Tami and I set off on a two-week Pacific Northwest Extravaganza this September. It was a trip that we had planned for over a year and we couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. Many of our friends and family were surprised that we chose Oregon as our destination. Perhaps that state doesn’t immediately pop into people’s head when they think of summer vacations, but I can most assuredly tell you, there’s was no shortage of beautiful sights, interesting people, fascinating history and unique environments for one to explore.
Our Oregon adventure would take us to Portland, the Willamette Valley for wine tasting, Crater Lake National Park, Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast, the Columbia River Gorge and up the side of Mt. Hood. It was most certainly a whirlwind two weeks and my energy for sight-seeing may have worn my wife out, but every place we stayed and everything we saw was so spectacular that it would’ve been a shame to have chosen to cross any of those locations off the list.
The main impetus behind the decision to vacation in Oregon was based on reuniting with my good friend and current Portland resident, James. James and I (seen above at The Pittock Mansion overlooking Portland) are friends from our days at MSU. It’s been many years since we’ve seen each other and much has changed since that time. The last time we spent any significant time together, both of us were single and still in our twenties. Today we’re both married and James has a lovely two-year-old daughter. It was important for both of us to become reacquainted and discover how each of our lives had changed.
I’ve got a terrific wife that understands the value of friendship so she was interested in making this reunion possible. But instead of just merely making a short visit, we decided we should take advantage of having friends in far away places and thought we should make it a grand Pacific Northwest vacation and see what Oregon had to offer.
Our first destination was Portland. As you can see from the photo above, Portland is a city that prides itself on its spirit of individuality. It’s a city where environmentalism and liberal thought is embraced and where the conformity of traditional society is rejected. Tami and I very much looked forward to exploring Portland. We believed that it could be a place that we felt like we might fit in. Bike-friendly streets, restaurants promoting local eating and a culture of inclusion were some of the things we found attractive. However, as we got to explore Portland, we found that it wasn’t necessarily the urban utopia we had imagined.
It was bigger than we expected and because of its size, Portland experiences many of the same problems that all big cities face. Traffic, garbage and homelessness do not disappear from sight just because a city is trendy and hip. Although Portland fell short of our unrealistic expectations, it did still have many attractive features. We ate and drank at numerous unique and delicious restaurants. We appreciated the free public transportation downtown. We thoroughly enjoyed the Portland Saturday Market, featuring local artists and vendors selling their wares. We stayed at two very modern and affordable downtown hotels. And we were able to take in the sights and attractions of a city that truly did have a lot to offer.
One of those attractions was Portland’s International Rose Test Garden. It is the oldest official, continuously operated rose test garden in the United States. Portland is known as “The City of Roses” so how could we not check it out? The garden itself was nothing more complicated than what the name implies. It was just row after colorful row of some of the most exquisite and unique roses we’ve ever seen. I personally have a strong affinity for photos of flowers, so the Rose Test Garden was a perfect destination for me.
After a couple of days in Portland, checking out the city and catching up with old friends, the next stop on our trip was Oregon Wine Country in the Willamette Valley. We stayed two nights at a Bed & Breakfast in Newberg, OR. We’ve been wine tasting at just about every winery in Michigan and we’ve also gone wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley in California two years ago. We go for the scenery, the slow pace, the interesting people, the great food and of course, the wine. The Willamette is well-known for its incredible Pinot Noir, and wouldn’t you know it…that just happens to be our favorite.
Our Bed & Breakfast was incredible. It sat at the top of a ridge that looked out at the vineyards and small town of Newberg below. The photo above is Tami looking out on the valley beneath while out on the deck just outside our room. We weren’t sure if we were going to do a lot of wine tasting while in Newberg or if we were just going to do some relaxing. Our accommodations would’ve certainly been right for that, but we ended up doing plenty of tasting nonetheless. Our wine bounty was made up of some truly excellent selections and we shipped 14 bottles back home to Michigan. Those bottles will now be reserved for some special occasions when a simple bottle from the grocery just won’t do.
After our second night in wine country, we awoke early in the morning to depart for Crater Lake National Park. This was what we expected and hoped would be the crown jewel of our entire trip. Upon arrival, it was easy to assess that Crater Lake would not fall short of those expectations.
Crater Lake National Park is the most spectacularly overwhelming sight I have ever encountered. The photos you see here can’t begin to convey its scale and my words will most definitely fall short of appropriately describing its beauty.
