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Oregon Travel Tips

Oregon is the perfect picnic state. The central valleys flourish with farms of flowers, vegetables, fruit orchards and vineyards. The west coast brings the bounty of the sea, while its dairies deliver milk, cream, butter and cheese. To this abundance, throw in an enormous selection of gorgeous scenery from the alpine Crater Lake to the depths of the Columbia gorge, from Mt. Hood, to lush river valleys, from Evergreen forests to the gothic-romance coastline, and it's got a picnic spread that whets the appetite and sates the eyes.

STATE TOURIST INFORMATION: (800) 547-7842

STATEHOUSE, Salem (503) 986-1388

A relatively "young" Capitol (built in 1938), the architects of this white marble oblong structure took a dramatic departure from the classic capitol buildings of the 1800s, and adopted what seems to be a rather soviet appearance. Instead of the typical capitol dome, for example, the statehouse is capped with a squat, corrugated cylinder of white marble. Unadorned walls, windows, doors and entryways are noticeably lacking in ornamental pilasters or cornices. Flanking the front entrance are two massive marble monoliths, carved with historical images of struggling pioneers on one, and Lewis & Clark on the other. Quotes on overcoming hardship are emblazoned on many walls throughout the building. The overall impression is very Orwellian.

Tip: This is the first Capitol where we were denied a guided tour, even though all the brochures say guided tours are offered every hour. Seems they are reserved only for groups of 10 or more (although the brochures do not specify this). So while three tour guides chatted together at the empty Info Desk, we, and four other random tourists, made our way around the Capitol, inventing our own state stories.

PORTLAND: "City of Roses"

It was almost Boston. In 1844 two men, one from Portland, Maine, the other from Boston, Mass., wanted to rename the city, each wanting it to bear the name of his hometown. A flip of the coin settled the dispute and Stumpville became Portland. But a "Rose City" by any other name is just a sweet. This pedestrian-friendly port city on the shores of the Willamette River, and at the foothills of snow-white Mt. Hood, has streets and sidewalks paved in red brick with plenty of gas lights and outdoor cafes to make it comfortably entertaining for a leisurely afternoon of people-watching. A mild climate with lots of parks, fountains, gardens, trails, bicycle paths and free public transportation make it a great place to live for those who love to get out and about, but not behind the wheel of a car.

International Rose Test Gardens (503) 823-3636

High on a hill overlooking Portland, "the City of Roses," is a rose garden with more than 10,000 blossoming bushes of over 500 varieties of this sweet-smelling soft-petaled posy. Roses of every shape, color and scent sprawl across four acres and spill down three tiers to the brick "Rose Queen Walkway." Like movie stars' footprints at the Chinese theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, each Portland Rose Queen from the annual Rose Festival since 1907, has her name and signature etched on a brass plaque along this walkway at the end of the garden. Lots of tried-and-true roses, like the Lincoln Rose, share space with the of the new test roses soon to make their debut in the botanical world.

Japanese Gardens (503) 223-9233

Located just beyond the Rose Garden is the 5-1/2 acre Japanese Gardens, proclaimed as one of the best outside Japan. The gardens, designed in 1963 by an acclaimed authority on Japanese landscaping, encompass five traditional garden styles: The Strolling Pond Garden, The Flat Garden, The Tea Garden, The Natural Garden and The Sand and Stone Garden. A Pavilion and authentic Japanese Tea House bring a touch of the Orient closer to Oregon. The Pavilion ,overlooking The Flat Garden, provides magnificent views of Portland cityscapes and the ever-looming Mt. Hood.

MT. HOOD COLUMBIA GORGE LOOP (503) 622-4822

Along with spectacular scenery of waterfalls, canyons, deep green forests, marvelous meadows, neatly rowed orchards, and of course, the domineering, white-covered Mt. Hood, this riveting loop road is peppered with historic markers and sites that instantly recall the heroics and tragedies of the pioneers crossing this very place on the Oregon Trail 150 years ago.

