May 8 to 13 2009

After not nearly enough time looking at the majestic Coastal Redwoods we reluctantly headed north and eventually east into the center of Oregon. Our plan was to get to and explore the Columbia River Gorge. To get there we continued North on US 101 to Crescent City, California, where turned on to US 199 and followed it to Gold Hill where we spent the night. The campground we picked was really pretty nice. It was far enough off the highway to be quiet enough and it was really well maintained. The folks working in the office are full timers like us and this was to be their summer job. Although new to the area they were very helpful and even suggested that we take a short walk across the street to the Rogue River Supper Club for dinner. I did a recon walk as you cannot always be sure that a camp host has your best interests in mind when making dining recommendations. Frequently the recommendation is based upon their personal tastes and in many cases those could be questionable. That said, this guy seemed to be a healthy individual and probably knew what he was talking about.

My recon did not come up with much good information. The place was still closed and frankly it didn’t look all that good from the outside. However, I was done driving for the day and decided we would give it a shot. If it looked as bad from the inside then I am certain Connie would have overruled and we would have driven some more. The entrance to the Rogue River Supper Club is through the cocktail lounge. There is no hostess, but the bartender greets everyone as they enter. We walked through the lounge to an anteroom between the lounge and the restaurant. After standing and smiling at everyone who walked by for a few minutes we realized we were not going to find a hostess. So, we asked the friendly bartender if we could look at the menu. After a quick look we figured the place was at worst safe. So, we asked the bartender how to get on the list for service in the restaurant. Lo and behold, she was the keeper of the list. Once that bit of business was taken care of we each ordered a glass of wine and started to get comfortable.

There was another couple at the bar who were obviously regulars. Eventually we got into a conversation with them and learned that the supper club had been around a long time. When the original owner retired he sold it and the new owner changed the menu and ran off all the business. A third person bought it and returned to the old menu and rehired the old chef. The place had reopened as the original place in March. Business had already returned to pre-first sale levels and everyone was happy. Unfortunately, Friday nights had not been the best nights since opening, therefore the staffing was down a bit. Complicating the issue someone had called in sick so an already thin staff was now really shorthanded. Were that not enough, this particular night was proving to be the busiest night since reopening. I suspect that many of the locals had held back waiting to hear from friends and neighbors how things were going before jumping back in the pool Whatever the reason, the place was packed and we endured about an hour wait before being seated. Since we only had to walk across the street to get home we did not care about the wait. Our waitress cared plenty. She was a real professional and was not happy that we had to wait so long. She took really good care of us. From the comments we heard about her in the bar, I doubt we got any better service than she gives anyone else. She just made us feel as though we were special and that she really wanted us to have a pleasant experience.

Then there was the food. The menu was heavy with steaks. It was pretty obvious that the early successes had come by serving good meat. So, we both had steaks and we were ever so happy that we did. The meat was lean and nearly fork tender. We left very satisfied with our choice and of course carrying leftovers to be enjoyed down the road a ways.

From Gold Hill we made our way to US 97 and eventually to Redmond where we spent the next night. We didn’t give Redmond much of a chance, as we had driven a good bit to get there and it was only a stopover enroute to the gorge. I am sure we missed some neat things there, but…

On Sunday we made the short drive from Redmond to The Deschutes River State Recreation Area. The camp host gave us the option of several sites just up from river. This was really a nice park. The spaces were very well maintained and the grounds were perfectly manicured. There were several Canada Geese with many many goslings. It was fun to watch them wander through the park grazing on the grass and getting close to the camp sites. Then with some sort of secret signal from the moms they would turn on a heel and head back towards the safety of the river bank. The Deschutes River empties into the Columbia River just yards from the campground we were in.

We had gotten into the park early enough that we had time to take a little walking tour of the park and surrounding area. Just past the last bridge over the Deschutes before it flows into the Columbia we met a man from Portland who was out doing some bird watching. As we talked to him we learned that he recently retired from the teaching profession and is now better able to support his hobby of birding. We talked for quite some time. In the end we decided he must be one of those really good birders who chooses to not let on who he is in the local ornithology circle.

We spent the entire next day driving first down river, the Columbia, on the Washington side stopping to see whatever came around the bend and then up the Oregon side. To get to Washington State we crossed the river via US 97 at Biggs Junction. As we worked our way west and down river we saw signs advertising a steam locomotive at Wishram, Washington. We thought “Why not take a look?” So, I took the turn towards Wishram and we just kept going and going. The good news was we were getting closer and closer to both the river, which at this point is really a lake, and to the railroad tracks. So, we knew there was a good chance of finding a locomotive. For some reason the signage stopped before we actually got to the locomotive. We made it all the way through this little near-ghost town and saw nothing looking like a locomotive. I was just pulling into the parking lot for the current freight yard office when out or the corner of my eye I spotted our target. Trains have played a major role in getting goods and merchandise to and from the port in Portland. After the various dams were built along the Columbia River the role of the trains increased tremendously. Now, not only trains hauling tons and tons of freight can be seen passing through the gorge, but heavy barges laden with crops from eastern Washington and Oregon can be seen going west while inbound cargo from the port goes east, and finally there is the truck traffic over the highways on both sides of the river. We saw cargo going in both directions via all three of these modes of transportation.

