Author: Carolyn Boyle
Date of Trip: June 2016
This review describes a nine-night vacation in western Oregon. For the first five nights of the trip, we used Portland, OR, as a base for day trips to wineries in the Willamette Valley, the Columbia River Gorge/Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens (Washington) and the northern Oregon coast. For the last four nights, we drove a circular route from Portland to Crater Lake National Volcanic Monument, Oregon Caves NM, Redwood State and National Parks (California) and back to Portland. This review is primarily a journal of how we spent each day, including suggested resources and web links to tourist information web sites and maps.
Willamette Valley, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Mount Hood Scenic Loop, Pacific Coast Scenic Byway—Oregon, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Crater Lake National Volcanic Monument, Oregon Caves National Monument, Redwood State and National Parks
John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our mid-sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times.
We have traveled extensively worldwide and enjoy both land tours and cruises; often our trips combine the two. We favor nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view.
On the first part of this trip, we were joined by our college friends, Robert and Mary, who are also native New Orleanians. Our friends were traveling to Portland for a family wedding. Mary planned the first five days of the trip, John chose the wineries to visit and he and I planned the last four days.
National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways & Byways, Fourth Edition (ISBN: 978-1-4262-1014-3)
National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, Eighth Edition (ISBN: 978-1-4262-1651-0)
Roadside Geology of Oregon, Second Edition (ISBN: 978-0-87842-631-7)
Northwest Waterfall Survey, www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/
REVIEW OF THE TRIP
SAT 06/11 Raleigh-Durham, NC (RDU) to Portland, OR (PDX)
John and I flew to PDX on Frontier Airlines from RDU; Robert and Mary flew American Airlines from RIC. We chose Frontier because it was much less expensive than other options and our flight would get to PDX at about the same time as our friends did. This was the first time we had flown with Frontier; however, we would be hesitant to do so again unless the savings were equally significant. There is an additional charge for luggage, whether checked or carried on, and an extra charge to select seats so that we could sit together. We knew ahead of time that there were no complimentary on board beverages or snacks and came prepared with our own. We were surprised by the hard seats that do not recline; nevertheless, they were tolerable. Another problem is that at the time of our trip Frontier did not participate in the TSA PreCheck program. John and belong to the Global Entry trusted traveler program (www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry) and it was torture to have to go through the regular security lines. Today, my necklace, watch and pants zipper (all of which had passed inspection on other occasions) showed up in the full-body scanner, necessitating a thorough pat-down.
Another downside to our flights was a seven-hour layover in Denver. However, we had two day-passes (purchased on eBay) to the United Club there. The quiet surroundings, comfortable chairs and complimentary snacks and drinks went a long way to making that a relatively painless wait.
We arrived in PDX first, collected our luggage and went to the AA baggage claim area to wait for Robert and Mary. Robert loves to drive, so he was going to do all the driving on the days we all traveled together. He had reserved a car with Hertz, which turned out to be an ordeal. He should have been able to bypass the rental counter but the check-in kiosk directed him back to the counter. Once he finally reached an agent, he was subjected to a protracted effort to sell him insurance and other options.
We finally were on our way to the Residence Inn Portland North Harbor (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pdxph-residence-inn-portland-north-harbour/), where both couples had reserved five nights in one-bedroom suites using Marriott Rewards points. Those suites have a separate bedroom with a king bed and a living room with a seating area, desk, table and full kitchen. With this arrangement, we had plenty of room to spread out and did not have to go out to a restaurant every night. The rooms were a little dated (CRT TVs??) and worn but they were clean. The hotel offers complimentary WIFI and a complimentary hot breakfast buffet. There are also complimentary food events every evening but we did not take advantage of that.
All of us were tired after a long day of travel. It was then we learned that the room next to Robert and Mary’s contained a dog that barked incessantly whenever one of them entered their bathroom. We could clearly hear the barking from across the hall, so I called the Front Desk to let them know about the problem. We don’t know what happened to the dog but this was the only night we had any problem with barking. However, there was some road noise from the nearby interstate highway. Marriott could definitely use more soundproofing at this hotel!
SUN 06/12 Willamette Valley Wineries in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA
The breakfast buffet was really good, with nice selection of hot items that vary from day to day. On Sundays, however, the hot items are not available until 7 a.m. We were in a hurry this morning, so we had a quick continental breakfast and then crossed over the Columbia River to attend 7:30 a.m. Mass at the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater (protocathedral.org) in Vancouver, WA. The church is over 130 years old and has a beautiful traditional interior. The liturgical changes promoted by Vatican Council II seem to have bypassed St. James. This is the first time in many years that I have seen the priest celebrating Mass with his back to the congregation or people kneeling at a communion rail to receive the Eucharist.
After Mass, we headed south to visit three Willamette Valley wineries (willamettewines.com) in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. The weather today was the best of our entire trip—warm, clear and sunny. While we were driving to the wineries, Mary had the excellent idea to stop at a Dollar Tree to purchase an inexpensive foam ice chest and some bottled water. It was really nice to have some cold water during all of our long drives!
Our first stop was at WillaKenzie Estate (www.willakenzie.com/tasting-room), where we had not made a reservation. We arrived at the tasting room a few minutes before it opens, so we had some time to admire the beautiful grounds and the views from the winery deck: vine-covered rolling hills, grazing cattle and swaths of fragrant lavender. The tasting was hosted by Jennifer Ferrell, Tasting Room Associate, who was friendly and knowledgeable. John and I shared two flights so that we could try all eight wines. The Traditional Flight ($20) included 2011 Blanc de Pinots, 2013 Gamay Noir, 2014 Thibaud’s Cuvée, 2013 Pierre Leon Pinot Noir and 2013 Emery Pinot Noir. The Reserve Flight ($10) included 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, 2009 Reserve Pinot Noir and 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir.
You can’t just drop in at the Mineral Springs Ranch, home to Soter Vineyards (sotervineyards.com), but it’s definitely worth the effort to make an appointment. We had reserved the somewhat pricey MSR Provisions tasting ($75 pp), a light lunch of foods grown and raised on the Ranch paired with current release wines plus a library selection. The event takes place on a ridge top in what was formerly the living area of the Soter family’s rustic home. From this vantage point, we not only had fantastic views of the vineyards but also of Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson. Although this event is advertised as “semi-private”, the four of us had the place to ourselves.
Mesmery Blake, a hospitality specialist, welcomed us with glasses of sparkling 2011 Mineral Springs Brut Rosé to enjoy while she showed us around the grounds. In addition to the beautiful valley views, there are wildflower meadows and an organic herb and vegetable garden used by Chef Alex Daley in preparing the food.
The tasting started with a salad of greens, yogurt, wheat berries, radishes and carrots, which was paired with 2015 North Valley Pinot Noir Rosé and 2013 North Valley Chardonnay. Next the Chef presented a plank with four different combinations of food: Salmon Rillette with Sauce Gribiche and Crackers, Squid with Beans and Seaweed, Pork Liver Crostini and Currants and Soft Eggs with Potatoes, Fava Beans and Artichokes. That was paired with 2013 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir, 2012 Mineral Springs White Label Pinot Noir and 2006 Beacon Hill Pinot Noir. We finished with a dessert of Chocolate, Cherries and Hazelnut. The food was cutting edge and excellent as were the wine pairings.
