Breakfast at Morning Glory Café (Eugene, OR)


Among the places that popped up when looking for breakfast restaurants on Yelp, Morning Glory was one possibility. What makes it so different was the reason we decided to give it a try; it is a vegan restaurant. We got there just as it was opening up for business, located right around the corner from the Eugene train depot. In fact, we saw at least two customers with rolling suitcase in hand. It’s not always possible to get a healthy meal on the road, let alone one that uses organic ingredients whenever possible. There is even a special monthly organic menu. In a salute to the farm-to-table movement, the menu lists all the local suppliers, all of them in Oregon.

One of Morning Glory’s specialties and a customer favorite is The Fusion (☆☆½), a medley of sautéed tofu, onions and mushrooms, folded into a shell of shredded potatoes and topped with chopped tomatoes and green onions. We asked for the herbed tofu sour cream on the side. What really made this dish a cut above the ordinary was a wonderful combination of herbs and spices. One problem with it was the shell couldn’t maintain its crispiness, the browned potatoes becoming leathery from the filling’s inevitable steaming process. The concept is fun but doomed from the start. Less ambitious but possibly more successful would be The Owl & The Pussycat which substitutes cubed herbed potatoes for the shredded potato shell.

The Fusion

The Fusion

While there are no eggs listed in any menu item, you can order organic free-range eggs for an additional cost, which removes the restaurant from a strict vegan category.

Bun Thit Nuong at Bon Mi (Eugene, OR)


It’s always nice to pull into a larger city on the road just to expand your food and entertainment options. Eugene is the largest city in Oregon after Portland, just barely edging out Salem for that distinction. Downtown Eugene has nice shops, restaurants and cultural amenities without the big city traffic and noise, likely reasons that it has been on several lists as one of the best places to live in the U.S. Tonight, we were looking forward to a Vietnamese dinner and movie. Within blocks of each other were what we were looking for: a Vietnamese-French restaurant (Bon Mi) and an art house cinema (Bijou Metro, where we saw “Frances Ha”).

The French menu consists of French-inspired sandwiches, though they appear on the surface to be kinds that you might get at any good sandwich restaurant. The Vietnamese menu is a bit more extensive with pho, bun and, as the restaurant’s name would suggest, banh mi. My wife and I had the same entrée in mind, bun thit nuong (☆☆☆) as an antidote to the long day of driving in warm weather.

It came in a large bowl with a generous amount of grilled pork, a nod perhaps to American appetites. The rice vermicelli, rather than the usual thin bun noodles, were thicker (banh canh) like Japanese udon, making it a more substantial noodle salad. Nuoc cham was served in a very small dish, making me wonder if it would be enough to dress the large salad. Rather than dipping, I prefer to toss the sauce into the bowl and mix everything up. Everything in this case was the noodles, pork, plenty of cilantro, green onions and do chua (shredded pickled carrots and radish). A fair amount of the last item compensated for the skimpy nuoc cham, imparting a sweeter, vinegary element. We had no complaints because the dish was very tasty, an intriguing variation with the savor of delicious pork and chew of thick noodles.

If we come back here again, we’ll have to give the pho and banh mi a shot.

Why Is Mount Shasta Not a National Park?


Whenever I drive between Weed and Mt Shasta (the town) along I-5 in northern California, my breath is taken away by the spectacular beauty of Mt Shasta (the mountain) looming to the east. For some odd reason, I had always assumed that Mount Shasta was a national park. Conversely, I never before thought that Mount Lassen was, which we had just visited. Maybe the majesty of Shasta gave me the impression that it should be an important charge of the National Park Service. Some research revealed that there had been several attempts to get Congress to confer park status as far back as 1912, but all have so far failed. Ironically, though there were resolutions in the House for both in 1914, Mount Lassen drew attention away from Shasta when it erupted that very year and all effort was expended by Congress to make Lassen a national park. It seems that there is nothing unique about Shasta and its surrounding area that other established parks already showcase, so the argument goes. So for now, Shasta has to content itself with being a National Natural Landmark, which is equivalent in a beauty contest to getting the “most inspirational” award.

