One of the great things about being back in the United States is the opportunities it presents to engage in that greatest of American pastimes, The All American Family Road Trip. Like the Griswalds, I can load my family into the car with a minimum of explanation, make sure the tank is full of gas and we’ve got a credit card with a bit of mileage left on it, and then we can hit the road for parts unknown.
Personally, I like to engage in as little solid planning as possible – which leaves plenty of opportunity for that most wonderful of road trip wonders – improvisation. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Miles Davis when it comes to catching everyone off guard with a new and sudden direction – and like Miles – I have the skills to make those improv moves work. It’s a little hard on my wife – she still likes to pack for a specific situation and bring everything that she might need in any eventuality – which is hard when she doesn’t know if we will be going to a theme park, staying in a posh resort, spending time in the city or the country, or even leaving the country. I will give her credit though – she’s starting to get it – bring a rain coat, a swimsuit, a passport, a sweater, and sandals. And what you forget, can usually be found along the way in a thrift shop, a mall, or at a garage sale. Yes, it’s these trips that I love most about the USA.
Over the coming days and weeks, I will share some of the trips we’ve taken since landing on these shores back in 2013 – but for right now, I’ll give you a little teaser. We’ve camped up and down the Oregon Coast and into the Redwoods, the San Juan Islands, and the Olympic Peninsula. We’ve also made spontaneous trips to Seattle, Portland, Astoria, San Francisco, Sacramento, Redding, Bandon, Florence, Yachats, and Eureka. We’ve explored the deserts of Arizona and the streets of Victoria, British Columbia along with traipsing through the Coastal Redwoods, hitting the Las Vegas Strip, and of course, seeing the lights of Los Angeles. I don’t want you to misunderstand – these are fast trips with lots of road time, lots of driving, and a relatively short amount of time spent at our destinations. That’s the thing with road trips – they are as much about the road as they are about the destination. The time spent singing in the car, the games we play with other people’s license plates, and the mystery of where we will stay in a given night – whether with friends, in a nice hotel, or a roadside dive.
I will begin with our most recent trip – which we just returned from day before yesterday. It was an epic jaunt from Reedsport to Roseburg then down to Redding, straight down the I-5 to Anaheim, a visit to Disneyland, then a trip to Southern Arizona near the Mexican border before journeying straight through Phoenix and Tucson to Las Vegas, then turning back westward to the Central California Coast where we went though Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and straight through the Redwoods back to Oregon and where we started in Reedsport. It was a crazy 3000 mile figure-eight shaped road trip in which we almost never drove on the same road twice. I’ll start telling you about it in the next post…stay tuned.
The Zen of wine is my deal. I like it. I like to drink it. I love sharing it with friends and pairing it with food. I like to learn more about it whatever city I am it. Every once in a while I come across an area so well-known for its wine that all of its other liquid assets take a back seat to it. So when I arrived in Portland, Oregon, for a short 2-day wine tour, I thought yippee, Oregon wines, some of the best stuff around. What else could I possibly want to taste in the land of great Pinot’s? As it turns out…Saké and beer… definitely.
I love a city that treats its visitors well. You can expect your vacation to get off to a great start at the Portland International Airport (PDX). Clean, efficient and striving to be as “green” as possible, it’s the perfect start to any vacation. The airport is located nine miles
north of downtown Portland and is conveniently connected to the city center via the MAX light rail train. The trip between the airport and downtown Portland takes about 38 minutes and is about $3. I stayed at the impressive Doubletree Inn just a short block from one of the stops. Easy, breezy, convenient.
I became part of a larger group of adult “beverage expert’s.” Our tour guide planned out what I consider was the perfect introductory tour to the Portland beverage scene. I thought she would lead with the wine card, but nope, Saké was our first port of call.
SakéOne is about 30 miles west of downtown Portland in the beautiful Willamette Valley, famed for its many exceptional wineries, America’s premier producer of Saké, Saké One (820 Elm St., Forest Grove, 800/550-SAKE). Most visitors are surprised to learn it’s American-owned. Several high-quality Sakés are produced, including some flavored varieties, including Moonstone, Momokawa, G, and Murai. Saké One makes an engaging alternative to tasting strictly wine while exploring the Willamette Valley.
Tasting room and facility are open 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, seven days a week, except. Guided tours are available and last about 20 minutes. Expect to have your ideas challenged about what is and isn’t today’s Saké . This is the really good stuff. My group that was treated to a food and Saké tasting. You’ll have your choice of three tasting flights (generally without food). And, on the third Saturday of each month, they offer Saketini Saturday ,a showcasing of sake and mixing cocktails.
Yea! Our second stop is Montinore Estate Winery. It’s one of the top producers of case wines in Oregon offering Certified Biodynamic wines from 230 acres of grapes. Located In the North Willamette Valley, it is snuggled against the foothills of the Coastal Range, and a short drive to the incredible Oregon Coast. Pinot Noir still rules but there are many different types of wines to taste. It is open 7 days a week, from 11am to 5 pm. I enjoyed tasting the latest vintage of estate grown and bottled wines while enjoying the sprawling views. All the wines are great, but be sure and try the 2011 Müller Thurgau (white) ($16) and the 2008 Graham’s Block 7 Pinot Noir ($40).
Lunch time found us at South Shore Café: Located in a (slightly leaning) 100-year old
clapboard in North Willamette wine country, this is where the locals stop for a fresh generous local lunch and some friendly gossip. Our group loved the gracious owner. Her homemade soups, sandwiches and treats brought a collective “ahh” from the group. Take the time to walk across the street to Smith’s Berry Farm, an upscale garden market filled with local produce, local plants and specialty gift items.
Back in the van our next stop was the more of a boutique -style winery. Hawks View Cellars is a family owned and -managed winery tucked away on Chehalem Mountain in Sherwood, Oregon, just 30 minutes from downtown Portland. This facility produces small lot, limited quantity, ultra-premium estate grown Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as wines made from top vineyards in Oregon and Washington. For my taste, the estate grown wines were the standouts. Care is evident in the wines, the tasting room and the beautiful grounds. This is a great place to relax and spend some quality time. It’s about 30 minutes from Portland. The 2011 white Pinot Noir ($26 – Now sold out) made from 100% Pinot Noir fruit was a star. Hopefully when you go the next vintage will be in stock. With spectacular views of five Cascade peaks from the patio and tasting room, stay a while and relax in the spectacular setting, and enjoy pure Northwest style wines and hospitality.