Timberline Lodge (503) 272-3311

Constructed in 1936 as part of President Roosevelt's WPA program, this lodge was built smack in the middle of Mt. Hood, at the timberline, by a crew of skilled artisans who hand-crafted a rugged mountainside lodge like none other before it, and none since. The team erected enormous beams and supports from native fir and pine trees, shaped by hand using the broadaxe and adze. Stone masons, working with volcanic stones from nearby canyons chiseled gigantic stones into fabulous two-story fireplaces. Blacksmiths wrestled and tamed iron into black beauties of hand-wrought gates, stair railings, light fixtures, door latches and furniture. Women wove Oregon flax and wool into upholstery, and hooked rugs from old CCC uniforms and blankets. The entire project is a beautiful blend of the natural gifts from the mountain with the combined talents of the local artists, craftsmen and seamstresses. Truly a monument to man and nature.

Tip: Lunch in the loft-like lounge on the third floor and enjoy sandwiches and light fare with great views, both inside and out. Oversized wooden tables and chairs as well as cushy sofas provide a homey, friendly and comfortable "apres ski" type of atmosphere.While watching the snow scenes outside,we were warmed by friendly waitress bringing us a bowl of steaming hot chili served with two large chunks of homemade bread. The total bill for both our lunches was a mere $11.

Historic Columbia River Highway

This highway, complete with its original stonework walls, tunnels and bridges, was built in 1915 to accommodate the new mode of transportation: the motor car. The 22-mile loop takes you past no less than five waterfalls,(each with its own unique style, grace and personality), to the end of the loop and the ultimate sightseeing vista: Crown Point, a 733-foot overlook of the deep, and disturbingly beautiful Columbia River Gorge.

TILLAMOOK

With 72 inches of rain a year -- that's two yardsticks of rainwater! -- this fertile area, so close to the coast, is the happy home to Hereford, Jersey and Angus cows grazing on the lush green grass of this expansive landscape, making this part of Oregon a cheese paradise. The Tillamook County Creamery Association is one of the largest in the world, attracting almost a million visitors a year. Fill your picnic basket with some cheese and local wines, also produced in this area, and head up a couple of miles to the oceanside drive of Three Capes Road where you can stop and picnic on a 300-foot cliff and peer out over the pounding Pacific.

Tillamook Cheese Visitors Center (503) 815-1300

An audio-visual presentation, self-guided tours, and an observation area open up the world of cheese to the dairy-deprived. Take away a souvenir of Tillamook ice cream neatly packaged in a homemade waffle cone. (Yum, yum. Edam up.)

Blue Heron Cheese Factory (503) 842-8281

Samples, samples, and more samples. This old barn converted into a quaint gift store, deli, and wine bar, showcases French cheeses and other cuisine in charming, enticing displays. Every corner invites visitors to taste some unique flavors of jams, jellies, sauces, dips, crackers, breads and cheeses, and of course, some fine wine as well. Grab some sandwiches, cheese and wine, then head out for the Three Capes Road (below).

Three Capes Scenic Road

Driving the 400-mile long Oregon coastline will widen your eyes, excite your heart, and make you glad to be alive. If time is scarce, however, the 38-mile Three Capes Scenic Road, picked up in Tillamook, is the best way to get a sample of the gargantuan, rock-studded Oregon coastline. The road winds through the towns of Oceanside, Tierra del Mar, Pacific City, and of course, the three capes: Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda. At Cape Meares you'll find the old Cape Meares Lighthouse, which offers a fantastic view of the seascape below. On the opposite side of the lighthouse is the famed "Octopus Tree," a large Sitka Spruce, which, to me, looks more like a Menorah than an Octopus. The Octopus Tree once served as an American Indian burial tree.

OUR CAMPSITE FOR THE WEEK:

Town & Country RV Park, Portland (503) 771-1041

This place used to be a mobile home park so our site is very "homey" with the comfy feeling of an old neighborhood. A little front yard --complete with a big old Oak tree -- gives the impression of a house lot rather than an RV site. Our front door leads to a paved patio with a walkway to the community sidewalk and street. A brick flower box off the sidewalk with a lamppost that has our site number painted on it completes the homey picture. A paved driveway for our truck, and the shed in the backyard gives us a weird sense of permanence. For the first time in six months, we feel like our RV is a home and part of a community, especially at night when all the little lampposts are lit up, lining the street.

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