Letters to Liona: Hello from Portland!

Liona is my 9-year-old niece. She lives in rural Wisconsin where I grew up, and like a lot of starry-eyed country kids, she's fascinated by cities and dreams about traveling and seeing the world. I wanted to find a way to share my journey with Liona and give her a little snapshot of what life is like in different places, so I've decided to write her a letter each month. Thought you might enjoy following along, too.

Dear Liona,

Hello from Portland – the magical land of tall straight trees, long happy hikes, dozens of waterfalls, and so much delicious food! Oh, and lots and lots of RAIN (especially now, in the springtime). Of all the cities in the U.S., Portland ranks third for most rainy days each year (around 164 days). Good thing I packed an umbrella!

Most of the time I've been here, it has looked like this...

But the wonderful thing about all that rain is that it makes everything bright and green and alive.

When the sun comes out, everyone runs outside because there are so many cool things to do and places to explore in and around Portland. You can explore in the rain, too, of course; it just makes the adventure a little bit wetter. :)  Are you ready for some Portland exploring? Let's go!

Portland is in Oregon, high on the northwest coast of the United States. More than half a million people live here, and a lot of them get around by bike, bus, or on foot most of the time, instead of driving cars. Downtown Portland even has a streetcar, which is like a train that runs on tracks in the street and carries people all around the city. 

There's a river that goes through the middle of the city called the Willamette River. There are eleven different bridges that cross the Willamette.

The oldest bridge, the Hawthorne Bridge, was built in 1910. It's a vertical-lift bridge, which means the middle section (between those two tall tower sections) raises up to let ships and boats pass through.

I took the streetcar downtown to visit a famous bookstore called Powell's, which they say is the biggest bookstore in the world. The store is as big as an entire city block, and has over four million books for sale!

People in Portland really love their city. Lots of shops sell things made only in Portland, or things made locally in Oregon. There's a whole lot of Portland pride.

There's also a ridiculous amount of delicious food! Like chocolate-almond croissants, and salted caramel ice cream, and about a million other things...

I really loved this restaurant, Luc Lac. It serves Vietnamese food and has upside-down pink parasols hanging from the ceiling.

One thing Portland is famous for is food carts. They're like tiny restaurants on wheels, and you just walk up to the window to order your food. You can find them all over the city, serving almost every kind of food you could imagine.

And then, of course, there are the donuts. This place was only a two-minute walk from my friends' house, where I've been staying.

(I've been eating quite a lot of donuts.) 

So, it's probably about time for a hike, don't you think? 


This is Mount Tabor Park, right on the edge of the city. Mount Tabor actually is an extinct volcano! You can see a lot of the city from here.

Remember the Willamette River? Well that river is a tributary of a much bigger river, the Columbia River, which flows into the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia forms most of the border between the states of Oregon and Washington, and runs through a deep canyon that stretches for more than 80 miles.

 The Columbia River Gorge goes through rainforest areas and grasslands, and there are miles and miles of hiking trails to explore. The scenery is really amazing.

In the Gorge, there are so, so, so many cool waterfalls! 

Less than an hour away from the Gorge is Mount Hood, a mountain that's high enough to be covered in snow year-round. Mount Hood is actually another volcano (but is very unlikely to erupt). So, in just a short drive, you can go from beautiful green rainforests and waterfalls...

...to standing in the middle of a great, snowy wonderland.

Okay, that's enough snow for me. Let's go to the ocean!

My friend Jessica and I went with her two boys, Roman and August, on a camping trip to the coast — to a place called Cape Lookout. The weather was sunny and beautiful the whole time, and we were SO HAPPY! Our campsite was just a short walk from the ocean.

We spent the night in our own little yurt, which was pretty awesome. I fell asleep listening to the waves, and woke up to a circle of blue sky and trees overhead.

The winter storms have been especially wild this year, and the ocean waves have eroded a lot of land and changed the coastline of Cape Lookout (as well as many other beaches).

Thanks to those winter storms, though, I discovered some great surprises hidden in the rocks along the beach: ocean gemstones! 

Here's the story: I learned that in Oregon and California, ocean gemstones called agates often erode from the beach cliffs, tumble into the ocean where they are polished by the wave action, and finally are washed up on the beaches in winter. Agates look like rough crystals, and they form over many years as materials like quartz and moganite fill hollows in volcanic rock. Many of them are gray or white-colored. Some are orange, pink, or even green.

It takes a careful eye to find agates among all the rocks on the beach. Can you spot the agate below?

Here are a few of the little agates I found.

Neat, huh? I felt like I was a treasure-hunter. :)

Well, Liona, my time in Portland is almost over...soon I'll be off to a new place, and ready for some new adventures that I'm so excited to share with you.

But today, I'm going to enjoy one last ocean sunset. 

Until next time...keep exploring!