The Wonders of Oregon

Our Washington adventure is now a thing of the past, we were heading down I-5, still in hopes of seeing a glimpse of Mount Rainier as we were southbound for Oregon. We passed the exit for Mount St Helens and it wasn’t long before we saw another mountain peak in the eastern skies, Mount Hood! We crossed the Columbia River and then heading up the Columbia River Gorge, past the Multnomah Falls, Bonneville Dam and the Bridge of the Gods to our campground destination at Cascades Locks.

Last year we had aspirations to visit the Pacific Northwest, but those plans were altered due the numerous wildfires in Northern California and Southern Oregon. This year we were more fortunate and didn’t have to deal with it.

Oregon has a diverse landscape within its borders, the Columbia River Gorge which was lined with iconic waterfalls, the beautiful coast with lighthouses dotting its rugged shoreline, Crater Lake and the Rogue River, the mountain peaks scattered down its backbone and the eastern high desert with Smith Rock State Park and the Painted Hills which is part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Of course, we made some discoveries that weren’t on our bucket list, too.

Our KOA campsite was near the village of Cascade Locks. The city took its name from a set of locks built to improve navigation past the Cascades Rapids of the Columbia River. The locks were completed in 1896 and subsequently submerged in 1938 when replaced by the Bonneville Lock and Dam. Deb and I enjoyed watching the river traffic up and down the river. It was also a perfect place for daily walks for the puppies.

The Bridge of the Gods was a beautiful structure that spanned the Columbia River. Native American lore contains numerous legends, the most famous of these is the Bridge of the Gods legend told by the Klickitats. A good story…click here to enjoy it.

The Historic Columbia River Highway provided a 25 mile stretch that had a couple state parks, picnic areas, scenic turnouts, the famous Vista House that overlooked the Columbia River. We visited some of the waterfalls, one day we stopped at the Horsetail and Latourell Falls, another day, we spent exclusively at the Multnomah Falls.

Multnomah Falls has over 2 million visitors a year. Not only is it the highest waterfall in the state, it’s also a popular hiking destination as there are many trails above the falls. So, if you are visiting to hike, get there early, or plan for another day. If you there for a Photo Op, then afternoon (after 3PM) parking is a breeze and there is good light on the falls. Note: we visited mid July.

We were looking for a place to walk the puppies and found Blackberry Beach. Perfect time of the year to be here, blackberries were abundant, everywhere! It made for a nice walk, we made frequent stops (me) and snacked along the way!

We visited the Bradford Island Visitor Center at the Bonneville Dam. Amazing to see the engineering marvel that harnesses the power of the Columbia River. We were also very intrigued by the number of fish ladders there were to accommodate the migrating salmon and trout population.

On our way off the island we had the luck to see the tugboat Granite Point and its cargo of barges entering the locks. We stopped at the Locks Visitor Center to watch the vessels being lowered 90 feet right before our eyes!

Of course, we had to find a place for a suitable day trip. One day, we went up to Mount St Helens in Washington. We covered that trip in our Washington Blog. Mount Hood was on this day’s radar.

A short drive east to Hood River on I-84 was our first leg, a brief stop to walk the dogs at the Hood River Penstock Flume Pipeline trailhead, an opportunity to see a cool train bridge and the beginning of a day long adventure around Mount Hood. State road 35 followed down through numerous orchards and vineyards. I bet this area is a real treat later when all this fruit is in season. For now, we appreciated all the farms and the lush greenery.

Our first real majestic view of Mount Hood was at White River Sno-Park West. Still a snow melt which provided brisk cold stream even in the heat of this mid-summer day, an enormous rock wash and a spectacular view of the snow laden peak. Here we stopped so that Deb could test out one of her new 4×5 cameras.  As we pulled into park, another car came up alongside of us.  As Deb got out and grabbed her camera from the back seat, the person in the car next to us, spotted the camera and immediately started asking questions about it.  Deb soon found out the lady’s name was Francoise and she was from Liège, Belgium.  Her father worked for Agfa, which was a large camera and film company back in the day.

Needless to say, both Deb and Francoise were delighted at the connection and they talked for quite a while.  Francoise was kind enough to pose for Deb to use the Graflex RB Series D 4×5 and they have remained connected through Facebook since then. It is truly amazing how an old camera can bring people together from across the country and across the world.

