Thursday, October 29, 2009

Autumn In The Northwest - Day Four and Five

It took me longer to get this posted than I'd planned, so I decided to lump the last two and a half days of our vacation into one post. It appears that I took virtually zero pictures of the last day in Oregon...


Sunday morning dawned gray, drizzly and gloomy, just the way we like it. We got up and out of the hotel pretty quickly, hitting the road just before 7:30. Our plan for the day was to head up to Astoria, spend a bit of time there admiring the quirky buildings there, possibly eating lunch, before heading along the coast.
We stuck pretty close to that, Though we were in Astoria pretty darned early, so we left quickly, just stopping to get lost amongst the rambling three story houses that are everywhere in that town. If we ever made enough money and could be convinced to forgo the beach, Astoria would quickly rise to the top of the list of places we would want to live.

After Astoria, we cut along the coast with a brief detour when I took the wrong road and got lost in the forest for a bit until we reached Rockaway Beach. Just out of curiosity, we drove around the coastal homes there for a while, scoping out prices of the houses for sale, of which there were a lot. It was a truly mixed bag in that crazy town. We found a 17,000 square foot place with three bedrooms and views of the ocean from the second and third floors for over two hundred thousand dollars less than a house less than a block away and twenty feet closer to the surf with unobstructed views that had less than 500 square feet.

The beach was great that day, and we wandered for the better part of an hour, prodding jellyfish and other mysterious things in the sand with my shoe and watching the seagulls play. The surf was especially dramatic, with high, beautiful waves and lots of different colors. If we could have, we would have set up shop right there and never left. Apart from the crappy food in Rockaway, that is... We talked on the phone to my sister in law, Marissa for a bit, sent her a phone picture of the ocean, then left for inland central Oregon, an area mysterious to us.

From Tillamook, we cut south and east, through the Suislaw National forest and towards a small town below Portland called McMinnville. Which, as we discovered is notable only for it's vaguely hard to navigate streets, another Walgreens, an extremely unremarkable and unsatisfying Mexican place and a very picturesque little college campus.

Once I figured out how to get out of town, we dropped further south, towards the towns of Dallas and Salem, Oregon, first stopping in the very charming little town of Amity. From it's very outskirts we liked Amity. The streets were quiet and clean, the air was crisp and smelled like autumn should smell. Cool and dry, slightly musty and fruity, like walking through a field of leaves. We stopped at a farmer's market there and marveled at the dozens fall colors displayed, buying a bag of homemade Hazelnut Brittle, which was made by a local with nuts from her own tree. It was great - buttery and sweet, with just enough heft to be crunchy but not impossible to bite.

Beyond Amity, we rolled through broad fields that seemed to alternate between groves of nut trees and rows of grapevines. It's obvious that a lot of the farmers there have decided that it's easier and swankier to open their own little winery rather than their old farms, but we thought that both had their charms. There was a nice balance between the posh wine cellars and traditional farmhouses and even the wine places have a spunky, young upstart feel to 'em.

We had high hopes for Dallas, Oregon. It's situated just far enough away from Salem to be realistic for me to commute and is large enough that Lindsay could possibly find a job locally and not have to commute. They also have a lot of pretty reasonably priced housing and a few good restaurants. If anything, the town managed to exceed our expectations, being closer to Salem than I'd thought, only around ten minutes, and having much more of a quaint rural village feel than anything that close to Salem has any right to have. We saw a lot of gorgeous old houses, many with three or more stories and a few that were for sale and in need of some love, maybe a few big dogs too. The biggest surprise of the evening however, were the kids.

They were everywhere! In the parks, on the basketball courts, walking along the street, sitting on park benches... and this was around three on a Sunday afternoon. I know what you're thinking and no, they didn't bring their tvs out to the park with them or have wireless game controllers with good ranges, these kids were actually playing outside. Some were even talking and laughing with each other. Clearly something has taken over the youth of Dallas. Pod-People perhaps, trained to act human based off of 1950's footage. This is a mystery I will have to investigate further if we move there.

Before hitting up Salem, we took a detour to a town called Falls City, which ended up being out too far to be realistic and not nearly as cheap as we'd hoped. Cutting back through Dallas, we headed to Salem itself, a city of around 175,000 with six Walgreens. I'm always leery of larger cities. I'm a good driver, but I have a tendency to get lost or distracted easily and big cities bring out the worst in me. (That and country roads, for that matter...)

I'm happy to say that Salem is not only easy to navigate, but it never once felt as large as it is. I suppose a large part of it is that a good chunk of the population commutes to Portland for work every day, but even on a Sunday evening, the streets moved well and people were considerate drivers. The city is laid out well, we were able to get around using a tiny map on the back of our Oregon map for the most part. We stopped at a good chunk of the Walgreens stores in Salem over the two days we were there, some were nice and new, some were nice and old and one was old, trashy and across the street from a couple of adult shops. With my luck, that'll be the one I get a transfer to.

After driving long enough that we felt we had a pretty decent handle on Salem, we decided to find a hotel for the night. We checked into a couple of Best Westerns in town, hoping to use Lindsay's negligible employee discount, but all of them, even the one that was technically a Motel and looked trashy and empty wanted more than twenty dollars more than the one in Dallas. So once again, we drove the ten minutes and stayed in a tiny, set-back Best Western, manned by an extremely bored but very friendly desk clerk who was also named Lindsay.
She had moved from Portland to Dallas to help out her mom and found herself staying. She said the town was pretty safe and clean, but boring. That's pretty much what we were hoping for, frankly. She directed us to Murphy's Grill for dinner, a small chain-esque restaurant that was kind of an Applebees with fishing decor. We split a Mushroom Cheeseburger and headed to bed.