While we were enjoying this bounty, we were entertained by the antics of a cute little lap-goat, Peanut. She was the runt of the litter and has been adopted as a mascot by the winery staff. I hope she is not on the menu after she gets older and is not so cute!
Our final tasting was at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars (www.pennerash.com), where we had reserved the Estate Experience private tour and tasting ($35 pp). This is another beautiful facility with gorgeous views, particularly of Mt. Hood. The Winery Steward, Robert Temple, gave a nice tour through the production, aging and storage facilities, explaining Penner-Ash’s wine-making philosophy and techniques. We even got to visit the laboratory, where we were happy to see a copy of “Commercial Winemaking: Processing & Controls” by our friend, enologist Richard Vine. After the tour, we tasted nine different wines: 2014 Willamette Valley Riesling, 2015 Oregon Viognier, 2015 Roseo, 2013 Élevée Pinot Noir, 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2013 Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2013 Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir, 2013 Pas de Nom and 2013 Oregon Syrah. Robert even gave us a reference about using native yeasts in wine production.
Even though it was a Sunday, there was heavy traffic going back to Portland. Not only is Portland a big city but also it is laced with rivers that funnel traffic into a few choke points. On most mornings, this was not a problem because we were heading out before the traffic could build up. However, we encountered massive traffic jams every afternoon that eventually had us ignoring our GPS and trying alternate routes to avoid the main highways.
We had received a recommendation to try Jake’s Famous Crawfish (www.mccormickandschmicks.com/locations/portland-oregon/portland-oregon/sw12thave.aspx) for dinner. Being from Louisiana we were skeptical about the name of the restaurant. We all decided to stick with more local seafood. I chose a cup of the Dungeness Crab Bisque and the Dungeness Crab and Oregon Bay Shrimp Stuffed Pacific Salmon; John had Grilled Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon. Although the food was good, it seemed somewhat overpriced to me.
MON 06/13 North Oregon Coast
This morning we had time for a more leisurely breakfast before heading out to tour the Upper Northern Section of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway—Oregon (www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/byways/2143). The Byway starts in Astoria and, counter intuitively, the fastest way to get there is by taking I-5 North into Washington, exiting in Longview and crossing the Columbia River on the Lewis and Clarke Bridge to connect to US-30 West once again in Oregon.
Today the weather was overcast and foggy, with intermittent rain; the temperature was cold (to us)—mid 50s to mid 60s. Our target in Astoria was the 125-ft Astoria Column (astoriacolumn.org, $5/car parking fee). The column depicts historical events that took place around the mouth of the Columbia River from 1792 to 1893. The 14 scenes spiral up from the base to a viewing platform and were produced using the same carved plaster technique (Sgraffito) that we had seen on Moorish-style buildings in southern Spain. In addition to the column, there is a memorial to the Chinookan peoples: a replica of Chief Concomly’s burial canoe. Of course, John and I had to climb up to the viewing platform but the fog obscured most of the vistas.
Our next stop was in Seaside, OR (ww.seasideor.com), with its 1.5-mile beachfront Promenade. We turned at 12th Avenue and parked in the lot at the end of the street; that is at the north end of the asphalt path. It wasn’t currently raining, so we decided to walk on the beach for a mile or so. We had good views of the dramatic 1000-ft Tillamook Head in the mists. We cut back over the dunes to the Promenade and walked back to the car. Along the way, we passed a sign marking the end of the Lewis & Clark Trail and a bronze statue of the two explorers with their dog, Seaman.
We managed to find parking at the Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site (oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=141, ci.cannon-beach.or.us/docs/News/Parking.pdf), south of downtown Cannon Beach, to see Haystack Rock. At 235 feet, this Haystack Rock is the second in size of three large basalt sea stacks found on the Oregon coast (the largest is further south at Pacific City). Two smaller sea stacks, called The Needles, are nearby. We could also see the sea stacks further south at Silver Point.
We stopped next at the Silver Point Interpretive Overlook at the end of Cannon Beach, near milepost 32. Just off the headland are Jockey Cap Rock and Silver Point Rock.
A little further down the road (between mileposts 33 and 34) is the Hug Point State Recreation Site (oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=137). There is parking and good beach access, so we went for a walk. Heading north, we checked out a big sea cave in Adair Point, then rounded the point. The next point north is Hug Point, where there are twin sea caves and a small waterfall. We could see some people walking along the old road that goes around Hug Point but rain was threatening so we headed back to the car. We didn’t make it and had to take shelter from the downpour in one of the sea caves until the rain slacked off.
Driving south on US-101 for 23 miles, there are numerous pullouts where we could stop for more great views of the ocean and cliffs. The route passes inland through Oswald West State Park (oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=139) and along the east side of Nehalem Bay.
We wanted to stop south of Rockaway Beach (www.rockawaybeach.net) to view the Twin Rocks State Natural Site. However, we had not researched beach access routes ahead of time (www.rockawaybeach.net/explore/7-mile-beach/beach-access/) and had a hard time finding a place to park with a good view of the rocks. Serendipitously, we found the access point at the end of S. Minnehaha St., where there is a legal parking area next to the Twin Rocks Motel. The path across the dunes leads directly to a great view of Twin Rocks.
After another 15 miles driving around Tillamook Bay, we reached Tillamook (tillamookcoast.com). Here we planned to take the Three Capes Scenic Loop (moon.com/2012/03/oregons-three-capes-scenic-loop/) to Capes Meares, Lookout and Kiwanda. We could not follow the usual route along the south edge of Tillamook Bay to Cape Meares because of a 2013 landslide. Instead, we followed OR-131 to Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint (oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=131).
Cape Meares has several sites of interest. One, the Octopus Tree, is a short 0.1-mile walk from the parking lot. This large Sitka spruce has no central trunk; thick limbs branch out from the huge base (48 feet in circumference), then turn upwards. This gives the tree the appearance of an upside-down octopus. A little further along the trail is an overlook that has good views of Three Arch Rocks to the south.
Back at the parking lot, there is an interpretive kiosk at the start of the path to the Cape Meares Lighthouse. [Hint: It is easier to take the path in a clockwise direction so that you walk down the steeper section.] The lighthouse’s distinctive red and white flash pattern guided ships from 1890 to 1934, when it was replaced by an automated beacon. There are short tours (free) of the tower so that you can see the first order (the most powerful type), eight-sided Fresnel lens up close. Sadly, in 2010, two drunk local men vandalized the lighthouse by shooting out many of the windows and breaking several parts of the historic lens. Although the windows have been replaced, the damage to the lens is still clearly evident. We were glad the windows had been fixed because a strong but brief rainstorm struck while we were on the tour. Back at the parking lot, there is a viewing platform that overlooks some cliffs and sea stacks that are home to many species of seabirds.
