Post-Vaccination Vacation: Mai Tai Tom’s Oregon Trail TaleCHAPTER THREE: TWO DAYS IN MCMINNVILLE

Day Three: In The Mix, A Grave Find, Road Trips Are A Gas, Did You See A Shark, A Tuscan Affair, Missed It By That Much, Against The Grain, No … Not That “Q”, Wine Buying Begins & Dinner In A Pod

Our stay at the historic Ashland Springs hotel was a mostly positive one. Our room was a tad shabby with a tub/shower (aka “death shower”) combo (the hotel “needed a little maintenance”). However, Kim and Mary’s room was charming, including a walk-in shower, a lovely sitting area and a terrific view overlooking Ashland. I’d return, but would request a Premium King Room with a view. On the plus side, the location was good with free parking. As for its continental breakfast, let’s just say we found a little bakery in town instead of eating the included meal (again in fairness, Covid restrictions make hotel breakfast a difficult challenge these days). If we return, I’d would definitely like to dine at the hotel restaurant, Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine, which garners rave reviews, but it was closed the two nights we were staying there.

The bags were loaded in the car when Tracy couldn’t find her keys, however she could still get the car opened. After I checked out, Tracy told me the tale, and we surmised they must be somewhere in the car since she could open it without her key fob and without me near the car with my keys. She emptied out the trunk and her purse to no avail. Finally, after nearly a half hour of searching, she found them in her “purse’s secret zipper compartment.” That’s her story, and she’s sticking to it.

We stopped at Las Calles de Guanajuato on our way out of town and ran into Kim and Mary who advised us to grab a pastry and coffee at Mix Bakeshop. It was another glorious day, as we dined at a creekside table. Mix’s baked goods are made daily in its downstairs kitchen, and my rum raisin cinnamon roll was fabulous, as was Tracy’s Egg and Gruyère croissant.


Could someone show this guy rocking his cool Crater Lake sweatshirt some manners?


The plan was to meet Kim and Mary in McMinnville. While they went to Medford to fill up the car ($3.14 a gallon at Costco), we hit the highway. About an hour north of Ashland, and 15 minutes north of Grant’s Pass, we saw a sign for a covered bridge. A short distance off Highway 5 we arrived at Grave Creek Bridge in Sunny Valley, and learned of the story behind it.  In the autumn of 1846, the first emigrant wagon train from Fort Hall, Idaho, traveled the southern route of the Oregon Trail (known as The Applegate Trail) to the Willamette Valley. At the time the creek was called Woodpile, and unfortunately one of those who emigrated, 16-year-old Martha Crowley, died of Typhoid fever. She was buried 150-feet north of the creek, which became known as Grave Creek.

James Twogood purchased the land a few years later and renamed it Grave Creek Ranch in her memory. Grave Creek Bridge was constructed in 1920, and is the only covered bridge in Josephine County. Oregon has lots of covered bridges, however Grave Creek Bridge is supposedly the state’s “most viewed covered bridge,” thanks to its location just off Highway 5.Nearby was The Applegate Trail Interpretive Center, which was still closed due to Covid restrictions.


We still had about a three hour drive to McMinnville, and Tracy asked me a couple of times how we were doing on gas. Of course, I was oblivious. During a long stretch of nothing, the car gave me the alert that we were in imminent danger of running out of gas. When I passed that information on to Tracy, I got the real “look,” and I guarantee it was not the look of love.  According to sometimes (and sometimes not) reliable Google maps, the nearest gas station was 7 1/2 miles off the highway in Harrisburg on historic Route 99. “Well, I guess it’s time to see the countryside,” I told her. My navigator was not impressed.

Pulling into the small station, I hopped out, only to be reminded by the young woman working there that I was not going to be pumping my own gas. Back in the car I sat patiently, but Tracy was once again looking slightly peeved. “Are you going to pop the lid open so she can actually fill up the car?” I was on a roll. On the plus side, we only paid $3.25 a gallon.  We traveled back to Highway 5, where only a few minutes later there were two large gas stations located on the side of the freeway.  So much for Google maps.

The drive to McMinnville took us off Highway 5 and soon we were in Oregon’s capital, Salem. There was tons of traffic and to lighten Tracy’s mood I smirked, “Maybe they’re having some west coast witch trials here.” We pressed on.