Breakfast at Black Bear Diner (Mt. Shasta, CA)


There are many a Black Bear Diner on the West Coast, 59 and counting. Truthfully, we had never heard of the chain before until we were here in Mt Shasta. And, as it turned out, this is where it all started. There is nothing to suggest a franchise except for the sign outside (above) and the menu printed on the inside pages of what looked like an informational newspaper (for mass distribution?). There are also more than the usual number of diner-labeled gift items in a small alcove which implies there might be other outlets. Otherwise, the interior has the look of a local diner or coffee shop.

The waitress told us that their chicken fried steak (☆☆☆) is a customer favorite, so that settled it for us. It was quite possibly the best I’ve had though it must be said the dish is not a usual breakfast choice for me. The steak was wonderfully tenderized and the breading nicely seasoned, crunchy and not in the least greasy. The gravy, which has never impressed me wherever I’ve had it, was adequate enough. Black Bear Diner encourages customer choice, so we opted for country red potatoes and poached eggs, both good. 

Chicken fried steak, country potatoes and poached eggs

Chicken fried steak, country potatoes and poached eggs

The breakfast menu invites return visits. We won’t have to travel to Mt. Shasta for that, because there is one in Federal Way.

A whimsical touch to the diner’s ambience are the wood bears carved out of Washington red cedar.

cedar bear carving

The Goat Tavern (Mt. Shasta, CA)


VIA magazine pointed us to a gem of a diner, Nancy’s Airport Cafe, in Willows, and also highly recommended the The Goat Tavern in Mt Shasta, 150 miles north. According to the article’s writer, a food critic for San Francisco magazine, “I found spiritual uplift less than a mile off the highway in a juicy burger.” These endorsements were part of an article about the great finds along I-5 between Sacramento and Portland. My wife and I stopped in Mt Shasta for the night because we wanted to visit the namesake mountain on the following day.

The tavern is a local watering hole, sort of an oddity in a town known more for its New Age commercial district of crystal shops, yoga studios, alternative bookstores, and the like. Entry was confusing, not through what looked like the front door on the corner of Mt Shasta Blvd and Chestnut Street, but rather on the side of the building through an outdoor eating area. The place was dark on the inside with customers standing along the bar that had several beers on tap. A picture of the Mona Lisa was on the side. The atmosphere was convivial, loud and laid back. I ordered the aforementioned burger with cheese and fried onions rings, my wife the fish tacos. As it turned out, my sandwich was a full half-pound Angus cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, red onions and basil mayo. I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to finish it.

To my disappointment, the burger (☆☆½) was not the transcendent experience that the food critic had, but rather just a good enough one. The patty was lean and therefore a little dense, the bun a tad dry. The onion rings were great, coated in a fine crispy batter.

The grilled fish in the tacos (☆☆½) seemed a bit past its prime with a slight fishiness that announced it wasn’t absolutely fresh. Otherwise they too were tasty enough with seasoned cabbage and guacamole.

Angus cheeseburger with onion rings

Angus cheeseburger with onion rings

Grilled fish tacos

Grilled fish tacos

On the ceiling were mounts for all the draft beer handles, which the bartender could unscrew as needed to use when the beer selection changes. Nice touch.

Draft beer handles mounted on the ceiling

Draft beer handles mounted on the ceiling

Burney Falls


Often described as one of the most beautiful falls in the world, 129-foot Burney Falls is accessible in a state park far removed from a major thoroughfare. Continuing northward along Highway 89 in California, we wanted to make the falls a stopping point. Meltwater from Burney Mountain makes its way down through the porous volcanic rock (basalt) down into underground aquifers. Some of the water is forced above ground about a mile up from the falls and forms Burney Creek, while the rest of it moves through the underground reservoir and out the openings in the cliff face. If you look squarely at the falls, the water seems to originate not only from above but also from the rock wall. Even when the creek dries up during the summer, water continues to flow because of these underground channels. The flow rate is estimated to be 100 millions gallons per day.

Subway Cave


Not far from the junction of Highways 44 and 89 above Old Station is an interesting volcanic attraction that you can walk through. It is a lava tube about 1,300 feet long that was created less than 20,000 years ago when lava flowed over this area. Tubes are formed when the top part of the flow cools and hardens but the interior continues to flow until drained, leaving behind a tube. Access into the tube are found in two places where the roof collapsed sometime in the past. You are warned to bring at least two sources of light (flashlights preferably) and warm clothing. Without illumination, it is pitch black down there.

