I enjoy the drive through the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side, not only for the waterfalls but because it’s a beautiful drive along one of America’s mighty rivers. Another revelation, as I discovered on this trip, is noticing the transition between the climate zones on either side of the Cascade mountain range without having to drive over a mountain pass. The drive is relatively flat throughout, thanks to the Columbia (or more accurately, the pre-historic megafloods that shaped the Pacific Northwest).
There are several tourist attractions along I-84 (also OR 30). The biggest, of course, are the waterfalls, the most famous of which is towering Multomah Falls. Another is the Vista House at Crown Point from where you can marvel at the view of the Columbia River. Bonneville Dam is also along the route. Lesser known is the so-called Fruit Loop that starts at Hood River, about 50 miles east of Gresham (near Portland) where we spent three nights, and extends south into neighboring Parkdale. Promoted by the local chamber of commerce, it winds 35 miles over country roads past farmland, pastures, orchards, wineries, vineyards, shops, U-picks and fruit stands. Thirty-one businesses are members of the Loop, all open to visitors. Using our GPS to find them proved easier than following the county-provided map. As an alternative, you can keep your eyes open for signs along the roads. A bonus throughout the loop are magnificent views of Mount Hood (top image), another volcanic peak in the Cascade Range.
On this trip, we had hoped to catch the tail-end of marionberry season. Our favorite pie to make uses uncooked marionberries with marionberry glaze. Cultivated in Oregon, they are superior to blackberries because their seeds are smaller, and are sweeter and more juicy. Once again, we struck out because the early warm and dry season forced them to fruit earlier. There was no shortage of jams made with the fruit (and many others, including huckleberry, blackberry, blueberry, apricot, peach, pear and more). All the participating country stores let you sample almost everything they had in stock.
Apple Valley Country Store had quite an inventory of jams, some pastries and shakes made with huckleberries or marionberries, and some crafts. A nice flower garden and sitting area is outside.
There wasn’t much variety at Kiyokawa Fruit Stand except for early apples, peaches and pears. The friendly sales person had us sample a few fruits. We purchased smallish apples with a surprising red flesh and tart flavor and Flemish Beauty pears. Unfortunately, all the pears developed (or already had) a spoiled, brownish core that I had to cut away. The wonderfully creamy flesh is somewhere between a Bartlett and Comice in texture. From the farm, you can see Mount Adams to the north and Mount Hood to the south.
Thomas Betts, proprietor of Cascade Alpacas and Foothills Yarn & Fiber, took the time to explain the virtues of alpaca fleece in clothing and yarn. There was a noticeable difference in softness and plushness when compared to wool. His alpacas were housed in a barn next door. The property overlooked rolling hills covered with forests and orchards, a bucolic sight if ever there was one.
Cody Orchards Farm Stand, looking like a large shack constructed of wooden planks, had boxes and baskets of beautiful peaches and plums, some clothing and crafts.
Our final visit was to Fox-Tail Cider, one of several cideries in the area. In fact, there is another attraction, just west of Hood River, called the Columbia Gorge Cider Route that features 11 cider houses (not including Fox-Tail), a natural evolution of the thriving apple and pear culture and increasing popularity of ciders. Fox-Tail has a tap room where you can sample ten different varieties, some blended with berries, an excellent way to compare cider styles which are as varied as beer’s.
Tasting notes: At lunchtime, we were in the commercial district of Parkdale and decided to eat at Apple Valley BBQ (Yelp: 4.5/5.0; TripAdvisor: 4.5/5.0). What else to try but one of their specialties, Smoked Prime Rib Sandwich. Thickly cut and topped with a tasty demi-glace with mushrooms and onions, it would have been a very fine sandwich but for chewy meat (☆☆☆). Garlic Parmesan Fries needed a little more oomph and seasoning, though they were crispy enough (☆☆½).
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