of our favorite drinks. It’s lighter and more refreshing than a margarita and shows off the taste of even sipping tequila. For my money, it makes a margarita seem like a Slurpee.

Cheers. Bottoms up. Or, as they say in China, Gambei.

 

Speaking of China, I’m nearly finished with my latest book, a novella that’s the first in the new series, “The Inspector Kwong Mysteries.” It’s called “The Quartz,” and features some of the most popular characters from “Hong Kong Blues.”

Of course, Chief Inspector Lawrence Kwong is still wearing his tweeds and carrying his silver-tipped cane. Matson Tai is back, but it’s ten years later, so he’s 21 now and just graduated from university with degrees in Law and Criminology. He’s six feet tall and has become the more active partner for Kwong when he can get the ladies to stop chasing him.

yellow_mountain_chinaThis time around, they’re going face-to-face against some very powerful adversaries who lead them to Beijing and The Forbidden City.

When it’s finished, which should be by the end of July, I’ll post an excerpt, and if any of you is interested in the manuscript, I’ll happily share it with you in exchange for high praise and/or constructive criticism.

 

Fly with a Happy Face

Something a little happier than infections for a change.

I just realized that since it’s 2013, the Eskimo on Alaska Airlines planes is forty years old. In honor of that birthday, I thought I’d share with you the back story of how he came to be.

golden nugget service (Custom)I started working as an art director for Alaska Airlines’ ad agency in 1967. For some time, the airline image had been based on the idea of “Golden Nugget Jets,” and it was sort of a Klondike dance hall look. In 1970, they got permission to fly into Russian Siberia from Alaska, and this was looked at as the way of their future. We designed a new image based on the airline’s concept: Golden Samovar Service. The Russian connection turned out not to be the way after all. They flew a few semi-charter vacation flights to Irkutsk, but the Cold War was still hot, and Americans weren’t too keen about an airline with a Russian style.

The first time the Eskimo art was used was in a large newspaper ad promoting Arctic Tours. It was the early 70s, and the art style known as black drop-out was popular then. Essentially, you made all the dark tones black and all the light tones dropped out and became white. Since it was a newspaper ad, the initial appearance of the Eskimo was as a large, strong black image. The marketing director at Alaska hated it, even though the ad performed well. He really disliked it and told us again and again. For a while, he was mad at me for even thinking of it!

A few months later, we were given the assignment to create a new corporate image for the airline, and since I was now creative director, the job fell on my desk. At this time the airline had a jet fleet of just nine 727s. They only flew from Seattle to Alaska and within Alaska. They had recently moved their headquarters from Anchorage to Seattle and were taking a lot of political flak for abandoning Alaska. Our direction from the airline was to “create something very distinctive and modern, yet totally Alaskan.”

In retrospect, it sounds easy, but I worked for three months on every kind of jet design I could think of. When you’re working for an airline, the first order of business is the planes. They’re the biggest, and possibly the hardest, items to design in the company catalog. I looked at rainbow colored planes, striped planes, black planes. After one particularly frustrating day, the airline’s account executive was sitting with me in my office. He was at wit’s end—we just couldn’t solve the problem. He stood up and stomped out of the room, shouting, “Oh, to hell with it! You might as well put that damned Eskimo on the tails!” Ta-daaaaaa!

four alaska airlines planes (Custom)I simplified him and made him a nice blue, which mollified the marketing director. It was the “black blob” which he had disliked so much. But Eskimos signify ice and snow, and the airline wanted to encourage tourists to fly to Alaska and not be afraid of the weather. So I looked at the history and culture of Alaska and came up with four designs—blue Eskimo, red gold miner, green Indian totem, and purple Russian onion dome. And for three or four years, when you went to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you never knew if you would be flying with a totem or a sourdough. But it shortly became evident that the Eskimo was the most popular image. And it was expensive to use all those different designs, so the other three left.

When I first designed him I copied the stern, proud look on his face. A few years later, the airline wanted him to be a little friendlier, and I hired an illustrator in Seattle to make minor modifications to his mouth and eyes to give him the smile he has today.

Back in 1973, when I designed the Eskimo, an elderly Eskimo gentleman in Kotzebue was working as a greeter for the airline on its Arctic Tours. You got off the plane in Kotzebue and he was one of the folks who came up and helped you into a fur-trimmed parka to protect you from the cold. It was sort of an Eskimo version of the Hawaiian lei.

eskimo (Custom)We had photos of him and others during the welcoming procedure. I used one of those photos as the basis for the art. His name was Chester Seveck Downey. Surprisingly, lots of rumors have announced that the art was based on all sorts of people, including Richard Nixon. Once, I heard a story that he was really Bob Marley!

During the 1980s, the airline started flying to California and Mexico, and they felt their image was confusing people. So they decided to have a new corporate image designed. Whoever did it came up with the idea of creating a logo that was an “A” that looked like a mountain. When word got out that the Eskimo was being replaced, I’m happy to say that there was a great hue and cry over the loss. People in Alaska loved it, and they didn’t want it changed. The Alaska State Legislature even issued a proclamation that it should remain. I was interviewed by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and both logos were shown in the newspaper article. My position was that if the airline’s image was confusing, it was because of the name Alaska Airlines, not the Eskimo logo. If they wanted to be a more amorphous regional carrier they should change their name to a version in the Air West mold or, at any rate, something less specific than Alaska. In the end, they decided the name and the Eskimo were both worth keeping. They had the type and color treatment modernized and that’s how it looks today.

eskimo with lei (Custom)It’s still the proudest achievement of my extensive graphic design career. And I still see him turning heads whenever I’m at an airport. (By the way, that’s where the name of my design firm, Turning Heads, came from.) I live in San Diego now, but even in Hawaii, I’m happy to see him wearing a lei as he flies to and from the islands.

All the best,

Vic Warren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to read the true story about Yamashita's Treasure, the inspiration of the book.

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"If one wants to follow a captivating couple pursue their careers in exotic climes brilliantly described,
Stairway of the Gods
is just the right way to do it."
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“The author, Vic Warren, skillfully weaves in actual political events into his tale, making it seem so real. I can’t help but congratulate him for making me stop at parts and ask, is this fiction or fact? I would highly recommend it to readers who enjoy a gripping tale of high adventure.”
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Vic Warren is an award winning Art Director, credited with creating the "Eskimo portrait" as the aircraft tail logo for Alaska Airlines. If you need help in designing your book cover, check out these designs.

Stairway of the Gods continues to impress. The book's cover just won the Best Self-Published Book Cover Design Contest sponsored by A&A Printing.