A bit further down the road, after State HWY 35 intersected with US HWY 26, we came upon Trillium Lake. With a campground and a picnic area we were hopeful to have lunch and do a little puppy walk. Ill conceived, even mid-week, this place was packed with folks enjoying the warm day and cool waters. We did enjoy the forest road that circled the lake.

We were off to Timberline Lodge. Still abundant winter sport activity for this time of year, snowboarding, skiing and many hikers were venturing up the slopes.

We discovered Camp Creek Campground as the perfect answer our picnic prayers. Puppies got to stretch their legs and we got to eat lunch in a lush green forest.

The Jonsrud Viewpoint provided the last distant view of Mount Hood in the afternoon light.  Another picturesque day that gave us much more than we expected to see.

We made a couple of trips to Portland, one to visit an Instagram Film friend of Deb’s. Jim and Vicki were awesome hosts. We did a street walk  in the St Johns/Cathedral Park area of Portland to shoot film. Deb got to visit the famous Blue Moon Camera & Machine to meet some of her other IG friends and to fondle some spectacular vintage cameras. Dinner with Jim & Vicki capped off a wonderful day.

We made another city visit to bop around to find some “street food” at the Hawthorne Asylum. Very international flavors to choose from. I opted for Pad Thai and Deb had a bubbly boiling cauldron of Asian soup. A short stop at Citizens Photo Lab, Deb has used this place to develop her color film since we hit the road. We found a few thrift stores but left without any bargains and made our way back to Cascade Locks.

The Columbia River gorge area and Mount Hood were quite a spectacle to see and experience. Mid July is probably not the optimal time to visit but the scenery and weather were fantastic during our stay.

A short jaunt of 125 miles took us to our next stop, Albany Oregon. Primary purpose of stay was to visit an old shipmate. Deb and I had lunch with Ross and Jean at Willamette Valley Vineyards. Sea stories from the mid-70s were the conversation highlights. It was interesting to hear the stories told from the perspective of a Department Head’s wife.  LOL.

Albany, Oregon was a quaint little town on the shores of the Willamette River. My sister Ann told us about the Historic Carousel & Museum. Volunteers carve and paint the 52 animals and include a variety ranging from a seven-foot-tall giraffe, dogs, cats, zebras, unicorns, frog, a dragon, and yes, even lions, tigers, and bears.

We also discovered covered bridges in Linn county. Flashing back to our many adventures in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, we were off to locate some of these bridges, the ones we visited were well maintained and each had access to the streams below for fantastic photo opportunities.

Thompson’s Mills is a living testament to 160 years of Oregon rural life that adapted to the changing world around it. It is the last water-powered mill in the state and its turbines can be seen in action on guided tours. Deb and I got an awesome tour from the park ranger, he was very knowledgeable about the mill and the history of the surrounding area.

We took a drive over to Corvallis to see a few more covered bridges. On the western outskirts of the city we found Irish Bend, then further west we found Harris Road and even further west, Chitwood covered bridge, and in the process we decided we might as well drive over to the coast at Newport to see the lighthouse at Yaquina Head.

This was our first glimpse of the Oregon Coast. Utterly amazing! The cliffs, the nearby rock islands, the sea lions, the whales spouting off the shore. Sensory Overload!  Unfortunately, we weren’t prepared for coastal temps that were almost 30 degrees cooler than when we left in the morning. We knew this would be a return visit without the pups to be able to thoroughly enjoy a day along the coast.

Our coastal destination was Florence, Oregon. The short stay at a county park that advertised “Big-Rig Friendly”. We are just under forty feet and had to squeeze into our site. First day we scoped out the local beaches and sand dunes. Puppies were “tired puppies” after a couple of short hikes in the sand! Beyond the dunes the beaches here were long and flat.

Day two, we were “puppy-free” and off to explore the Oregon Coast up to Newport and Yaquina Head Lighthouse.. There were also some significant coastal highlights along the way. We stopped to see Heceta Head Lighthouse and hoped to take some pictures of the historic Cape Creek Bridge. When we arrived, we discovered there was a construction crew and the bridge was covered with a skeleton of scaffolding and tarps to mask its beauty.