Our last day of vacation, like most of our trips was more an exercise in endurance than a vacation. We woke up at seven that morning and in less than 22 hours, we'd be back in Pocatello. Most people, when travelling between Salem and Idaho, head up to Portland, then take the interstate along the Columbia River Gorge, before cutting along it to Pendleton and the Idaho border. We've driven that route a lot. Something like 13 times in the last year or so, so we decided to take an alternate route, over the Cascades and through mid-eastern Oregon, and area that neither of us had ever seen.

The drive started promisingly, cruising through lush fields of grapes and spotted with farmhouses. Eventually agriculture gave way to thick autumn forests as the road got curvier and the elevation rose. The road over the Cascades is a gorgeous one, and I highly recommend that everyone take it at least once, but I can say this; It's much, much longer and not a good idea to burn through if you're in a hurry.

I stopped a lot, just to stand on the side of the car and admire the natural beauty of the area, though the obviously invected, bright yellow pine trees were an unusual curiosity. They're obviously sufferring from a blight of some sort, something that turns their needles fall colors before shrivelling and blackening. Eventually, after the road turned to dirt and back to pavement, after some rugged signs of humanity started trickling in, we left the Cascade region behind, first stopping at a funky little service station where we bought a bottle of barbecue sauce from a hippy couple named Something (I forget his name right now..) and Sue.

A shoe tree. Located somewhere in the middle of Oregon...

Beyond that, there isn't a lot to Oregon, likely one reason that no one really considers half of the state when thinking about it - Most of the state is desert. Covered in sagebrush, scrubby pines and jagged rocks, the desert region of Oregon still has more appeal that a lot of Idaho, but after the beauty of the last few days, it was a bit of a downer to drive.

We stopped in Sisters for lunch, eating at a small deli that served up fresh, large sandwiches and excellent homemade soups and rolls. Leaving town, we noticed a shabby clabboard sign on a corner with big red letters spelling out "JERKY" and an arrow pointing to the left. We are not the kind of people that will ever pass up the chance to buy possibly questionable slabs of dried meat in a strange town, so we followed that sign. It led us to a dead end street in the middle of a vaguely industrial area. Thinking we'd been led astray somehow, we circled back and tried again, finding nothing. Finally, I stopped and asked directions at a car detailing place. Turns out, the simple red arrow failed to elaborate that you then wanted to turn left, head two blocks, turn right, then left, and it would be right in front of you. Naturally.

Totally worth it though. You know it's a good jerky place when they're loading half of an unidentified, skinned animal from the back of a truck by giant metal hooks. Meat is so much sexier when it's not connected to other meat, forming a vaguely identifiable shape. Anyway, the jerky was great. We bought some teryaki, brown sugar, original and a tiny piece of their sweet jalapeno. Then, fortified with provisions in case of a treacherous pass, we left again, a straight out burn to Pocatello.

Not much to say after that. We stopped in Durkee again around 8pm and shared a Bo's Burger, which had two patties, ham, bacon, couple of cheeses, veggies, a greasy grilled bun and a side of fries, followed up with a slice of coconut creme pie.

Just over the border of Idaho, we made the bed and slept for a few hours, waking around 12:30am. I stopped in a gas station just outside of Boise to buy a Rockstar, in the hopes of  staving off sleep for another few hours, where the clerk did something strange and vaguely annoying. My change came to $2.83 and when he handed it to me, he handed me the $2.80 first, then dug out the pennies. Instead of handing them to me, he hovered them about a half inch over the "need a penny take a penny" container, and said "You don't need these, do ya?" then he dropped them in the pile.

I didn't need them, frankly, I had probably four dollars in pennies in various pockets and containers in my car, but the way he did it stuck in my craw. I can't help but assume that he turns that penny jar into a tidy little supplemental tip over the course of an evening, there was well over a dollar in pennies already, peppered with some silver too. Bah to you, Shady Graveyard Shift Chevron Guy!

We got home around 5am Tuesday morning, sixteen hours before we had to be at work again to a couple of extremely giddy dogs and some slightly interested in saying hi cats.

All said, it was a pretty great trip. We saw some beautiful areas, many new to us and it was the first time we'd ever been to either state in the Autumn. We decided that there were enough possibilites for transfers that we don't have to be as picky as we'd feared. We drove over 2,100 miles in just over five days, averaged 22mpg, and saw desert, prairie, farmlands, the Pacific Ocean, forests and towns in every shape and size. Pretty cool.

Now we just have to find a way to get out there permanently, sell our books, open a motel, become successful and go on to live our dreams. Easy enough, right?


The Grows said...

I love all of the pictures. You just seem to really capture the beauty of all these places. It really makes me want to go visit.

randymeiss said...

Long blog, so you get a long comment. You have to be convinced to forgo the beach? IMHO it's a nice place to visit but I'd never live there. (spoken like a true land-locked NDan)

I toured the Columbia Gorge on a computer conference in Portland several years ago. Absolutely breathtaking beauty. Very very very nice place to visit.

Interesting about the kids in Dallas. It does my heart good to know there is still some Americana left in this country. The next time I see my kids I guarantee you my daughter will have the earplugs jammed in her ears listening to the MP3, and my son will be trashing his thumbs on his Nintendo DS handheld.

That jerky and the hippy BBQ sauce sounds amazing. I have to give you my digits so you can purchase some items for me next time you travel. I'll pay for shipping and everything.

What an ID10T penny pincher you got. I would have said, "Yes, quite frankly, I do need those pennies, thank you." Hindsight is always 20/20.

Make sure you blog about the results of your brain eater party. You've whetted my appetite so much with all your preparations. Oh, and Happy Halloween!

Sherry said...

That landscape is beautiful. That makes that place a winner no matter what. Especially if you find a place that is like the mountain in Misery. Triple awesome score for it.