We have gone up, down, around, and through Oregon on this trip. 10 days on our swing north in September (read about some of that here, here, and here, another 10 days on our swing back south in November. Though, embarrassingly, I included the first night of this second leg in Oregon in a post about Washington state. Sorry The Dalles!
Having visited Portland, Willamette Valley, and some of the coast about 10 years ago, we were pumped to revisit some of our favorites and find some new places to explore as well.
We’d been to Astoria before – a neat, real (not just a tourist) town on the coast, at the mouth of the Columbia River. Astoria welcomed us back with a beautiful rainbow!
We stayed in Ft. Stevens State Park – and got lost looking for the campground, but as usually happens once you get past your annoyance at the GPS, our wrong turn led us to some beautiful sites and we took a walk around the jetty.
The main thing we wanted to do this go round in Astoria was visit the Ft. Clatsop National Historic Park, where Lewis & Clark wintered over after completing their westward journey. The Corps of Discovery did not enjoy their time there — it rained a bunch — but we did especially because the park had been closed due to a fire when we here 10 years ago. We don’t have any pictures (!) but we do have this video we made there because our visit coincided with our nephew Carter’s birthday. It also just goes to show if you didn’t get that card in the mail on time, with a little creativity and the wonders of technology, you can do something cool to make up for it.
We rode our bikes to Ft. Clatsop – it was a little further than I thought it would be, on some busy roads too, but I would still recommend it. I don’t know if this is novel to anyone, but when I am low on batteries or data or coverage, I take a screen grab of my route and refer to that as I am able.
The museum and site were very good. The replica fort (seen behind us in the video) was smaller than I thought it would be – you get a real sense of the Corps just hoping to – I dunno – maybe stay warmer by being so close together? Having less of an area to defend in case of an attack? I appreciated the attention to the long term fate of each Discovery Member in the exhibits, especially York. In the evening we treated ourselves to dinner at the the Bridgewater Bistro in Astoria. The food was only pretty good, but because the service and the setting were so spectacular, we’d recommend it. They let us combine two desserts into one – a chocolate brownie with coconut ice cream. And the crab cheesecake appetizer was excellent.
On the way out of town, I stopped in the small but lovely Astoria Co-op, while Ben waited in a very long line to get his haircut at the Eleventh Street Barber. He passed the time by chatting it up with some local Coast Guard fellows, and I was amused by the proprietor who kept offering everyone cold beer from the mini fridge.
After a quick trip back to Seattle for some “admin” and a chance to visit dear friends in Auburn, we spent one more night in Washington – at an Airstream park, the aptly named Washington Land Yacht Harbor. The Park was pretty basic and they’ve opened it up to non Airstreamers (but if you are WBCCI members, there is a discount). There is also a fairly large brick and mortar home community surrounding the park – only requirement is that you must own an Airstream to buy a home there. We chatted a bit with one of the residents about the history of the park — folks with a common interest coming together to build a community — and the ways they are working to keep it going today. We made a quick stop at the Olympia Farmers Market (get the cinnamon bread from Wagner’s and any jam from Johnson’s Berry Farm) and the state capitol (pics below) before we recrossed the border.
On to Portland! My friend Tom and his wife Julia about 10 years ago got to pick anywhere in the US to live after many years in NYC – and they picked Portland. How hip they are! Tom may not have known what he was in for when he said “You can park in front of our house!” on one of my Facebook posts tracking our travels, but regardless, we were “all in” as guests (though they were lucky we had just done our laundry in Seattle!)
After an afternoon of chatting and catching up we had a great dinner out – we wanted to go somewhere “Portland” and we knew Julia picked a good restaurant when the waiter assured us their pork come from pigs that are “pumpkin fed”. I couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant but just found it by googling all the things from their eclectic menu that I especially liked: “short rib sushi bread pudding” – and it was the first hit! Pono Farm Soul Kitchen in Northeast Portland. Yum.
We had a fortuitous meeting in Tom’s kitchen the next morning over coffee and cinnamon bread – his friend Stuart came by and once we realized he was a guru on Oregon travel, we asked and he gave us all kinds of tips on where to go, in what order, via what road, down to which Dairy Queen was the best in the state and how to work in a side trip to the town where some of Animal House was filmed. Not only that – he told us his mother grew up on a farm near Eugene, his sister lived there now, and would we like to park the Airstream there? Yes!
Following Stuart’s tips, we headed south to Willamette Valley, via Oregon City, the final stop on the Oregon Trail. The VC there is a bit pricey, and at this point we maybe felt a bit overloaded from other related sites we had visited but it provided nice closure to that theme of our travels and a good photo op or two.
We headed south into Willamette Valley, to our Harvest Hosts Kramer Vineyards near Gaston. Though they were having an event that night – they couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating to make room for us. We arrived just in time to jump in for the heritage vertical pinot noir tasting – basically tasting the same vintage, but from six different harvest years. Their thoughtful placemats (below) explained some of the differences in the rainfall, temperature, harvest date, yield, etc of each year. The owners encouraged us to sip, take notes, let the wine breath some more, repeat. It was awesome – I appreciate good teaching and this was it! We were seated with this really nice couple who are wine club members there and were so generous as to cover our tasting bill as part of their guest allowance. I know this is not exactly like the kind of generosity Cheryl Strayed writes about receiving on the PCT when her 20 dollars didn’t arrive and she wanted a Snapple, but we were very appreciative nonetheless! We even bought some Pinot Gris to go – in a growler! – so though the wine is gone, we have a very nice souvenir of this visit.