Our final beverage stop was Two Kilts Brewing Company. Now, I am not much of a beer drinker, but this place (located in a plain-Jane strip mall) has the right vision and products to turn this wine diva into a beer babe. Constantly in pursuit of the finest India Pale Ale and Scotch Ale (all made with local ingredients) they make creative premium brews. When I was there, they had a Korean Food Truck just outside the door. The unforgettable pairing of an iced cold, vanilla- laced beer with a spicy Korean taco is a pairing I won’t soon forget. Owners Chris & Alex are rock stars in the making. Stop by Monday-Saturday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ask for a sampler taste.
We were dropped of at McMenamins Grand Lodge for check-in and a little R&R before dinner. This is a 77 European-style guest room hotel located in Forest Grove. One of the most unique lodging facilities I have ever stayed at, McMenamins showcases rolling lawns, lush landscaping, a movie theatre, a couple of restaurants, small bars and some truly mesmerizing artwork gracing the hallways. Built in 1922 as a Masonic & Eastern Star home, the Grand Lodge is quite the drama queen. Renovated and opened by McMenamins in 2000, every part of this hotel screams history from the individual room names, the hallways, and even the overhead pipes. Note that there is no air conditioning and shared bathrooms are the norm. Reasonably priced.
Dinner was a very special treat. Amazing is a better term if I am being honest. 1910 Main ~An American Bistro is owned and operated by chef/owner Kathy Compton. Showcasing local ingredients, Kathy created 1910 Main after 30 years of catering and restaurant experience. Kathy brings a love for great food, wine and company to her restaurant.
We were treated to a 7-course wine makers dinner filled with specialty courses such as Gin cured Oregon Coho Salmon Tartar on Crisp Potatoes paired with 1 2011 Apolloni Sparkling Rose ($29). Each course was a visual and gastronomic feast for the eyes and tummy. Despite the fancy food, the restaurant is warm and casual. This is a must-do for dinner.
All in all, Portland surprised and delighted, and definitely exceeded my expectations…and certainly expanded by liquid assets horizon. This was a pure gold experience. Ahhh, if I’d only known what I have been missing, I’d have long ago staked a claim to Oregon’s Washington County.
As a child I had to go through Portland a couple of times while taking Greyhound Buses from Myrtle Creek to see my grandfather in Tacoma and then in high school I rode with a friend who used to drive up to Portland from Redding to buy pounds (you know what I’m talking about and if you don’t then never mind). So I didn’t have a great impression of Portland. Bus stations and bad elements.
When I moved there from Florence, most of my good friends from Bellingham and a couple of them from Redding had moved there. One of my best friends was living in a van in a neighborhood between where two of my other friends rented houses. I moved into the neighborhood with my VW. It was pretty rad. A bunch of my friends were musicians and we had frequent jam sessions and drinking bouts. I got a job tending bar at a pretty funny gay bar in Southeast Portland. If I had been gay, my love life would have been busy…but as a straight guy living in a van, I still did alright.I was looking for a place to rent but didn’t have to hurry as it was only September and Portland was laid back and cool. This was a pretty radical city and nobody worried much about George W. Bush as it was obvious he was a one term president. We drank, we made music, we built shit on computers, we had fun. Then it was September 11th, 2001 and everything changed. We all gathered at my friends’ Tony and Ray’s place and watched with horror – we knew it was going to mean war. I went to Fred Meyer and bought some spray paint – I painted my sheet to say “No Retaliation. Enough Dead. Drop Bread not Bombs”
I hung it up next to the freeway and then parked some distance away to see what people’s reactions would be. A couple of guys in big trucks stopped and ripped my sign up. I understood their fear and anger, but over the next weeks watching the American flags get waved, seeing the ‘Merica’ mentality take root, and understanding that the open minded and progressive 90’s were never coming back ripped my soul apart. I saw ignorance and racism bubbling to the surface. I wanted no part of it.
I bought a ticket to Hawaii and parked my VW van in my mom’s back yard. I had $180 in my pocket. I’d never been to Hawaii but I figured I could find a way to make it work and I hoped that with a population that wasn’t dominated by white people, that maybe the unhealthy patriotism sweeping the mainland wouldn’t be as oppressive and ugly.
Two years later, I came back to Portland following a flight attendant I thought I’d fallen in love with on Oahu – I got a job as a stock broker and rented a room in Ray’s house for six months – but that wasn’t the life for me. I found a publisher for Rough Living:Tips and Tales of a Vagabond and quit my job as a stock broker. I was good at it, but my breaking point came when our analysts told us that it would be easy to sell Krispy Kreme stock as we moved into war with Iraq because people were freaked out and needed comfort food. I moved on doing what I called my ’50 Book Tour’ – fifty was the number of author copies my publisher had given me. I loved Portland – it was cheap, had great food, a hip and progressive community of smart people, and plenty to do. The winters in Oregon however bummed me out. I drove up to Bellingham where I sold books, did author talks, and then took a job on a salmon boat so I could earn enough to get back to Hawaii.
Portland is the largest city in Oregon and the 25th largest in the USA. It has a population of about 650,000 people. It is divided up into four quadrants Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Portland is a city of cool hipster neighborhoods and great food. It was once a blue collar port town with a reputation for being a haven for organized crime but in the 1960s a bunch of hippies and counter-culture types began to move in. During the 1990s and 2000s, it started to become a bit of a high tech hub – with spillover from Seattle and Silicon Valley. Intel is based in Portland. Portland sits at the point where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge and is characterized by many bridges. Portland is home to the world’s largest bookstore Powell’s Books.
Since leaving Turkey (and even while I lived there), I’ve watched a beautiful country on the verge of an amazing future start to dismantle itself, create sectarian conflicts, and become something ugly through extremist religion and ideology. What does that have to do with Reedsport, Oregon?
During the election of 2016 and the aftermath of that disaster- I watched this little town do something similar. A beautiful little place filled with good neighbors became a place where one kind of person was welcome and another kind wasn’t. But that comes later…
I found Reedsport, Oregon when I realized that I didn’t have enough or earn enough to find a house with a yard that wasn’t too far from the beach in California or Washington. The two areas I would have preferred to settle would have been the San Francisco Bay Area (extending east to Sacramento, North to Santa Rosa, and south to San Luis Obispo) or the area from Olympia, Washington to Bellingham, Washington. I just didn’t have the income or savings to rent a house in those areas and starting a business seemed unlikely given the startup costs.
So, I focused in between. Reedsport sits about 20-miles south of Florence, Oregon and even though it was in the same county as both Myrtle Creek and Canyonville – it was far from both. I found a nice little 3-bedroom house with a big back yard for $675/month. It was an older house, but it was near a good grade school and in a friendly neighborhood. Reedsport was mostly a retirement community but had a health food store, a good coffee shop, and a quirky vibe that I liked. It was a fishing town with the Umpqua River going through it and a big Elk preserve nearby. The Oregon Dunes extended into it on the coast and the little village of Winchester Bay was just a couple of miles from our house. I was in love with Reedsport, to be honest. It was a little slice of heaven.