Soon we were passing through the town of Amity. I told Tracy to be on the look out for “Beware of Sharks” signs. I think she chuckled.

After passing some colorful clover fields dotted with bee hives, we arrived in McMinnville at 2:30 at our destination of A’ Tuscan Estate B&B. My business partner and friend Tim had stayed here previously and he touted it very highly. He was right.


The Colonial Style house was constructed in 1928 and was known as The Williams House, since Dr. Williams was the owner. We were greeted by Erin, the innkeeper who showed us to our palatial accommodations (Tuscan Suite) that included a fireplace (photo below courtesy of A’ Tuscan Estate).We were even given some welcoming treats, which we immediately devoured.


Erin inquired if we wanted to eat breakfast the following morning at 8 or 9:30 and since we had reservations at a nearby museum, we chose 8 a.m. The breakfast room looked quite inviting.

The interior of the house is gorgeous with its hardwood floors and antique furniture.Kim and Mary were about an hour behind us (they stopped to eat in Eugene), so we strolled the short five blocks to the main drag of historic McMinnville (3rd Street).

Adjacent to the Yamhill County Courthouse stands the Memorial to Yamhill County Soldiers of the World War. The “Doughboy was originally dedicated to the Yamhill County soldiers of the World War in 1923, but its base now also contains plaques memorializing service members in later wars.”


3rd Street in McMinnville was dead on this Tuesday afternoon. Lots of businesses were closed and many McMinnville restaurants are not open on Tuesday or Wednesday. Additionally, when I tried to secure reservations before we left, many McMinnville restaurants had not opened back up due to the pandemic

We walked the length of the historic section, and a block up to the Granary District. There were spots to eat and shop, but nothing piqued our interest.


Once again, Tracy found some local flowers to focus on with her new IPhone.


All you need is …We walked past the Elizabeth Chambers tasting room which had been recommended by our innkeeper.


At ten minutes after four we entered and were greeted by a very amiable gentleman. The silver-haired man said he would love to seat us, but he could not because they closed at four. He was quite apologetic. As we started to walk out, he asked, “Hey, are you an Aztec?” I wondered how he knew I went to San Diego State.

As it turned out, he was not clairvoyant. I forgot I was wearing an SDSU mask. We chatted for a bit, and he told us his nickname was “Q.” Before I could ask, he quickly added, “The Q does not stand for QAnon.” He proceeded, “It also doesn’t stand for Q from Star Trek or Q from James Bond.”  As he said that, his eyes looked up, and we quickly realized “Q” stood for Q-tip, as his silver hair kind of had that look. We laughed and said we’d come back the following day for a tasting.


We headed back to 3rd Street to check out our restaurant for the following evening. I perused the menu of this delightful restaurant, and I immediately knew what I would be ordering.


By now, Kim and Mary had arrived, and they met us in front of  the Hotel Oregon, which happens to have a rooftop bar that we contemplated going to later on that evening.


We strolled along 3rd Street, and I stopped for a chat with Benjamin Franklin. He laughed and said, “Look, we’re manspreading!” I replied, “Go fly a kite.”

I asked someone how often he goes to this place. “Once in a blue moon,” was the answer.

Well, it was about 5 o’clock and since we were somewhere where wineries and tasting rooms were prevalent, we stopped by the Willamette Valley McMinnville Tasting Room (photo courtesy of WVMTR). The room was spacious and we were seated at a table for the $15 tasting flight. Tracy and I also bought a little charcuterie platter since we hadn’t any food (except for the truffle cookies at the B&B) since breakfast in Ashland.  The wine guy was fun and informative, and Tracy and I escaped with two pinots and two bottles of Grenache.Like Ashland, McMinnville is also laden with colorful flowers, which draws Tracy’s camera like she was a bee. We walked back to A’ Tuscan Estate to freshen up for dinner.


As I wrote earlier, there were not a lot of dining options due to Covid closings, along with Tuesday/Wednesday seemingly being off-days for local eateries, however Erin recommended a place where we made a reservation shortly after arriving in town.

Pura Vida Cocina serves Latin American cuisine inspired from countries like Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Peru, Argentina and Ecuador. There was indoor dining, but we chose to eat in one of its “pods” lining the street.


