Westward Trip – Part 2 – Oregon

The continuation of the ins and outs of my husband and my week-long westward trip to visit friends and sight see.  If you did not already read it please check out the first part here.

 Day 5 – Wed. May 18, 2016

My friend Megan’s apartment is located in the western portion of Portland.  When we woke up Wed. morning it was very clear outside which enabled us to see Mount St. Helens in the distance.  She took us to the building’s rooftop where we had great views of the city, Mount St. Helens as well as Mount Hood.

We began our day with a short walk to Washington Park.  A statue of Sacajawea is in the park, a reminder of her help given to Lewis and Clark in their westward expedition.  As a history buff even I had forgotten that their ultimate landing spot was Oregon.  The rose gardens located in the park were beyond beautiful.  It is known as a “test garden” for new varieties of roses and I saw colors of roses that I never knew existed.

Our next stop in the park was the Japanese Garden.  There is a fee charged for this, but the authenticity makes it worth the visit.  There are various paths that intertwine with each other to go past gardens, ponds, waterfalls, a tea house and sand and stone garden.  Tranquil is one of the best words to describe this place though at times we could hear nearby construction of a new area which disrupted our peace.  Tours are given each day but we preferred to explore on our own.

After a quick lunch at Meg’s apartment we set out to travel the historic Columbia River highway, aka Route 30.  This highway was designed to pass several of Oregon’s natural treasures while seeming to blend into the scenery.  The first stop was the Vista House.  There are great views of the Columbia River Gorge and inside there is plenty of historical information on the house, highway and the area in general.

Our next stop was Multnomah Falls.  This is the 4th largest waterfall in the nation.  There are several viewing areas at the base of the falls and about a quarter mile above the base.  The ultimate viewing spot, however, is at the top.  The trail to climb the falls is a little over a mile in length and includes 11 switch backs.  We only had to stop once while hiking to the top, but it was a solid workout in its own right and the views made it worth the effort.  There are several other waterfalls along the highway as well, making the area more condensed with waterfalls than any other area in the country.

We then stopped at Bonneville Lock & Dam, an Army Corps of Engineers ran facility.  We arrived not long before closing, so we did not get to fully explore the area.  We did get to go to the bottom level and view the fish ladders that aide the fish in getting through the dam.  One unique fish we saw was a lamprey which is a species of fish that has existed since prehistoric times.

There are several other locations along the Columbia River highway that can easily consume a day or more depending on how long one chooses to stay at each spot.  By this point in the day we were fairly hungry though so we headed back to Portland and enjoyed some Indian food at a place not far from the apartment.

Day 6 – Thurs. May 19, 2016

Portland provided us its stereotypical cloudy, rainy weather, so we chose to explore the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI).  There are tons of hands on activities at this museum which makes it fun, but also a big draw for families and school groups.  We enjoyed the various brain teaser activities sprinkled throughout the museum, and some we were unable to solve.  A planetarium is part of the museum so we bough the pass that allowed us to pick a movie featured there.  We were shown various constellations that would be visible in the coming months.

After this we explored the 2nd floor of the museum which was less crowded and which I found more enjoyable.  One area highlighted the sustainability and conservationism of Oregon.  Meg had told us that plastic bags are banned in Oregon; you can buy them but all stores provide paper bags instead.  They also have “tool libraries” which allow people to borrow tools for projects in the same way you would borrow a library book.  While the state welcomes people moving there from all over the country it does face a challenge in maintaining the eco-friendly atmosphere it has created.

We had a late lunch at The Green Dragon Bistro & Pub.  This place is a must for any craft beer lovers as it has 56 rotating taps.  For non-beer drinkers like myself it does also have some hard ciders and other drinks.  Nearly all of the beers on tap came from breweries within Oregon as the state has a very high amount of microbreweries.  The state is very friendly to entrepreneurs which is another reason so many people have chosen to move there in recent years.

