Exploring the Pacific Northwest: Washington’s Palouse Region

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Rolling green and sun flare in Colfax

I recently took a road trip from Seattle to the Palouse region of southeast Washington with a photographer friend. The area is agricultural and gorgeous in June, when the fields are growing winter wheat, rapeseed (used for canola oil), and other crops. It’s no surprise, the area is popular with photographers in the Pacific Northwest.

Hyperlapse of the drive down Steptoe Butte

Red barns, abandoned houses, and glorious rural landscapes are a feast for the eyes (and cameras).

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Crumbling grainery

Photographers should pack their tripods as well as wide angle and telephoto lenses to make the most of the rural scenery.

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Striped fields in the Palouse

Among the don’t miss sights are the view from Steptoe Butte (particularly at sunrise and sunset). To catch the sunrise, we needed to leave our hotel in Pullman at 4 am, but it was worth it.

Lone Tree Palouse

This lone tree is ready for it’s close up

The Pullman Chamber of Commerce’s Photography Hotspots in the Palouse map is a great guide to the area.

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Power lines in the agricultural land in the Palouse

The colors in the Palouse were almost cartoonish in their vivid hues of green, yellow and blue. Red barns dot the landscape as well.

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Not all the area is friendly to photographers. While shooting the image above, my friend and I got crop dusted.

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Magic hour with tree and wheat in the Palouse

Driving loops around the Palouse Scenic Byway, you can take in quite a lot. Not to be missed are Palouse Falls, Steptoe Butte, and driving the backroads in search of rural gems like red barns, abandoned houses (more on the zombie houses in a future post), and some magnificent trees.

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 Shaft of sunlight through the wheat

Colfax and Pullman are the best places to stay if you’re interested in exploring the Palouse region. Pullman has more dining options since it’s the home to Washington State University.

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 The view from Steptoe Butte

The Palouse region extends to Moscow, Idaho although you would not know it from the boundaries of the maps.

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Rolling Hills of Palouse and windmills seen from Steptoe Butte

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Sunset view from Steptoe Butte

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Lummi Island in 21 Bites: Chef Blaine Wetzel’s Pacific Northwest Tasting Menu at the Willows Inn

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Smoked sockeye salmon

Chef Blaine Wetzel has put The Willows Inn on Lummi Island on the Pacific Northwest’s culinary map. Wetzel, a native of Washington state, has an impressive number of awards to his name considering he’s barely 30. He was named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 2012, and won the James Beard award for Best Rising Chef in 2014 and Best Chef Northwest in 2015.

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The lobby at the Willows Inn

Chef Wetzel’s tasting menu, Lummi Island in 21 Bites, is known for being almost entirely local. It’s also one of the toughest reservations to get in the Pacific Northwest. The Willows Inn seats only 26 and does one sitting per at 6:30 pm. The hotel is closed for a few months in the winter, so getting a reservation during the prime summer season can be challenging. I couldn’t make it happen last summer but got a reservation for June 2016.

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The  cottage at the Willows Inn

Known for it’s super locavore focus, almost everything on the menu is farmed, foraged or raised on or near tiny Lummi Island’s nine square miles.

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Charming details at the 100 year old Willows Inn

The Willows Inn even offers guests tours of the local farm where most of their produce is grown, making it an intriguing foodie destination in the San Juan Islands.

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Craftsman charm at the Willows Inn

Lummi Island is reached by a 10 minute ferry ride from Bremerton. With a population of less than 1,000 residents, little Lummi Island is punching way above it’s weight class in fine dining.

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Pacific Northwest charm at the bar

The evening started with cocktails around 5:30. I had the Pineapple Weed Fizz ($14), made with with pineapple weed gin, egg white and chamomile bitters, which was refreshing in the hot weather and inspired. I liked the lack of formality in the service. It was top notch, but relaxed.

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Mason jars on display in the bar

The meal started with small bites in the bar. First up was a crispy crepe with golden char roe. It was beautiful.

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Left: Flowers and candlelight right: cocktails with fresh garnishes

In honor of National Donut Day, intriguing smoked cod doughnuts were served next. The third course was a standout for me– Kale leaves with black truffles. Next were small bites of roasted sunflower root and green rhubarb.

Willows Inn smokehouse action video

At this point we left the bar and sat at our table, where we were served native oysters in a juice of watercress followed by lightly cured rockfish in a broth of bones.