The food at Pura Vida was terrific. We ordered online from our table, and the restaurant totally deserves its rave online reviews. My Chicken & Veggie Enchiladas de Mole; two hand made corn tortillas, Cotija cheese, sour cream with a carrot mole sauce, mixed greens and beans. turned out to be a scrumptious choice.Tracy’s Mixed Tacos (Taco Misto); Pollo, Camaron (sautéed shrimp) & Pescado (Alaskan true cod) was also a winner.Mary opted for the Sandwich Cubano; roasted pork, ham, pickles, Swiss cheese, and papa bravas, while Kim went for the Tacos Barbacoa (slow braised beef).

The entire dinner was enjoyable, and it was lucky we had to walk for a bit back to the B&B (we took a circuitous, calorie burning route).Back in our room, I changed into the dressing robe provided by the B&B (no photos of me in it, I don’t want to be blackmailed!) and turned on the fire. It was early to bed, because we had that 8 a.m. breakfast call and a short drive to a cool air and space museum, before an afternoon of, what else? wine tasting.


Day Four: Nuts For Oregon, Why Didn’t I See This In Long Beach, Channeling Our Inner Howard Hughes, Da Planes! Da Planes!, Spaced Out, Cracklin’ Rosé, One Tasting Deserves Another & Dîner Dans Le Jardin

I have finally realized that 7 a.m. comes a lot quicker as you grow older. It seemed like I had just finished that mole enchilada while preparing for our three-course breakfast. The Expando belt was going to get another workout.  It was another perfect day in paradise.We started with a scrumptious cruffin (croissant and muffin) with brie and apricot jam. I opted for the blueberry pomegranate juice, which really hit the spot.


Next on the food parade was a Caprese egg bake with little pieces of asparagus in it. I am not an asparagus fan, but this hot dish was delicious.  Finally, Erin brought out the homemade granola parfait, with yogurt, blueberry compote, lemon curd, and some of Oregon’s native hazelnuts. Erin extolled the virtues of hazelnuts, and I subsequently learned that 99% of the U.S. hazelnut crop is produced in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.We then drove the short distance to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, where we would see (and tour) the largest wooden airplane ever constructed, Howard Hughes “Flying Boat,” The Spruce Goose. When I lived in Long Beach, the Spruce Goose was housed in a dome hangar, but for some reason I never went to see it.We had 10 a.m. reservations for the museum, and I ponied up an extra 40 bucks so the four of us could get a tour of the Spruce Goose before checking out the rest of the Aviation Museum. Our tour guide was the 80-years-young Jules, who was an aircraft carrier commander in the Viet Nam War.

He told us that the Spruce Goose weighed 300,000 pounds, or just slightly more than me after our big breakfast. Its wing span was 320 feet, the largest wingspan of any aircraft until 2019. The plane was mainly constructed with birch, but its spruce, and the plane’s whitish-gray color helped the aircraft earn the nickname Spruce Goose.  It was built during World War II, ostensibly to take troops and materials across the Atlantic Ocean (it was designed to transport 750 troops or two Sherman tanks)), because Allied ships were being sunk by the Germans at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, the plane was not completed until 1947, when it took its one and only flight.  The plane had eight engines, and they were the largest engines ever built at the time.


Jules showed us the lower portion of the plane first.

In the cargo area, we saw what looked like beach balls. Jules said that Hughes filled this area with beach balls, which would provide extra floatation in case the plane began to sink.


Now it was time to head up some winding, small, narrow steps to the cockpit area. As I carefully wound my way up, I heard Tracy tell Kim and Mary, “If Tom hits his head, he might get a ‘goose’ egg.” Fortunately, I navigated the stairs safely (deftly, not so much) much to everyone’s surprise.

After regaling us with stories of the plane …… Jules told me to take the controls. The resemblance to Hughes is uncanny, isn’t it?


Then Mary took her shot at piloting, before she posed with Jules.


The plane became airborne only once, although it was an unscheduled flight. On November 2, 1947, Hughes and his crew took the “Flying Boat” for an unannounced flight. There were thousands of people present to watch what they thought was going to be Hughes taxi the plane in Long Beach Harbor, but Hughes had other plans. He lifted the gigantic aircraft to a height of 70 feet and it went about a mile before he landed it. That was the only flight of the Spruce Goose.

If you visit the museum, I highly recommend taking that tour.  I tip my hat to Hughes (well, I tip his hat)We spent the better part of the next hour checking out the various aircraft in the museum.

Pilots back in the early 1900s really possessed the Wright Stuff.


