Oregon was a state we’d never preciously visited, and we knew there was lots to see there. But after Portland, before continuing our exploration of Oregon, we paid a brief visit north into Washington State.
Mount St Helens
We wanted to see Mount St Helens, the volcano that erupted in May 1980. This involved going north from Portland into Washington State, and then driving about 50 miles along Highway US504 to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. On the way we got glimpses of the volcano, although unfortunately the weather was cloudy and the mountain was shrouded in mist. We did a number of short hikes, including one which illustrated the ‘hummocks’ left by the eruption. By the time we reached the Observatory, the weather had improved somewhat, and we were able to see at least part of the mountain.
Back into Oregon
After crossing back into Oregon, our first stop was the town of Astoria. Here we drove up Coxcomb Hill, to see the Astoria Column – a bit like Trajan’s Column, except that the decorations are painting rather than relief carving.
We then went to Fort Clatsop, part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park.
If you have never heard of Lewis and Clark, you’ve probably never visited Oregon. Back in 1804, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captains Merriwether Lewis and William Clark to undertake a survey of the continent, as far as the Pacific Ocean. You cannot forget that if you are in Oregon. Just about everywhere in those parts has a statue of Lewis and Clark, a road or river named after them etc etc. At Fort Clatsop, they have built a replica of Lewis and Clark’s winter camp.
The Oregon coast
We felt a bit like Lewis and Clark ourselves at our next stop, Fort Stevens State Park, where we caught our first glimpse of the Pacific on this trip. Exactly four weeks after leaving Chicago, we had finally made it to the west coast of the USA. Although bright and sunny, it was very windy, so we did not spend too long on the beach. But we did take pictures of the (very photogenic) wreck of the Peter Iredale, which ran aground in 1906.
Over the next few days, we travelled south down the Oregon coast. There were some really beautiful sandy beaches, but sunbathing was not an option! Although we had blue skies and sun much of the time, the wind blew constantly at gale force, making us reluctant even to walk far along the beach or cliffs. However, we made a lot of interesting stops along the way, some just photo shoots from viewpoints, and some involving walks, the longest about five miles. The northern part of the coast has the most dramatic scenery, with tall tree-covered cliffs and jagged rocks. South of Florence, there are dunes stretching for 40 miles; we climbed some of the biggest in an attempt to reach the beach, two miles away, but we lost the trail and finally gave up the struggle.
We saw hundreds of sea birds along the coast. One day we visited the Sea Lion Caves (largest sea cave in the USA); we saw a few sea lions in the cave, and many more lying on the rocks outside. Another day we hiked to Cape Lookout, and there Ian glimpsed a whale (Sandie was just too late); on our way back, we both saw a snake slither across our path.
On our wanderings down the coast we visited no fewer than five picturesque lighthouses, and (believe it or not) two cheese factories. (One produced French cheese, and offered wine tasting too – Sandie was in heaven!) We also did some shopping, and managed to get our hair cut. A variety of experiences!
High on our list of ‘must see’ places in Oregon was Crater Lake. This involved a long detour inland, but was well worth it. We have seen lots of beautiful places on our travels, but our first view of Crater Lake was quite literally jaw-dropping. The lake has formed inside the caldera of what was Mount Mazama, before it erupted 7,700 years ago. A later eruption resulted in what is now called Wizard Island, in the lake. The water is an amazing shade of deep blue.
Sadly, all of the hiking trails (including the one leading down to the lake) were closed, due to snow. So was the East Rim Drive, so we could not complete the circuit of the lake. But we were able to get stunning views from various points along the west rim, and the snow made the whole scene even more picturesque. It was impossible to stop taking photos, although we don’t think any of ours really do it justice.
Shakespeare in Ashland
The town of Ashland holds an annual Shakespeare Festival, which actually lasts most of the year (Feb-Oct). Plays (not all by Shakespeare) are performed in three different theatres every night. We thought it was time for some culture, and got tickets for Cymbeline in the Elizabethan Theatre which is modelled on the Globe. We’d never seen the play before, and it is clearly not one of Shakespeare’s best. But we enjoyed the production, and were impressed by the theatre and the staging. The weather had improved dramatically since we had left the coast, and it was great to sit under the stars.
In South Dakota (a few blogs back!) we visited Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. While there we read about the Oregon Caves National Monument, and decided it too deserved a visit. This required a lengthy detour, and we were not entirely sure it was worth it: although interesting, the cave was not (in our view) as impressive as some others we have seen. However, the room of petrified jellyfish was certainly worth a look.
And so to California…
Finally, on Saturday 8 June, we said farewell to Oregon and crossed the state border into California. We had to be in San Francisco by the 10th, but that still left time for a bit more wandering on the way south. We saw yet more volcanic mountains – a recurring theme of this part of our journey. We stayed overnight in the town of Mount Shasta, very close to the mountain of the same name, and had the best ever view from a bathroom window!
The next day we drove to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We had stunning views of the spectacular mountain, plus sparkling lakes, some partly frozen over. Bizarrely, there was lots of snow at the higher levels, yet the weather was really hot. Lassen was a surprise to us – we hadn’t heard of it until we began planning this trip, but it was very well worth the visit. As well as lakes and mountains, it has geothermal features, but you need to hike a three-mile round trip to see these. We were disappointed to find that the trail was closed due to snow.
From Lassen we continued our journey south, and stayed overnight in the Napa Valley, a famous wine-producing region. Next morning we drove through the valley and visited some wineries, including one styled as an Italian castle, and another supposedly ‘German Gothic’ (but in our view resembling the haunted mansion at Disney). We did only one tasting, however, since they were expensive and we had limited time. We had to get to San Francisco airport in time to pick up Claire and the boys – but that’s another story!