Oregon: Dunes to Dundee

August 20, 2013 (Tuesday, cont’d) –We waved goodbye to California and boldly went where many have gone before: the alluring Oregon coast. The offshore rocks grow even larger and more impressive, often covered in green, some resembling small islands more than large boulders. We took the turn off for Cape Blanco and saw a young deer in the road on our way to the lighthouse and nearby campground. After much debate, we passed on staying here. It is rustic and remote-feeling with good privacy and electricity at each site, all for $20/night. There are cabins available to rent, but all were taken. Detractions included persistent strong wind and poor light, plus we preferred to get further up the coast today. The jury is still out whether we made the right call. We also declined Eel Creek Campground and continued up to Honeyman State Park.

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Honeyman has roughly 400 sites and was packed with families and dogs. Privacy was non-existent. Nonetheless, the facilities were nice, everyone was very friendly (neighbors gave us s’mores, another camper took our trash to the dumpster, the host offered a homemade egg carton device as a fire starter) and the location served us well. We got a first-come site (#222) for $21/night and there were free hot showers and bathrooms with soap dispensers and paper towels. Yes, less than a year ago I was staying in overwater bungalows in the Maldives and now I’m amped about complimentary paper towels. We drove three miles to Florence and bought provisions at a mediocre Safeway. I grilled some corn and boneless chicken thighs marinated in Sweet Baby Ray’s original BBQ sauce. I think boneless chicken thighs may be the most underrated cut of protein out there. (If any of you have connections at Tyson Foods, I’m available for a marketing position.) We also bought ear plugs which helped at a crowded campground, though I was astonished at how quiet the place was each morning until about 8 am.

August 21, 2013 (Wednesday) – We rose a little after 7 am, had yogurt for breakfast and headed into Florence to Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters by the bridge. This is a nice coffee shop, but the WiFi was weak and that paired poorly with our goal of planning our next several nights. Striking the right balance between flexibility and plans is a work in progress. It is nice to wing it, less so to worry about where you are sleeping each night. The fact that it is peak tourist season exacerbates the difficulty of finding last-minute accommodation. Six hours later (seriously), we had booked all our nights through Big Sky, MT and felt good. Florence seems moderately charming with its blend of chains and small coastal town vibe.

Lunch back at the campsite was Triscuits, salami and Tillamook smoked cheddar. We walked about 50 feet over a dirt trail and emerged in another world. Honeyman sits at the Northern end of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, and the sand dunes are expansive and spectacular. They span roughly two miles to the ocean. It is possible to walk all the way, but I’ve been under the weather and walking up and down large hills of sand is exhausting.

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Side note: There is a good chance that all the jumping pictures you see will be of Jenni.  She has not mastered the photo timing, so the ones of me just look like I am stretching.  And as many of you know, that just looks like me anywhere in the world.  Also, after several pure barre classes it appears her vertical leap has surpassed mine.

We traveled parallel to the coast perhaps one-third of a mile to Cleawox Lake. The dunes closest to the campground are off-limits to vehicles, but a little farther out is a huge area with ATVs, dirt bikes and guided tours on dune buggies holding 10+ passengers. I went for a dip in Cleawox, which was cool but surprisingly nice and refreshing. They may rent canoes/kayaks etc. at Cleawox, but if not they certainly do across the highway at Woahink Lake. The showers were empty at 5 pm, after which we BBQ’d and made another campfire.

August 22, 2013 (Thursday) – Thunder frightened us into packing quickly and hitting the road for some McDonald’s breakfast meals. These never disappoint. The coast was shrouded in fog but we decided to continue anyway (out of the way) for what we had heard was lovely scenery up to Newport. Eleven miles North of Florence we visited the Sea Lion Caves, billed as the largest sea cave in the US. Admission is typically $14 but today it was $8 because the sea lions recently unionized and negotiated four-day weekends. An elevator descends 200 feet through the rocks to a cave viewing area with some educational displays and a short video. It would have been nice to see the famed inhabitants, but we still enjoyed the experience and views of nearby Heceta Head Lighthouse. Continuing North, the coast stays rugged and lovely. There are several places to camp and many vista points. We stopped at Seal Rock then cruised through Newport’s historic bay front with its overwhelming smell of fish. At the petrol station, I learned that Oregon is the only state aside from New Jersey where it is still illegal to pump one’s own gas. This must be a defense mechanism when overshadowed by your neighbor.