We stopped at Tokatee Klootchman State Natural Site, so we could access the beach at low tide and observe the tide-pool inhabitants.

It’s impossible to drive along the Oregon Coast Highway without noticing bridges that span the waterways. Their graceful arches and decorative flourishes are nearly as awe-inspiring as the natural scenery. Conde B. McCullough was the state bridge engineer from 1919 to 1935, overseeing the construction of numerous spans, including many iconic bridges on the Coast.

Three coastal “Must-sees” are the Sprouting Horn and Thor’s Well, the third is Devils Churn. Parking is always an issue at these destinations, we were successful for the first two, struck out at the third. There is something about the pounding surf on rocky coasts that just soothes the soul.

The remainder of our drive up to Newport was uneventful, as we were both anxious to revisit Yaquina Head lighthouse. The weather on this day was much nicer than our previous visit. Deb broke out the “Big-Gun” for this trip, the Seneca 8×10. It’s always amazing to watch the looky-loo event unfold as she sets that camera up for a shoot. The most common questions she gets are…”Does that thing work? & Can you still buy film”?

Our return trip down the coast was much quicker, we did stop to get some photos of the iconic Newport bridge and did a drive by the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse on our way out of town. Soon we were back in Florence to catch the sunset.

Last year we wanted to visit Oregon, but the state was ravaged by wildfires in and around Grant’s Pass and northern California. This year, we left Florence, our trip followed the coast down to Reedsport and along the Umpqua river, past the Dean Creek Elk viewing area, up State HWY 38 /138 and then down I-5 which took us through a wildfire that had the interstate down to single lane as firefighters were containing the blaze. A year later than we hoped for, we made it to Grant’s Pass Oregon to see family and friends.

Grant’s Pass is on the Rogue River and we found a nice little County Park right in town and only miles from where my sister lives.

It was so nice to catch up with Ann and kids. It was great to see everyone all together (Cheri, Scott & Christine) and we got to meet Colin.  A Sunday BBQ was a perfect venue to reminisce, relax and share memories and do what Tracy’s do best… E-A-T!!

Colin was very interested in Deb’s cameras, so she gave him a lesson or two and they were off the cul-de-sac for a photo shoot.

While we were there, we inherited a collection of vintage train photos that Ann’s father in law collected over the years. She was hopeful that we could find a home for them, so they didn’t end up in a yard sale. We promised to do some research with a few train museums across the country, so these photos find their rightful home to be shared for generations to come.

We were in town over the weekend and wandered down to the Farmers Market and Craft Show.  Always nice to see local artisans with their unique crafts and Deb did find some “Skunky-Brie”.

With temps bordering the century mark, we decided to take a day trip to the coastal town of Crescent City, California. We discovered some roadside eye candy on the way down. Old police cars, general stores and cabooses always causes the Jeep brakes to lock up!

We crossed the state line into California and were quickly immersed in the land of giants. Soon we were at the coastal town, of course,  it was overcast and foggy. We lingered around town till mid-afternoon in hopes of the fog lifting but no joy.

Our return trip was a scenic trek through Redwoods National Park on Howland Summit Road. A dusty narrow alley through the redwoods that was a crazy cool trip in the jeep amidst the giants in the forest.

A roadside stop at “It’s a Burl” in Kerby, Oregon was the highlight of the return trip. Abundant wood samples of all shapes and sizes in the rough for you to create your own masterpiece.

A walk through the Burl Wood furniture gallery to see the masterful creations created by the owner that has been designing unique burl pieces for over 25 years.

With the help of my sisters,  Peg and Ann, we got to visit a long lost relative. Oren Tracy was a brother of Grandpa Tracy. He served in WWI and was laid to rest at Granite Hill Cemetery in Grant’s Pass. RIP Uncle Oren!

Our travels across America have brought Deb and I together with many of our friends, family and shipmates that I have served with. While in Oregon we had lunch with another Scottville MCC classmate, Marcia Raven at Taprock Northwest Grill. It was a pleasure to meet Richard and her son, to catch up on the old days.

A short drive took us to Farewell Bend National Forest Campground on the Rogue River gorge. This was an absolutely beautiful campground nestled in the evergreens, less than 25 miles from Crater Lake National Park.

