Hit the Oregon trail for snow, coast and craft booze

Neil Sowerby tackles the spectacular delights of this freewheeling US state

Written by  Neil Sowerby | Follow @AntonEgoManc | Tuesday, 7 March 2017 11:31

SOMETIMES the mind plays strange tricks. We are snowbound in monumental Timberline Lodge and I’m crouching in front of crackling logs, an axe quivering in my grasp. I know I’m just holding a prop from the movie, The Shining, parts of which were filmed here, and there’s no icicled hedge maze outside to go killer crazy in. 

Console yourself by buying a cuddly Big Foot toy

 But still, suggestible me is freaked by that spooky long corridor outside my room and the strange ringing of my bedside vintage phone in the middle of the night, then no response on the line… 

Whatever, I don’t have the arched eyebrows and wolfish grin of a Jack Nicholson and the only spirit likely to possess me is a digestif after dinner in the hotel’s Cascade Dining Room. A welcome restorative after a day spent snow-shoeing in the white-out lee of Mount Hood.

Welcome to Oregon in the north west corner of the US. I’m on the eve of a road trip, Donald Trump is not yet inaugurated; the full ‘Here’s Donny’ horror is yet to come. The weather is heavy with evil portent – our party’s planned trip along the glorious Columbia River Valley, marking the boundary with Washington State, has been stymied. Ice has closed the roads, so no wood-fired pizza and hard cider for us in its adventure hub, Hood River, as planned.

Normally you can’t miss 11,000ft Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest peak, but visibility is atrocious as our vehicle skids its way up to Timberline. It’s America’s only year-round ski resort and a National Historic Landmark, part private, part publicly owned.

 
windowIn The Shining Shelley Duvall rescues her son by pushing him out of the above window
My roomMy Timberline bedroom and the spooky corridor outside 
The corridor

 

Breasting the bend to glimpse the rustic hulk of the Lodge against pine trees injects a shudder of recognition. Built 75 years ago to create work during The Depression and opened by President Franklin Roosevelt, it is most famous as the exterior location for the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of the Steven King novel.

 

The Shining was actually inspired by a stay King and his wife had in a deserted hotel in Colorado and the interior scenes were filmed in UK studios, but that doesn’t stop Timberline still attracting fans in their droves. Hence the axe (above) and frequent in-house screenings. 

And bizarrely Timberline Lodge is the site of one of the most grotesque fatalities associated with moviedom, in this case the filming of an NBC mini-series. Boris Sagal, directing World War III, starring Rock Hudson and David Soul, stumbled into the still-spinning tail rotor of a helicopter and near-decapitated himself.

Looking the partLooking the part for my freezing foray into the blizzard; and below, meeting resident St Bernard Heidi 
Meet Heidi

 

I feared I’d catch my death – of cold – making my debut as a snow-shoer, but it was great, swirling fun, rounded off by a signature hot chocolate back in The Lodge. Hugely warm and welcoming, Timberline’s a destination I’d heartily recommend – not least for the wonderful period craftsmanship. 

 
 

 

Much of the original  furniture and fittings remain, including carvings of beavers, bobcats, and eagles. Socialist murals of heroic workers stand shoulder to shoulder with rough-hewn stone fireplaces and whole tree trunk pillars. 450 workmen toiled here in often daunting conditions to produce a celebration of the awesome natural surroundings outside.

 

Over the fireplace in the 140-cover Cascade is a remarkable frieze represnting the region’s wildlife. The self-styled ‘Alpine Cuisine’ from long-serving head chef Jason Stoller is well-sourced and aesthetically pleasing in its own right. After that phantom caller woke me I slept like a whole log cabin, the Lodge snug under its deep blanket of snow.

So, road trip launched, down to the the much, much balmier Willamette wine country and The Oregon Truffle Festival. It’s foodie geek heaven at the seminars, yet a greater privilege is to follow a truffle hound around a moist forest floor as he snuffles and scrabbles for the white and black nuggets among the tree roots.