Now, to be fair – there’s a lot of poverty in Reedsport. The education level is on the lower end of the spectrum. The winters are long and grey and rainy. And…people tended to be white, conservative, and a bit on the racist side – which wasn’t obvious at first (the racist part) but came out as we drew closer to electing a racist president.
My credit was good. Between Ebay and online work – I was earning more than enough to pay the rent. The landlord looked at my application and instantly approved it “Most people around here don’t have a credit score anywhere near that, ” she said. I was surprised – it wasn’t that good, really. Somewhere in the 700 range.
So we packed up our estate sale accumulations and moved from the squat house in Sacramento to a place with our names on the lease in Reedsport, Oregon. My wife took a job cleaning in a hotel and I started working for Banker’s Life Insurance – which didn’t suit me at all. I got certified, made a little money, and then said ‘fuck this’. Selling bad life insurance to senior citizens wasn’t something I could do. So, instead of that, I jumped back into buying and selling.
I opened a little antique shop on the main drag in Reedsport. My rent was $300/mo and I caught all the travelers driving down the Coastal 101 Freeway. I became a regular at all the estate sales (and garage sales) and soon began to run estate sales for other people (which is where the money really is). The little town paper ‘Coffee Talk’ announced it was shutting down and I began putting together an alternative. As soon as Coffee Talk sent out its last issue, I was at every advertiser they had offering a new paper Reedsport.info. I was able to create a website version and figured out how to print a weekly version, where to distribute it, and within a very short time – I was earning more from the ad revenue than I was making in my antique shop.
I needed a bigger shop and rented a big abandoned storefront in Reedsport’s dying downtown. There was not much there. The only book store in town was closing down and was right across the street from me. I bought his shelves, his fixtures, his neon ‘Books’ sign, and everything else I could get. It was fire sale prices. In my little newspaper, I was a big advocate for marijuana after Oregon legalized it. I suggested that Reedsport could enjoy a huge benefit from bringing in dispensaries and catering to weed tourists. This didn’t win me any fans. I had several advertisers threaten to pull out if I continued to make jokes about ‘Weedsport’ – so I toned it down.
On a whim, I decided to enter politics. I ran for Umpqua Port Commissioner, a county level post. I got nearly 40% of the vote without really doing anything. It was becoming increasingly clear that my ‘liberal California’ ways were not loved by most of the folks in Reedsport. My wife (thankfully) had left the hotel job and gotten a job as an educational assistant at the elementary school. She began the process of getting certified to work with special needs children. We were doing pretty good, actually. Our daughter was in kindergarten, our businesses (and her job) were earning us a nice income, a brewery had opened up across the street from my shop, and the little downtown was coming back to life. This was late 2015 and early 2016.
That’s when things started to get ugly. My wife is Muslim, technically, I converted so I am too, but I’m not a religionist on any level. First the Trump rhetoric started on the campaign trail. His hate talk towards Muslims activated people. His racist talk made people feel it was okay to be racist. I began having more and more old white men come into my shop, see that I was a small town white guy, and start saying hateful, mean, violent, and racist things about President Obama, about Muslims, and about immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, and Jewish people. They just assumed I was part of their club – I shut them down the best I could and generally raised the prices from where they might have been. Great thing with an antique shop is that your prices are generally set 200% above what you really want – I would only let these guys give me a large profit for the stuff they wanted. Their racism cost them.
I became hyper-alert and anxious because I was living in a town where my wife and my child were targets because they weren’t white or Christian. I didn’t need to worry about my 5 year old getting harassed for saying “Allah” in kindergarten, but that time was coming. I knew what small town bullying looked like. I watched with disbelief as Trump got more and more support. My fellow townspeople loved him! They actually carved chainsaw statues of him and put them up on the three roads coming into town. To me it screamed “We’re racist here!” One of the guys who worked for the state highway department began driving around with a huge confederate flag flying from the back of his pickup truck.
I was an early Bernie supporter. My “Feel the Bern” signs didn’t bother anyone too much though a couple of old guys felt the need to explain that I was supporting a ‘Jew Communist’ -but when Hillary got the nomination – the ugliness of 2016 really came out. “Hillary = WWIII” “Lock the Bitch Up” – these were actual signs I saw people put out in their yards or bumper stickers on cars. I was never a huge Hillary supporter, but of course I was going to vote for her because the alternative (Trump) was so much worse. There were a few signs that went up supporting her that I saw on my drive to work one day – on the drive home, they had been stomped, broken, or thrown in the river. This happened multiple times. I was still trying to do business in this town, so I didn’t put Hillary signs up in my shop – but I did start selling bumper stickers that said “Vote Neither in 2016 because WTF….NOOOOO!” – I would have made a killing selling Trump hats and stickers, but I refused.
The town was filled with Trump signs and Trump supporters. More and more old white people were saying things to me like “When he gets in there, the (N-word) are going to have to pay” or “He’s going to lock that (N-word) Obama up”. I lived it, on the ground as a white person at Trump ground zero – I know why they voted for him. People voted for Trump because they are racist. Period. You don’t vote for a racist because he is a good business person unless you are a racist. And by the way, he’s a terrible business person.
You know the story, Trump won. I had seen the dirty souls of the people around me. I no longer felt like my family was safe. I listed my shop and my newspaper for sale and hoped that a buyer would come along. That buyer did show up and right around the same time – our landlord informed us she was selling the house we had been renting. It was all the confirmation I needed.
I couldn’t leave fast enough. We closed the deal on the shop and paper, had a huge sell off garage sale at our house, and I packed a trailer and shipped it to Hawaii. Honolulu may not be perfect – but it’s filled with a diversity of people and racism isn’t a big problem like it is on the continent. Hawaii is the least violent place in America, and Hawaii voted 70+% against Trump. Plus, and this is true – Hawaii had always felt like it was home to me – I finally had enough money to get my family there and give us a start.
I made a quick trip to Honolulu, landed a job as an archaeologist, rented a little apartment – and then went back to Reedsport for the last time to pack up my family and bring them to Hawaii. In a way, this was the conclusion of the trip I’d started back in 2008 when I left Honolulu to see the world. I’d come full circle.
