Errands and fatigue had us leaving Portland around 5pm. With a 4 ½ hour drive to Coos Bay ahead, we should have reconsidered our plan to cut back to U.S. Highway 101 at Newport.
Nope, we raced to the coast, arrived at the Pacific Ocean and turned left onto Highway 101 after sunset on a moonless night.
Gorgeous beaches and landscapes rolled out just beyond the Escape Mobile’s passenger-side windows, but we couldn’t see a damn thing. With concentration, we squinted to focus on the reflection markers aligning curves and helping to prevent cars from plummeting over cliffs. It was harrowing drive, but I imagine not as much as it was for the poor guy we passed riding a bicycle without a headlight. We would have offered him a ride but he was traveling the opposite direction. I still feel for him.
With a solid night’s sleep in a cozy Best Western, we awoke the next morning to discover Coos Bay a charming, hard-working, coastal community.
Yelp led us to Mom’s Kitchen for a hearty breakfast with hashbrowns O’Brien, a Pacific Northwest staple we discovered in Seattle.
Although cloudy, the Pacific views were gorgeous and non-stop!
Like the drive between Astoria and Lincoln City, we stretched the three hour trip into four hours with several stops to whale watch…
Spotted a pod of grey whales from the road in this inlet
walk the beach…
and take photographs.
Approaching the California state line, we noticed a turnoff for “Arch Rock” viewing area. From the small parking area, a path leads through a mushroom lined thicket of firs to a ledge overlooking the Pacific.
Except for a friendly snake, we had the path and views to ourselves.
From there, we were forty minutes away from our next destination… camping among the giant redwoods!
Having heard of Portland’s similarities to Austin (music scene, laid back feel, open-minded residents, etc.), we were ready to experience a taste of home.
Staying in downtown Portland wasn’t feasible, in either dollars or hotel points. Instead, we used points to stay near the Portland International Airport and used Portland’s MAX Light Rail system to get around. The Red Line stopped directly in front of our hotel; from there it was a straight shot into the heart of Portland, so the Escape Mobile remained parked for most of our stay!
Portland’s most notable similarity to Austin is its river, the Willamette, which cuts through the city’s center.
Both banks of the Willamette River are aligned with businesses, hot spots, public parks, gathering spaces, and walking/jogging/biking paths.
Convention Center Towers
Carrying our bikes onto the Red Line, we stopped west of the river to begin a clockwise 11-mile waterfront ride. The Sellwood Bridge Loop led us alongside downtown and across the iconic Steel Bridge, a double-decker vertical-lift bridge completed in 1912.
Biking along the Willamette was a great way to explore the city and spot wildlife.
Trey on the Sellwood Bridge Loop
Osprey on the Willamette River
Trey was thrilled at the site of a decommissioned naval submarine, the USS Blueback (SS-581)…
and we both loved the row of float houses near Sellwood Bridge!
Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge begins about twenty miles east of Portland and is accessible via U.S. Highway 30, also known as the Historic Columbia River Highway. The first must stop is Vista House…
an overlook and information center completed in 1918 located on Crown Point, one of the gorge’s highest points. Vista House offers great panoramas of the gorge, river valley and surrounding hills.
We were surprised to see windsurfers whisking atop the Columbia River, but the area below Crown Point is a popular spot for the sport.
Waterfalls dropping from rocky cliffs dot the riverbank as you head east into the gorge. Most, including Latourell Falls and Shepperd’s Dell, are either visible from the highway or a short hike.
Latourell Falls, Columbia River Gorge
Fall Colors at Shepperd’s Dell Falls
Bridal Veil was our favorite. The trail crosses a creek that may deter some from completing the half-mile trek, but keep going. The two-tiered waterfall is definitely worth it!
We climbed atop a huge boulder and basked in the sun while red and yellow leaves rained down upon us.
Multnomah Falls, photographers’ favorite, was packed and we had to nudge our way across Benson Bridge to access the trail to the top of the falls.
The roundtrip 2.2 mile hike climbs 700 feet via eleven switchbacks. Although it’s labeled as moderate, wear hiking boots or tennis shoes and allow time for breath breaks if you’re not in good shape.
The 4.8 mile loop trail we’d planned to take from the top of Maltnomah Falls over to Wahkeena Falls was closed, so it was down the switchbacks to the car for a backtrack drive west.
Trey hopped over the concrete barrier, across mossy rocks, and balanced on the creek’s ledge to get the above shot.
Portland Night Life
While visiting downtown for dinner the evening of our arrival, we were surprised to find Portland streets subdued with only a few people out and about. We figured that was because it was a Thursday. The next evening, and after a long day of bicycling, we explored the Pearl District, an area described as “buzzing” with loads of unique dining options. While there were a few more folks walking around the Pearl District, there was neither buzz nor music. This was consistent throughout our stay.
Portland lacked Austin’s vibe, that definable energy evident upon deboarding at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport where one is met with local eats and live music.
Although the weather was gorgeous, maybe our visit coincided with Portland’s downtime, or we turned down the wrong street and missed music venues. I don’t know.
