Oregon Joy... how I found publicly owned Paradise
A love affair with Oregon
Beaches, Mountains, Lush Valleys, & High Desert
Years ago my Grandmother in Oxford, England joked that if the family kept migrating west one of us would end up in China. My mother and father and I had emigrated from Oxford to Illinois and later Wisconsin, and when I got married I moved with my husband to the West Coast....Santa Cruz, California. Back in 1976 Santa Cruz was like Camelot to me, it seemed it only rained at night, the climate, scenery and culture created a near-perfect Eden. But even back then it soon sunk in that as far as opportunities to live well and build a life went.... it was like living with your nose pressed up against the glass of the store window, everything just beyond our newlywed reach. We spent two years there and finally opted for greener pastures. Now you couldn't get me out of Oregon with a crowbar.
I didn't want to move to Oregon. At that time non-natives were not welcome to do more than visit, and woe to the innocents who openly stated they'd moved from California! My own notions of Oregon went back to primary school days when we learned Oregon was full of endless forests, endless rain, and lumberjacks in overalls and plaid shirts. But a great business opportunity brought me here, and since then I've had an unabated love affair with this place. It is saturated in natural beauty and offers limitless activities. I've set myself to physical challenges and risks I never would have dreamed of attempting; when I lived in the Midwest.
I haven't left the Oregon to take a leisure vacation in 32 years. And I still haven't seen all there is to see here.
Portland is where I settled and right away I was smitten. Especially by "the mountain". One of the great vistas from almost anywhere in town is the imposing presence of Mt. Hood in the Cascade Mountains looming and very big on the eastern horizon....silhouetted by the rising sun certain times of the year, and except in the very end of the autumn months the view of the crisp snowy peak is still humbling and worthy of daily contemplation....for me. I have a fabulous view of Hood from my back yard. Mt. Hood and its collection of lakes and rivers, ravines and viewpoints offers fabulous recreation all year round....about an hour from downtown. Summer, spring or fall on Mt. Hood brings outdoor lovers to camp and fish, day-trip and picnic....always a reviving experience filled with natural beauty. All you need is a few gallons of gas and a sandwich to have a rebirth! There is not a lot of lodging outside of Government Camp and the resort in Welches. Oregonians have been quite vocal about not overdeveloping wilderness and scenic areas. But you can rent cabins and homes from private parties...check craigslist.
And the big winter draw on Mt. Hood is several very nice ski resorts, close enough that you can play hooky from work in Portland and take the day to ski without spending most of your time getting to and from the ski-lift I started skiing when I was 30, got pretty darn good at it too....and loved the idea of having a fresh & white winter climate I could drive to, and away from. I learned early on to have a great respect for the mountain....lovely as she is, she can be a killer and one can never be too aware of weather and terrain when on her slopes. Mt. Hood is popular with climbers, some of whom don't make it back, having underestimated her expanse and her power. Even if you don't ski or climb, visit Timberline Lodge...a glorious stone and timber tribute to the CCC builders of the depression era, and a temple to art and artists. I can't describe it....you must see it yourself. Rustic but warm and cozy are the accommodations in this old lodge/hotel...but you'll enjoy impressive service and fabulous food and drink. It's one of the few places in Oregon where you can ski back to your hotel after a day on the slopes! Right now Timberline Lodge has nearly a 200 inch base! You can ski right into the late spring most years.
Rare is the day you have to shovel snow in the Willamette River Valley, where Portland lies. Flying back to Portland in the winter is like wafting down into a huge garden....the deciduous trees lose their leaves of course, but the conifers and lawns stay green. And when it does snow here, the city of Portland has this lovely civilized way of pretty much shutting down. I have friends here who will not drive a foot if there is a half inch of snow on the ground. The whole city (not just the kids) prays for snow days, and the weathermen delight in tantalizing us with the mere possibility of snow flurries. I will say that 30 years ago, when I first arrived in Oregon and only the hippies were talking about the environment and global warming, we had more snowfalls and colder weather in than we do now....but even then it never lasted long.
When spring comes to our part of Oregon it comes early and lasts for months, every week bringing a new round of buds and blossoms....it's mid-February now and the camellias are budding and my irises are breaking ground with new pale green shoots. Much of the countryside surrounding Portland and all up and down the Willamette Valley is covered with mile after mile of neatly rowed nursery stock plants; it's a huge industry here. And the growing of all these decorative shrubs and trees creates scenery like no other in the country... acres and acres of oxygen-spewing rolling slopes and fields of organized blooming color and varied shapes. The tulip farms are a stunning sight and a great day trip in the spring....particularly good for family photos! People who like to garden are rife here....plants are cheap, the soil is wonderful, the growing season long...it's almost impossible to kill plants here, and everything grows at an accelerated pace. You will have to prune...a lot. You'll have plenty of cutting flowers for your home....something I consider a free luxury. Portland is called the City of Roses. Even neglect will not kill a rose bush here.
