It amazes me that seabirds can find comfort in daunting places. Below an overlook somewhere south of Cape Perpetua on the Oregon coast, I saw this gull resting on a rocky ledge high above crashing waves, not bothered by a stiff wind ruffling its feathers nor a loud colony of sea lions barking from the beach below.
Part of the thrill of walking on the intertidal lava rocks near Cape Perpetua in Oregon is to watch the seething currents offshore. If I stood too close to shore’s edge, a sneaker wave could easily claim me victim. Yet, there are sheltered tidepools that are a remarkable contrast to the chaos nearby.
Devil’s Churn is a narrow channel that opened up when a lava tube collapsed ages ago. Now, waves go barreling down the chasm and can build enough energy to create monster spouts that can and have claimed the lives of unwary victims.
We were en route to Los Temos Taqueria in Salem, Oregon, when we saw them. Blooming in the fields were millions of irises laid out in swaths of almost every color imaginable. If it weren’t for the season, we would never have noticed, as we hadn’t in all our previous drive-bys. But, there they were in all their splendor, just up the road from Los Temos.
The fields belong to Schreiner’s Iris Gardens that also has an eye-popping demonstration garden, a true gem in central Oregon, less than an hour’s drive south of Portland, almost exactly at the 45th parallel.
Schreiner’s Iris Gardens
3625 Quinaby Rd NE
Salem, OR 97303
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).
Among the many sea stacks that are found along the Pacific Coast, Cannon Beach is famed as much for iconic Haystack Rock as for its art galleries, boutique shops and restaurants. It’s natural to think that Cannon Beach has the tallest stack along Oregon’s coast, maybe because of the town’s unverifiable claim (“third largest intertidal monolith in the world”), but the one in Pacific City, which also happens to be called Haystack Rock, is taller. Yet, for all its extra 92ft, its impact is not as dramatic because it’s dwarfed by Cape Kiwanda to the north and its greater distance offshore makes it seem smaller than Cannon Beach’s.
There’s more to like about Pacific City. The flat sandy beach is firm enough to walk and drive on. Many visitors park their vehicles on the beach and spend the day. It doesn’t attract nearly the crowds that Cannon Beach does, while having good amenities for tourists. We stayed at The Inn at Cape Kiwanda where every room has a terrific view of Haystack and the ocean. On summer days, like today, the temperatures are mild, rarely exceeding the 70s, which attracts many beachgoers, who tend to congregate between Kiwanda and the brewery. A short trudge to the south will give you all the solitude you might want.
Cape Kiwanda is an easy walk from the beach. You can get to the top by climbing what amounts to a giant sand dune, called the Great Dune, on the back end of its southern flank, or from access roads further north. We did the climb. Shifting sand made for tricky footing. When we reached solid sandstone, we got a panoramic view of the shoreline. Going back down was much easier, but not as fast as boys schussing down on their sandboards. The cape, consisting of brilliant but soft orange and yellow sandstone, still stands by the grace of Haystack Rock that has shielded it from the erosive force of rough waters. It would otherwise have disappeared long ago.
At low tide, tidepools can be explored on and between the rocky shoreline, heavily encrusted with mussels, barnacles, limpets and chitons, making for treacherous navigation. At least one tidepool harbored a colony of colorful anemones. A common murre, one of several indigenous seabirds, remained amazingly unperturbed by humans, even as a kid patted its back.
Pacific City lies along the 40-mile loop called the Three Capes Scenic Route. Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda, the last jutting out from Pacific City’s shore, make up the three headlands. It’s a beautiful drive that rivals any stretch that Oregon has to offer. Taking Sand Lake Road (part of the Scenic Loop) north out of Pacific City will lead to Cape Lookout and its state park via Cape Lookout Road. We stopped here for a brief hike along the South Trail to stretch our legs. The view out to sea and of Cape Kiwanda was largely obscured by trees. The trail dead-ended twenty minutes into the hike with a warning sign not to go any further, so we turned back and found a short path down to the beach before returning to our car. Though we didn’t take it, the longer 2.4-mile trail along the cape ends up at a viewpoint that gives you unobstructed views of Tillamook Head, Cape Falcon, Cape Meares, Three Arch Rocks, Cape Kiwanda, Haystack Rock, Cascade Head and Cape Foulweather, the only single spot along the coast where all these geographical features can be seen.
Our next stop was Oceanside. We only had time to get a glimpse of Three Arch Rocks, which stand about a half mile offshore, and have lunch at Roseanna’s Cafe, before heading out to Centralia, WA.
Although not on the coastal roads, two nearby places are worth mentioning. At 319ft, Munson Creek Falls is the tallest in the Coast Range, located about 10 miles south of Tillamook. It’s only a quarter-mile walk from the parking lot to the viewing area. Unfortunately, storm damage caused the closure of the path closest to the falls. Still, a very good view can be had from the existing vantage point.
Without doubt the area’s most popular attraction, enticing 1 million visitors a year, is the Tillamook Cheese Factory in the city of Tillamook, first made famous by its award-winning cheddar. Nowadays, far from being the small facility that we remembered from decades past, it’s an enormous complex with two gift shops, gigantic ice cream parlor and café. Gone are the guided tours where you could actually watch employees making cheese, replaced by self-guided tours from viewing areas far above the factory floor. Despite making all sorts of cheese today, it seems the main attraction is a full line of premium ice creams served in two lines, each staffed by half a dozen servers. This place is a circus, to be sure, but worth at least one visit.