The most excitement we observed were the long, munchie lines outside of Voodoo Doughnuts. Maybe that’s why all the good people of Portland were so quiet and laidback?
On the Red Line from the airport, there’s a five-second window where Mt. Hood, Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Rainier can all be viewed.
You need a clear day and good neck flexibility; we managed it once.
A local informed us of another vantage point in town where there’s time to appreciate the views and take photographs. In the late afternoon and on our way out of town, we stopped by Pittock Mansion, a restored chateau built in the early 1900’s by one of Portland’s legacy families.
We arrived too late to tour the home, but enjoyed strolling the magnificent grounds and the views of Portland.
Unfortunately, clouds and haze prevented us from seeing any mountains before it was time to hit the road again.
Destinations Known: Coos Bay for the night, then into the Redwood Forest!
Quaint Astoria sits on a peninsula barely east of where the Columbia River clashes with the Pacific Ocean. Outlined by Young’s Bay and River on its southern shoreline, with the mighty Columbia River comprising its north border.
Yes, water is the heart, soul, and breath of the community. Its sustenance, and existence.
Accessing Astoria from Washington State requires either a boat or crossing the massive Astoria-Megler Bridge, a cantilever through-truss design. As we drove the 4.1 miles across to Oregon, my thoughts turned to my sister. Many times, she had relayed her dizzying experience bicycling over the Columbia River while water rushed in one direction below and crisscrossing cars whizzed past her side. I was grateful to be inside the Escape Mobile.
Checking into our riverfront hotel just before sunset, we were greeted with an unrecognizable noise permeating throughout the lobby. Curiosity led us down a corridor and out a back door where the now recognizable barks overwhelmed our senses. Seals, hundreds of them, had taken over docks and landings sitting 150-ish yards away. Gladly, the barking did not disrupt our sleep.
With one full day to explore Astoria, we made the most of our time. First order was a must-visit to the Goondocks…
a row of Victorian houses made famous in the 1985 Goonies movie. While we easily found parking and walked up to the primary “Goonies’ House” to snap photos, increased tourist traffic and mishaps have since halted such practices.
Next, a walk around and up into the Astoria Column provided both a historical accounting and scenic overview of the area.
Styled after Rome’s Trajan Column (which Trey has since visited), its spiraling pictorials tell of the “discovery” of the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and the arrival of John Jacob Astor’s merchant ship which was instrumental in establishing Astoria as a key outpost in North America’s fur trade, helping Astor to control much of that trade. How ironic, or perhaps “offensive’ is more fitting, that Astor’s descendants later dedicated the column as a memorial to the Chinook Indians.
The remainder of Astoria was explorable by bicycle via The Riverwalk…
a roughly 5-mile pathway following the Columbia River bank from the peninsula’s westernmost point, and turning into forested hills at the eastern end.
Along the way, The Riverwalk provides easy access to downtown shops and restaurants. Note, a trolley line follows much of the pathway.
During our bike ride, we enjoyed eating wild blackberries growing aside the pathway, watching the day’s catch being unloaded, the ever-present wildlife, and being entertained by Coast Guard drills while eating pizza.
Astoria is charming with a laid-back, fun vibe that balances well with the hard work and challenges that I imagine accompany living at the convergence of three rivers and an ocean. Also apparent was Astoria’s reliance on tourism.
Astoria Food experiences…
A bit of a foodie city, there were several on-budget options. Five stars to T Paul’s Supper Club for dinner, Street 14 Café for coffee and lunch, and the chain restaurant Pig N’ Pancake was a breakfast favorite for locals and tourists.
Fort Clatsop – Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
Fort Clatsop is just south of Astoria so we saved this historical site for the morning of our departure. The fort sits where the Lewis and Clark expedition settled in for winter, awaiting and planning for their return east.
All structures are replicas based on surviving journal entries. A footpath leads to the Lewis and Clark River and follows the shore 1-1/2 miles to Netul Landing (Netul is the river’s original name).
US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive – Part Two
Mesmerized with our first Oregon coast drive, we stretched the 2 hour and forty minute trip to Lincoln City into most of the day; stopping at numerous overlooks…
touring Tillamook Cheese Factory…
Tillamook’s exceptionally clean packaging area
and traipsing between homes to access a public beach…
Lovely day best expressed through photographs:
We arrived in Lincoln City at sunset, without hotel reservations, and famished. Trey had spotted Puerto Vallarta Mexican Restaurant as we entered town — best Tex-Mex fix since Pittsburgh, margaritas included of course.
Lincoln City’s Sailor Jack Inn stands out as one of our more memorable sleeping experiences; notable in a unique, funny, and lets-not-do-that-again way. It was a cheap motel with a million dollar view.
Slinking carefully into bed, we drifted to sleep easily to the sound of crashing waves. I’m sure the margaritas were helpful, too!
Woke the next morning to clear skies, and another Pig N’ Pancake breakfast fueled our bodies for the drive inland to Portland.
This is a record of Trey & Martha's 2014 U.S. travel adventures