AROUND THE BLOCK: Oregon awaits

Conestoga Wagon (Victor Block photo)

By Victor Block

It doesn’t take long for visitors to Oregon to admire its varied landscapes, intriguing chapters of history and reputation as a cornucopia of tasty fruits, vegetables and outstanding wine. At the same time, Oregon is as much a lifestyle as a destination. Laid-back and laissez-faire were among the words crossing my mind shortly after I arrived.

“We’re very accepting of various lifestyles,” a 30-something woman told me.
“A lot of eccentric characters live here,” reported an over-50-year-old man whose gray hair was twisted into a pony tail. The diversity characterizing Oregon’s populace translates to its landscapes, ranging from rugged ocean coastline to dense forests, from glaciers to desert, from grassy prairies to volcanoes.
That variety provides a wide choice of things to see and do. Some people choose to visit wineries offering samples of their products, which are advancing in the world of fine wines. Others delve into history. The Lewis and Clark expedition, which traveled through the Oregon Territory (1804-1806), was followed by a wave of farmers, hunters and others.
As word spread about the area’s inviting characteristics, a growing number of people took what became known as the Oregon Trail, accepting the daunting challenges it presented. The route, which ran over 2,000 miles from its start in Missouri, was the most heavily used trail in the westward expansion.
Visitors today may follow sections of that trail and others, which provide an immersion in various aspects of the local lore. The Hood River County Fruit Loop leads to farm stands, berry farms and wineries. The Mt. Hood Territory Heritage Trail includes stops at the Museum of the Oregon Territory and the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Meanwhile, the Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge tour combines dramatic views of the canyon with plummeting waterfalls and stunning mountainous terrain.
Other pages of history are turned during drives to see “quilt blocks” (soon to number 60) adorning the sides of barns in Oregon’s Tualatin Valley. Some designs on the eight-by-eight-foot wooden slabs replicate traditional quilt patterns, while others display crops or animals, or relate to the farm family’s story. For those who prefer walking, a stroll through the town of Canby traces its history from serving as a stop along the Oregon Trail to a logging community.
In an area of mountainous terrain, the snow-capped peak of majestic Mt. Hood, which soars to more than 11,200 feet, reigns supreme. The dormant volcano offers the longest ski season in North America, including runs on 12 glaciers and snow fields.
In summer, dense wilderness, fields of wildflowers and Alpine lakes in the million-plus acre Mt. Hood National Forest attract hikers, campers, fishermen and sightseers, along with experienced mountain climbers. Humans share the woodlands with black bears, elk, mule deer and an occasional cougar.
A number of Oregon’s cities and towns have collections of outdoor art that compete with Mother Nature. Among works along art trails in Tualatin are a 20-foot tall metal statue representing the town’s history and another depicting a flock of bronze geese. The Gallery Without Wall in Lake Oswego includes permanent and on-loan pieces. Hillsboro and Forest Grove are among communities hosting monthly art walks, when shops extend their open hours and local artists showcase their work.
Art also enhances outdoor spaces throughout Portland, Oregon’s largest city. A collection of statues ranges from the Greek god Orpheus to Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
Visiting Portland’s neighborhoods is a good way to experience what the city has to offer. The Alberta Arts District is home to quirky galleries. Houses in the Old Town district, where the city was born in 1843, display ornate cast-iron scrollwork and filigree along with human and animal figures. The Pearl District has evolved from a setting for warehouses, light industry and railroad yards to a collection of art galleries, specialty stores and upscale residences. Strolling the streets also helps visitors understand the attitude and atmosphere unique to the city and its residents as well as how it continues to cling to much of its small-town charm.
Another inviting attraction is the city’s collection of parks and gardens. Hikers find wilderness in Forest Park, crisscrossed by 30 miles of trails. Council Crest Park sits on a 1,073-foot high hill which offers dramatic views over the city. Mount Tabor Park occupies the only extinct volcano within city limits in the continental United States.
Against the multi-hued shades of green provided by parks, gardens add dramatic splashes of color. The sprawling International Rose Test Garden, which contains 400 varieties of roses, is a major reason Portland is known as the City of Roses. The Lan Su Chinese Garden is an oasis of winding paths, reflecting ponds and a graceful tea house.
Lovely gardens, towering mountains and forested fields are among attractions beckoning people to visit Portland and all or Oregon. Nearly two centuries ago, hardy pioneers braved extreme hardships to seek a better life there. The trip today is much less strenuous, but the rewards can be just as satisfying.
For information about visiting Oregon call 800-547-7842 or visit