Our next stop was at Cape Lookout State Park (oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=134); this was the only park where we had to pay a day-use parking fee ($5/car). It would have been nice to take the Cape Trail but we just did not have time for a 5-mile hike today. Instead, we walked along the beach, where we saw a sea cave and views of Three Arch Rocks to the north.
Our final cape was Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area (oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=130), just north of Pacific City. We parked in a restaurant parking lot with a great view of the largest “Haystack Rock” of the three on the Oregon coast, 327-ft Chief Kiawanda Rock. We could also see people sliding down some of the Cape Kiwanda sand dunes.
It was starting to rain again, so we had a very nice late lunch at the Pelican Pub & Brewery (www.yourlittlebeachtown.com/eat-drink/pelican-pub-brewery). We started with Calamari and the Tower of [onion] Rings for the table. I had the Fish Tacos and John had a special, an oyster po-boy. Of course, we had to try several of the brewery’s draft beers to accompany the meal.
We retraced our route north until we could cut over to US-101 on Sandlake Road. We continued north on US-101 to Munson Creek Falls State Natural Site (oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=175). We nearly missed the turnoff to Munson Creek Road because the park is only signposted for traffic headed south. After about 1.5 miles, the road ends in a parking area; the path to the falls is 0.25 mile. At 319 feet, Munson Creek Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4926) is the tallest waterfall in Oregon west of the Willamette River. The falls are well worth the effort to find them. This small park also contains an 8-ft in diameter, 260-ft tall Sitka Spruce, one of the tallest left in the country. We’re not sure that the huge Sitka we saw was that particular tree (no signage) but it was quite impressive nonetheless.
TUES 06/14 Mount St. Helens
John and I had visited Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (www.fs.usda.gov/main/giffordpinchot/maps-pubs) in 1995, 15 years after its last major eruption. We wanted to see how the landscape had recovered after another 21 years; Robert and Mary had never been there.
We drove north from Portland to Castle Rock, WA, where we took the 52-mile Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (SR 504), which generally follows the North Fork of the Touttle River. The Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lakes is the first of four visitor centers. This was the original 1993 NPS visitor center but is now operated by Washington State Parks (parks.state.wa.us/245/Mount-St-Helens) and has a $5 pp entrance fee. This visitor center has exhibits (including a walk-through model volcano) a movie and a wetland boardwalk trail. We decided to save that for later if we had time.
Our first stop was at the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center (www.hoffstadtbluffs.com). This is a privately-owned operation with helicopter tours, exhibits, a restaurant and a gift shop. It is free to enter but it was not yet open when we arrived. However, we walked around to the viewing platform at the rear of the building and had some panoramic views of the area. There is also a monument to Harry Truman, the owner of Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake, who became a folk hero when he refused to evacuate from the danger zone. He was one of the 47 people killed by the 1980 eruption; Spirit Lake was also destroyed.
We also decided to postpone visiting the third visitor center, Weyerhaeuser’s free Forest Learning Center (www.weyerhaeuser.com/sustainability/communities/stakeholder-engagement/mount-st-helens/). Weyerhaeuser lost nearly 63,000 acres of its tree farm in the 1980 eruption. The exhibits here illustrate the company’s efforts to reforest the area. There is a multimedia presentation about the eruption, panoramic views, short trails, a volcano-themed play area and (of course) a gift shop.
We did stop at the Hoffstadt Creek Bridge, which marks the entrance into the blast zone. There are some good interpretive panels here.
Our next stop was the Elk Lake Viewpoint for a spectacular mountain panorama. This is the boundary of the National Volcanic monument. The following viewpoint, Castle Lake Overlook, gives great views of the landslide debris deposits from the 1980 eruption. Castle Lake was formed when Castle Creek was dammed by these deposits.
When John and I visited in 1995, the Coldwater Lake Recreation Area was the end of the highway. A massive landslide during the 1980 eruption created a natural dam; water then backed up behind the dam to form Coldwater Lake. We took the easy 0.6-mile “Birth of a Lake Trail #246”. This trail is paved, with boardwalks for great views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
The Loowit Viewpoint afforded gorgeous views of snow-topped Mount St. Helens. Unfortunately, the top of the volcano was partly covered by clouds. There were fields of gorgeous red and lavender wildflowers—perhaps Desert Paintbrush and some type of Penstemon.
We finally arrived at the fourth visitor center, the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The admission fee here is a steep $8 pp; however, my America the Beautiful Senior Pass (www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm) gave all four of us free entry. This visitor center also has exhibits, a movie and a gift shop. It is unique in that it overlooks the crater and is the closest one can get to the volcano by car. Unfortunately, by now it had started to snow; a sign at the visitor center said that up to six inches was predicted. We had hoped to take the easy 1.0-mile “Eruption Trail #201” to views of the crater and lava domes. We got a few good views of the volcano from the terraces of the visitor center before going in to see the movie. At the end of the movie, the screen lifts and a curtain is withdrawn for the big reveal: the crater of Mount St. Helens. Today the view was almost completely obscured by clouds and the falling snow.
Since the weather was deteriorating, we decided to head back to Portland. The weather was much better there, although there was still a threat of rain. We decided to visit the International Rose Test Garden (www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/finder/index.cfm?action=viewpark&propertyid=1113) in Washington Park. This is a very congested area and we had to circle around twice before finding a place to park. The parking spaces are numbered and there are pay stations ($1.60/hour) scattered around. This is a fairly small (4.5 acres) garden but holds about 8000 individual bushes representing around 600 varieties. The roses are grown in tiered beds with various themes, such as a Shakespeare Garden. June is normally the height of the blooming season, so we were there at the right time to visit and enjoy the sight and smell of these beautiful flowers.
After about an hour at the garden, it was time to search for food. The Fred Meyer – Stadium (www.fredmeyer.com) was nearby, just off W. Burnside St. on NW 20th Pl. This is a particularly upscale Fred Meyer. In addition to the typical deli, bakery, etc., it has a Murray’s Cheese Bar (www.murrayscheese.com) with an extensive selection of local and international cheeses. Since we were in the Pacific NW, we purchased Oregonzola (blue, OR) from Rogue Creamery, Flagship (Cheddar, WA) from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and Cirrus (Camembert, WA) from Mt. Townsend Creamery. We also picked up crusty bread, wine, a rotisserie chicken and some items from the Salad and Olive Bars. Then it was back to the hotel for a fantastic picnic supper!
WED 06/15 Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood Scenic Loop
Today we visited the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (www.fs.usda.gov/crgnsa). We headed east from Portland on I-84 and took Exit 17 to Troutdale. On the exit ramp, we saw a brown sign for “US-30 Historic Route”. Following those signs, we passed under the Centennial Arch, proclaiming Troutdale to be the “Gateway to the Gorge”.
When visiting the Columbia River Gorge, it is extremely helpful to have an overview map of the entire Mt. Hood Scenic Loop (www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5227071.pdf) as well as a closeup map of the Historic Columbia River Highway section (www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5227100.pdf). On the closeup map, the locations of the various attractions are indicated by their distance west or east of Multnomah Falls, the zero-mile mark. Although there is a sign at each attraction, there are no signs indicating that you are approaching an attraction; it is easy to zip past the parking area if one is not alert.
