City of Roses, the Beaver State

Portland Travel Blog

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To celebrate much good news, we spent last weekend in Oregon. We started by catching the train Friday night from Seattle to Portland, with a long delay due to a fallen tree on the tracks. We pulled into the city at Union Station, which was opened on Valetine's Day 1896, and is the oldest continually operating train station in the US, still with the original hand-wound clocks.


Portland was incorporated in 1851, after being founded by Lovejoy and Pettygrove. They actually flipped a penny over what to call the site - Lovejoy wanted to call it Boston (after his hometown), while Pettygrove wanted Portland (after his hometown). They still have the original penny in the Oregon History Centre. We found Portland to be a really liveable city, easy to walk around (with half-sized city blocks) and very community minded with lots of parks and public art. They provide good services too, such as free take-and-leave yellow bikes and good public transport (including the deepest subway station in North America, the 79m deep Washington Park MAX stop).

Portland is notable for having more microbrews (and, I'm guessing, tattoos) per capita than any city in the US, making self-serve petrol is illegal, and allowing public nudity. Its birthday is the 6th of April.



Columbia River

We spent Saturday on a tour along the Columbia River Gorge and Mt Hood. The Columbia River is the fourth largest, by volume and length (1954km), river in the US, the only to cut through the Cascades (starting in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia) and the largest in the Americas to flow into the Pacific.

Our guide told us about the history of the region, very amusingly (and also sadly) prefacing every comment with "according to geologists" (sigh... even in liberal Portland). The Gorge formed 20 000 years ago when the lake covering 8000 square kilometres of Montana (and 600 metres deep) burst out of its ice-dam and rushed down the river in a flood 370 metres high, pushing 2000 cubic kilometres of water down the river to carve out the Gorge.

Our guide was very impressed with the highway, which was built by Samuel Lancaster between 1913 and 1922. He built the highway to be very scenic, topping at lookouts and waterfalls. Our first stop was Vista House, built in 1917 as a pit-stop on the scenic highway, were we saw our first Turkey Buzzard hovering overhead. After Vista House we plunged into the Douglas Fir rainforest. Our next stop was the first of many waterfalls, Latourell Falls (76 metres high).



The next waterfall we visited was Multnomah Falls.

At 189 metres it is the second tallest year-round waterfall in the US after Yosemite Falls. We also visited the Horsetail falls, named as such because of the way it weaves in the wind.

Along the Columbia River we stopped to see Beacon Rock, standing in the middle of the river. At 850 feet high, it is the second highest free-standing monolith in the world (after the rock of Gibraltar).

For lunch we went to the classy joint the Char Burger with their thoughtlessly offensive mascot, Chief Char. It was painfully full of Americana and stereotypes, but we had nice burgers and the view out over the Columbia River was fantastic. It was just by the Cascade Locks, where the level of the river was raised 60 feet, to fuel a hydroelectric dam and to cover over the rapids in the region. The locks did force them to raise the Bridge of the Gods though, because it was below the new waterline.

We drove inland from the Cascade Locks into the orchards of the Hood valley. The area was beautiful and fertile, but sadly enough their technique focussed on turning oil, rather than sunlight, into fruit, with each peach tree having a small propane burner to stop damage by frost, and powered windmills to keep the air moving over the crop.
The area makes one million boxes of fruit each year, with the advantage that the high altitude retard the growth, giving fruit later into the season.

Once we were over the peak of the Cascades the foliage changed from Douglas Fir to Ponderosa Pine (better able to grow in the drier conditions), with Alders in areas of secondary growth. We wove up to Mt Hood, getting many peaks of her as we wove through the mountains. Mt Hood (3429m) is the second most climbed mountain in the world (after Mt Fuji). We got to walk over the snow together, look up to the craggy mountain (framed with an American flag - you can never forget which country you are in here) or down the valley to the tree-line, and explore Timberline Lodge.



Timberline Lodge was built in 1937 and dedicated by President Roosevelt. The lodge was beautiful inside, with elaborate animal carvings and iron-work on every surface, and an enormous multi-level fireplace warming the whole building.



Portland

In the evening we looked around Portland. The 1% for art rule (1% of all building projects must be spent on public art) has certainly endowed the city with great sculptures all over. We started at the Pioneer Courthouse Square (the oldest public building in the Northwest, built in 1869), which contains a weather sphere to give forecasts - Helia indicates a clear day, a dragon shows it will be stormy, and a Great Blue Heron indicates rain.