During our stay, we visited the National Park twice. The first Crater NP visit was monumental. Before we did the full loop drive, we stopped at the visitor center just as it was opening, and the Park Ranger asked Deb to assist in “Morning Colors” and raise the flag!  Deb is a proud patriot and was honored to assist in the ritual.

Some National Parks do not prepare you for the shock and awe of what you are about to witness. The blueness of the water, the contrast of the crater and the clouds in the sky are breathtaking. Some of the scenic overlooks and turnouts, the sharp jagged cliffs, the islands, the shoreline lined with evergreens provided many sensory overload moments.

With the day still young, we were off to Klamath Falls. We discovered a delicious frozen yogurt shop, the Lighthouse Yogurt Company, on our drive through downtown. A stop for the puppies at Veterans Memorial Park to let them stretch their legs and chase the geese. Then, we continued our scenic trip past Lake of the Woods, located Butte Falls and an old mill foundation, and lastly a short detour in the rain to see the Avenue of the Boulders on the Rogue River.

Day two was an adventurous mix! Deb and I did a couple of stops along the Rogue River gorge to see some of nature’s highlights; the Rogue River Viewpoint, Natural Bridge, Hidden River and the Cave were all within minutes from the parking lot.

We did a little off roading to get up close and personal with a dam on the river, then a short drive down to the Peyton Bridge Trail head for a hike down to Lost Creek Lake filled up our morning.

We had lunch at the campground, loaded up the dogs and we were off for an afternoon of National Forest roads in search of huckleberries! Such beauty and majesty off the tourist grid! Mountain views, canyons, streams and we found huckleberries galore. We stopped at a few places to eat/pick berries and give the canines a chance to sniff out a possible sasquatch sighting.

Our last day at Farewell Bend was our final chance to go revisit Crater Lake NP and we were once again  overcome with its beauty and grandeur. We were greeted with clear blue skies as we drove past Cloudcap Overlook, Phantom Ship Overlook and Vidae Falls.

We had a delicious picnic at Lost Creek Campground and were quite surprised to see what Pinnacles Overlook was all about. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze.

Our days in Oregon were coming to an end, we had one more stop in Redmond so we could enjoy the splendor of Smith Rock State Park. Deb and I had a rigorous morning hike along the Crooked River. The views of the peaks and rock formations along the trail were amazing. So easy to see why this place is one of the top destinations to visit in Oregon.  Our picnic on the canyon rim topped off a spectacular morning adventure.

With all the surrounding peaks in the area, Mount Jefferson, the Sisters, Mount Washington and Mount Bachelor, we were determined to get a closer view. The McKenzie Hwy seemed the perfect way to trek off into the Oregon wilderness. As we ventured higher into the mountains we came across a huge lava flow which covered over 65 square miles that we crept along its edge.

We stopped at Lava Camp Lake to walk the puppies. Zeus was able to get his feet wet in yet, another body of water. A scenic spot despite the previous wildfires that had scorched the area in  recent years.

The Dee Wright Observatory was amidst this lava flow and provided a unique compass map to all the nearby peaks. The observatory is an open shelter built with lava found at the site. The viewing windows are cut to specifically highlight the neighboring mountains. From the top of the observatory, visitors have a panoramic view of the Cascade Mountain Range including Mount Hood in the far north.

We continued our travels along the McKenzie-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway, through McKenzie Pass (5,325 ft) and began our weavey-windy way into the Willamette National Forest to Belknap Springs where Hwy 126 took us up along the McKenzie River. Next, was a much-needed puppy break, so we stopped at the Olallie Campground for a stretch and so (this time) Deb & Zeus could dip their toes in the chilly McKenzie River! A short drive later we got to see the Sahalie Falls. Quite a spectacle in the middle of the forest greenery.

We spent almost a month in Oregon. We were so fortunate and overwhelmed to see so much of its  diverse landscape. Deb found a scenic route as we left Redmond and headed east US Hwy 26 toward Prineville. On our way toward Idaho, the Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, capped off our spectacular experience here and allowed us to visit our last Oregon scenic landmark.

Bye for Now, Idaho & Utah here we come.

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