To be honest, the whole thing with Reedsport really broke my heart. I loved that little town. I loved the location, the outdoors, and the untapped potential. I liked living in a friendly small town (before Trump). We had a lot of friends there. Our businesses were doing good. I’m not sad that we came back to Hawaii – but I’m sad that things went they way they did. The fact that a government worker was allowed to drive around flying that confederate flag and the awful Trump statues proclaiming ignorance and racism – and making the families there who weren’t white, Christian, straight, or Republican feel like they weren’t welcome. Those racist old white dudes suddenly feeling like it was okay to throw the n-word around in public – all of it – it makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it. There are some great people in Reedsport. It’s a cute little place with a huge potential – but as much as I loved it – it wasn’t worth having my family in a situation where we were at the mercy of heavily armed bigots. On a strange note – the David statue has been converted to a Trump statue by the new owners of my old shop and now sits in front of their shop without the city offering any protest.
Incorporated in 1919 near the confluence of three rivers – the Umpqua, the Smith, and the Scholfield, the City of Reedsport is located on the beautiful Oregon Coast on Highways 101 and 38 on the banks of the Umpqua River – the largest river between the Sacramento and the Columbia. Located in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area, Reedsport is in close proximity to over 17 freshwater lakes and is just four miles from Winchester Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Reedsport is the home of the Umpqua Discovery Center a Natural and Cultural Interpretive Center. It has a population of about 4500 people.
Reedsport is located in Douglas County on the central Oregon coast at the intersection of Oregon Highway 38 and U.S. Highway 101. The City is approximately 195 miles south of Portland, 87 miles southwest of Eugene, 70 miles west of Roseburg, 25 miles north of Coos Bay, and 21 miles south of Florence.
This is part 2 of my writeup for 2016 Descend on Bend at Hole in the Ground, Oregon – Read part 1 here
One of the first things I realized upon getting to Hole in the Ground was that my iPhone wasn’t recognizing my charger. Since I’ve come to use it as my camera and video camera – I didn’t have a backup plan to take pictures. Within two hours of getting there – my battery was dead. This was a bummer – I had a solar charger, a back up battery, and a cigarette lighter charger to keep that from happening…but the problem wasn’t with any of those or the cord – it was with the lightning jack in the phone. Finally on Day 2 Hanane managed to get it to charge, but it never got fully charged again and mostly just sat in the van connected to the cord since walking around with it was killing it. As a result of all of that – I don’t have lots of pictures or videos and so I’m thankful to Kevin and Zelima Dempsey for sharing their photos with us – the photos in this post are theirs.
The next thing I realized was that there were a lot of 1987 Westphalia Vanagons – and not one of them was the same as another. Infinite variation within a single type. Misefrou is a merlot colored weekender Wolfsburg edition with an add-a-room from Bus Depot, a laminate floor, and custom cabinets from the last owner.Kevin and Zelima’s vanagon (Zesty the Westy) is a silver 1987 Westphalia Full Camper tricked out with LED lights, sweet cargo racks on back, a retractable canopy, and more. Another couple’s 1987 Westy was a shade darker red/purple (cabernet?) than ours and had a bike rack, a rocket storage on top, and a totally different interior. With close to 300 vehicles there – I did not see any two that were identical. And that seems like a pretty good point to segue into the breakdown of VW Vans…
From 1949-1979 – Volkswagen produced the VW Bus in a number of different models – microbus, transporter, Westphalia camper, split window, bay window, 21-window, safari window, 23 window, Kombi, Samba, and the list goes on – 30 years of VW bus variations with mostly Type 1 and Type 2 (pancake) engines. There were also a number of aftermarket conversions that could turn a tin-top into a pop-top camper – one of which the ‘Riviera’ I had on my 71 bus on Kauai. From 1980-1992 – Volkswagen produced the wildly different Vanagon. With more interior room, a squared body, and from mid-1983 a water cooled engine which provided more power, real heat, and eliminated the need to adjust the valves with every oil change. There were tin tops, pop tops, weekender (camper without stove & sink) and from 1985-1992 a four wheel drive model called the Syncro. From 1993-2003 VW produced a completely redesigned van and camper called the Eurovan. While offering some improvements in handling and power, Eurovans lack the clearance and quirky feel of buses and Vanagons – and also have a motor in the front. Since 2003, the Eurovan has not been offered in the US – though a newer model – the T-5 is still produced and sold in Europe. Bus fans have been waiting for more than a decade for VW to introduce a new US model…
In a nutshell – that’s the history of buses, Vanagons, and Eurovans – but the devil is in the details and the details come from individual (and often multiple) owners. Solar panels, gas water heaters, diesel powered heaters, high tops, low profile, Syncro conversions, replaced VW engines with more powerful and reliable Subaru engines, and the mods mods mods keep coming.
And this is a good place to note that it really is a certain kind of person who decides to own, live in, travel in, customize, or just love a VW van. I’d always known this…we wave at each other on the road. There is a little thrill that goes through you when you see another Veedub. This gathering at Hole-in-the-Ground confirmed what I had always known, but never seen in a mass gathering.
Here in Reedsport – it’s rare for me to meet anyone who has been outside of the USA. There is one fisherman with a VW bus he painted green with latex house paint – I spoke with him once and he had the same enthusiasm for his vehicle as he would have had for say a Chevy Cavalier…he never waves when I pass with the Vanagon. He is the exception. The people I met at Hole-in-the-Ground were a completely different type. Andrew, in a yellow bus next to us had lived in Cairo, Kevin had been to Egypt, Watson in the sprinter van had surfed in Morocco – and those were just the three vehicles closest to us. Every person I spoke with had a story, had a thirst to see the world, had adventure written on their soul, and as a result had an openness to different types of people and different ways of life. We met people from Wales, from Germany, from New Zealand, from Canada and saw vehicles that had driven from New York, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, and everywhere – just to spend time with this tribe.
On Saturday – it was cold and rainy – I mean really cold, really rainy, and really windy. And yet, hundreds of people came out to the raffle drawing, brought and shared food at the potluck meal, and stood around the big fire Silver Moon brewing came out and set up a bar on the crater. There was a huge VW bouncy house. Kids were running around freely – if I were to lump the demographics – I would say that the bulk of people were between 32 and 50, mostly white but there were people of all shades and ages and all were equal – though I will say that the Syncro owners might view themselves as just a little more equal (and perhaps rightly so – van speaking that is).