Crater Lake is actually the remnants of Mt. Mazama, a volcano in the Cascade Range that erupted some 7,700 years ago. The eruption was so large the mountain collapsed in on itself creating the giant pit we now see today. Since that event, melting snow and rain have collected to form what is the deepest and arguably clearest lake in the United States. With a maximum depth of 1,994 feet, Crater Lake is also the seventh deepest lake in the world. The walls of the caldera (the cliffs along its rim) range from 1000 to 2000 feet above the water level. So when you stand at the edge of a cliff, it takes your breath away to realize how far down it is to the shore.
There is only one location at Crater Lake where you’re allowed to get down to the water’s edge. When I learned prior to our trip that this location also had a 20′ cliff that people jumped off into the water, accomplishing this task became my biggest goal of the whole vacation. Since we went in September, I was worried that the water would be much to cold to take the plunge. But on our first day at Crater Lake, the sun was shining brightly and temperatures were near 80 degrees. I was hopeful as we made the long trek down to the water’s edge, but when I saw others already swimming when we got there, I knew my dream would be realized.
The water wasn’t nearly as cold as I expected. It was a bearable 60 degrees at the surface. That’s warm enough for me to swim in Lake Michigan, so it was definitely warm enough to take the plunge here. The gorgeous blue water was absolutely crystal clear and totally invigorating. I made the jump four times and would’ve done it four more if time hadn’t been a factor. While swimming back to shore I took the time to peer around with my eyes open under water and was stunned at how steep the lake bed was beneath me and just how far into the depths I could look. I’ll never forget the jump and I’ll never forget the sensation I had gazing down into the deep below.
Unfortunately, our time at Crater Lake National Park was limited. Seen above is the Crater Lake Lodge, located right on the south rim of the lake. It is without question, the prime location to stay when visiting the park. But since the next closest accommodations are seven miles away, it is also extremely popular. As a consequence we were only able to book one night instead of the two we desired. We were only able to be at the park from around 1pm on Wednesday til we left at about 3pm the next day.
The lodge itself was incredible. The view is absolutely unrivaled and the room was very nice. The best feature was the deck on the front of the hotel overlooking the lake. Our dinner reservations weren’t until 8:45 that night, but we were able to pop open a bottle of wine we had just purchased the day before and drink it at our leisure as we watched the sun set over one of the most stunning attractions in the world.
Despite our short stay, we made sure to see as much of the lake and surrounding sights as we could. The hikes at Crater Lake are mostly trails that lead from lower parts of the rim to higher elevations for more sweeping vistas. We took one of these on the first day to Watchman’s Overlook. The second day, our bike hike was to the top of Garfield Peak. This hike took us from our Lodge at about 7000′ elevation to the top of the peak at just over 8000′ elevation.
The hikes were steep and cut along the edges of some rather precarious slopes. I was very proud of Tami and how well she did. I’m a very “go-go-go” person when on vacation and I have a tendency to push her pretty hard. But she responded with more vigor and tenacity than what I could’ve ever hoped. The hikes may have been tiring and arduous, but I’m sure she would admit that the end result was most certainly worth the work.
I took hundreds of pictures while at Crater Lake National Park and I feel like I’m doing a disservice by not posting more here today. I really can’t say quite enough about how inspiring I found the place to be. I have learned that when our country has chosen to make a place a National Park, there’s usually a pretty obvious reason why. I haven’t been to many of them, but each one finds new ways to top the one I visited before. We live in a world filled with amazing natural beauty and I feel it is our responsibility to see as much of it as we can.
At the Crater Lake Visitor’s Center there was a quote by author Jack London that I feel summed up my feelings pretty accurately. He wrote, “”I thought I had gazed upon everything beautiful in nature as I have spent my years traveling thousands of miles to visit the beauty spots of the earth, but I have reached the climax. Never again can I gaze upon the beauty spots of the earth and enjoy them as being the finest thing I have ever seen. Crater Lake is above them all.”
We left Crater Lake feeling remorseful we couldn’t stay longer, but satisfied that we had seen as much as we had in the short time that was available. Plus, it was only the sixth day of our 14 day trip so there was much that still lay ahead.
We drove back to Portland for another stay in the city. While there we were able to explore even more and spend more time with my friend, James.
