April 29, 2012

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Have you ever walked through acres of tulip fields?  We did just that today, and it was a spectacular sight.  The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn, Oregon, sponsors a Tulip Fest every April.  Tim and I had attended the festival two years ago, and we were so impressed that we wanted to return while we were in the area.

When we walked through the gate and got out first glimpse of the tulip fields, it was hard not to gasp.  It was such an amazing sight.  The tulip fields were a mass of color and seemed to go on forever.  The fields were planted in wide rows of single colors, although there were also areas that contained a mix of colors.  Vibrant reds, soft pinks, deep purples and sunny yellows were just a few of the colors that caught our eyes.  The names of the varieties were also catchy, although Tim came up with a much better name for one of them.  “Red Top, Yellow Belly” had such a nice ring to it.  If you can’t get to Holland to see the tulips, this is a nearby alternative.

Rows and Rows of Tulips
Yellows, Blacks, Pinks. . .
A Riot of Color
Pick a Color, Any Color
Sarah Among the Tulips
Don't We Make Cute Little Dutch Children?
"Red Top, Yellow Belly" Variety
Looking Skyward

From the tulip fields we traveled to Silver Falls State Park to look at waterfalls.  Oregon has many beautiful state parks, and this is one of the best.  The falls were thundering today and were an impressive sight.

Silver Falls State Park
The Oregon countryside was lovely, and we passed green fields planted with somewhat unusual crops.  Oregon is the grass seed capital of the world and is also known for its Christmas tree farms.  Hops that end up in beer are also grown here on tall trellis systems.  I actually could identify all of these.  (I confess that Kevin had pointed out hops to me several years ago, so I knew what to look for.)

Trellis System for Growing Hops
One of my favorite restaurants in the Pacific Northwest is Burgerville, a fast food restaurant that promotes fresh, local and sustainably-produced food.  It’s not your typical fast food joint.  We had missed In-N-Out Burger while we were in California, but I especially didn’t want to miss Burgerville.  I think it’s so much better.  Even though we had eaten lunch at the tulip festival, we stopped at Burgerville and ordered one of their seasonal milkshakes.  This time of year it’s fresh strawberry.  How delicious.

We ended our day with covered bridges.  Who knew that Oregon has one of the country’s largest collections of these picturesque bridges?  We went to see the ones around Cottage Grove, the “Covered Bridge Capital of Oregon.”  Most were no longer functioning bridges, but we were able to drive the RV through one of them.  How cool was that!  We actually weren’t too tall or too heavy for the Mosby Creek Bridge.

Dorena Bridge
Getting Ready to Drive Through the Mosby Creek Bridge

April 28, 2012

A Few Days in the Willamette Valley

We arrived in Salem, Oregon, on Thursday, and this is where we are spending a few days. Yes, Salem is Oregon’s capital but it’s Salem’s convenient location in the Willamette Valley that has prompted our extended stay here.  Another rainy day yesterday provided us with a good excuse to accomplish a few things like getting haircuts and doing a bit of shopping.  I even took an extended nap, which is rare for me.

Getting haircuts has been one of the challenges of the trip.  I’ve had one really great haircut, one terrible one and two pretty good ones.  Luckily, this was one of the good ones and should last until we get home.  I just haven’t yet figured out the secret of finding a great salon on the spur of the moment.  Whom do you ask for a recommendation?  If you have no one to ask, how do you pick a salon from its website?  Then, if you are able to find a good salon, it’s typically booked far in advance or is located in a downtown area where there is no place to park the RV.  Oh well, I won’t have to worry about that anymore.

Today our friend Kevin, who lives in Portland, drove down to pick us up for one of his famous tours of the area.  No one I’ve met is more passionate about where he lives than Kevin.  He absolutely adores Oregon, and Portland in particular, and is a fabulous ambassador for the state.  

We have now had the good fortune to see Kevin three times during our journey.  Kevin accompanied me on the last leg of my pre-trip drive from Colorado to Maine.  Tim and I also spent the day with Kevin in Austin while he was visiting that town.  Now we’ve seen him on his home turf.