The cold and rain drove a lot of people into their vans as night fell. I was fortunate to sit around a small fire with a group of new friends and share adult beverages as the day ended. And here, I feel the need to share something unpleasant about myself – I drank a little too much. I’m not used to such good company nor to drinking as much. All of that is fine, but when a man came to the fire to share and promote his story – I acted like an asshole when he made a comment that I interpreted as racist/white supremacist. Mind you, I think we all have a duty to stand up to racist/homophobic/religiophobic and other forms of hatred and at the time – I thought I was doing just that – but in hindsight- I have to acknowledge that I may have misunderstood him and my reaction was too strong – charged as it was by alcohol. In any event, I’m glad that he decided to be peaceful and moved along and if I misunderstood – I offer my apology here.
In the morning, the rain was pretty light as I broke the add-a-room down. There was no way to dry it before putting it up – and that is probably the biggest issue I have with it – it is large and not easy to dry out or store. We did a little bit of off-roading to get out and waved goodbye to all of our new friends. On the way home, we drove through our first snowstorm since coming to the USA. Missy handled well, kept us warm, and stayed on the road. Sophia was ecstatic at seeing snow. I was ecstatic at having found my tribe.
Every once in a while (but not often enough) we head down the coast to the beautiful town of Bandon, Oregon often called Bandon by the Sea. Founded in 1873 by an Irishman who was reminded of his hometown in Ireland – it is a town of beautiful seascape vistas and lots of cranberries. As usual on the Oregon Coast, there are some antique/vintage shops and a couple of restaurants that are good to fill your belly. There are some fun crab shacks that offer you an actual view of the water- oddly, something that is largely missing from Oregon’s coastline.
It’s the coastline that really makes Bandon shine. Those rocks out there…they are the stuff of dreams and the empty beaches…well…it’s often cold and windy…not exactly great for sunbathing but pretty good for a walk or contemplation. Bandon has a wildlife game park…which we have not been to. It also has a world famous golf course and a lot of RV parks. The median age of residents is somewhere around 58, the median age of visitors is probably higher. Of special note is Face Rock Creamery which makes some excellent cheeses and the Stillwagon Distillery which offers a tasting room in Bandon. Both are worth a visit.
Every Summer in the woods outside of the little town of Veneta, Oregon – hordes of hippies, puppeteers, musicians, acrobats, nudists, herbalists, and assorted other oddballs assemble for a spectacular show unlike any other – The Oregon Country Fair. For three days there are concerts, dance, homemade soap vendors, and the heavy smell of patchouli and marijuana in the air. Part Burning Man, part Woodstock, part backwoods Oregon country life – the event brings upwards of 50,000 people making it, by some estimations, Oregon’s 13th largest city for three days each year. The rest of the year, it doesn’t exist except as some trails in the woods.
The OCF starts on the 2nd Friday of July each year. The fair has been going in the same location since 1970 (back in the 70s it was called the Oregon Renaissance Fair). While bands such as the Grateful Dead have played the OCF, it is more about the community of creative people than the concerts – there are costumes, busking, outdoor demonstrations, and even an Eco Village where energy and environment saving practices are demonstrated and encouraged. There is a lot of nudity at the fair – though technically, only toplessness is permitted. Much like the marijuana use – it is a part of the fair that is not discouraged while not being encouraged either.
To get into the fair, you need tickets and they must be purchased in advance. There are no ticket sales on site to discourage beggars and scalpers. Costumes are encouraged and you can bring your own snacks but part of the fun comes from the many exotic food choices available – everything from Pakistani kebab to gluten free donuts with a wide array in between.
We’ve been to the Oregon Country Fair twice – the last time, I admit that I was bothered by the aggressive tip collection by several of the performances we watched…a ticket to the OCF gets you into every performance in the fairgrounds…so the acts are working free or for tips – I’m fine with the tipping, but felt a bit overwhelmed and cornered this last time around…and it may keep me from going again. Time will tell. When you go in, the greeters always say ‘Welcome Home’ and it does feel like home – it’s a welcoming, loving, and nurturing environment for creativity (aggressive tip collectors aside).
I’ve been told that the Oregon Country Fair is best when you are one of those performing, vending, or helping to set up or take down the fair. The fair is open to the public only during daylight hours – before it opens and after it closes is when the real community takes place. I can only imagine and hope that maybe one day, I’ll get the chance to experience what the OCF is like ‘backstage’.
Like Burning Man, it isn’t for everyone – but I do think it is something that everyone should experience at least once. Tickets for the Oregon Country Fair will go on sale in April…I’ll probably see you at the fair.
Oregon is one of the most popular destinations for ATV riders in all of North America, and the Oregon Dunes is the primary reason for this popularity. In the following list, we present the seven top reasons why all ATV riders must visit the Oregon Dunes at least once in their lives.
1. Terrain Diversity
The name Oregon Dunes might give you the impression of sandy hills, but there’s a lot more to the Dunes than that. Expansive forests border the sprawling beach, and there are several routes that weave in and out of the water and forest.
The Oregon Dunes reach up to 500 feet above sea level, and you can actually ride at this height, which gives you an amazing view of the surrounding area. For the adventurous, riding up and down dunes of this height provide stretches of incredible exhilaration and steep hills that will challenge your skills.
3. 40 Miles
The Dunes stretch for 40 miles, and there is flat terrain available from one end to the other. There is also plenty of open space, so there’s not a great deal of concern over obstructions and other riders. This stretch provides an amazing opportunity to ride your ATV and really open it up.
Not every rider wants challenging rides and breakneck speeds. For those who want to take in nature, the Dunes offer splendid scenery, diverse wildlife, vegetation and the majestic Pacific Ocean.
5. The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Dunes stretches along the Oregon Coast, which is a breathtaking area that boasts numerous activities you can do along your ride. On the sea, you can participate in tours, whale watching, fishing and surfing. On land, you can camp, hike and visit the many museums and landmarks.
6. Accessibility and Affordability
All along the coast are communities where ATVing is a way of life. ATV rentals are affordable and accessible, and plenty of accommodations and other activities are available that cater to the ATV rider. You can even purchase Oregon travel packages built around ATVing at the Dunes.
Oregon has a thriving ATV community that includes locals as well as riders from all over North America. Each trip is an opportunity to meet fellow ATV riders and perhaps even build lifelong relationships.
Before Your Ride
Oregon does require riders to pass an Oregon ATV Course and acquire a license before riding on public land designated for ATV traffic. A compatible license from another state or province is a suitable alternative. There is no similar requirement for private land.
Since 1955, drivers on Highway 101 along the Southern Oregon Coast have been able to walk among the dinosarus (23 if I counted correctly) at the Prehistoric Gardens between Gold Beach and Port Orford, Oregon. Being a road-side-attraction-junkie, I thought it important to bring my family there too. I assured Hanane and Sophia that the dinosaurs would not eat them (but at times it felt like I lied) and off we tramped into the rain forest (after buying a pretty reasonably priced ticket for each of us – $32 total for the three of us to get some photo ops with the dinosaurs). We were there in the off season, so we were alone with the dinosaurs – if there had been crowds, the price might have seemed a little high…so be warned.