We headed East on Route 20 (somewhat windy and hilly but it moves pretty fast) and 50s and foggy turned into 80s and sunny by the time we hit Corvallis. The seemingly infinite forests of evergreen made it abundantly clear why the Douglas fir is on Oregon license plates. The Oregon State campus looks pretty nice. Monroe Avenue has some bars and restaurants while 2nd to 4th streets seem more of a “downtown” area with many commercial establishments.

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We ate PB&J sandwiches at our parking spot and walked around a little. Jenni traded in a book she had finished and bought two new ones at The Book Bin. We popped into Avalon Wine for some recommendations on wine country and Andy delivered this and countless tips for Portland (which he declared one of the best food scenes in the country right now, not a terribly controversial statement), plus a recommendation that we drive over the Cascades to Smith Rock State Park. Our itinerary was too full, but the pictures suggest this is regrettable.

Route 99W is the more scenic route to Eugene, and we checked into the Timbers Motel around 3:45 pm. We got a basic room with queen bed for $69. Luxurious it was not, but the WiFi worked and the water pressure was good. I have two general rules when it comes to real estate. You want to be near the gay community and not near the bus station. Despite being across from Greyhound, the Timbers is well-located. We ambled East on 13th Street to the University of Oregon campus, then down to 18th Street, back to Pearl and up to Broadway. We considered buying a $20 ticket to join the monthly  chamber of commerce networking event, held this month by Summit Bank with several food and beer stations. This is not to be confused with the daily hippy and weed-smoking networking event, held everywhere else in Eugene.

The menu and space at Belly were appealing, but we settled at Bon Mi. Good choice! Jenni got a delicious spicy noodle pho with beef and my red hot pork ban mi was superb. The baguette was just perfect. Together with a Radiant Ale seasonal brew and an Oatis oatmeal stout, each from local Ninkasi Brewing, dinner cost $20. Dessert was a captain crunch donut at Voodoo Doughnuts, just the sort of 24-hour place you’d expect to find in Stonerton. Check out the selection and the incredible tag line on their donut-holding devices.

We passed a couple more beggars and schizos and were back in the room by 7:30 pm for some more planning and blogging. Had we been in Eugene a day later, we could have enjoyed the Eugene Celebration.

August 23, 2013 (Friday) – Willamette wine country, here we come. Around 10:45 am we headed Northwest and 75 minutes later arrived at a $10 tasting at Cristom Vineyards. This winery (with a small cluster of others) is in the Eola-Amity Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA), where it benefits from cool breezes off the coast that blow through the Van Duzer Corridor. I have now shared everything I know about wine. The refined palate and erudition of my wife and father-in-law have yet to reach my upper region. Though technically located in Salem, it is very quiet here; much less crowded than the McMinnville/Dayton/Dundee area. We enjoyed the wines then continued on Zena Road to 99W heading North. At Cristom’s recommendation, we ate lunch at the Blue Goat in Amity. It is a lovely space with high ceilings, exposed pipe and brick, and a wood-fired oven. We sat at a large curved counter though there are several tables and booths. As would be common over the next few days, the menu lists the local farms from which the restaurant sources its products. We split a very good smoked chicken salad sandwich with honey-balsamic slaw on the side, and a phenomenal dish of fresh Turkish figs with blue cheese and bacon. The figs were so fresh and delicious that they beat back my disdain for bacon and blue cheese. The damage was $23 including tip. We were also tempted by Uncle Jack’s BBQ, a door or two down.

