CHAPTER ONE: ASHLAND, HERE WE COME (WITH A SLIGHT DETOUR)

Post-Vaccination Vacation: Mai Tai Tom’s Oregon Trail Tale

CHAPTER ONE: ASHLAND, HERE WE COME (WITH A SLIGHT DETOUR)

With Willie Nelson playing in our ears, it was time to get “On the Road Again.” Since Europe still didn’t want us to visit (they must have read our nefarious foreign exploits in other trip reports), Tracy and I packed up the car and headed north for a ten-day journey in mid-May to central Oregon’s wine country, the rugged Oregon coast, and ending with a few days in Northern California. On our sojourn, we’d also visit a national park I hadn’t visited since I was a kid …

a real rock star …

…  waterfalls (some better than others), a few wineries, a tour of a famous aircraft, an eerie spot directly out of a Steven Spielberg movie (literally), and other sensational sights throughout our ten days on the road.  We even met up with Paul Bunyan and his buddy.

Our first stop was in Bodega Bay, where our long time traveling cohorts Kim and Mary would join us on the two-car caravan northward. Although not the optimal way for two couples to travel, we decided upon two cars due to the fact that one of our corgis (Frankie) has been fighting cancer for about two years, and if our house sitter called that he was struggling, we could immediately shoot back home.As for my health, I had my usual pre-week vacation routine, which included a nasty fall into my desk that resulted in badly bruised ribs.  In other words, I was ready to go, although I did purchase two walking poles for additional backup.  Figuring I could survive nearly two weeks in the wild (or, in our case, comfortable hotels and B&Bs), it was still a no-brainer to go.

Luckily, we kept one step ahead of inclement weather for the entire duration of the trip, which made for a number of stunning photographic opportunities and revealed the beauty of the countryside we traversed. So open a bottle of pinot noir or two, then sit back and relax as we celebrate our “Post-Vaccination Vacation: Mai Tai Tom’s Oregon Trail Tale.”

Day 1 – The Iconic Bridge That Tells Time, Drought, Never Pass Up A “Vista Point Ahead” Sign, It Hasta Be Shasta, Castle Crags, Fatal Accident Averted, Home Sweet Home In Ashland, Foreshadowing the PGA Championship & Dinner In A Gorgeous Garden

Similar to the Lewis & Clark Expedition (albeit, in a blue Subaru … not really a Ford guy), Tracy and I started toward Oregon, with Kim and Mary not far behind. After a nearly four-hour trek, we reached our designated detour to a remarkable bridge that was dedicated on July 4, 2004, but not without a slight bit of controversy. Oh, and this bridge also tells time.  You might not expect an architectural wonder to be located in Redding, California, but that’s exactly where the Sundial Bridge spans the Sacramento River. The bridge links the north and south campuses of Turtle Bay Exploration Park, but it only accommodates pedestrians and bicyclists.

Sundial Bridge is also one of the world’s largest working sundials, although it only records time for four hours a day (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.).

As we walked from the parking area along a tree-lined trail …

… the bridge came into view. Sundial Bridge can’t tell you the temperature, but all knew it was pretty darned hot for a May afternoon.Before crossing the bridge we strolled along the river past the Turtle Bay Museum, which contains permanent exhibits explaining the history of the region, and, as the website states, “art, science, history, forestry and horticulture.”

         

The Turtle Bay Art Trail contains numerous pieces of art. These guys had me singing “Happy Together.”

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

A few of the pieces just felt like fish out of water.

There are numerous trails in the park, whose shade must be a blissful escape in the summer.

We had views back toward the bridge, which was conceived by famed Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, “the world’s premier bridge designer.” Sundial Bridge became his first free standing bridge in the United States.

     

It looked like people were very excited about the recent CDC guidelines stating people could be outside without masks.We successfully navigated the span containing 2,245 glass panels unscathed.  It was a gorgeous day.