Next we headed west to the coast, and an overnight at Nehalem Bay State Park, complete with another rainbow and the best walk on the beach yet. We made some excellent lentil soup here which we ate while watching “Waiting for Guffman”. (Not wanting to use our data to stream, we pick up old DVDs wherever we can!)
On the way south, we stopped to do the Cape Trail at Cape Lookout State Park. This trail is truly fantastic – gets you out, as the name suggests, on a cape, with gorgeous views of the Oregon Coast. The hike was fairly flat but with some difficult passages due to mud, rain, general dampness that was the weather for much of this leg of the trip. But fantastic hike – highly recommended for coast lovers. Before the trip, I had surgery to repair an ankle ligament tear and I take pictures like that in the lower right to send to my surgeon some day as a thank you.
On to Newport, where an excellent Wheelingit blog post about free or cheap(er) camping on the Oregon Coast led us to the Port of Newport Marina. We always enjoy a marina, though the dry site parking area was adjacent to the Rogue Brewery warehouse and a few semis kept their engines running while resting there at all hours. But the view (below) couldn’t be beat.
We walked a hundred yards to have dinner at the Rogue Brewery Pub that night – the food was excellent! Try the crab kimchi sliders appetizer for sure. The next morning we walked a few hundred yards and forked over the big bucks to explore the Oregon Coast Aquarium – click on the link to see the best URL ever. We don’t begrudge museums entry fees, but it always feels a bit of a risk. In this case, it was well worth it. The Aquarium has more than a little bit of everything including live animal feeding demos, a walk through a shark aquarium tunnel, and thoughtful exhibits with volunteers and staff who were very good at their jobs answering questions, sharing what they knew and passing on a respect for the natural world.
We headed east to Stuart’s sister’s house – the Hurd family farm. The barn – 100 years old–was an awesome setting and we enjoyed our neighbors, sheep, chickens and rooster.
The next day, I headed into Eugene. It’s always fun to check out a big college campus and University of Oregon was lovely. I checked out Hayward Field – home to track and field legends – and their art museum, which had a cool exhibit on post war Japanese prints. As I walked across the same type of criss-cross quads I traversed as an undergrad, I caught snippets of conversations among the students – worries about how to bring up a grade (this from someone on a cell phone), wishes to check out new restaurants (or food trucks), a mission to return some rain boots. Though so much has changed, so much is the same.
We finished off the state with a visit to Ashland, home of the Shakespeare Festival for most of the year, but not this month. I did a quick hit of their downtown to do a little shopping of my own, of course visit their very large and very good Ashland Co-op and scout out restaurants for before a concert we were heading to that night. As we winded down this first leg of our trip, it seemed we still had some work to do to check out the night life / cultural events in the places we visited. This (left) folks/bluegrass/orchestral mix of groups was right up our alley. They even had a hammer dulcimer! One of the leads, Emy Phelps, is from Ashland, so it was a homecoming event for her. A highlight was when they brought all the local (about 20 kids) young violin students up on stage with them to join in for one of Emy’s songs. The parents especially loved that because all those hardworking novices sounded so good in harmony with the professionals. The whole vibe was about collaboration and education, a mix of young and older, lots of smiles and great music! Culture and nightlife – check!
I’ll end with a scary story (with a happy ending) and a cautionary tale. On our drive to Astoria on I-84, we encountered what was without a doubt the scariest moment driving and the closest we’ve come to an (what would have been awful) accident. We are cruising along in the slow lane, and the first we saw anything, the semi in front of us came to a screeching halt and Ben reacted, braking hard, slowing us down, with one hand protectively on me (I think he was trying to keep me from screaming as much as from slamming into the dash) as he very very calmly and slowly said, “OK, I am not sure we are going to stop in time.” Yikes. Hold on, hold your breath and watch the road between you and the 18 wheeler in front of you slowly disappear.
We did stop in time though, with a few feet to spare, but then of course the worst was still to come as we waited with stiffened backs to see if any cars behind us would slam into us (and the Airstream!)
As Ben looked left, trying urgently – without success for a long minute or two- to look for a spot to merge into the fast moving traffic and get moving, I leaned right and saw what was up: someone had been carrying a range stove in the back of a pick up and I guess it wasn’t fastened down well, because they were now moving the oven from the road, back to their truck. Oh my gosh. And still we were at a dead halt on a four lane highway.
Once it was out of the road, the truck ahead of us quickly got going, and so did we, still worried about getting rear ended until we got some speed going. We thanked our lucky stars and made an appointment to get our brakes checked (though they got us out of this jam, just for peace of mind.) When I told my dad this story he asked if I got a picture of the oven in the road and I said – no, darn! – so I snapped this one (above, right) on the road a few weeks later…pretty well battened down, but not something we’d choose to drive behind. So – watch the road for flying appliances (you probably are already, though).