As we continued down river we tried to stop at a fish hatchery both to see the hatchery and also to eat the lunch we had brought along. The hatchery had no fish. In fact it had no water in any of the outside concrete ponds. There were people working, not many based on the vehicle load in the parking lot, but we saw no one. There didn’t seem to be any sort of public education program in effect. I suppose it could have been a time of year issue. We may have been too early to find any public programs going on. We eventually ate lunch in the car as it started to rain while we were looking for a picnic table.

Our final stop in the Washington side of the river was to The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Museum in Stevenson, Washington. This museum is really great. It documents the history of human involvement in the gorge from pre-historic times to the present. It does a marvelous job of telling the story of the development of the area. It is well worth the price of admission. We spent a couple of hours on a self guided tour of the facility and came away much more knowledgeable of the history of area and the impact the gorge has had on the global economy. It was really very well presented.

We eventually crossed back over the Columbia River into Oregon at The Dalles. From there we took Interstate 84 and where possible US 30 east, up river, back to the state park. There is a road that goes to the south from old US 30 just before getting to the Deschutes River. Connie decided we should go up that road and see what we could see. We thought the road was only a boat access to the river. We were not prepared for the drive we found ourselves taking. Of course we didn’t turn around either. Instead, we put the state park address into our GPS and pressed go. BIG MISTAKE! Well at least following the directions was a mistake. The GPS took us on about a twenty mile circle rather than just tell us to make a U-turn. When we realized what had happened we stopped following the GPS and found our way back to The Dulles where we once again got on I-84 heading east and stayed on it until we got back to the park.

Believe it or not, after dinner we had enough energy to take a hike on one of the trails in the park. We walked a couple of miles looking for birds and just enjoying the serenity of the area. It was a good day.

Our next stop was Sandy River RV Resort in Troutdale, Oregon. We picked this place because it was close to Portland but not in Portland. We wanted to go into Portland and look around a bit, but we didn’t want to drive the coach anywhere near the city. We figured managing the freeways around Portland and into Washington was going to give us enough thrills. We didn’t need to negotiate the close in freeway system via the motorhome. In fact after going into and out of downtown twice, I was certain I didn’t want to do it via car again anytime soon.

Our stay in the Portland area was highlighted by a visit to the famous Powell’s Bookstore in downtown Portland. This is the most amazing bookstore I have ever been in. I cannot begin tell you how much space this building has. Nor can I tell you how many rooms there are on the four floors. I can tell you that even if you don’t like books, Powell’s is a must stop for anyone going to Portland. The original downtown location doesn’t even hold all the subject matter available to the customers. They have one entire store dedicated to technical books. The store sells both new and used books. There are some great deals to be made on used books. I picked up a wildflower book that had never been opened beyond the frontispiece, but because the original buyer had written a note to the person he was gifting the book to it made it a used book. Price reduction: $6 or 30% off the original price.

The second highlight was to be a visit to the Columbia Clothing Company’s flagship store in downtown Portland. We went to the store, but in the end we couldn’t really call the visit a highlight. The store was nice, but in my view it lacked character and it certainly did not seem to have representative samples of all that is currently in the line. We went away a little disappointed.

The third highlight was unintentional. We were looking for somewhere to eat. We had seen an ad for McMenamin’s Edgefield Inn and Black Rabbit Restaurant, so we took a drive by to see what it looked like. As it turns out, the property used to be the poor farm for the Portland area. There were several buildings some used to house the tenants, others for providing services such as fire protection and tool storage and one that contained among other things a dining facility. In its day as a poor farm, the tenants were taught how to farm. The products of their efforts were used in part to feed themselves and in part to make money to offset the cost of operating the facility. The place operated as a poor farm for a relatively short time as public policy changes made it an unnecessary facility. Later, life returned to the facility when it was opened as a nursing home. It fulfilled that role for several years before going dark again in the 1960’s. At some point a man or a company, I am not clear which by the name of McMenamin bought the entire facility and transformed it into an Inn and restaurant complex. Of course with all the land and buildings several other retail and entertainment outlets were made possible as well. We later learned that McMenamin holds several historically significant properties in Oregon and Washington and operates them as modern businesses while preserving the history of the original establishment.

The Black Rabbit Restaurant has a wonderful and apparently ever changing menu. The chef is inventive and not afraid to blend different tastes. We had one of the best dinners we have had in months at the Black Rabbit. We were really glad we took the chance to take a look at this place.

From the Portland area we headed north into Washington State for a two plus week layover to visit friends, see familiar surroundings from our earliest days together and to rest up a bit for the long awaited trip to Alaska. All that will be covered in my next edition.


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