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roasted sunflower root

The vivid hues of the turnip stems with caramelized razor clams were followed by a Lummi Island “tostada” made with wild herbs served on crispy mustard greens. It was colorful crunchy goodness.

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Kale leaves with black truffles

Stewed porcini mushrooms were served next and, for me, they were the standout course of the evening with their delicate texture and savory umami goodness.

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Scenes from a tasting menu

Dungeness crab served in a puree of pine nuts came next. This delicate yet satisfying dish was followed by a rare seasonal treat of local salmonberries served with petals of Nootka roses. Not overly sweet, the berries were very flavorful and bursting with color. It is a memorable dish.

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Stewed porcini mushroooms

Pacific Northwest staples of smoked sockeye salmon and a seared skirt of razor clam came next. I was starting to lose steam by the time the halibut and lovage arrived.

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Left: Turnip stems with caramelized razor clams Right: Native oysters in a juice of watercress

I found some more room for the wheat bread with pan drippings, but couldn’t muster the strength for the aged leg of venison, which was the last of the savory courses. Epic meals can be too much for me.

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2010 Golden Grape Semillon was part of the wine pairing

The toasted birch branches (served as a tea) were much appreciated with it’s earthy heat acting as a bit of digestive before the dessert courses.

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Seared skirt of razor clam

While I tend to favor savory over sweet, the desserts at the Willows Inn were exceptional and light. Grilled strawberries were served with fresh chamomile in a pleasing combination.

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Green rhubarb

Candied green pine came next, followed by pumpkin seed fudge which was shockingly light and flavorful. I almost asked for seconds.

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Crispy crepe and golden char roe

Wine pairings can be ordered with dinner for $90, or a juice pairing for $40.

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Native oysters in a juice of watercress

The wine pairing focused on the Pacific Northwest and skewed towards the whites, which was appropriate for the seafood-centric menu. I must confess I am not a white wine lover. While I normally adore wines from Oregon and Washington, I thought the wine pairing was the meal’s one misstep. It was also a bit surprising since the cocktails were so good.

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Left: smoked cod donuts Right: Dungeness crab in a puree of pine nuts

If you can’t get a reservation at the Willows Inn you can try checking out Blaine Wetzel’s cookbook, Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest.

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Lummi island “tostada” (wild herbs and crispy mustard 

The Willows Inn also serves breakfast and lunch.

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Left: salmonberries with nooka roses right: grilled strawberries and fresh chamomile

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toasted birch branches tea

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Pumpkin seed fudge

The Willows Inn

Menu $175
Wine pairing $90
Juice menu $ 40

Address: 2579 W Shore Drive
Lummi Island, WA 98262

Phone: (360) 758-2620
Toll Free: (888) 294-2620

Email: reservations@willows-inn.com

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Truth or Consequences, New Mexico a Photo Essay

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Street art in Truth or Consequences, NM

I spent part of last week exploring New Mexico. It was the first time I visited the funky tiny hamlet of Truth or Consequences in the southwestern part of the state.

Also known as T or C, the town has a population of less than 7,000 people. They are a friendly and eclectic bunch. Truth or Consequences feels like a place where you wind up, not a place one aspires to live. Some residents have settled here for the town’s famous natural hot springs. There is a large veteran’s home. Ponytailed hippies came here in the 60s and never left.

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Palm tree and sunshine in New Mexico

I overheard a local saying, “there are four doctors in town who will write you a medical marijuana prescription, and two doctors for everything else.”

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Tiny living in Truth or Consequences

It’s an eccentric spot in the Southwest and I enjoyed exploring it. While T or C’s main drag has limited appeal there is some interesting street art. The nearby Elephant Butte Dam and reservoir  recreation area is rather beautiful, and turning 100 years old this year.

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Cactus flowers in bloom

Truth or Consequences has a bit of the artistic spirit of Marfa, Texas without the hipster vibe. The residents are very friendly and open. Some of the small businesses are firmly set in a time warp.

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Land of Enchantment license plate car

Los Arcos Steak and Lobster, one of the town’s best places for dinner, opened in 1970 and in the right light kind of feels like that it still exists in that decade. There is even a brick and mortar store that specializes in tie die.

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Cassette tape curtains in T or C

I enjoyed walking the small town on foot. Bright pops of color from flowers and street art broke up the mostly monotone desert landscape.

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A well-tended planter at Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa

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A colorful mural on the side of a building in T or C

The food was surprisingly good. The Restaurant at the Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa had an inspired menu. Los Arcos had an old school steakhouse menu and served a mean baked potato.