  

As stated earlier, the bridge was not constructed without some controversy. Many locals just wanted a more “folksy” covered bridge design. Proponents of the more expensive bridge prevailed, and, in our opinion, it was money well spent.  Creatures of all types were enjoying some time on the water.

     

We explored for a bit on the other side of the river, thought about touring the Turtle Bay Arboretum Gardens, but realizing we had a couple of hours left driving, we pressed on.  Fortunately, we didn’t see any rattlesnakes.

                      

By the way, the bridge is lit up at night, which offers a unique view (next two photos from its website)

Mai Tai Tom Sundial Bridge Fun Facts:

The bridge took 11 years to construct
It weighs the same as roughly 400 elephants (1,600 tons)
It’s the first steel, inclined-pylon, cable-stayed bridge built in the U.S.
The glass panels can reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit in summerIf you’re heading north or south on Interstate 5 in the Redding vicinity, Sundial Bridge makes for a worthwhile diversion to stretch your legs and let your children expend some pent up energy after being trapped in a car with mom and dad for several hours.

                                                                           

Back on the highway we passed by Shasta Lake, which sadly was incredibly low. California’s lack of rain the past two years does not bode well as fire season rapidly approaches (unfortunately, it’s fire season 12 months a year here now).

Speaking of Shasta, a sign said a Vista Point was coming up in a short distance. Too short, unfortunately, for our stupid driver (aka me) who blew right past the turnout. We vowed to never let that happen again.  Looking at a snow-capped peak at one turn, I asked Tracy which mountain we were looking at. “It hasta be Shasta,” she said. It was good to know all those soft drinks she consumed as a kid came in handy.

Tracy was able to capture a few photos of the mountain out the window of our speeding Subaru.

As Shasta’s peak peeked in and out of view on our drive, She also grabbed a shot of the granite spires of Castle Crags State Park. Had I known about this park before (my trip planning is still a little rusty after our Covid incarceration of the past 15 months), we might have added an extra day to our excursion.Speaking of speeding, as we crossed the Oregon border a sign flashed something about cones up ahead (not of the ice cream variety), but we missed the rest of the verbiage stating when this event would occur. We probably should have paid more attention. Suddenly our two-lane highway quickly (very quickly) was becoming a one lane highway. The problem: we were in the rapidly narrowing left lane adjacent to a big (really big) rig about ready to crush us into a heap of blue Subaru scrap metal. “Floor it!” Tracy yelled. Mustering the acceleration that only a Subaru Outback can perform, we squeezed past the left front of the truck, nipping the last cone and narrowly averting a two-ton truck decimation of our car. Not even six hours into our first big trip in nearly two years, Tracy was already giving me “The Look.”

Breathing a huge sigh of relief, we headed into Ashland, where we immediately fell in love with “the look” of Ashland. Trees blooming and beautiful homes galore, Ashland looked like a place I could consider moving to in the future.  Yes, Ashland seemed like just the “ticket.” 

Our lodging for the next two nights would be the Ashland Springs Hotel.  This historic hotel first welcomed guests in the mid 1920s.  Known then as the Lithia Springs hotel, it was a welcome spot for visitors to spend the night as they headed between California and Washington.  The hotel came upon hard times, changed names and eventually closed in 1997.  Thankfully, the property was bought, and the hotel refurbished to it earlier grandeur.

We walked into its gorgeous lobby that exuded a gracious, old school feel, complete with its grand fireplace.

The hotel had a homey ambiance, which would immediately make a guest feel comfortable.

Kim and Mary occupied the primo room here, so we headed up to their sitting area where we sipped wine and munched on crackers, salami and cheese, as we gazed out over Ashland’s greenery. It’s always good to have pre-game snacks.  I did have to reprimand Kim and Tracy for looking at their phones during “Happy Hour.”

                 

The foursome then took to the Ashland main drag (appropriately named Main Street) to walk off the crackers and cheese calories and to scope out a small part of our new town before our 7 p.m. dinner reservations.  We passed by the historic Ashland Library. Constructed in 1912, the building was formerly a Carnegie Library, which, I assumed, included a Hall.