Kevin arrived in a zipcar from the world’s largest car sharing service.  Zipcars are a great alternative to owning or renting a car when you live in a city like Portland, which has such great public transportation.  On our way out of Salem, we stopped by the state capitol building and then headed off through the beautiful Willamette Valley toward McMinnville, one of Oregon’s prettiest towns.  

Kevin and His Zipcar
Oregon State Capitol Building
Relief Sculptures on the Capitol Building
A sign beside the road that read “Cheese Tasting Today” led us to stop at the Willamette Valley Cheese Company.  I had never experienced a cheese tasting before, but what a great idea.  We sampled various farmstead cheeses, including varieties of havarti, gouda and jack, that were produced on site from fresh Jersey milk.  The cheeses were very good.  Naturally, we did not leave empty-handed.

Cheese Tasting
These Are Working Girls
McMinnville is located in the heart of the Willamette Valley and has a wonderful main street.  It was fun to walk down the street, peek into the windows and check out a few of the shops.  We couldn’t resist the local market or the chocolate shop, where we were good and left with only one goody apiece.  What is it about food shops that make us freely spend a bit of cash?  We also climbed to the top of the Oregon Hotel where we had a view of the entire downtown.

Downtown McMinnville
The Historic Mack Theater Is Still There
A Great Walking Street
Hotel Oregon
The View from the Hotel Oregon
Spending time with Kevin was so much fun.  He has so much energy and always is game for new experiences.  Again, we were so lucky to spend time with another good friend.

Kevin Had a Nice Chat with Ben
The Bluebells Were Just One of the Many Flowers Blooming

April 26, 2012

Sea Creatures, Lighthouses and Bridges

After a long, rainy day, we awoke this morning to bright blue skies.  What a pleasant surprise since the forecast had predicted more rain.  We took our time getting ready to leave and enjoyed our pretty view for as long as we could.  It was tempting to stay another day, but we needed to move on.

We Can See Clearly Now, the Rain Has Gone
Alsea Bay Bridge Is In the Distance Behind Us
We Love This Spot
The Ocean Is Even Visible In the Distance
Tim suggested that we stop at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon, and that turned out to be a wonderful idea.  We had recently enjoyed our visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the granddaddy of all aquariums, but the one here had its own special features. For one thing, it was the interim home to Keiko, the orca whale and star of the film Free Willy.

Walking through the underwater tunnels of the Passages of the Deep exhibit was very cool, but my favorite exhibits were outdoors.  Here, the sea lions, seals and sea otters (my favorite) frolicked, or slept, in a series of pools.  Multiple viewing areas made it so easy to get a close look at them.  There were even quite a few places where there was no acrylic barrier to block our view.  This was also the case at the outdoor aviary, where we watched cute puffins and other sea birds playing in the water.  For me, it is these numerous “up close and personal” viewing opportunities that set this aquarium apart from the others we have visited.

The Tunnel Through Passages of the Deep
Taking a Snooze
Sea Otters Are So Cute
Tufted Puffins Like to Entertain
We Could Almost Touch the Anemonies
What Colorful Creatures They Are
On our way out of Newport we stopped to see the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and learned that it was near here where Captain James Cook made landfall in 1778.  News of Cook’s voyage aroused Thomas Jefferson’s interest in the Pacific Northwest, which led to the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
The bluff on which the lighthouse is located provided us with a dramatic view of the historic Yaquina Bay Bridge, which was completed in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration. This Art Deco landmark is one of twenty or so bridges designed by Conde McCullough, and we have been admiring them on our drive along the Oregon coast.  Unfortunately, his Alsea Bay Bridge in Waldport was demolished and replaced in 1991.  The new bridge is the one we could see from our campsite last night.  Although it is a lovely bridge, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the historic bridge it replaced.

Yaquina Bay Bridge
Dramatic coastal views continued to impress us as we left Newport.  The Oregon coast has certainly lived up to its reputation for beauty, drama and history, and it’s been a spectacular ride.  As we turned inland near Lincoln City to make our way over the Coast Range to Salem, it started to rain again.  Just another day in Oregon.