After lunch, we continued a short distance to McMinnville and walked around Third Street, the main thoroughfare. This is where McMenamins Hotel Oregon is located. It was full, but we heard it is a nice play to stay and a great place for a roof-top beverage. As with most of Oregon, there is ample free street parking. We poked our heads into Honest Chocolates and came away with a few treats, including a yummy piece of honey caramel milk chocolate with French sea salt.

Walking distance from here is the Eyrie tasting room where we sampled six wines and had a nice conversation with the pourer, an East coast transplant who formerly worked in financial PR. Next up was White Rose located in the Dundee Hills. The tasting room is beautiful with great views from the property, but we were not fans of the $15 tasting of three pinot noirs.

We headed back down the hill and up 99W to Four Graces. Set in a charming white building with a gravel yard and several wrought iron tables and chairs, we enjoyed our $10 tasting of five wines. The staff was very friendly and we purchased the Willamette Valley Pinot Gris 2012 for $20. Nearby was a roadside stand called Bert’s Chuckwagon that we heard serves good BBQ. Some tasting rooms close at 4 pm while others, like Four Graces, close at 5 pm. We shut it down and drove back up the Dundee Hills to Wine Country Farm, our B&B for the evening. We were greeted with a multi-course complimentary tasting of the house Armonéa wines before being shown our room: the Courtyard Suite. We paid $200 for a very large room with king bed and a couch facing the fireplace. There was another room available with a queen bed but a balcony, and we might have chosen that one had we realized the views from the property would be so nice. At the tasting we met Jay and Erin, a nice couple celebrating their 5th anniversary in the same place where they married. They joined us for an 8 pm dinner at Joel Palmer House, a ten minute drive away. As the name suggests, it is set in a quaint house and the restaurant specializes in mushrooms and homemade truffle oil. The standard option is a three-course $49 menu. We split a mushroom soup and a tart to start, the filet mignon with foie gras supplement ($15) and lamb for the entrée course, and a mushroom s’more and rice pudding for dessert. Even the unemployed must take advantage of foie gras outside the totalitarian regime of California.  The meal was very good but I was not impressed.

I was, however, very impressed by Jay and Erin’s description of the legendary Pig-N-Ford Races at the Tillamook County Fair.  Since I was hours-deep in wine and beer tasting and have never been myself, I paste below the description from Wikipedia:

Drivers use stripped Model T Fords with stock mechanicals. Five cars are lined up with the engines off at the start line of the Averill Arena horse racing track. Drivers stand next to the grandstands. When the starter pistol fires, the drivers run to the opposite side of the front straight, grab a live 20-pound pig from a bin, then must hand-crank their car and drive it one lap. They then stop, kill the engine, get a different pig, and race another lap. The first driver to complete three laps in this manner without losing their pig is the winner.

The race was first run in 1925. The official story is that two local farmers were chasing a runaway pig in their Model Ts and were having so much fun, they decided it should be a race at the next county fair. The Pig-N-Ford Races have been run every year since 1925. Drivers belong to the Tillamook County Model T Pig-N-Ford Association, and membership is often a lifelong affair. Cars and memberships are often passed down through families or sold to close friends. Some of the cars that first ran in 1925 are still on the track today.

August 24, 2013 (Saturday) – Breakfast at the Wine Country Farm was excellent.  It was a veritable feast of fresh biscuits and homemade jam, an egg casserole dish, sausage, bacon, and hash browns.  On our way out of town to Portland, we stopped at the Red Hills Market in Dundee.  This is your typical, classy wine country market with food to order, gourmet salts and sauces, charcuterie, cheese, wine, recipe books, etc.

We had a great time in the Willamette Valley but I was underwhelmed (at best) by the wine.  I did not love the product and disliked the value.  The wines we tasted at White Rose cost $60-80/bottle.  There are far better pinots available from California’s central coast, and for less money.  On to Portland…

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