Portland is a green and inviting city. I could write pages about all there is to do here, great food, better than great music & clubs, lots of parks, sports programs and walking and biking trails. Theatre is big here too, and we have several venues for concerts and touring Broadway shows. Our Japanese Garden is one of the best in the world. We have a China Town, a Chinese Garden, an incredible test Rose Garden open to the public, and overlooking the city with a fine view of Mt. Hood. We have an expanding mass transportation system....featuring a light rail train system called MAX, with a fare-less square area in the heart of the downtown and commercial district. Portland is easy to get around, and difficult to get lost in. We have luxury hotels and MAX will even take you to and from the PDX international airport terminal, as well as points east and west of the city core....to the fine zoo we enjoy, and the forestry center. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry feature an IMAX theatre and touring exhibits and well as permanent ones. We have a pretty diverse job base....leaning toward high tech. The Nike (footwear) Campus is like an ideally designed mini-city of the future.
The Willamette River runs right through the middle of Portland, and the city's northern boundary is the mighty Columbia River....Washington state is right across the river. Lovely Seattle, the Emerald City is a three hour scenic drive north and from there you can take any number of ferries up into the Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, and British Columbia.
Driving east from Portland along Oregon's northern border I dare you not to be somewhat speechless at the primeval towering beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. The scenic highway runs right along side the river or you can linger along, driving parts of the old scenic highway, build in the early 1900's as a getaway for Portland's early automobile owners. It was a work of art, framing vistas at every turn. Waterfalls abound in the Gorge, with Multnomah Falls and it's world-class restaurant being an inviting stopping off point for travelers. About an hour up the river is the town of Hood River, its surrounding countryside is still a huge fruit growing area. We never miss a spring drive to see the miles of fruit and nut orchards in bloom. Recently Hood River has become a Mecca for wind surfers, some of the best in the world, and this has somewhat changed the aura of the once sleepy town. The river itself has changed since Lewis & Clarks' trek west down the wild river to the Pacific, and is now controlled by lock and dam systems. But it is not hard to imagine what it looked like to them. Much is still wild and unpopulated thanks to continual efforts of the Columbia River Scenic Gorge Commission. Beaches and waterways are publicly owned here....no one can deny you access to the banks. You can drive the highway (I-84) up into the high desert all the way to Idaho. There are also a number of boat and paddlewheel excursions available to cruise the Columbia River. The dinner excursion is very popular.
Driving west, or southwest will take you through the Coast Range mountains...not as high as the Cascade Range to the east but still very much a delightful trip through sparsely populated hills and forests with lots of areas to stop and rest, camp, fish, and breath clean air scented with evergreens and a whiff of the Pacific Ocean that lies just to the west. It's only an hour and a half to Oregon's ocean beaches and rugged coast from Portland, so this is a frequent day trip for us. We load up the dog and often pack a lunch to eat at our leisure on the beach or one of the many parks and camp grounds. Always bring bread to feed the gulls. There are plenty of good restaurants in all price ranges, and after tramping around, maybe doing some fishing or crabbing (yummmm....Dungeness crab is the sweetest in the world) or beach combing, we usually stop for a nicer fresh fish dinner before heading home. Most of the beach eateries are pretty casual, but the food is fresh and very good. People go to the coast to be outside and relax, so they are not required to dress for even the finest dinner! It's pretty laid back. And though there are plenty of Coney Island type tourist shops and amusements, there is also an abundance of fine art galleries, antique shops, upscale clothing shops, and a few good museums. Don't miss the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport..... very well designed and it's a cut above as aquariums go, with an "undersea" tunnel walk-way where the residents swim all around you ...it was the home of Keiko the whale before he was returned to his native waters. (And he probably should have been left there at the aquarium.... rather than trying to take him back to the wild, where he eventually died. The best intentions of man.....)
Believe it or not storm-watching is a popular reason to go to the Oregon coast in the winter. For a dose of humility and awe in the face of mere humanity, I don't think you can beat sitting in your car and watching the incredible power of the roaring surf during a storm. Or better yet, rent a room with a view...plenty of them in hotels, motels, and little inns and B&B's. And with a little planning you can hook up with one of the many private homes that can be rented out for night, weekends or weeks. Craiglist has become a terrific resource for finding a little beach house to stay at. This is a great way to go if you have a group, a few couples, or family. You can enjoy the home and amenities, cook if you choose to stay in.... and splitting the costs really gets you cheap lodgings, and more privacy than hotels will give you. And yes, there are more and more places that welcome pets, because how can we leave our best friends at home when we frolic on the beach? Dogs are way better at beach frolicking than people are anyway! I'm guilt-ridden on the few occasions I've left my dog at home.
Well, so far I've only told you about Oregon places within an hour or two of Portland. I haven't even begun to tell you about Oregon's high desert, central and eastern Oregon and some of the more remote wildernesses and lake districts, the southern Oregon Dunes....so much more. Going to have to leave that for another time. Come visit, or (at the risk of making some Oregonians livid) come live in paradise.