Our first stop was at the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Overlook (oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=119) on Chanticleer Point. This gave great views of the gorge and our next stop, Vista House in the Crown Point State Scenic Corridor (oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=108). Located at the highest point on the highway, the Vista House was built in 1918 as a rest stop for visitors to the gorge. In addition to incredible panoramas of the gorge, there are interpretive exhibits, an espresso cafe and a (surprise!) gift shop.
Next comes a series of six waterfalls, some very close to the parking areas and others requiring a bit more effort to view.
1. Latourell Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4061). The parking area is on the southeast side of the bridge over Latourell Creek. There is a view of the falls from the parking area but it is only a short (0.2-mile) walk on a paved trail down to the base of these impressive 224-ft falls.
2. Shepperd’s Dell Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=9500). There is a pulloff for parking on the northeast side of the bridge over Youngs Creek. The short (0.1-mile) trail to a viewpoint of the 220-ft falls starts right by the “Shepperd’s Dell” sign.
3. Bridal Veil Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4059). There is a large parking area off the north side of the highway. There are two trails branching from the east side of the parking lot. The Bridal Veil Falls Trail is on the right and the Bridal Veil Falls Interpretive Trail is on the left. The steep trail to the 118-ft falls is about 0.6 mile out and back. The interpretive trail goes along the edge of the cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge; it is a level 0.5 mile loop with good views of the cliffs on the Washington side of the river. John and I hiked both of those trails.
4. Wahkeena Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4053). There are parking areas on both sides of the highway. The steep trail to the bridge across the 242-ft falls is about 0.4 mile out and back. We did not hike to the top of the falls, which is 1.4 miles round trip.
5. Multnomah Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4051). At 635 feet, this is the most spectacular waterfall in the gorge and perhaps in all of Oregon. There are a number of trails in this area (www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3822488.pdf) but we only climbed the 0.2-mile paved trail to the Benson Bridge. This is a very congested area, with cars and tour buses parking illegally and people walking along the highway instead of using the pedestrian walkways. It must be a nightmare to try to come here on a weekend!
Before going to the last waterfall, we stopped at the Oneonta Gorge, an extremely narrow gorge cut through the basalt by Oneonta Creek. There is a small parking area on the southeast side of the Oneonta Tunnel (columbiariverhighway.com/oneonta-tunnel/), which was used by vehicles from 1914-1948 and is now only open to pedestrian traffic. We walked west through the tunnel back to the gorge. There are good views of the gorge from the old bridge that leads to the tunnel. There is, of course, a waterfall on this creek, Oneonta Falls. However, reaching the falls requires climbing over logs and wading up the creek. John did walk partway down the paved part of the trail to where the gorge narrows.
6. Horsetail Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4044). The 214-ft falls can easily be seen from the sidewalk along the Historic Columbia River Highway or from a viewing area a few steps down on the south side of the highway. This is another area where extra caution is needed. Although there is a large parking area on the opposite side of the highway, there were many cars parked illegally along the highway. A tour company van stopped right in front of the falls and blocked the road while the tour group wandered around taking pictures!
After a few more miles, Historic US-30 rejoined I-84 at Exit 35. We took Exit 40 to visit the Bonneville Lock and Dam (cdm16021.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16021coll11/id/425). We had to stop for a security inspection before we could drive over the Navigation Locks and past the First Powerhouse to the Bradford Island Visitor Center. Probably the most interesting thing at the Visitor Center is the underwater viewing windows for watching fish navigate the fish ladders. It is a little creepy to see the clusters of lampreys resting on their swim upriver by attaching themselves to the window with their round, teeth-lined mouths. Shudder! We saw other fish, such as salmon and trout, swimming upstream. We went up another level to see the fish ladders from ground level, then up to the observation deck on top of the visitor center. From this vantage point we could see everything: the spillway, the fish ladders and the powerhouse.
Next we visited the Bonneville Fish Hatchery (www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/visitors/docs/BonnevilleFishHatchBrochure.pdf (). There is a self-guided tour (www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/visitors/docs/Bonneville_Hatchery_Self-guided_Tour.pdf) that walks you through all the fish raising facilities. Perhaps the most interesting site here is the Sturgeon Viewing and Interpretive Center, where you can observe sturgeon and trout in a natural environment. You can watch the fish both through underwater viewing windows and above the water from viewpoints on the pool’s perimeter. The star of the hatchery is “Herman the Sturgeon”, who is over 10 feet long, weighs over 450 pounds and is over 70 years old!
We continued east to the town of Hood River, where we turned south on US-35 through the valley of the East Fork of the Hood River. We saw lots of orchards, vineyards and farms but not as many farm stands as we had expected. We stopped at the Draper Girls Country Farm (www.drapergirlscountryfarm.com) to buy delicious cherries, apples, apricots and pears. It is a good thing we stopped there as we did not see any more farm stands along our route!
Not long after US-35 turned west, we took the turnoff to the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort. We saw the trailhead for the Elk Meadows and Sahalie Falls Trail (www.mthood.info/hikingtrails/umbrellafalls667.pdf) on the right side of the road. A short distance ahead, on the left, is the unsigned Old Mount Hood Scenic Byway. We drove about 0.75 miles to an old bridge and walked out on it for a great view of 78-ft Sahalie Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=3998).
We returned to US-35 and continued west. By now we were starting to get some good views of Mt. Hood, so we turned into the large parking area at the White River West Sno-Park where we could get out of the car and take some photos.
Shortly after US-26 merges in with US-35, is the turnoff for the 6-mile scenic drive up the south slope of Mt. Hood to the Timberline Lodge (www.timberlinelodge.com), a National Historic Landmark and the closest point by road to the summit of Mt. Hood. Exterior shots of the lodge were used in the movie “The Shining” to portray the fictional hotel in Stephen King’s novel. At this high elevation (6000 feet), there was still plenty of snow on the ground. We enjoyed walking through the lobby of this rustic lodge, which was built by the WPA during the Great Depression. The outdoor patios offered us panoramic views of Mt. Hood, although clouds were starting to gather around the peak.
We drove back down the mountain and continued west on US-26 for about 25 miles to the Zigzag Ranger Station (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zigzag_Ranger_Station). We were hoping to see rhododendrons in bloom at the Wy’East Rhododendron Gardens, which surround the station. Unfortunately, only a few plants were still blooming; a ranger told us that the garden had been gorgeous about three weeks earlier.
The final stop we had planned was in the town of Sandy at the Johnsrud Viewpoint Park (www.ci.sandy.or.us/index.cfm?fuseaction=content.mapLocation&mapLocationId=40412). Turn right on Bluff Drive in downtown Sandy and drive 0.9 mile to the viewpoint. [Hint: There is a Verizon store on one corner and a Walgreens pharmacy on another.] On a clear day, there is a spectacular view over the valley of the Sandy River to Mt. Hood. By now, unluckily, the mountain was obscured by clouds and rain.