 
Subway Cave
GPS coordinates: 40.684916,-121.422701
 

Quick Trip through Lassen National Park


If it hadn’t been for a comment made by my son-in-law, I might never have considered going to this national park in Northern California. He said that it was underrated and that it deserved to be visited by more people. I can understand his opinion because as a geologist, the park is a showcase for the volcanic upheavals that have wracked the Pacific Northwest, caused by the subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate under the North America plate. For vulcanologists, the park has within its boundaries all four major types of volcanoes. As if these weren’t enough, there are Yellowstone-like hydrothermal attractions, such as mudpots, fumaroles, hot springs and boiling pools. Highway 89 is the main driving route through the park with northern and southern access points.

We were originally going to visit the park yesterday, but the stiff winds and overcast conditions were enough for us to postpone the excursion until today. The sky in the morning was partially sunny with puffy clouds, so we exited I-5 at Red Bluff and took Highway 36 eastward for 50 miles to the park entrance. Much of the southern portion of Hwy 89 is surrounded by terrain littered with boulders from an immense flood created by an eruption that sent millions of gallons of instantly melted ice and debris to this portion of the park. From various clearings along this route, we could get a peak of Brokeoff Mountain, a remnant of ancient Mount Tehama.

Brokeoff Moutain from the southern approach on Hwy 89

Brokeoff Moutain from the southern approach on Hwy 89

Before long, the highway ascended in elevation and the fog started getting thicker. We would find that almost the entire section of the paved highway was shrouded in cloud cover, making it hard to see beyond 20 feet in some areas.

Fog made it difficult to see very far

Fog made it difficult to see very far

If it weren’t for the fact that the Sulphur Works viewpoint was close to the road, we would not have seen any of the hydrothermal features. The odor of hydrogen sulfide gas was very strong.

Boiling pool at Sulphur Works

Boiling pool at Sulphur Works

For the reason above and muddy conditions, we abandoned plans to hike the trail at Bumpass Hell, along which are the park’s most accessible fumaroles of venting gas and steam, reminders that the ground underneath is close to hot magma.

It wasn’t until we rounded Hwy 89 along the northern route that the sky became clear of fog. We stopped at Hot Rock, from where we could get a partial good look at Lassen Peak, still largely covered by cloud. An easy trail looped through part of the vast area that was devastated by the last eruptions of Lassen in 1915. The first explosion sent a lahar (mudflow of volcanic debris) down the mountainside that covered the ground on which we were standing. The second, only days after the first, was even bigger than the first, sending an ash cloud 30,000 ft into the air. Strewn along the footpath were giant boulders that were torn from the mountain and carried here.

Lassen Peak from Hot Rock parking area

Lassen Peak from Hot Rock parking area

Red dacite boulder carried here by a pyroclastic flow from Lassen Peak

Red dacite boulder carried here by a pyroclastic flow from Lassen Peak

All we managed to do was to take a drive through the park, knowing full well that we wouldn’t do it justice. What we saw convinced us to make a special trip back here in combination with stops along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.

Olive and Wine Country: Corning, CA


A giant replica of a martini olive sits on the corner of South Avenue and Hall Road in Corning, California. It isn’t someone’s idea of a practical joke but a symbol of the fruit’s importance to this part of the Sacramento Valley in California that produces olives and olive oil.

A visit to Lucero Olive Oil opened our eyes to an industry that is growing fast enough to be an important crop for the state. Lucero also happens to produce some of the best extra-virgin olive oils in the world, having won many competitions. The process for extracting the oil from the olive fruit is highly mechanized at Lucero, but as in winemaking, the role of the master maker is also very important. Despite the simplicity of how it sounds, the “cold-pressing” process for extra-virgin olive oil involves crushing the olives and pits into a mash and after kickstarting enzymes with a bit of heat in malaxers not to exceed 80oF, centrifuging the oil out in decanters. A few hardy olive varieties lend themselves to mechanized harvesting, but the fruit-picking is done manually for the most part to minimize bruising that could lead to oxidation. The tasting room lets you sample their oils, balsamic vinegars and tapénades and a factory tour can be arranged at the spur of the moment. Their oils had a range of tastes from mild to slightly bitter, with degrees of buttery, fruity and herbal notes. It was explained to us that the peppery finish in oils depends on variety, but more so on how mature the fruit is when picked, the greener ones exhibiting this characteristic.