I should have realized the next landmark I witnessed was a clear sign and opportunity to make a lot of money betting on the PGA Championship. In front of the library stood the Mickelson Chapman Memorial Fountain. Coincidence … I think not!

                                   

Meanwhile, Tracy took a few photos of some floral arrangements in the window of a nearby coffee shop. With all the flower photos she took on this trip, she would have bet on Justin Rose.

            

Dinner time. I had made reservations for the Alchemy Restaurant & Bar located inside the Winchester Inn.

However, instead of dining inside the beautiful Victorian building, we took advantage of their lovely patio surrounded by an array of colorful flowers and plants.

   

Mary started the evening on a humorous note. After our wine and cheese happy hour, she stated, “I don’t think I’m going to drink anymore tonight.”  When the waiter arrived at the table, her first words were,”I think I’ll have a Manhattan.” There’s a reason these two couples travel well together.

Our very personable and professional waiter guided us through the menu, and the food was spot on. Mary started with the Soup de Jour; asparagus and parsnip with Morel Mushrooms.

Tracy loved her harissa spiced scallops with fennel, orange slices and crispy prosciutto.

I very rarely (with the emphasis on rare) pass up a chance at a steak tartare, and I didn’t here. This delectable tartare was made with Bagna càuda (a hot dish made from garlic and anchovies, originating in Piedmont, Italy, during the 16th century). It paired perfectly with the grilled baguettes on the side.

Our main courses were equally good, although one stood out among the others. On their long ago road trip, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby would have loved Tracy’s Moroccan Duck Leg Confit; maitake mushrooms, stewed tomatoes, along with preserved lemon & olive tapenade. It received a “Double Wow!” She thankfully shared a bite with everyone.Mary enjoyed her Smoked Local Halibut; snap peas & baby artichokes, toasted quinoa with a San Marzano Tomato Glacé.Kim said his Dry-Aged Ribeye Steak; bone marrow butter, salad of parsley, shallots & lemons, plus some “peewee” potatoes was full of flavor, but he didn’t necessarily think it was a ribeye. I checked to see if he was correct, but he had already eaten it.

Like steak tartare I rarely pass up a bucatini cacio e pepe, but our server convinced me that the Lamb Osso Bucco; soft polenta aligot, grilled frisee and achiote-fennel mojo was tremendous … and he was right.

                       

Our server also doubled as our travel agent for the next day. The group was deciding on visiting local sights or a drive to Crater Lake, and our waiter told us a blue-sky day was forecast, so it might be a good idea for us to visit Crater Lake. Good call!

During and after dinner Tracy wandered the manicured grounds taking lots of plant and flower photos.

                               

As the evening turned progressively cooler, the space heaters afforded us provided to be a welcome relief.A splendid Ashland spring evening in the gardens at our restaurant made for a pleasant and picturesque way to finish the evening.

   

We wandered back to our hotel, now lit up nicely in the darkening skies.

           

Tomorrow, would be our first full day of exploring Oregon.

It would include a walk overlooking a raging river gorge, the stunning beauty of Oregon’s only national park, a surprising lunch spot, a town directly out of an old west movie, a spectacular stroll in a park, and finally we’d really spice up our life with an Indian dinner in Ashland.  Even the gas station we visited offered an interesting story.

NEXT – CHAPTER TWO: CRATER LAKE/JACKSONVILLE/MORE ASHLAND

Day Two: Fill ‘er up!, Going Rogue, The Magic Card, Seeing Blue, Did You Bring Your Skis, Mr. Wizard, A Frosty Reception, Ice Cream Truck, Are We In Florida, Drop Off Your Husband, To Be Or Not To Be, Picturesque Park, Frank Lloyd Wright-Inspired Home, Sister City To The South and A Spicy Dinner Under The Bridge

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