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Elephant Butte Dam and Powerplant

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Another view of the Elephant Butte Dam and Powerplant

New Mexico also has insanely beautiful skies. The puffy clouds are almost characters in the critically adored television series Breaking Bad and it’s current prequel, Better Call Saul.

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Moody sunset clouds above the Elephant Butte Dam

It rained both nights I spent in Truth or Consequences, and the dramatic clouds added to the impressive views of the Elephant Butte Dam and recreation area.

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Left: The Resevoir Right: Magic hour clouds above the powerplant

Truth or Consequences is worth a stop for anyone driving from El Paso, Texas or Las Cruces, New Mexico to the Albuquerque. It’s a eccentric Southwestern spot that feels like a setting from a film by Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez.

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Plants above the Elephant Butte Dam and Powerplant

It’s a bit counter-culture and nice contrast to the upscale artsy enclave of Santa Fe, and the people could not be nicer.

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Vintage sign goodness at Los Arcos

Los Arcos Steak and Lobster is a favorite dinner spot.

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70s exterior of Los Arcos Steak and Lobster

Los Arcos

Address: 1400 N. Date Street

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico 87901

Phone: 575-894-6200

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Glamping in New Mexico: Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa

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The Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa in New Mexico

Earlier this week I was on assignment for Glamping.com at the Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I had a great time enjoying the lodge’s geothermal hot springs and exploring the nearby Ladder Ranch with Ted Turner Expeditions (TTX).

You can read about my experience on the Glamping.com blog here:

Arrival and Day 1 at Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa

Day 2 at Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa and Ladder Ranch

Final Morning and Parting Thoughts on Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa

New Mexico Clouds time-lapse video

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the living room of the casita

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private outdoor soaking pool
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 Southwest decor in the lobby at Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa

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Desert blooms

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 The gardens of the Sierra Madre Lodge included cactus flowers

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Stained glass of the Elephant Butte Dam in the restaurant

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pecan crusted chile rellenos at the Restaurant 

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Exploring the Ladder Ranch with Ted Turner Expeditions

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Prairie Dog Town on Ladder Ranch

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The main house at Ladder Ranch

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 Vintage decor in the Ladder Ranch billiards room

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 The master bedroom on the Ladder Ranch 

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Blue skies and epic clouds on the Ladder Ranch

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We found ancient pottery shards near this overhang on the Ladder Ranch 

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The Chihuahuan desertscape on the Ladder Ranch

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Three Young Bucks on the Ladder Ranch

 

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Free JetSmarter Helicopter Transfers in NYC

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Boarding the helicopter transfer at the West 30th Street Heliport

My husband got me a JetSmarter membership as a present recently and it’s officially become my favorite luxury travel app. Like all private aviation, JetSmarter does not come cheap (rates are going up June 1st, but you can get membership until the end of May for $$9,675 annually plus a one-time initiation fee of $3,500. Details at bottom of this post).

Some video of my Blade flight over the Hudson River

While this may seem steep at first glance, it’s a bargain if you are used to paying full fare for first class travel between New York and Los Angeles. One way First Class airfare on American Airlines costs $2019. If you regularly fly bi-coastal, JetSmarter can be a great value for money.

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Cool view sitting next to the pilot

One of the best things out of the best things about being a JetSmarter member is the free helicopter transfers to and from Teterboro and Westchester airports to the West 30th Street Heliport in New York City.

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Helicopter pilot at the controls

JetSmarter also offers helicopter transfers to the Hamptons from Manhattan and from Chicago airports to the Loop.

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Above the Hudson

If you ask nicely, you can sit next to the pilot when you take off from the West 30th Street Heliport. Keep in mind, this side of the chopper is away from the NYC skyline when heading out of the city.

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The view through the passenger side door

JetSmarter is raising rates in June to $10,000 annually plus a one-time initiation fee of $5,000.

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Headed to HPN Airport in Westchester

I’ll do a post in the future detailing the LA to NYC JetSmarter shuttle experience.

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The View after dark into NYC is dramatic and beautiful

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Obligatory helicopter selfie

JetSmarter

500 East Broward Blvd., 19th Floor,
Fort Lauderdale, USA, FL 33394

+1 (888) 9 VIP JET

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(Please mention Jen Pollack Bianco when contacting JetSmarter) 

JetSmarter App on iTunes

 

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