I love roadside attractions, not least because they are relics of a bygone age…back in 1953 you could buy a piece of land, move your family there, and start building concrete dinosaurs and charging the public admission (or build Disneyland for that matter) – today, that would be impossible unless you had a team of lawyers and a billion dollars – so there won’t be any new roadside attractions like this popping up anytime soon (unless society collapses).
But, back to 1953 – that’s exactly what Ernie Nelson did. He was a mill equipment supplier in Eugene who dabbled in sculpture, but he decided instead to bring dinosaurs to life and create a theme park. Each of the dinosaurs were created by hand and most of them took years..the brachiosaurus (brontosaurus back in the day) is 86 feet long and 46 feet tall!
No trip up (or down) the Oregon Coast is complete without a stop in Tillamook, Oregon. While we haven’t had the opportunity to do all the fun things Tillamook (the town) offers, we stop every time at the Tillamook Cheese Factory – the tour through is fascinating – even if you know how cheese is made – and the sampling is divine. Trying 8-10 types of cheese where it is made, side by side is fun no matter how many times you do it – but the crowds in summer can be a bit overwhelming. In other seasons, you can really take your time as you enjoy the cheese. Even better than the cheese (okay, that might be an overstatement) is the Tillamook Creamery where you can get fresh, delicious ice cream in dozens of flavors – straight from the source. Since the Tillamook Cheese Factory has proved to be such a tourist hit – other foodie centers have sprung up – Blue Heron French Cheese Factory, Debbie D’s Sausage Factory, Werner’s Smoked Meats, Pacific Oyster, and some great farmer’s markets. Tillamook is a great foodie destination which also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities from kayaking to mountain biking to fishing and crabbing.
The Tillamook Air Museum beckons from beside the highway just south of the Cheese Factory. Situated in a massive hangar called Hangar B which was designed to house blimps during World War II. Hard to imagine but blimps patrolled the whole Pacific Coast back then protecting us from Japanese Submarines…the hangar is massive…you could play seven football games at the same time inside it! It houses a large collection of aircraft ranging from early aircraft to fighters, helicopters, and even a blimp. Inside there is a theatre and a little cafe – but my advice is to get your meal somewhere else. The admission price is worth going once, but beyond that, probably only if you are a real aviation nut.
Last trip, we spent nearly the entire day at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry – OMSI for short. We went all in for the ultimate explorer package so we got to see a planetarium show, an Imax movie, explore the exhibits, and take a tour of the Blueback submarine.
It made for a full day with the two story outer space explorers exhibit, the gingerbread architecture show, and the regular exhibits plus the extras. For the three of us, the bill including lunch and popcorn came out to right around $100…which was quite a deal. We opted for the Sesame Street planetarium movie – which was safe and fun for Sophia, but probably she could have enjoyed one of the more advanced shows just as much – she’s five but inquisitive and already knew most of what Big Bird and friends taught.
For lunch, we left and grabbed a pizza at the Lucky Labrador Beer Hall , a huge family friendly beer hall with ultra-cheesy delicious pizza and home brewed root beer (plus plenty of adult -beverages and a varied menu and I’ve been told special events on a regular basis) – a super cool, laid back place. Then we went back to Omsi.
We watched the Exploring Space IMAX which was a great introduction to the two floors of space related science exhibits and hands on displays. The Blueback tour was interesting if you are interested in military history or life for military submariners but since none of us were – we could have easily skipped that one – the smell of diesel while comforting to me was overwhelming for both Hanane and Sophia and the tour was only mildly interesting for any of us.
We were very happy to see a Dr. Who themed Gingerbread house – Tardis actually- and the rest of the space themed structures were equally impressive. Finally, we didn’t spend nearly enough time just playing with the general science areas and hands on experiments – areas in physics, lasers, design, and more. It was a full day and we left feeling like we got much more than our money’s worth.
When I brought my family from Morocco in 2013, we were going to settle in the San Francisco Bay Area but I found that no one wanted to hire a guy in his 40s who hadn’t worked at a fortune 500 company unless they wanted to pay far less than it took to live in the Bay Area. We tried to make things work in Sacramento for a few months – but already, the tech plague had caused rents to go up too much there – with resources dwindling, I found the cheapest place on the Oregon Coast and set off to build a business or two. I wrote this shortly after we settled in.
Out of all the places in the world – we’ve chosen to live on the Oregon Coast. This 363 mile (584 km) stretch of mostly undeveloped land on the Pacific Ocean offers long sandy beaches, stunning wild shorelines, and more than a few interesting roadside attractions. What it does not offer – is warm ocean to swim in – which is, perhaps the reason we will eventually leave for warmer climates…but only time will tell.
We live in the ‘undiscovered’ city of Reedsport – a bit of a backwater slightly inland from the shore and so a few degrees warmer, less foggy, and slightly less rainy in the winter. Our town has about 3000 people in it and lies directly between Coos Bay to the south (the largest city on the Oregon Coast with 16,000 residents) and the quaintly hip town of Florence to the north (Florence has book festivals, a great waterfront, and the best indy cinema on the coast). We travel to both cities frequently because Reedsport has only two small grocery stores, a new brewery, and not much else in terms of shopping or entertainment.
The Oregon Coast is broken up into three sections – the North Coast which goes from Astoria to Lincoln City, the Central Coast which goes from Newport to Florence, and the South Coast which goes from Reedsport to the California border. Each section offers unique experience, though, to be honest – there are a few things quite notably lacking such as places you can have a beer and look at the ocean from a deck. Oregon is strange in this way…we are extremely backward when it comes to some simple amenities. I’ve grown used to it but one of the complaints I quite frequently hear from visitors to the Oregon Coast is about how bad our service in restaurants is…you are lucky if someone says hello when you go in and it’s not rare to have to ask for silverware. Every place has it’s idiosyncrasies…
One of the beauties of Oregon law is the Beach Bill of 1967 which grants free beach access to everyone. You may have to pay for parking, but you won’t have to pay for the beach here. Just bring your jacket or wet suit.
We live (like most people on the Oregon Coast) about a minute from Hwy 101 which traverses the entire state from North to South. My sister lives less than a mile from Hwy 101 in the Bay Area.. to get from her house to mine she just turns right on 101 and then drives for 10 hours before turning left onto our street. Along Hwy 101 in Oregon there are over 80 state parks. Along the way there are beaches, lighthouses, the Oregon Dunes, surf breaks, and more than a little wildlife including bears, elk, deer, beavers, birds, salmon, steel head, and more.