A Spectacular Coast
A Historic Coast
A Beautiful Coast
Even Kitty Wanted a Closer View of the Oregon Coast

April 25, 2012

A Campsite with a View, Sort Of

Most of the campgrounds where we’ve stayed have been just fine.  Some have been extremely nice and have been located in very pretty settings.  But we’ve rarely had a campsite with a view.  We arrived at one of those rare campgrounds yesterday afternoon.  The campground is a KOA in Waldport, Oregon, and is perched on top of a bluff with beautiful views down to Alsea Bay.  There is nothing between our RV and the view of the bay.  The only catch is that it’s been raining since we arrived.  It just doesn’t seem fair!  One of the best views of the trip and we can’t sit outside and enjoy it.  OK, I’ve whined enough.  I feel better now.

We decided to hang out here today and wait out the rain and fog.  We figured that there would have been no views of the coast if we had driven north.  So, we’ve been sitting in the RV and looking out our windows through the raindrops and fog and enjoying the views that come and go.  All in all, it hasn’t been too bad of a way to spend a day.

Looking Through the Window at the Bridge Over Alsea Bay
Raindrops on the Windows Can't Completely Obstruct Our View

April 24, 2012

Eating Our Way Along the Oregon Coast

The scenic drive along the central Oregon coast passes through small fishing villages, evergreen forests, massive sand dunes and rocky shores.  It seems that there is something to see at every turn.  Bandon is one of the pretty seaside towns, and its old town beckoned to us.  We walked along the harbor and gazed out at the picturesque lighthouse that was visible in the distance on the other side of the Coquille River.

Welcome to Old Town Bandon
Coquille River Lighthouse
Seahorse Guarding the Bandon Harbor
Distinctive Sidewalk Pattern
Although we spend very little time shopping, we do make exceptions for specialty foods. Today’s stop was at Cranberry Sweets, a shop that specializes in every possible type of candy or confection made with cranberries, plus a few other fruits.  It turns out that cranberries are grown just south of Bandon.  Cranberry Sweets is known for its free samples, and we ate our way through the aisles.  Cranberry fudge and chocolate-covered cranberry granola were just two of the items that ended up in our bag.  We just couldn’t bring ourselves to buy the cheddar cheese fudge, a local specialty.  We did sample it, however, and it actually wasn’t bad.

I Want One of Those, and Those . . .
Cranberry Sweets just whetted our appetite for lunch.  The Bandon Fish Market on the docks seemed to be just what we were looking for since we were craving seafood once again. I ordered the jumbo prawns while Tim selected the Dungeness crab cocktail.  Both were so fresh and delicious.

Fish Swimming to the Bandon Fish Market
Crab and Prawns
After filling our stomachs, we took advantage of the beautiful weather, which lasted much of the day, and detoured onto back roads to the beach at Seven Devils State Recreation Area and then to the pretty fishing village of Charleston.  

Seven Devils State Recreation Area
What Are Those Pretty Yellow Bushes?
The character of the coast changed dramatically as we crossed Coos Bay, and we got our first view of the towering sand dunes of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.  The dunes extend for approximately forty miles and some are several hundred feet in height.  Mostly the dunes are covered with forests and are hidden from view.  On the east side of the highway we admired a string of very pretty lakes.

The Oregon Dunes
Although we didn’t stop to play in the dunes, we did pay a visit to the Umpqua Lighthouse, which is located at the mouth of the Umpqua River at Winchester Bay.  The lighthouse was illuminated for the first time in 1894 and is still in operation today.  It’s just one of several historic lighthouses that we’ll see along our way.

Umpqua Lighthouse
Salmon Harbor Marina at Winchester Bay
I have been very impressed by the incredible number of state parks along the Oregon coast. Like California, the state of Oregon provides all types of opportunities for access to its coastal resources.  What a contrast to so many of the states along the east coast.  The state is even creating new parks at the same time other states are closing their parks.