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Colombia River Gorge

As much as I loved Portland, it was hot and busy and so I was glad we had planned to escape the city for a day with an eco-tour out to the Colombia River Gorge. The mighty Colombia river starts its journey in the Rocky Mountains in British Colombia, then flows North West before turning South in to the US, forming the border between the states of Washington and Oregon before emptying in to the Pacific Ocean. The river is the fourth largest in the US, at 2,000km long.

We first drove up to Mount Hood, an active volcano. We learned how scientists are monitoring the volcano, and geologist have studied evidence from previous eruptions to try and predict the impact of a future eruption. The general thinking is that it is a matter of when, and not if. Some of the most serious impacts are predicted to be not from the lava or hot ashes, but from severe flooding and landslides as the glaciers on the mountain melt away. At the top of the mountain is Timberline Lodge, a beautiful wooden lodge which was built in the 1930’s to create employment after the depression. Today the lodge is a hotel, restaurant, and information centre, and the sort of place that would be great to be holed up in the snow for a week. It was also used in the film The Shining (another one to add to the list).

We stopped for lunch at Hood River, which I was surprised to learn is the windsurfing capital of Oregon, despite being hundreds of miles from the coast. The size of the river and the frequent winds make it a prime destination for anything involving a sail or a board.

After lunch, we made our way down the river, stopping at various waterfalls and viewing vistas along the way. We were driving along one of the oldest roads in the US, now known as the Oregon Scenic Highway.

We also visited the Bonneville Dam, one of hundreds which have tamed the Colombia river to generate power, to provide irrigation and allow safe navigation. We saw the fish ladders that have been put in place to try and increase the safe passage of salmon up and down the river, as the damming had controversially reduced salmon numbers by 99%.

It was a great day, really educational and gave us a different perspective on the area – both in terms of its history and the continuing impact of development on the people and wildlife that call the river home.

Weird and wonderful Portland

I once completed one of those meaningless Facebook quizzes which concluded which international city you should live in – I got Portland. So, I was intrigued to find out if this were to be true on the last stop on our trip. We had 3 nights here so plenty of time to explore. Portland is know for being quirky – they even have ‘Keep Portland Weird’ bumper stickers and signs across the city. Lots of street art. The men all have beards. The girls all wear vintage clothes. It was hard to spot anyone without a tattoo. Hipsterville central. Craft brewing is like a religion here – there are more indie breweries than any other city in the world. Shops and restaurants are also mostly independent. Aside from a few Starbucks, corporate America Portland is not…

We ate dinner on the first night in a place called Grasso – where you can sit at the counter and watch them making your fresh pasta right in front of you. You pay on the way in, sit anywhere communal style, and can wear anything – Portland is very informal. We also ate at one of Portland’s famous street carts which are clustered in different areas across the city – we had a supremely fresh and delicious Vietnamese meal one lunch time.

Our favourite thing in Portland, by far, was Powell’s City of Books. Powell’s is a well known institution in Portland – it stocks over a million new and used books and is America’s biggest book shop. It is also one of my new happy places. We visited three times, spending hours happily wandering up and down the shelves, just enjoying that feeling which is hard to explain to most people, of just being physically surrounded by books. It is open until 11pm every night and is a place we found hard to leave each time.

After viewing the solar eclipse on the rooftop of our hotel, we headed out to Washington Park and hiked up the Wildwood trail. We reached the beautiful rose gardens (Portland is famous for roses) which had great views back over the city.

On our last night, we stumbled across a cool little place called the Green Room. We sat at the bar and watched a properly qualified mixologist making cocktails to die for, and also tried some of the local Oregon and Californian gins (which I now suspect we are going to need to ship to the UK asap).

In conclusion… yes I think I could live here!

Hey you guys… Cannon Beach and Astoria (aka Goonie land)

I’ve always loved The Goonies film, but for years I thought that Astoria (the town they are trying to save from being demolished by developers) was a fictional place. At some point a few years ago I realised Astoria is a real town in Oregon and that the film was shot in and around this area. Astoria has also been the setting for loads of other movies, including Kindergarten Cop, Free Willy, and many more.