The history of the Oregon Coast stretches from indigenous people arriving in pre-history to the arrival of Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s to the only attack on the mainland USA in World War II when a Japanese midget submarine bombed the Oregon shoreline in an unsuccessful attempt at starting huge forest fires. Today there are great roadside attractions like the Dinosaur park in the south, the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and the Sea Lion Caves just north of Florence.
There is a lot to see here…we’ve been exploring for three years now…and we are only getting started.
I first went to Florence, Oregon in 1999 just before the excitement of the World Trade Organization Protests in Seattle. My hippie aunt and uncle had a cabin on a remote lake there. It was summer, the weather was perfect, and I stayed in the little boat house at the end of their dock. It was a true hippie heaven with a composting toilet (on the end of the dock) and the gentle lapping of the waves against the dock to put me to sleep.
A few years later, they had moved on and I had just returned from an epic adventure in Asia where I climbed sacred mountains, walked the Great Wall of China, learned to scuba dive, and had many more extraordinary adventures. A ticket to Canada was cheaper than a ticket to the USA so I flew into Canada, hitchhiked down the West Coast stopping to see friends in Bellingham, Seattle, and Portland and then finally made it to my mother’s house in Redding where my VW bus had been sitting in her back yard.
I quickly left Redding and began to make my way up the coast thinking to go back to Seattle or Bellingham – but my bus had other ideas. It broke down in Florence. I didn’t have any money. Okay, I’ll be honest – it didn’t break down, it ran out of gas and I didn’t have any money to fill the tank. So I had to get a job. My hippie relatives were no longer there, but I’ve never been afraid to work so I looked for a help wanted sign and applied for the first job I saw.
I was a dishwasher at a shit-hole restaurant called Fisherman’s Wharf in a small Oregon coast town. I slept in my van and sometimes went out drinking with the locals. A regular at the Wharf offered to rent me her single wide trailer for $350/month. I went for it. It was in a decent trailer park with a pool and a bunch of seniors living in their RVs. They liked starting jigsaw puzzles on the tables around the pool…and I liked finishing them.
I liked Florence. It was trashy in an Oregon Coast kind of way, but it had a hippie commune vibe. Turned out that a strange guy named John Patric had set up shop there after World War II. He wrote a book called Yankee Hobo in the Orient. I decided it was time to write about my adventures as well, so I took my stories from Asia and the Northwest and incorporated them into what had been “Our Time is Our Own” and came up with “Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond”
I sent out my stories to every magazine I could and I sent out my manuscript to every publisher I could find. I tried to emulate my heroes and hang my rejection notices as badges of honor, but ultimately, I figured there must be something wrong. Maybe I’d do better up in Portland where many of my friends had migrated to from Bellingham and Seattle.
I collected my last check from the Wharf, filled my gas tank, and moved out of my single wide. I said goodbye to my puzzle starting friends in the RV Park, the Oregon Dunes, the Siuslaw River, and the Lane County Historical Association. I moved Northward to Portland. It was late summer in 2001. The world seemed like it was going to hell in a hand basket – but at least we were aware of it. George W. Bush had stolen the election but at least he wasn’t being given a free hand to reshape the country. We were still free…
Florence is a cute coastal city on Route 101 in Oregon between Coos Bay and Newport. It is home to the largest sand dunes in North America and surrounded by beautiful lakes, the Pacific Ocean, and plenty of pine trees. The closest major city is Eugene, Oregon. Florence has a population of about 8500 people. It has some great thrift and antique stores and a cute waterfront town. Sadly, the Fisherman’s Wharf is no longer there…but there is now a great farmers market weekly.
I have fonder memories of Myrtle Creek than my siblings do. I think it’s because I’ve blocked out much of the horror and mayhem. They refer to the place we lived as ‘The Death Farm’ and honestly, that’s pretty much what it was. My mother’s new master didn’t find the ranch of his dreams in Canyonville, but not far away in beautiful Myrtle Creek, Oregon he found a place that when I remember it – really was a slice of heaven (if only you could have removed the adults from it). It was an 18 acre ranch with a beautiful 10 acre pasture in the front that sat next to gorgeous Bilger Creek – a small stream that flowed year round. It had a sweet well and as many as five springs that flowed sweetly from the old growth timbered mountain behind – which made up most of the other eight acres. There was a small barn, a wood-shop, a garden, outhouses, a wood shed, and – a decent (when we moved in) double wide trailer with a covered porch that looked out over the pasture and stream. There were wild deer, quail, rabbits, trout, pheasants, and chucker. To pay for it, he more or less made mom trade all the property she’d gotten out of the marriage with my dad and also rented our childhood house to his scumbag friends so they could take over the mortgage – they didn’t pay the mortgage and she lost the house, he and mom didn’t pay the new mortgage and they lost the farm too. Plus she lost lots in Big Bear, 10 acres in Ennis, Montana, and all the savings she had. It was a costly marriage for all of our lives.
The problem with the farm was that the drug addict/alchoholic/violent tempered cowboy who was in charge of our lives wanted to have wolf dogs and farm animals. So, we had chickens, goats, cows, geese, a horse – and we had the wolf dogs which broke their chains and killed all of our farm animals – and then got shot by the neighbors. Everything died on that farm except for us. I learned to shoot, to survive in the wilds, to forage, and to hunt on that farm – it was a necessity. Our so called parents were in the town bars more than they were in the home – so we mostly fended for ourselves. I remember nice church people bringing us food and even Christmas presents one year after the asshole smashed the Christmas tree and presents because we little kids cried because we wanted to open presents on Christmas Eve (which had been our family tradition) instead of waiting for Christmas Day (his family tradition). So, not all of my memories are fond of that place but I spent a lot of time learning the outdoors and growing to appreciate nature, and learning how to be alone – skills that all served me well in life. I finally abandoned my younger sister and went to live with my long lost father after finding the asshole cowboy standing above my mother after he had broken her back – I had just come in from hunting pheasants so I used the gun to make him leave her alone. My mother begged me not to shoot him, so I didn’t – but probably should have. In any event, I couldn’t stay there any longer. My dad had come back into our lives that year after a near 5-year absence with a big shopping trip to a warehouse store where he bought me my dream machine, a Commodore 64 computer but he balked at actually spending the money to buy me the floppy drive and monitor I needed to go with it so I had to learn how to code my own games in BASIC and used an old black and white TV as my monitor. So, off to my father’s I went (back in Big Bear Lake)– I felt guilty leaving my sister, but she didn’t want to leave our mother – even though I begged her to. I missed the nature of Myrtle Creek. I’d had a little gold mining setup in the creek, a tree-fort filled with books on the back lot, and a dozen hide outs that were all my own.
