The Northwest is a wonderful place to live, in my opinion. Around Portland we a wide variety. You can go from the beach to top of Mount Hood in a few hours. You can go from the green valley to the east of the Cascade range to the high deserts of Eastern Oregon. In a short drive you can go from downtown Portland to the Gorge and experience a beautiful hike or just enjoy beautiful scenery. Whether you are out of shape or in great shape, there is something for everyone not very far from where we live. This weekend I was reminded that there are still beautiful and fun things to discover.
Christina IM’d me on Friday to ask if I wanted to “do the Fruit Loop”? I had no idea what she was referring to so she informed me it was a nice drive to Hood River then up in to the fruit growing regions just south of Hood River. We looked at the weather and it looked like Saturday would be a gorgeous day and, for a change, we didn’t have anything else we had to do on a beautiful and sunny Saturday so we decided to take the drive.
Christina likes to drive, so there are times when I get to act as a passenger and just enjoy the scenery and that’s just what I did. We started out from Vancouver and, for a change of pace, decided to drive out the Washington side on Highway 14 and then cross over the Columbia at Hood River. This is a beautiful view and a welcome change from speeding out Highway 84 on the Oregon side. It’s faster over there but after all these years there aren’t as many surprises out that way.
This time I was able to enjoy the view of the gorge from the Washington side and it’s pretty wonderful. The weather was a spectacular as we’d hoped, so it was clear and sunny and warm as we headed out in the morning around 10am.
We passed a hike I’ve only done once before and, coincidentally, my friends Ken and David did this very weekend. It’s called Dog Mountain.
Dog Mountain is known for meadows of flowers in the spring as well as being a pretty aggressive hike on the way up. When I climbed it, I did find up till the last quarter mile. My achilles tendon doesn’t like to stretch and as a result, I have a tendency to climb steep hikes on the balls of my feet. This is the first time that it was so sustained that by the time I reached (nearly) the top, my calves seized up and refused to let me finish the hike to the top without stopping for 20 minutes. By the time they loosened enough for me to get to the top and join my party, they had already been eating lunch for a while so I didn’t get to enjoy the break as much as I would have liked to.
The trail that we took on the way down is less aggressive but this was the first time I’d been hiking in the boots I was wearing and so I spent the entire trail down stepping down on to my toes and having them slam in to the end of the boots. By the end of the hike when we reached the trailhead and the parking lot, the ends of my toes were one continuous, big blister. As a result, while beautiful, I don’t have fond memories of that hike. Since, I’ve heard that this is why folks hike with poles. Not for stability as I thought, rather to absorb some of the force of the hike so the feet take less abuse. Suddenly this sounds like genius.
Further out the Gorge on the Washington side we passed Beacon Rock State Park. Beacon Rock is a large basalt monolith that provides a beautiful view up and down the gorge. It’s only a three quarters of a mile hike and about 850 feet of climb, so it’s a nice quick hike with a great visual payoff. The last time I climbed this, though, Ken and I were taking a trip back or to college, so it’s been a while. After this weekend, it’s back on our list of short/fun trips on a nice day.
Further out Highway 14, and further than we planned on traveling today, is the Maryhill Museum. This place is an interesting stop if you’re in the area. It includes a museum which is now advertised as an Art Museum but when I was last there (again, more than 20 years ago) it was a doll museum. Additionally, if you Google Maryhill Stone Henge you’ll find that it includes a full-size, astronomically-aligned replica of Stonehenge. It was built in the early 20th century by a businessman as a memorial to those who died in World War I. An odd memorial on the face of it, but as I’m unlikely to get to the original any time soon, it’s an interesting thing to check out if you’ve got a bit of time and are up for the drive.
In our case we only drove out as far as Hood River then crossed the toll bridge in to town.
The Fruit Loop has a page on the web here
There were a few highlights for us on this trip.
First, the apple trees were in bloom. At least some of them were. So, there was a couple of stops along the side of the road to take pictures of the trees, the blossoms and Mount Hood in the background.
From our vantage to the west of Mount Hood we see one side of the mountain. It’s fairly iconic, but it was wonderful to see it from the (more or less) north looking south towards the mountain. On this day we had blue skies with a few clouds and one persistent cloud around the mountain. The sun was shining and temperatures were climbing but there was a enough of a breeze that it never seemed too hot.
Our first stop was at a thrift store that caught Christina’s eye. I’m not a shopper but I know she enjoys these stops. In this case I was more than happy to stop as I’d spotted a taco truck just about a block away, so while she looked around I walked back and had a taco. I have a weakness for taco trucks and those little tacos. Mmm!
After that we went looking for the Apple Valley Country Store. They had pies and jams and jellies, barbecue sauces and rubs, unique mustards. We walked out spending a bit more than we planned but had really nice pork chops with a tasty grilling sauce on them tonight!
While there we heard about a barbecue place up in Parkdale, Oregon. I didn’t think I had been to Parkdale but once we were there, it turns out I might have been.
Parkdale is one of the stops on the Mount Hood Railroad. I rode this once years ago in a previous work life as a group activity. It was wonderful fun then and would be today. You get to ride out of Hood River and just relax and enjoy the views. There are open and closed cars so you’ll have a good time regardless of the weather.
We found our barbecue place in Parkdale. It’s called the Apple Valley Barbecue and the food was great! I love good barbecue and the lunch plate was a very good choice for us.
We’d purchased a berry hand pie back at the Country Store, so dessert was covered.
After we finished our lunch we wandered off and visited a couple of other places on the loop.
Our first stop on the way back was at Cascade Alpacas of Oregon. Here we met some alpacas, got to feed them (bring quarters) and looked in the shop. Alpaca wool is very soft. In fact, Christina picked up a souvenir which was a bear made of alpaca fur. It’s ridiculously soft and terrifically cute. At one point we were looking at the alpacas and noticed in a separate pen nearby a large white alpaca laying down. It had long, white luxurious fur. We thought it might be like the long haired rabbits we’ve seen at fairs. Well, something spooked it because it leapt up and barked and turned out instead to be a white Great Pyrenees dog. So much for our animal identification skills…
After that we stopped at Rasmussen Farms and bought some strawberries that I planted today. It was a beautiful little nursery with a great view of Mount Adams. Because of the clarity of the day (and my poor geographical skills), I had to ask someone which mountain it was. Public School Education for the win!
Finally, we stopped at the Mount Hood Winery and sampled some really nice hard ciders. One was an apple-pear based, another pure pear and the last one was finished with blueberries. The last was too subtle for me to make out as I was recovering from a cold and my sense of taste is fairly poor on the best of days.
By this time we were ready to head home so we wandered back to Hood River and jumped on US84 to take the fast way back home. I finished the day with a sunburned forehead, some really tasty mustards, sauces and rubs, a really great lunch and tried some really wonderful local beverages. We were tired when we got home but it was a wonderful day spent with my favorite person and we both needed that time together and, more importantly, away from everything else that demands our attention. I’m really happy we still have adventures like this right in our backyard to discover and enjoy whenever our time and the weather conspire to give us the opportunity!