Dessert was ice cream at Salt & Straw – one of TripAdvisor’s top places to visit.  They provide samples of any flavor you want which is helpful given their extensive list of unique flavors.  I sampled both sea salt with caramel ribbons and chocolate gooey brownie before choosing the latter.  Jason sampled both honey & lavender and stumpton coffee & burnside bourbon and went with the latter.

One of the most surprising things I found about Portland is that it is not the enormous city I expected nor is it what I would call “tourist-y”.  While it is a very large city, it is far from a metropolis which means it is a lot quieter and the traffic is more manageable.  There are no shops selling “I visited Portland” t-shirts or mugs.  Walking around the area is a very pleasant experience.  Portland provides the best of both worlds in terms of restaurants, shops and cultural experiences without the chaos of most cities.

Day 7 – Fri. May 20, 2016

Our last day was “beach day” as we headed west of Portland to Rockaway Beach.  Of course we had no intention of getting in the water, but one cannot go that far west without seeing the Pacific Ocean.  Within a half hour of leaving Portland we were surrounded by state forest.  I definitely understood why people say they see Bigfoot in those woods; it seems like an endless array of green and brown.

The town of Rockaway Beach is a cute beach town complete with motels and shops.  We parked near the visitors’ center and strolled up and down the beach.  It amazed me how far out the waves started; I guess I was just used to the typical tourist-driven beaches with created sand bars.  It was mesmerizing.  A few others were exploring the coast as well with one brave older man boogie-boarding in a full body suit.  There are not really any seashells to be found but rather small rocks.  It is definitely a “bonfire beach” and certain spots had driftwood that had been turned into make shift benches.

We had lunch at a local place and had hoped to visit Cedar Old Growth Nature Preserve.  For some reason though the directions online did take us to a trail head but there was no parking to be found as it was behind a trailer park.  We thought we found an alternate way in, but upon driving further up the hill we found a chain across the road.  Given there were no signs anywhere we could only figure that either there are certain hours and it was not open for the season, or it no longer existed.

Needing a new place to explore for the afternoon we ended up at Cape Meares.  Pictures cannot do justice for the views of the cliffs and Pacific Ocean from Cape Meares.  We toured the lighthouse and learned a lot about the history of the area including how the 4 lenses from the lighthouse were all stolen when it was decommissioned in the 1960s and ultimately all returned when the site was re-opened as a tourist attraction.  One of the more unique natural wonders in the area was the Octopus Tree which I had never even heard of prior to our arrival.  The immense beauty of the area cannot be stated enough; anyone who ever visits Portland needs to drive to Cape Meares.

We had our last meal at McMenamins Rams Head.  Apparently the owners of the location find unique places in and around Portland to turn into new places such as restaurants, hotels and concert venues.  Having ate a late lunch I could not handle a full meal so instead enjoyed raspberry cheesecake which was amazing.

Day 8 – Sat. May 21, 2016

My least favorite day of the trip and not even because it was the end of vacation.  Rather it was because we had to spend the whole day traveling.  Security at Portland’s airport took longer to get through than I expected given it is not an overly large airport.  Once we arrived at Ohare we had about 4 hours to kill no thanks to our original flight home being changed twice months before leaving.  Jason and I got lunch (though given the time change it was more like dinner) at Chilis and spent most of the time alternating between reading and surfing the web.  We used one of the charging stations, and I was disappointed to find that “Free Internet” on the built-in tablets equated to internet that does not connect at all.

Our flight did arrive early back in Harrisburg, but it seemed to take ages for our bagged to be unloaded.  I was also disappointed in that having survived multiple flights, both my key chains were busted off of the rings on our checked bag.  I knew this could happen which was why I put 2 of them on there, but it annoyed me just the same.  Cramer Airport Parking was again outstanding in arriving promptly to pick us as well as a few others up.  They dropped each of us off exactly at our vehicles and checked us out promptly.  We arrived home around 1am and I can attest that jet lag coming east is a lot worse than jet lag going west.

Overall our trip was great; our friends were wonderful hosts and filled our days with plenty of new things to see and do.  I gained more flying experience and look forward to our next adventure!

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