On the positive note, I had a great art teacher and a great English teacher at the middle school there, Coffenberry Jr. High. On the down side, the math teacher beat me and several other kids so severely with paddles that I was withdrawn from his class and was compelled to testify against him in court. I had liked math up until that point – but the beatings ended that particular love affair for years. On another positive note – my mother eventually escaped from the monster. He went on to marry another monster and the two of them abused and stole from senior citizens until they were caught – several seniors (including his own grandparents and great grandparents) had died under their care and had been compelled to bequest the two of them all of their property and money. When he was caught – he ended his own life with a shotgun – so, he got at least part of what he deserved.
Myrtle Creek, Oregon
With a little over 3500 people, Myrtle Creek has twice the population and half the charm of nearby Canyonville. The South Umpqua River flows on one side of the town which disconnects it from nearby I-5, which has done the town no good. There is virtually no reason why anyone should ever want to go to Myrtle Creek in my opinion – but in the past few years there have been several little farm businesses, an innovative hamburger shop and a few other positive improvements in the place. And, it’s a very pretty place if you can get past the poverty, addiction, and domestic violence.
After a super ugly divorce in Big Bear Lake, California – my mom was ready to go as far away from my Dad as she could – my dad seemed happy to be a single guy without kids encumbering his rock star lifestyle – so no one stood in the way of mom marrying a super tall alcoholic doucehebag wanna-be cowboy who was barely out of his teens. We left our last happy childhood home for the last time. This time there would be no return. He decided that the best thing to do with his wealthy new bride was to move her and her three kids as far away from where her family could interfere with his fucked up, violent, and drug fueled life choices. He moved us to Canyonville, Oregon – which, to be fair, is a pretty nice little Oregon town – but which for all of us became the gateway to hell. While he looked for the ranch of his dreams, we were all crammed into a tiny little house with a half dozen dogs – the house had been a drug dealers before we moved into it and it wasn’t uncommon for bikers and other shit-bags to come waltzing in the door looking for ‘Jim’ at all hours of the night. Guns were a regular part of our lives at this point. The shithole biker bar next door “The Snake Pit” was where mom and her new boss (because she just did whatever he told her to or he would beat the shit out of her) spent the majority of their time. We met a whole new class of bikers – not the friendly Hells Angels of Big Bear but the drug fueled and violent Gypsy Jokers.
On the positive side – we had a cherry tree and Canyon Creek ran behind the house. We would go down and catch crawdads by the bucketfull and cook them up with butter and garlic. I used to get old fashioned milkshakes from a place with a cow on the roof. Canyonville itself is set in a beautiful part of Southern Oregon and when we weren’t witnesses or victims of domestic violence and substance abuse – we swam in country swimming holes, hiked through beautiful pine forests, and spent time on the ranch of a family who saw the hell we were in, but werent willing to involve themselves further than letting us spend time with them. We were there for a bit less than a year (4th grade) …and then we moved to nearby Myrtle Creek – which I will write about next. Here is a bit about Canyonville, Oregon that is outside of my experience.
Canyonville has a population of about 1800 people (honestly, I thought it was larger) and sits in an area known as the ‘Banana Belt’ in Southern Oregon. It is classified as having a ‘Mediterranean Climate’ though, I’ve lived in the Mediterranean and Canyonville both and would beg to differ. Winters are cold, wet, grey, and rainy. Canyonville is the third oldest city in Oregon and was a stopping point of the Applegate Trail (part of the Oregon Trail migration) It is where the North Umpqua and South Umpqua Rivers meet and is a great spot for fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation. Canyonville sits alongside Interstate-5 which runs from Canada to Mexico and is the main north/south interstate on the West Coast of the United States. Canyonville is most famous for President Rutherford B. Hayes once having lunch there. Today the 7-Feathers Casino is the big draw in Canyonville, but it was not there when I was a kid. When I was a kid, the biggest part of the economy was logging and mining at the nearby Hannah Nickel Mine in Riddle, Oregon. Ranching, farming, and resource extraction were the lifeblood of Canyonville in those days. These days, I’ve heard that it is the casino and meth production.
Back in 2016, I finally had the chance to take my wife and daughter to The Enchanted Forest. A wonderfully quirky and crumbling roadside attraction that still doesn’t charge you college tuition for a few hours of theme park enjoyment. As we sit here on Maui where even the worst attractions cost you $30 per person, I have a great appreciation for this place looking back.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve driven by The Enchanted Forest theme park – just south of Portland next to Interstate 5 – it’s a roadside attraction that has called out to me for my entire life…The theme park, built by highway worker Roger Tofte was built the year I was born – and being a west coast kid who used to answer the question “Where are you from?” with “I-5” – it seems to have always been there – which for me it has…finally, earlier this year, I decided it was time to stop – as we walked through the slightly decaying concrete ‘amusement’ park – I felt a creepy sense of familiarity that told me I must have come there as a child…it was like walking back into a house you had lived in which had gone from bright and shiny new to moldy and falling down…the rides were a half step up from a county fair and the concrete storybook and Alice in Wonderland structures all felt like stepping back into the Disneyland of the 1950s – homemade attractions painted brightly but faded.
The log ride is the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest (not a region known for amusement parks, I am afraid) and the western town and English village are fun. The whole thing is fun, actually – I don’t want to sound like a wet Nelly in my description. And the price is right – that’s for sure. Right around $10 to get in and then additional fees for the rides. We were there early in the season and the park was not fully staffed or crowded.
The history of the park is part of what makes me love it. A highway worker bought the land for $4000 and built it one bag of concrete at a time. It’s the kind of thing that would be impossible now, but in the 1960s we weren’t living in such a regulated society and people could decide to build amusement parks, castles, or ski resorts and do it on a dime…if Walt Disney tried to build Disneyland today…it just wouldn’t happen. Roger Tofte built the park and continued to build. His children, and now his grandchildren continue the work. What started as a hobby…is now a 45 year old icon along the Interstate 5. It is worth the price of admission.
Enchanted Forest is the kind of place that everyone can enjoy….it’s also the kind of place that can be written about tongue in cheek over and over because I’m not sure there is anyplace on the planet filled with more innuendo…I mean look, it’s not an over the top phallus filled piece of land like The Penis Park but there is a lot of adult fun to be had in The Enchanted Forest that the kids just won’t even notice…have fun there…but not as much fun as the writers of this Portland Mercury piece had…they may have gone too far.