On the ride back to Portland, we stopped at a Fred Meyer in Gresham. This was a more basic grocery than the one in downtown Portland but we picked up some items for dinner to supplement the leftovers from yesterday.
After dinner, Robert drove John and me to the Thrifty Car Rental (www.thrifty.com) off-airport location to pick up our car. By some quirk in Thrifty’s reservation system, it was much less expensive to pick up the car tonight and return it a few hours before our flight on Monday. While we were taking care of that, Robert and Mary went shopping to replace Mary’s shoes, which had decided to delaminate from all the wet weather.
THURS 06/16 Willamette Valley Wineries in the Eola Hills AVA
After breakfast, we packed up the cars and drove south separately to St. Innocent Winery (stinnocentwine.com) at Zenith Vineyard for our 11:00 a.m. reserved tasting and tour. We were not sure how long the drive would take because of the traffic leaving Portland, so we arrived very early for our appointment. This area seems less developed than our previous wine country visit.
We noticed a group of people near the side of the winery who were wearing rubber aprons and seemed quite busy. We later found out that it was the wine maker, Mark Vlossak, and some of his crew disgorging a few cases of vintage sparkling wine. We had met Mark previously when he hosted a wine tasting where we live in NC.
At 11 o’clock we began our vineyard and winery tour led by Kendra Boren, the Lead Tasting Room Associate. This is a small operation but the location is especially pretty. It is located near the famous Temperance Hill Vineyard where St. Innocent sources some of its grapes. John and I shared the St. Innocent Story collection of wines: 2014 Pinot Gris, Vitae Springs Vineyard, 2014 Chardonnay, Freedom Hill Vineyard, 2013 Pinot Noir, Temperance Hill Vineyard, 2013 Pinot Noir, Zenith Vineyard, and 2013 Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Vineyard. We also shared their Summer Selections series which included the heralded 2014 vintage wines: 2014 Pinot Blanc, Freedom Hill Vineyard, 2014 Pinot Noir, Villages Cuvée, 2014 Pinot Noir, Temperance Hill Vineyard, 2014 Pinot Noir, Zenith Vineyard, and 2014 Oeil de Perdrix, White Pinot Noir. The 2014 vintage as represented by the St. Innocent wines deserves its reputation! We bought a bottle of the 2014 Villages Cuvée for later enjoyment.
Our next appointment was for 1 p.m. at Bethel Heights Vineyard (www.bethelheights.com), where we were scheduled for a Private Estate Tasting that included food pairings ($45 pp). We’ve been drinking Bethel Heights wines for some time so were really looking forward to visiting the home base. We were again a little early so we walked around to take pictures of this beautiful estate. The tasting room seemed more elegant than St. Innocent and they seem to host more visitors. This was an enjoyable and relaxed affair and it was outstanding! We sat at a table in the tasting room and our hostess, Rachel Adams, the Hospitality and Events Manager, told us that this was still a family-owned winery and prided themselves on this fact. The food pairings included some pate, Spanish Marcona almonds and a sampling of cheeses including one of our favorites, Humbolt Fog, and two of the regional cheeses that we had bought on Tuesday. We tasted their 2013 Chardonnay Estate, 2015 Pinot Noir Rose Estate, 2013 Pinot Noir Justice Vineyard, 2014 Pinot Noir Justice Vineyard, 2012 Pinot Noir Aeolian and 2014 Pinot Noir Casteel. Again the 2014 vintage showed its character.
There are two other noted wineries in the area that we had considered visiting, Cristom and Witness Tree. However, we were getting a little palate fatigue at this point so we opted for a local cheese maker instead. Willamette Valley Cheese Company (www.wvcheeseco.com) is nearby and you park near the precious, fragrant cows that start the cheese process. You can sample as many cheeses as you like at this producer. The cheeses themselves range from some silly flavored ones to outstanding examples of really good cheeses. We bought some samples (Aged Gouda and French Prairie Brie) for a cheese and wine supper.
At this point we hugged our friends goodbye and we all parted company. They headed back to Portland for their family wedding and we drove south to Roseburg, OR, as a starting point for the remainder of our trip. We stayed at the Best Western Garden Villa Inn (www.bestwestern.com) that seemed to be hosting a meeting of large government-owned trucks. The motel was small but it was clean and served our purposes. The staff was always welcoming.
There is a Fred Meyer just down the road from the hotel. We stopped there to get a few items to go with our cheese tonight and some sandwiches and granola bars for tomorrow. Before going back to the room, I stopped by the front desk to pick up some cookies from the complimentary cookie bar for dessert.
FRI 06/17 Roseburg, OR, to Crater Lake National Park, OR
The breakfast options were a bit limited but the breakfast helpers were bright and cheery even early in the morning. After a hearty breakfast we were on our way to Crater Lake via OR-138, the Rogue-Umpqua National Scenic Byway (www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev3_055942.pdf).
After leaving Roseburg, the byway follows the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River. We stopped at the Colliding Rivers Viewpoint (www.blm.gov/or/districts/roseburg/recreation/ScenicByway/colliding_rivers.html). There is a viewing platform where the North Umpqua and Little Rivers collide almost head-on; this is not as dramatic as I had hoped. There is a rough trail from the viewpoint under the bridge, where we found some fossil oysters in the rocks.
There are a number of waterfalls on the byway and the Bureau of Land Management has an excellent brochure (www.blm.gov/or/districts/roseburg/recreation/Thundering_Waters/pdf/north_umpqua_river2.pdf) to help locate them. We had time to hike to nine of the waterfalls listed in the brochure:
1. Deadline Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4150). The trailhead to these small (12 ft—more of a cascade than a waterfall) falls can be found just after crossing the Swiftwater bridge at milepost 22 of OR-138. On the left, there is a parking area for the start of the 79-mile North Umpqua Trail. The trail sign does not mention Deadline Falls but there is a viewpoint only 0.25 mile down the trail. From May to October, salmon may be seen jumping the falls but we did not see any today. The trail sign does mention Fern Falls, another 1.5 miles down the trail; however, we decided to save our legs for more impressive falls to come.
2. Susan Creek Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4365). The parking area for the trail is on the left just past milepost 28 and is signposted. It is a one-mile hike to the falls on a fairly level trail. This is a lovely 35-ft waterfall in a scenic and secluded setting. There is a picnic area near the base of the falls and someone had built a lean-to out of branches there.
3. Fall Creek Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4351). The parking area for these trails is on the left around milepost 32. There is a good trail map at the trailhead. The one mile trail to the 120-ft falls passes up a picturesque gorge and at one point goes through a very narrow crevice in the volcanic rock. On the way back, we took the 0.25-mile side trail to a rock outcrop known as Jobs Garden, where there are some interesting basalt columns.
4. Little Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4352). To reach these well-named falls (only 10 ft), we had to turn north off OR-138 at about milepost 38 onto Steamboat Road #38. The falls are about 1.3 miles up the road and, like Deadline Falls, are more of a cascade than a waterfall.