But one of the main purposes for our return to Portland was for the easy access to the Columbia River Gorge. This National Scenic Area is just a short half hour drive from our downtown hotel. And that mere half hour is enough to transport you from a bustling urban cityscape to a lush, scenic, moss-covered paradise that at times seems miles from anywhere.
The Columbia River Gorge is a large canyon carved over millions of years by the rushing waters of the Columbia River. The banks of the river are overlooked by towering cliffs and impressive rock facades.
Cascading off of those cliffs and running down to the river are countless absolutely gorgeous waterfalls of all sizes and varieties. These waterfalls bring hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the gorge and we were surely going to join them. An interstate runs through the Gorge right next to the river, but tucked away just off of that interstate is the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. This is a road built in the early 1900’s and snakes its way through the Gorge with easy, convenient stops along the way to take the in the beauty of various waterfalls.
This is the first one we encountered…Latourell Falls.
But most spectacular, and most visited, of all the falls is Multnomah Falls, towering 620′ above the river below.
The highlight of our two days exploring the area was our venture into the Oneonta Gorge. Nestled in the Oneonta Gorge is Lower Oneonta Falls. The falls can only be reached by trekking up the creek through a very narrow gorge with towering, moss-covered walls of rock looming over you. While researching our trip to the Columbia River Gorge, I was searching for some unique and extraordinary hikes. I stumbled across the tales of the Oneonta Gorge and was immediately convinced that this would be a good adventure for Tami and I.
It’s only about a half mile hike, but according to the guides on the internet, we needed to prepare to get wet. We purchased water-sock shoes for easier walking in the stony creek, and even though it was a rainy 60 degree day that day, we were ready.
Our first obstacle was this very imposing log jam. There was no way around, the only way through was to go over it. It was raining that day, so these giant logs were slippery and the pile was over twenty feet hit with some rather daunting cavities awaiting if you made a false step.
Once past the log jam, it was just a walk through creek waters of various depths. Had it not been for the advice of some friendly hikers who were leaving as we were just beginning, we would’ve certainly been in water up to chests. The creek water was extremely cold and my adventurous wife had strong urges to turn back, but we pressed on nonetheless. With the aid of some very crafty maneuvering on some rock edges, we were able to make it to the falls without getting wet beyond our thighs.
And finally, we reached our destination.
After our adventure in the Columbia River Gorge, we were both ready for some relaxation. Good thing for us our next destination was the beach. We had two nights booked at Cannon Beach, a small, tourist community on the Pacific Ocean about an hour and a half away from Portland. I was concerned that our time at the beach would be marred by some poor weather, but we couldn’t have had it any better. When we arrived we were greeted by a bright sunny sky, warm temperatures and some fantastic scenery.
The centerpiece and main attraction at Cannon Beach is Haystack Rock, a 235 ft. monolithic rock towering over the beach-goers who congregate around it. Coming from someone who for most of his life has only known the beaches of Lake Michigan, a visit to the Pacific Ocean is always quite an impressive event. The giant rock formations, the colorful creatures, the intimidating waves and the water levels that shift from high to low in a matter of seconds all create a new and completely engaging environment.
But as impressive as Haystack Rock was during the day, nothing could touch the fireworks we got that evening with a picture-perfect sunset.
On our second day at Cannon Beach we visited Ecola State Park, a mere five miles north of town. While at the park we headed down to Indian Beach to climb on the rocks, explore the tide pools and hunt for various sea-critters, like starfish. The waves were much calmer on the second day, so I even had the opportunity to jump in for my first swim in the Pacific. I had a chance when I visited California two years ago, but missed out, so I was not going to let it pass me by this time as well.
While we were at Ecola State Park, we climbed to the top of a peak that gave some outstanding views of the surf below. Also visible off in the distance was Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, seen in the photo below. Our time at the ocean proved to be both relaxing and in its own way, a great adventure. We saw things we hadn’t seen before, partook of some great food and had the chance to spend even more time with my friend and his wife and daughter who came out and stayed with us.
After we left the coast, it was now time for the final leg of our journey. We would head back east through Portland on our way to Mt. Hood. We had reservations to stay at The Resort At The Mountain, a golf and spa resort right at the foot of Oregon’s tallest peak. Mt. Hood is an 11,000 ft. volcano in the Cascade Range. It’s an omnipresent fixture in the Portland area on clear days. Coming from Michigan, a place with no mountains, I get particularly excited anytime that I get to be around them. I think its part of human nature to have the desire to be in the mountains, to feel some isolation, to explore new terrains and to be able to stand on the edge of incredible elevated vistas.