Portland has over 700 parks, including Mt Tabor, the only dormant volcano within city limits and Forest Park (the largest city park in the US at 5000 acres, complete with elk and black bear). Our favourite park, however, must have been Mills End Park, which at 60cm wide is the smallest park in the world.



To top off an excellent day we watched Pirate of the Caribbean in a very comfy cinema (every chair was a reclining couch).

A fantastic movie - "do you think he plans it all in advance, or just makes it up as he goes along?"

The coast

Sunday we went on another tour, this time down to the Oregon coast. Our most interesting stop on the way (safely surpassing the pseudo-historical logging Camp 18) was the Kloutcha Creek Giant, the largest Sitka Spruce in the US (once the tallest, but the top crashed down in a storm, still the largest biomass). The tree is the oldest living thing in Oregon at 750 years old, and is 61 metres tall, 3.6 metres in diameter and 1.4 metres in diameter. It is too unstable to walk under it (although considering we were allowed to walk within 61 metres of it, it can't have been that unsafe), but its smaller neighbour was largest enough to walk under the root system without ducking.



After the Sitka Spruce we made it to Canon beach on the coast.

We had lunch in the small town, then walked along Canon beach down to Haystack rock. The coast was beautiful and rugged, but being used to Australian beaches didn't quite live up to the hype.



After Canon beach we wove down the coastal highway to Tillamook Bay. Our only visit was to the Tillamook cheese factory, were we tasted some cheese and icecream (I had marionberry icecream in a cone made from choc-chip cookies, interestingly Marion Berries were invented in Oregon by crossing blackberries to logan berries). We also learnt the interesting fact that every year a dairy cow turns 15 000 kg of food and 48 000 litres of water into 7500 litres of milk. More gruesomely, each one of those litres of milk takes 320 litres of blood passing through the udder.

On our trip back to Portland we passed many agricultural farming areas, including blueberries (Oregon is the largest producer of blueberries in the US, the biggest purchaser is the Federal government to turn them into die to stamp meat with "FDA approved") and baby Christmas trees (again, Oregon is the largest exporter).



Portland

We spent another evening exploring Portland's public art. Today was for bronze animals, we played with bronze bears, beavers, ducks, otters and dears on the sidewalk.



We walked through Portland and looked at some beautiful old churches and museums, the old medical and dental building, and the central library inscribed with the names of famous philosophers, authors and leaders. We walked along Park Avenue, leafy green with many statues and fountains, including the Bronze Elk fountain, built as a water trough for city horses and still the primary watering hole for the Portland mounted police, and a fountains built for dogs to drink from (plus of course the many bubblers built to provide fresh water to the early residents and spur the 25% decrease in bear drinking).



We also found Portlandia on the Portland building. At 12 metres tall and 6 tonnes Portlandia is the second largest hammered copper statue in the US, but unlike her larger cousin she is based on Lady Commerce rather than Lady Liberty (I'm still unsure as to why Lady Commerce needs a trident). It was made in Washington DC by Raymond J Kaskey, then dissembled and transported to Portland by train in eight pieces in 1985. It is a magnificent statue, but rather hidden away.

We had a simply amazing dinner at Higgens, before an early night's sleep.

Monday morning we spent walking around the old town of Portland, starting with breakfast at Bijou. We didn't get to see them, but the old town sits atop a network of tunnels. Unlike Seattle, the tunnels were purpose built, and were actively used from 1850 to 1941 to Shanghai sailors. With 1500 people per year sent into slavery, Portland became known as the Unheavenly City and the Forbidden City. The old town also includes China town and the Chinese Gardens.



We also saw the old federal building and more public art, my favourite of which were the Chinese elephants.

Finally we visited the Pearl district, with Powell's City of Books (the largest independent bookstore in the US), beautiful condos, and tiny parks where little children diligently tried to refill the fluctuating pool with a small cup. Portland is a genuinely lovable city.

binky says:
I used ot live in Portland, OR and I recognized where most of your photos were taken. Thanks for the memories!
Posted on: Oct 11, 2007
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Portland Sights & Attractions review
Mills End Park in Portland, Oregon, is the smallest public park in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records, at only 60cm in diameter. It w… read entire review
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photo by: alooides