5. Steamboat Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4367). We continued another four miles on Steamboat Road #38, turned right on Road 3810 to cross Steamboat Creek, then stayed left 0.6 mile to the Steamboat Falls Campground entrance. There is parking near the picnic area and a very short walk (about 50 ft) to a viewpoint of the falls. Although the 20-ft falls are not that impressive, this is a very pretty area and we walked further upstream to admire the large flat rocks above the falls. There is a fish ladder next to the falls but we didn’t see any fish here either. I guess it is good that we visited the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam!
6. Toketee Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4343). We retraced our path to OR-138 and continued past milepost 58 to Road #34, where we turned left. Keeping left at the fork, we drove about 0.5 mile to the parking lot to the trailhead. The trail is less than a mile round trip but the elevation change requires climbing over 200 steps up/down (although not all at once). It is worth the effort, however, to view this gorgeous two-tiered waterfall that plunges over a sheer wall of volcanic basalt columns that flank the falls. Another nice feature of this trail is that it crosses the top of the falls so that you are able to view them from two perspectives. We also saw rhododendron blooming along the trail. This 113-ft waterfall is mentioned in all of the guidebooks and it is easy to see why! Back at the parking area, we looked at the 12-ft diameter redwood-stave pipeline that channels water from the North Umpqua River to a powerhouse downstream.
7. Watson Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4341). After returning to OR-138, we drove about another two miles and turned south on Road #37; the large parking area is on the right. At 293 feet, this spectacular waterfall is the highest in southwest Oregon and, like Toketee Falls, plunges over a basalt cliff. Although you can view this waterfall from the parking area, it would be foolish to come here and not take the 1/3 mile hike to the overlook for the falls.
8. Whitehorse Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4334). Getting to this small (14-ft) waterfall couldn’t be easier: at milepost 66, turn north at the Whitehorse Falls Campground entrance and park at the picnic area. The falls are right next to the picnic area.
9. Clearwater Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4338). This is another small (29-ft) waterfall that is very easy to view: at milepost 70, turn south at the entrance to the Clearwater Falls Campground and drive 0.2 mile to park at the picnic area. The viewing platform is only about 100 feet from the parking area. There were many logs wedged in the stream both above and below the falls.
After another four or five miles, OR-138 turned south and we began to have views of Mt. Thielsen and Diamond Lake. We took the turnoff to OR-230 and drove 5.3 miles to the Crater Rim Viewpoint. In addition to a view of the crater rim, there are two really good interpretive signs here that explain how the explosion of Mt. Mazama formed Crater Lake over 7700 years ago.
We drove north back to OR-138 and continued to the North Entrance Road of Crater Lake National Park (www.nps.gov/crla/index.htm); my America the Beautiful Senior Pass covered the $15/car entry fee. This road leads to the crater through the Pumice Desert, where the pumice deposits from the explosion are as much as 200 feet deep. Even after thousands of years, this area is only sparsely vegetated because the pumice lacks the water and nutrients needed to support plant growth.
One thing that Crater Lake National Park does have is snowfall: 43 feet annually on average. Before planning a trip, it is important to check the park web site for weather conditions and road closures. Although the West Rim Drive was open to cars today, there were many places along the road where the snow was several feet deep; the East Rim Drive was still closed. All of the trails were also closed, except for part of one near Mazama Village.
We got our first view of Crater Lake from the Merriam Point Overlook. Although it was overcast and the view of the east side of the Lake was hazy, this was the best view we got during our visit. Today the lake was more of a deep blue-gray rather than the brilliant clear blue it displays on sunny days. We also had a great view of Wizard Island.
Our next stop was at the Wizard Island Overlook, where we had some good views of the south side of Wizard Island. John got some nice photos of a Steller’s Jay. Unfortunately, the clouds were coming in more heavily now and the weather was deteriorating. It was pointless to stop at any more overlooks, so we continued on to Mazama Village.
We spent the night at The Cabins at Mazama Village (www.craterlakelodges.com/lodging/the-cabins-at-mazama-village/). When I was checking in, I learned that the weather forecast had not improved from earlier today: it was supposed to start snowing tonight and continue until 11 a.m. tomorrow. The staff were really nice but they forgot to tell me that there is actually WIFI here, so we didn’t get to try it out.
No phone, no TV, no problem! These cabins are in the heart of Crater Lake National Park and that’s what matters most. The rooms are old fashioned but serviceable. On the other hand, the stated check-in time was 4 p.m.; it was well past that and our cabin had not yet been cleaned. We went out for a drive while we were waiting for that to happen. We stopped at the Steel Visitor Center to look at some exhibits and watch a movie about the park before returning to the cabin. We had eaten some granola bars while hiking so we never felt hungry enough to eat the sandwiches we had brought along; we ate those for supper.
SAT 06/18 Crater Lake National Park, OR, to Oregon Caves National Monument, OR
During the night, we got the promised snow, about 0.5 inch at the cabins, and it was still coming down. We waited until about 9 a.m. before checking out in hopes that the weather would clear. We drove up to the Rim Visitor Center but could not get to any of the overlooks there. We continued north to the Discovery Point Overlook but could not see any of the Lake at all. We made it as far as the Wizard Island Overlook in near-whiteout conditions with deeper snow starting to cover the road before deciding to give up and leave the park.
Once at a lower altitude, conditions improved. We stopped for a few minutes to look at the canyon at the Goodbye Creek Picnic Area, which is on both sides of Goodbye Creek. We also stopped at Annie Creek to hike on the Annie Spring Spur Trail (which connects to the Pacific Coast Trail) only as far as the spring.
When we exited the park via the South Entrance Road, we turned east to follow OR-62 along Annie Creek Canyon for a few miles. The ash deposits along the creek have eroded into fluted columns, some so much that they are now free-standing pinnacles. This made up a little for our being unable to take the Pinnacles Road in the park, which was still closed by snow.
We turned around and drove west on OR-62, stopping at several pullouts along Castle Creek Canyon where we could see the layers of ash deposits and more pinnacles. Eventually OR-62 turned south and merged with the Rogue-Umpqua National Scenic Byway. Now the byway was following the Rogue River.
We planned to visit the Rogue Gorge next but we missed the sign and zipped past. It was hard to find a place to turn around, so we decided to go on to the Natural Bridge first and then return to the Rogue Gorge.
We managed to spot the Natural Bridge Recreation Site (www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/rogue-siskiyou/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=69830&actid=50) sign about a mile west of Union Creek. The Natural Bridge is a fascinating place where the Rogue River travels underground through a lava tube and emerges 200 feet downstream. There are also blowholes or gaps in the lava tube where water sprays up.
We drove back about a mile north, just east of Union Creek, and managed to find the turnoff for the Rogue Gorge Viewpoint (www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/rogue-siskiyou/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=69870&actid=50). The short interpretive trail goes along the edge of a gorge where the Rogue River runs through a narrow channel eroded into basalt lava.
Because we had not been able to spend as much time at Crater Lake as we had hoped, we had extra time to visit Mill Creek Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4142) and Barr Creek Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4141). Both of these waterfalls tumble into the Rogue River Canyon, just outside of Prospect, OR.