We read a number of stories about the airplanes and replicas …


… as well as the helicopters we were viewing.


If you are an airplane aficionado, this is a museum you could spend hours touring.


We walked across the parking lot to the Space Museum.  It was also very well done.  From the Russian space program …


… along with the American Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs …


… the “space race” was well documented.


The triumphs …

…. as well as the tragedies.

There were also exhibits that featured Chuck Yeager, who had “The Right Stuff,” and other aircraft such as the X-15.

Touring both the air and space museums was time well spent.


Outside we took a gander at some other planes before we left.


They included “Air Force Two,” which received its moniker when the vice-president flew in it. This plane served administrations from Gerald Ford to Barrack Obama.

We also took a quick look at one of the planes flown by the Blue Angels.These guys really had a bird’s-eye view of the planes.


As we drove out, I wondered who made this incredible pinpoint landing.

The countryside awaited as we had 1 p.m. reservations at Coeur de Terre Vineyards in the hills above McMinnville. We wondered if we were on the right path as we traversed a gravel road, but after a couple of miles we found ourselves on a hilltop, with a building that overlooked the vineyards.


It was pretty hot, so we opted to sit in the lovely tasting room for our flights.


Somehow a few bottles of Syrah Rosé and Heritage Pinot found their way back into the trunk of Mary’s car. I can’t say “No.” in the vineyards.We headed back to McMinnville for … more wine tasting, this time at the Elizabeth Chambers Cellar tasting room.  Sadly, “Q” wasn’t working on this day, but that didn’t matter as we were seated on the property’s delightful enclosed patio area.

The four of us enjoyed flights of Pinot Noir, Elizabeth Chambers’ specialty, …

… in the garden, complete with a charcuterie platter.


It looks like we had a good time.


Back inside the brick tasting room, which was formerly an electric company building, Tracy and I were coerced (ok, we bought it willingly) to buy a large format bottle of pinot noir.After a short nap at the B&B, the four of us shared a bottle of Syrah on A’ Tuscan Estate’s porch.  Did I tell you this is wine country?

On our way to dinner I sat down with another American legend. I assumed this must be Lincoln’s McMinnville address.

We had 7:15 reservations at Bistro Maison, and we were in for a treat. For one thing, the restaurant, in and out, is eye-catching. We were seated in a cozy corner of the side patio, with a 130 year-old peony towering over us.


We first checked out the interior of the restaurant, which also had a nice feel to it.


All of our servers throughout the evening were very personable, and one of them is also the bartender, and she makes a mean Manhattan.  Every dish served was marvelous, starting with the homemade baguettes.


I began with a scrumptious Escargot en croûte,  It was very, very good, and I love escargot.


Once again I was drawn to the steak tartare. Our server/bartender assured me, “People come from all over the world for our steak tartare.”  It lived up to its reputation.

Tracy and Mary shared a roasted beet salad, with fennel, oranges, nectarine, mango, goat cheese, Crème fraîche with citron and fresh, marinated white anchovies on the side. They ate it faster than I just described it.

For her main course, Tracy decided upon the hazelnut (can’t escape them) crusted pork chop, with strawberries, potato purée & sautéed cabbage.

Mary went with a steak au poivre the size of France, with Pommes frites and saffron aioli.


Kim, meanwhile, ordered the Confit de Canard in an orange Cognac reduction sauce.

Although too full for dessert, the rum cake called my name, so I bought one to go.

Bistro Maison turned out to be a merveilleux choix. The streets were empty on a spectacular McMinnville evening.  We waddled back to A’ Tuscan Estate, where sleep was only moments away.

Tomorrow would be a driving day as we headed north for the Oregon coast and Cannon Beach. Since Kim had a Zoom call for a couple of hours before they could depart, Tracy and I decided to detour to a waterfall, however we ended up at a different waterfall. In Cannon Beach we had a momentary brain cramp at one hotel, a delightful lunch and walked what seemed like 100 miles to check out a famous rock. We’d end the day with a great meal at the same restaurant we dined at for lunch.


Day Five: Oops … Terrible Tree Trimming Timing, A Bridge To The Falls, Couples Photographer, Life In The Fast Lane, Driftwood, Not That Cannon Beach Hotel, Only Two Rooms Left In Town, Does This Beach Ever End, Rock On, The Elusive Puffins & A Local Legend

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