I had picked a whole handful of hikes we could take in the Mt. Hood National Forest, so our first step was to stop at the ranger station and get some advice on which hikes to choose. Time was limited our first day, so the ranger recommended that we head to Trillium Lake. This was a small, beautiful lake at the southern edge of Mt. Hood with amazing scenic views of the mountain. We did the two mile hike around the lake, but the best part was the photographs.
The lake and mountain were unbelievably picturesque, but it got even better when the hike was completed. The water of Trillium Lake smoothed to a glassy sheen near the end of the day to produce a reflection of the mountain that I only hoped I would have the chance to capture when the trip was originally planned.
We stayed until daytime faded into dusk and then headed back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped in the small ski village of Government Camp right at the base of the mountain for some dinner. The place was dead, but it was easy to imagine what a great location it would be during the peak of ski season. The resort we stayed at couldn’t have been nicer. We were given a free upgrade on our room, so we were now staying in some luxury accommodations. Our room had a balcony, a living room, a huge fireplace and more space than the two of us could ever need. We both felt so comfortable that it made us question our plans for the next day. We had been going at such a breakneck pace that the idea of relaxing at a spa and resort and maybe playing some golf sounded really appealing. But we knew that nature awaited and we needed to take advantage of our surroundings while we had the chance.
The next day we had big plans. We were headed up the mountain. Our main destination was the Timberline Lodge. This is an immaculate wood and stone ski lodge 6000 ft. up the side of the mountain. It was built by the WPA during the depression and completed in 1937. Some of you might recognize the outside of the lodge from the movie “The Shining”. It was a fascinating place. A complete original that caused us to wonder at the craftsmanship and think of a time when our country made it a priority to take on projects like this.
The inside was even more impressive.
But our day had loftier goals. We would be embarking from the Lodge on a six mile hike to Zigzag Canyon. This hike was basically a horizontal trek along the side of the mountain, so there wasn’t a huge elevation gain. Our trail coincided with part of the Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada, so it was exciting to be a part of that. It was a terrific hike. It stayed right at the timberline, so we wove in and out of pine forest with almost constant views of the summit looming over us.
It really didn’t take long for us to arrive at Zigzag Canyon, and what a view when we did. The Canyon is a 1000ft. deep gash cut in the side of the mountain. It provided wonderful views of the summit and the hills and Mt. Jefferson that spread out to the south.
On our way back to the lodge from the Canyon, we had the chance to take a trail straight up the mountain to the Silcox Hut, located near the top of the chairlift. The Silcox Hut is an old warming station for skiers that has been converted into a kind of rustic banquet hall. I really wanted to head further up the mountain, both for the better views and for the chance to do something that I don’t get the opportunity to do where I live. The Hut was a mile away and 1000 vertical feet up the mountain. It sounds easy, but after just completing a six mile hike, it definitely proved to be harder than what we expected. I definitely put Tami to work on this trip, and she handled it all beautifully. This was the one point where I maybe asked her to do a bit too much. In my mind, the payoff was worth the work, but I think she might have preferred a cold drink at the lodge instead.
After two weeks of hiking and exploring, this day definitely wore us out. We had planned of tackling more hikes the next day, but we were satisfied with what we had seen and quite frankly, we were tired. The next day was Friday, our last day before flying back to Michigan on Saturday. We headed back to Portland and stayed one more night downtown for easy access to the airport the next day. We had one last evening to say goodbye to my friend and his family.
Vacations often make me feel like I just don’t have enough time. I feel like I’ve got to go too fast in order to see and do all that I want, and the end of the trip is always looming close. This vacation wasn’t like that at all. It had been a long time since I’ve taken a two week trip and I don’t know how I could’ve possibly enjoyed this one any more than I did. We saw amazing sights, caught up with old friends, found time to relax and enjoy life, and had the opportunity to explore several new and unique places. But when departure day arrived, we were ready to go. This trip didn’t just exceed my expectations, it blew them out of the water. I had the most wonderful time with world’s best traveling partner and wouldn’t change a single thing.
If you’re looking for an interesting trip, I would absolutely recommend Oregon and all of it’s surrounding highlights. We got a little bit of everything. It’s a beautiful world, and we feel completely blessed that we have the opportunity to get out and explore it.