As we entered Prospect, we saw the little green sign on the right for Mill Creek Road and followed it through town about 1.5 miles to the Mill Creek Falls Scenic Area. There is a large sign at the trailhead showing the path (on the right) to the viewpoints for the two waterfalls and the path (on the left) to the Giant Boulders. It is only about 0.5 mile to the Mill Creek Falls viewpoint and it is less than 0.25 mile further to the Barr Creek Falls viewpoint. Both of these are impressive waterfalls, 173 and 240 feet high, respectively.
On the way back to the parking lot, we decided to take the trail (about a mile) to the Avenue of the Boulders. In 1911, a hydroelectric plant was built here on the Rogue River; there is a memorial plaque and you can still see ruins of the plant. It drained the narrow valley and revealed these huge boulders, which were tossed here during the explosion of Mt. Mazama. The river flows around the boulders creating pools, natural rock slides and sandy beaches.
A we left the parking lot, we turned left and continued to Prospect Access Road, which took us to OR-62 without having to backtrack through Prospect. We followed the Rogue-Umpqua National Scenic Byway to its end in Gold Hill. From here, we took I-5 (Pacific Hwy) north to Grant’s Pass, where we picked up some food items and gas at a Fred Meyer.
From Grant’s Pass, we took US-199 (Redwood Hwy) south to Cave Junction, where we turned left onto OR-46 (Caves Hwy) and followed it 20 miles to the Oregon Caves National Monument (www.nps.gov/orca/index.htm). Visitors are warned that the last ten miles of this road are narrow and winding, with many blind corners and the entire road trip from Cave City can easily take 60 minutes. We did not have any problems driving up but several cars encroached on our lane as we were driving down the next day.
We were fortunate to be able to reserve one of the 23 guest rooms at the Chateau at the Oregon Caves (www.oregoncaveschateau.com/index.asp) online months ago; there were no vacancies tonight! This is a historic building that is really neat. It is also really old (1934) and that shows to some extent. For instance, there are no elevators or air conditioning. The rooms are a little noisy but that’s actually not a big issue since there also are no televisions, telephones, WIFI or cell phone reception to create additional noise. Our room had a large water pipe running through so we got to hear running water a lot of the time. Nevertheless, our overall experience was quite positive.
Because we were staying at the Chateau, we could park in the upper lot (I received a parking pass when I checked in). The Chateau was constructed from local materials and nestles so well into the small gorge formed by Cave Creek that it is hard to believe it is six stories tall. The entrance, lobby and some guest rooms are at ground level on the fourth floor, with the food service, storage and mechanical areas below; more guest rooms are on the top two floors. The public areas are connected by a rustic staircase made from huge logs and the lobby features a gigantic double fireplace made from local marble.
Our room was a Standard Queen, which has a limited view (a wooded hillside), on the fifth floor. After dropping off our luggage, we hurried (it closes at 5 p.m.) down to the Caves Cafe, an authentic 1930s-era diner that makes outstanding classic milkshakes and malts in 36 flavors (with whipped cream and a cherry on top, of course!). The Cafe looks out on a patio with a small trout pond that was constructed by the CCC.
When we arrived, we saw signs posted indicating that all of the cave tours for the rest of today were sold out. No matter, we had reservations for the first tour tomorrow morning. We stopped by the Chalet Visitor Center, across from the Chateau, to confirm the time and place we needed to meet for the tour. After that, we still needed to do something to work off a few of the calories from our milkshake/malt, so we hiked the No Name Trail (www.nps.gov/orca/planyourvisit/upload/orca_hiking_trails.pdf). This trail can be accessed from several points; it is a 1.3-mile loop though the woods along No Name Creek and Cave Creek. The is a small rustic covered bridge on the trail and we saw a deer nibbling leaves right beside the trail. Like the deer that eat our landscape plants at home, it did not seem particularly bothered by our presence. It ambled a few yards away from the trail and then returned to the same spot once we had passed by.
The Chateau Dining Room is the only evening food option closer than Cave Junction; the Caves Cafe and the Gallery Deli are only open for breakfast and lunch. Reservations for the dinning room are very limited because of the small kitchen and wait staff; we had made our 7 p.m. reservations online well before our arrival. It is noteworthy that the kitchen was able to prepare some take-away food on short notice for a family who showed up without reservations and could not be otherwise accommodated. We were seated right next to Cave Creek, which runs through the dining room. (It’s only about a foot wide here.) The restaurant was excellent and had a nice selection of wines from Rogue Valley wineries. We both had the Flat Iron Steak with a bottle of 2008 Cabernet Franc from Foris Vineyards.
SUN 06/19 Oregon Caves National Monument, OR, to Crescent City, CA
This morning, we checked in for our cave tour at the Chalet Visitor Center. The fee for the Discovery Tour is $15 pp but I got a 50% discount with my America the Beautiful Senior Pass. While we waited for the tour to start, we checked out the exhibits and the gift shop. Our tour was not full, so people checking in for later tours were offered the opportunity to join us and free up tour slots for standby customers later in the morning. Nevertheless, I would never consider visiting this site in the summer without advance reservations.
The Discovery Tour (www.nps.gov/orca/planyourvisit/upload/tour-route.pdf) takes about 1.5 hours. It is considered moderately strenuous, not for the distance (0.6 mile) but for the 500 steps up/down. There is also some “cave walking”—walking in a squatting position—that our ranger guide, Marcy, demonstrated and made us practice before the tour. She also warned us about narrow passages and low ceilings, telling us not to touch the walls or formations and to watch our heads!
The tour starts where Cave Creek exits the cave. Throughout the tour, Marcy gave a thorough explanation of the natural and human history of the cave, pointed out cave formations and wildlife (cave cricket, bat) and answered questions. There is only one place where people can exit the cave before the end of the tour (the 110 Exit) but no one chose to do that. Some of the steps were pretty steep and it was necessary to resist the temptation to reach out a hand to steady myself; luckily, there is usually a handrail. One of the prettiest sections of the cave, “Paradise Lost”, involves a number of steps up and down and can be skipped by those with more limited mobility. There is also a fairly level section near the exit where we had to “cave walk”. Although this cave is not as highly-decorated as some others we have visited, this was an excellent tour with an excellent guide.
After emerging from the cave, visitors can choose to take a paved path back to the Chalet Visitor Center or hike the one-mile Cliff Nature Trail back (www.nps.gov/orca/planyourvisit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=127081). We chose the latter and were surprised when our cell phones picked up a signal at the high point of the trail!
We checked out of the Chateau around 11 a.m. and headed back to Cave Junction. On the way, we encountered a flock of wild turkeys and their poults (chicks). We had once chanced upon a similar flock right after touring Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Do wild turkeys just like to hang out around caves?
We got back on the Redwood Hwy (US-199) and headed south to California. It is enjoyable just to drive along this scenic road. However, we also wanted to take some “back roads” in the Redwood National and State Parks (www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/drives.htm). Anyone who also plans to do this needs to be sure to check www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/conditions.htm for possible bridge and road closures. Even if there is no indication on that web site that a road/bridge is closed, it may well be on the day or there may be lengthy traffic delays.