The area between Corning and Red Bluff are full of olive tree orchards, which can easily be seen along the many roads throughout the valley.

Olive orchard along Road

Olive orchard along Hall Road

In nearby Vina, a community of Cistercian monks live in a monastery, the Abbey of New Clairvaux. The brothers also have a winery that produces award-winning wines, a tradition that dates back to Europe. There is a tasting room where we sampled a pinot grigio, viognier, albariño, barbera, petit sirah and a port-like vino dolce, a bottle of which we purchased.

new clairvaux

As you approach the winery, you can’t help but notice a Gothic-looking building on the grounds. The history behind its construction (or reconstruction) is very interesting, involving a thirteenth-century Cistercian abbey, William Randolph Hearst, and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. In an attempt to build an estate that would surpass San Simeon, Hearst purchased a ruined chapter house of Santa Maria de Ovila, an old Cistercian monastery in Spain, as part of the project. The building was dismantled, piece by piece, and brought to the Bay Area. The advent of the Depression disrupted this plan and the stones eventually donated to the De Young Museum of San Francisco. The stones were left unattended in Golden Gate Park for many years where they were vandalized and generally lay in ruin. In 1994, the stones were granted to the Abbey of New Clairvaux, which has incorporated the stones to build a new chapter house, a replica of the original Spanish structure.

Cistercian architecture is known for its simplicity. The symbolism of its vaulted ceilings and windows are considered divine. Some aspects of the design use the golden ratio, often embodied in esoteric works of art.

The golden ratio is incorporated into the proportion of

The golden ratio is incorporated into the layout and dimensions of the portals

The pointed ceilings symbolize the vault of heaven

The pointed ceilings are supposed to symbolize the vault of heaven

In Corning, the Olive Pit sells all manner of olive products, more than I had ever seen anywhere.

For dinner, we took advantage of half-price senior buffets at the local Rolling Hills Casino, operated by the Nomlaki tribe.

Lunch at Nancy’s Airport Cafe (Willows, CA)


One of the best surprises of eating on the road is coming across little gems. It wasn’t that Nancy’s Airport Cafe happened to be the closest place at mealtime. It was mentioned in an article in the latest issue of a bimonthly AAA magazine published in Northern California, called Via, in which a food critic wrote about the best eats along US Interstate 5 between Sacramento and Portland. (As an aside, my wife happened to pick up a copy at the Stockton AAA when I picked up a tour book, a happy coincidence since we were on this very itinerary.)

Nancy’s is a classic diner, located in a small town (Willows) and situated at the edge of a little-used municipal airport. The wind was blowing stiffly outside, the skies gray as if rain were on the horizon. Once we stepped inside, the waitress greeted us warmly. It is a local favorite, evidenced by the many town folk who were eating here. The restaurant has been open for 40 years and our waitress has worked 22 of them.

Since it was lunchtime, we ordered one of the specials of the day and a customer favorite, Crispy Cheese Ham Sandwich (☆☆☆), which we shared, and a boysenberry pie a la mode, which we also shared. What was so special about the sandwich? Shredded cheddar cheese is sprinkled on a hot griddle, then fried until crispy, topped with thin smoked ham slices, and the works scooped on top of thick sandwich bread. The sandwich can be topped with lettuce, slices of tomato and onion, and pickles, and then folded over. A very tasty treat.

Crispy Cheese Ham Sandwich

Crispy Cheese Ham Sandwich

The pie slice (☆☆½) arrived with THREE scoops of vanilla ice cream. Other than a doughy crust, the pie was a very good one.

Boysenberry pie a la mode

Boysenberry pie a la mode

Pies, in fact, are a specialty here. Aside from ours and the lemon meringue pie recommended by the Via article, there were banana cream, coconut cream, strawberry cream, blackberry, blueberry, apple and peach. Our waitress recommended any of the burgers (made with Angus ground beef). Other customer favorites are the smoked beef tri-tip, fried chicken and broasted chicken.

Nancy's cream pies

Nancy’s cream pies

Nancy’s gets kudos for friendly service (which our waitress called ‘entertainment’), homey atmosphere, and solidly prepared comfort foods. This is what road food is all about.