Ten Days in Oregon

_MG_8913Since the first time I booted up my Apple computer with a 3 1/2 inch floppy drive and played The Oregon Trail, I have had dreams of going “out west” to Oregon.  Finally, almost twenty years later, I made it!  We drove straight from Seattle to Portland in an afternoon, arriving at the doorstep of my Aunt Ruby and Uncle Pete just in time for a delicious homemade dinner. We spent the next ten days traveling, reading, wining and dining all over Oregon and here are some of the highlights.

Portland Farmer’s MarketFarmers Market PortlandOn Saturday morning, we met our friends Fred and Rebecca Gerendasy at the Portland Farmer’s Market.  If you recall, we originally met Fred and Rebecca while in Cordova, Alaska.  It was really fun to be able to see them again and check out the farmer’s market through the eyes of local food experts.  I loaded up on Portland-made vegan delicacies that we wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else, such as Chia Cheeze Sauce and chocolate hazelnut butter (a much healthier version of Nutella). There was so much colorful produce and a large array of locally-made, generally healthy food. We strolled through the market at turtle speed, freely handing out money to the musicians who entertained us along the way.

Wine Tasting in Willamette Valley_MG_8954On Sunday afternoon, we piled into Pete’s Biodiesel truck and drove into the Willamette Valley for an afternoon of wine tasting.  Oregon’s Willamette Valley is home to 316 wineries and more than 600 vineyards.  There’s nearly 17,000 vineyard acres and over 11,000 of them are for Pinot Noir, which happens to be my favorite type of wine.  We drove into the valley for about an hour, looking for a vineyard with a great view of Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson.  Torii Mor Winery provided that for us, with a balcony that overlooks the Cascade Range and the rolling hills of the valley. Our tasting went beyond the menu and we had seven different wines and finished with a tasty port wine. For the first time, I realized how complex and varied pinots can be.  We drove down the road to Lange Estate Winery, where we once again enjoyed beautiful views while tasting fantastic wine.

Oregon Coast_MG_9040When Nick and I left Portland, we spent a day driving down Highway 101, which snugly parallels the Oregon Coast.  The coastline is about 363 miles long, divided into North, Central and South coasts.  In 1967, the Oregon Beach Bill granted free beach access to everyone and private landowners stopped paying property tax in exchange for allowing passage to the public. Nick and I spent a good portion of a full day driving from Portland to Florence, stopping a few times for views, beach strolls and photographs.  The geography of the beaches was totally unique. We saw black boulders beaten by Pacific waves, soft sand, tall grasses – all shrouded in a thick and rapidly moving mist.

Florence, Oregon_MG_9050Florence is a small town along Oregon’s coast, located about mid-way between the Washington and California borders. Originally a fishing and logging town, the economy of Florence is now largely based on tourism.  Nick and I spent a night with my mom’s childhood best friend, MJ, and her husband Dave but wish we could have spent more time in the area.  Dave took us sandboarding in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which was definitely the highlight of our short visit. Sandboarding is essentially snowboarding on sand and Florence is home to the first sandboarding park in the world.  We spent a couple hours racing each other down fresh dunes before becoming prisoners to our car for the remainder of the day.

Ashland, OregonAshlandAshland, Oregon is a town located about 15 miles north of the California border.  We heard of Ashland through our friend Joe Jackson, who we met in Santa Fe through Outside Magazine. We visited Joe and his wife Sarah for a few days while also checking out what Ashland has to offer. The landscape reminded us of our previous home, Santa Fe, surrounded by sage-peppered mountains.  We spent a lot of time in Ashland’s well-groomed Lithia Park and walking around the Shakespeare-inspired downtown area.  Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in which 11 plays are produced on three different stages for nine months out of the year.  Through a friend of Joe’s, we were able to see Shakespeare’s Cymbeline on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage.  During the three hour play we watched the sun set and the following twilight faded into a clear, starry night.

Crater LakeCrater LakeOregon has a recent history of volcanic activity which is easily seen in the varied and rugged landscape throughout the state.  Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson, the two tallest peaks in Oregon, are both active volcanoes. The Cascade Range is a volcanic range that is surrounded by buttes, lava fields, old lava tubes and other features that make Nick and I, self-professed geology nerds, very happy. Crater Lake is actually the collapsed caldera of a volcano that erupted about 7,700 years ago.  Since then, the giant crater has filled in with rain water.  Because the water is so pure, the lake is a brilliant pure blue color.  At nearly 2,000 feet deep, it is the deepest lake in North America and among deepest lakes in the entire world. We felt so lucky to have an annual National Parks pass, a gift from my mom, because we have visited many National Parks during our road trip (8 so far!) for free.

Bend_MG_9117As soon as we told people we were traveling through Oregon, nearly everybody we met told us we would absolutely love Bend. Its location in the Cascade mountain range along the Deschutes River allows for easy access to kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, rock climbing, camping, white water rafting, etc.  Nick and I spent a few days checking the area out. When we first arrived in town, we got internet and Boba Tea from Townshend’s Tea.  As the sun set, we walked along the Deschutes River.  We camped near Mount Bachelor, Bend’s ski mountain, taking advantage of our location with an early morning hike. Back in town, we had to replace a broken Thule key, which left us with some time to walk up Pilot Butte, have a beer from Deschutes Brewery, walk the Deschutes River again and a late dinner from Pizza Mondo.  The next morning, before an 18 hour driving day, we checked out Smith Rock State Park, a local rock climbing spot. The nearly vertical rocks jut straight out of the ground along the river. It was a bittersweet stop because the beauty immediately drew us in but we had to get back on the road and drive east.

Staying with Family & FriendsNatural BridgeAs with Washington, we owe some of our best Oregon experiences to our hosts throughout the trip.  My Aunt Ruby and Uncle Pete introduced us to an abundance of amazing vegan restaurants, helped us navigate downtown, took us to breweries, vineyards and even to Bob’s Red Mill.  The special treatment continued with my mom’s friends MJ and Dave. Without Dave’s advice, we never would have driven along the Umpqua River, where we stopped along the road, swam in the river and sunbathed on the rocks during the hottest part of the day. In Ashland, we got a home-cooked meal from our friend Joe and a tour of the Papaya headquarters from his wife, Sarah.  Per Joe’s suggestion, we stopped at Natural Bridge on our way to Bend, where we saw Rogue River totally disappear underground and reappear 200 feet away, right into a waterfall.

UmpquaAfter all of this, our time exploring the west, living out of our car and having the company of only strangers and each other, drew to an end.