We were staying for 2 nights on Cannon Beach – I was majorly excited about this – both for the fact that the beach looks absolutely stunning, and also the fact that it also features in The Goonies. The beach is the setting for the opening scenes when the police are chasing the Fratelli’s across the beach, and also at the end of the film when the pirate ship emerges from the sea. The famous haystack rocks on the beach form part of the clues that the Goonies are following to find the treasure.

We caught glimpses of the beach as we drove in to town, but the fist proper look was when we stepped out on to our balcony, overlooking the whole beach and the haystack rock. It’s the sort of view that takes your breath away and you could just stand for hours just taking it all in. We spent a lot of time on the beach – we ran 5k on it, walked on it, sat reading on it, and watched the sunset from our balcony. One thing that we didn’t do was swim – too cold and windy – it is the sort of beach where the hotel gives you beach blankets as opposed to beach towels!

Cannon Beach is a very special place.

A wedding on the beach

On our second day there, we drove the 40 minutes or so up the coast to Astoria. It is easy to see why it makes such a great movie location. The town is located on the mouth of the Colombia river, with the houses dotted around the hillside. We visited the Oregon Film museum, which is located in the old county jail – featured in the Goonies as the jail where one of the Fratelli brothers escaped from – their jeep is parked outside the front of the door. The museum is filled with props and information on the The Goonies, plus other films in the area too.

We picked up a map which you can follow around the town to key movie locations. This includes the famous Goonies house, outside which Chunk does the ‘truffle shuffle’ and Data zip wires in from the house next door. We also saw the school where Arnie Schwarzenegger became the most unlikely school teacher of all time…

Astoria is still a working commercial fishing town – we drove across to a pier for lunch in Rogue Brewery, and then sat outside with a coffee listening to honking sea-lions.

We returned to Cannon Beach via Ecola State Park – also a filming location for The Goonies – we drove down the road that the Goonies cycle down when trying to escape from Mikey’s big brother. The views from here back over Cannon Beach are beautiful. Lucky for us the sun is shining, but it is easy to imagine the storms that batter this coast during winter.

Oregon Coast… and a night in a haunted lighthouse.

Some days it’s all about the journey, but some days it’s about the destination. Today was a bit of both. We left the ranch after a delicious home cooked breakfast (French toast, bacon and maple syrup, followed by plums picked that morning). Our journey continued to hug the rugged Oregon coast.

We stopped for lunch at Bandon, a small, picturesque fishing town on the Coquille River. Our Lonely Plant said: “what could be better than eating fresh fish at a seafood shack on a waterside dock?” Could no agree more so to Tony’s Crab Shack we headed. The long queue out of the door of this tiny shack gave us plenty of time to drool over the menu. The fish tacos we chose were well worth the wait.

We continued up the coast to our destination for the night – Heceta Head Lighthouse. I’ve always wanted to stay in a lighthouse, so when this one came up when I was looking at places to stay on the coast I booked it straight away, and was lucky to get the last room they had available. Like most lighthouse stays, the accommodation is in the keepers cottage. The lighthouse itself was built in 1894, and it perches precariously on Heceta headland above the churning ocean below. The views both of the lighthouse, and from it were stunning. A sweeping bay, crashing waves, dive-bombing cormorants, blue sky and sunshine all added to the view.

Inside the keepers cottage is like stepping back in time – it has been perfectly restored and is filled with original furniture and belongings of the lighthouse keepers who lived here. We knew we wanted to make the most of our afternoon and evening here, so had brought our own picnic and wine to enjoy. After a walk up to the lighthouse, we sat out on the porch until sunset, making full use of the cosy blankets provided. We ate supper in the parlour, looking out over the cliffs.

I made the mistake of reading the book of ghost stories in the parlour, which consisted of detailed accounts of paranormal activities experienced by other guests. Our bathroom was down the hall from our room, so I made Paul promise he would come with me if I needed to go in the night!

Luckily, no one reported being visited by the friendly ghost that night. We joined our fellow guess for a gourmet 7 course breakfast at the Victorian dining table before sadly packing up to leave this very special place.