Tasting notes: Pelican Pub & Brewery (Yelp: 3.5/5.0; TripAdvisor: 4.0/5.0) in Pacific City has a prime spot on the beach. Here, you can get better-than-average grub, but more to the point, taste its award-winning beers. Try their delicious Kiwanda Cream Ale, for example. There’s an outdoor dining area facing the ocean that’s hugely popular with customers in the summer. The chef aspires to use the beers as ingredients in the menu items. There’s even a suggested beer pairing with each item. With very few restaurants open on Tuesdays in Pacific City, we wound up eating lunch and dinner at Pelican, across the street from the Inn. Roasted tomatoes were a tasty component of the Oregon Shrimp Niçoise Salad (☆☆½), a pretty good salad with lemon-caper vinaigrette. Their ‘fabulous clam chowder‘ would’ve lived up to its billing if the clams weren’t so minuscule, rubbery and sandy. The broth itself was very tasty and thick (☆☆½). One at least has to give credit to the kitchen for offering Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes, more like a salad with arugula, roasted tomatoes and fried onion rings obscuring the yam patties underneath (☆☆☆). Fish Tacos sounded appealing, with another slight change-up with jicama lime slaw and Southwest quinoa salad. Two problems. The Alaskan cod had been previously frozen that rubbery flesh betrayed and the slaw tasted more vinegary than lime-y (☆☆).
As we were on the Oregon coast, what better opportunity than to smother ourselves with fried razor clams. I had read that Roseanna’s Cafe (Yelp: 3.5/5.0; TripAdvisor: 4.0/5.0) in Oceanside served a wonderful version, but alas it’s not on the regular menu, served only on occasion. The day of our visit was not one of them. So, we contented ourselves with beef and barley soup, a spectacular version marred only by over-saltiness (☆☆☆½). Even more spectacular was marionberry cobbler (☆☆☆☆). The marionberry is another of Oregon’s great contributions to the food world. The pie was still warm, the crust flaky and the vanilla ice cream likely Tillamook’s. You would hardly notice Roseanna’s as you’re driving along narrow Pacific Avenue, just as you wouldn’t realize what a very popular place this is until you step inside. As a bonus, you get a good look at Three Arch Rocks from any table by the window.
No visit to Tillamook County would be complete without a taste of ice cream at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Tons of people had this is mind last Wednesday (August 5)—likely every day—when two separate lines form to get samples of 31 flavors. Recently, Tillamook introduced a line of ice creams, sold only in half-gallon sizes, that features locally grown fruit, such as Oregon Strawberry and Oregon Blueberry Patch. For my money though, I’m a big fan of their Marionberry Pie with its bits of pie crust and Oregon Black Cherry. At the factory, you could gorge yourself on a sampler called Tillamook Ice Cream Adventure, which offers a scoop of every ice cream they make, amounting to 31 scoops. Our sights were a little lower, opting for the 5 Scoop Sampler Dish. We chose Cinnamon Horchata, Coffee Almond Fudge, Oregon Blueberry Patch, Wild Mountain Blackberry and an outstanding Oregon Hazelnut & Salted Caramel. Not to worry—each scoop is the size of a golf ball.
The day was perfect for exploring at Cape Kiwanda. From the rocky shore, it’s natural to look out to sea.
Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose has found a home in the most unlikely of places in McMinnville, Oregon, housed in the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, having made its way from southern California. Originally built as a World War II transport aircraft, made entirely of wood, it retains the record of having the longest wingspan (almost 321ft) of any aircraft ever built. The Goose, technically labeled the Hughes H-4 Hercules, only made a single flight before being shelved but not forgotten.
The museum itself, consisting of three separate buildings spread over several acres, including an IMAX theater, is impressive. When first entering the main building, I was awestruck by the sheer size of the Spruce Goose, hovering over all the other vintage aircraft like a gigantic mother craft. The space building has as its centerpiece a complete Titan II missile.
It’s odd that there is such an impressive tribute to aviation and space technology in the middle of Oregon’s wine country, the Willamette Valley.
Tasting Notes: The first time I ever ate at Nick’s Italian Café (Yelp: 4.5/5.0; TripAdvisor: 4.0/5.0) was when my daughter was checking out Linfield College to go to school. At the time, Nick’s was a semi-formal restaurant that had the reputation for serving and especially promoting the region’s great wines, pinot noirs in particular. The wine list was compiled in an intimidating notebook though the wait staff was very helpful. The restaurant seemed to be the only serious dining venue in what was then McMinnville’s small town atmosphere. What stuck in all our minds—me, my wife and two daughters—was the outstanding minestrone soup. More than that, it was the first time we’d ever had a dollop of pesto in minestrone, which we regarded as divine inspiration. Today, more than thirty years later, Nick’s still stands but has been taken over by Nick’s daughter and son-in-law. The menu has been updated, the interior modernized and the atmosphere thankfully more casual than before. It is also surrounded by a more robust commercial district with other quality restaurant options. And, yes, the soup is still on the menu, listed as Classic Minestrone Soup (☆☆☆☆). While the entrées my wife and I ordered tonight was very good, the soup reigned supreme. I could eat a whole tureen of the stuff as dinner.