The first drive we wanted to take was Howland Hill Road, a 10-mile scenic drive through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=413). The turn from US-199 onto South Fork Road is well-marked and there is also a sign for “Howland Hill Scenic Drive/ Stout Grove”. We had been worried that there would be traffic problems because of work on the bridge over the Smith River. However, there were no crews working on Sunday and the road was open.
Howland Hill Road is paved as far as the park boundary, where there is a sign warning that it is a “rough narrow winding road”. Although there are large redwoods all along the drive, the Stout Memorial Grove contains some especially fine specimens. The Stout Grove Loop Trail (it is really a figure eight and only about 0.5 mile long) allows visitors the chance to get up close and personal with 300-ft redwoods. This is an exceptionally popular site and was very crowded on a Sunday afternoon. Nevertheless, it is worth taking the time to find a parking spot and enjoy this gorgeous sight.
We continued on Howland Hill Road, occasionally having to pull over to let oncoming traffic pass. Driving this road is like taking a hike in your car: you are right in among the trees. Howland Hill Road becomes paved again after it leaves the park a few miles east of Crescent City, CA. In a couple of blocks, we turned left (south) on Humboldt Road, which connects to US-101 (Redwood Hwy).
US-101 mostly follows the Pacific coast, so there are lots of excellent views of the cliffs and sea stacks. Soon after entering Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=414), there is a Vista Point with views of Crescent Beach. There is another nice overlook just south of the DeMartin Campground. From there we could see False Klamath Cove, with False Klamath Rock and the smaller Wilson Rock. Right after US-101 crosses Wilson Creek, there is easy access to the beach at False Klamath Cove, so we got out there to walk around a little.
Next we took the turnoff to the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=415). This is another 10-mile scenic drive through ancient and stately redwoods. Our first stop was near the southern end, at Big Tree Wayside. It is a very short walk (0.1 mile) to the Big Tree, which is 304 feet tall, 68 feet in circumference and estimated to be 1500 years old. Although Big Tree is especially impressive, we saw many other huge trees along the nearby Circle Trail (0.3 mile).
A little further along is Cal-Barrel Road, another unpaved, narrow, winding road through the redwood groves. Although the NPS web site did not have an advisory for this road, we found that it was not yet open for the season when we got there. We stopped at the visitor center to verify that Beach Road to Fern Creek was open. Cal-Barrel Road was not on the list of closures and the Ranger we talked to was surprised to learn from us that it was not open.
Near the visitor center and along the parkway to the south are several areas of open prairie, where Roosevelt elk can often be seen grazing. There were a couple of large males there as we drove past. The parkway soon rejoined US-101 and we continued south to Davidson Road, at the Elk Meadow Day Use Area. This area is aptly named: as soon as we turned onto Davidson Road, we found that traffic was stopped by a herd of elk (including some calves) ambling across the roadway. They were in no particular rush. The elk were calling to each other, making a strange squealing sound. There were many more elk in the meadows along Davidson Road.
Eventually, the elk moved away from the road and we continued about four miles (only the first 1/3 mile is paved) to the entry kiosk for Gold Bluffs Beach. This is another fee area ($8/car) but my America the Beautiful Senior Pass once again saved the day (or at least the money!). From here, it is another three unpaved miles on Beach Road to the parking area for Fern Canyon. There are a number of bad areas on this road where we essentially had to ford small streams.
Fern Canyon is definitely worth the effort needed to reach it. Home Creek has carved a narrow gorge with 30-ft walls. It is shady, cool and water continually drips down the walls. It’s a perfect place for ferns (seven species) and mosses: the walls are almost completely covered by them. It is so primeval that Steven Spielberg filmed a scene for “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” here.
It is 0.1 mile from the parking area to the 0.6-mile Fern Canyon Loop Trail. The trail runs along and in Home Creek. During the summer, there are a number of short plank bridges to help in crossing the wetter areas. Most people who visit the canyon probably walk back out the same way they came in. However, John and I decided to finish the loop by climbing the trail up the canyon walls and returning along the top of the crevice. While walking on the section back to the parking lot, we were astounded to come face to face with a couple we know from Mississippi; they were there with their son (a good friend of our son), DIL and their two grandchildren! (Cue up a chorus of “It’s A Small World”.) Our son was equally astonished when we told him about this encounter.
We had assumed that the elk tended to forage in the prairie areas away from the beach. We learned that we were mistaken: there were several large males chowing down right next to Beach Road. Once we returned to US-101, we took that highway north all the way back to Crescent City.
For tonight, we had booked a room at Americas Best Value Inn Crescent City (www.americasbestvalueinn.com/bestv.cfm?idp=361&rcode=sim2016). This place is an old fashioned style American motel. The rooms are small but clean. There is no air conditioning but we didn’t need it in June. We got a great bargain here compared to other motels in the area! There was no hot breakfast in the morning but we did have large muffins that were good. After checking in, we went to a nearby Safeway (www.safeway.com) to pick up some items for supper and sandwiches for tomorrow.
MON 06/20 Crescent City, CA, to PDX to DEN (arrive at RDU the next morning)
We did not have a lot of time for touring today because it is a six-hour drive from Crescent City to PDX. Before heading back, we decided to take one more trail.
We drove south on US-101 and turned onto Enderts Beach Road. The road ends in a parking area with a view of Crescent Beach; the Coastal Trail, Last Chance Section, is at the south end of the parking area. We hiked the 0.5-mile trail to Enderts Beach. There are several large rocks here with arches worn through them. Luckily, the tide was out and we could explore some of the many tidepools. We saw some crabs and lots of sea anemones, including creepy-looking Giant Green Anemones. The latter were closed up and with their long thick stalks, they reminded me of the giant many-toothed swamp worms in the 2005 movie “King Kong”.
There are not many ways to cross over from US-101 to I-40, so we retraced out path along US-199 (skipping the detour on Howland Hill Road) to Grant’s Pass. We took I-5 north to the I-205 bypass around Portland. Between Exits 6 and 8 on I-205, we stumbled on the Willamette Falls Scenic Overlook. The overlook has a nice view of 42-foot Willamette Falls (www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4074) with Mt. Hood in the background. The mountain was out today and we still had a lot of time, so we decided to sidetrack to Sandy and make another effort to see it from the Johnsrud Viewpoint. By the time we got there, there were a few more clouds around the top but we could still see the peak. It was not quite a picture-postcard view but really pretty nonetheless.
Now it was time to fight the amazing traffic back to Portland, gas up the car and return it to Thrifty. We checked in for our flight and managed to get through security without setting off any alarms. Once at the gate, we could relax and enjoy our sandwiches. The flight to DEN was uneventful and we had to wait only an hour for the red-eye to RDU.
We were very happy to have been able to spend time with our friends and get to see so much of western Oregon. We were a little disappointed that the weather was bad at Crater Lake and that we could only visit part of Redwood National and State Parks. However, there is so much to see in the Pacific Northwest that we will just have to plan another visit there!
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