 

Success and his handler offers a treat to stop it hoovering up the treasured tubers, which will later end up shaved into a succession of truffled dishes on long trestles among the vineyards. Accompaniment? Earthy Pinot Noirs from a perfect terroir for this troublesome grape. 

trufflesA great haul of truffles; below, delicately prepared for Festival aficionados

 

 

All this is obviously off a normal tourist’s radar, but rolling Willamette Country’s wineries and fine restaurants aren’t. McMinnville makes a fine base for exploring. Stay in its red brick historic district, perhaps at the oddball Hotel Oregon, which has a rooftop bar and is decorated with relics of the building’s 115-year history and the town’s famous 1950 UFO sighting. You might also run into the ghost of a former resident, nicknamed John.

As in all the towns along the route, I grabbed a craft beer, this time at the convivial Golden Valley Brewery and Tap before sampling a festival special truffle vodka and local wine at the Elizabeth Chambers Cellars, one of many tasting rooms in the town. 

You’ll probably find it more fun to drive out to one of the country wineries to do your sampling. It sounds boringly generic but Willamette Valley Vineyards (by chance we ran into founder Jim Bernau at Timberline) offers exceptional quality

 

 

McMinnville also provided one of the best meals we had on the whole road trip – at Nick’s Italian Cafe, a legendary restaurant named as an ‘American Classic’ in 2014 and now taken to the next gastronomic level by his daughter, Carmen Peirano. Check out her toothsome porchetta, above.

 

OC breweryBrewer Dan van Vohden flies the flag at Oregon City brewery; that reuben dog

 

En route we had stopped off at semi-industrial Oregon City, early capital of the state and trailhead of the original 2,000 mile Oregon Trail that brought the original settlers’ wagons west from Missouri, and downed Reuben dogs and Elevator IPA at the Oregon City Brewery tap, its motto “Pioneering beer for the pioneer city. Willamette is not just wine country.

 

 

A worthwhile detour just outside McMinnville is to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, a vast repository of aeronautical wonders, including reclusive tycoon Howard Hughes’s original H-4 Hercules ‘Spruce Goose’. The largest plane ever constructed and made out of wood because of wartime restrictions, this carrier plane only ever flew once and then was scrapped. In truth vintage planes don’t rank high among my interests, but Evergreen is an ingeniously instructive day out with guides who actually flew these planes in Vietnam or even World War Two.

 

 

By now you are only an hour away from the Oregon’s awesome wave-crashed Pacific coast and the lure of some of the finest seafood on the planet. Awaiting me the challenge of attacking a whole Dungeness crab at Florence old town’s zebra-themed Bridgewater Ocean Fresh Fish House and exemplary chowder and crab cakes at Newport Bayfront’s Saffron Salmon Cafe, perched panoramically on the pier. Further bonuses close by – a fleet of sea lions bellowing on their harbour floats and a swift mega-hoppy refresher at the tap of maverick brewery Rogue

 
Brewtap

 

But before all this the chance to gaze on some giants of the deep I’m never likely to eat. Depoe Bay is the premier whale watching spot along the coast with a specialist viewing point. Alas we were out of luck on the day. 

hellishHellish vison of the wave-smashed  Sea Lion Caves; below, a laid-back Big Foot 

 

We were consoled by a succession of spectacular seascapes – the vast coastline vista from Cape Perpetua, the 93ft tall Yaquina Head Lighthouse on its basalt headland, the Sea Lion Caves reached by a 200ft elevator drop from the cliffs near Florence, which are home to 400 noisy (and stinky) Steller sea lions.A barking vision of hell. Console yourself by buying a cuddly Big Foot toy in the gift shop – this is prime forested territory for the legendary beast. 

WavesWaves pound the coast outside our hotel, the Overleaf Lodge

All this spectacle was within easy reach of our base, Overleaf Lodge, where my room looked out across vast pounding waves. It was a 30 minute windswept coastal walk to the centre of low-key but lovely Yachats and a simple seafood supper in the appropriately named Drift Inn.

HecetaHeceta Head B&B, its spectacular view and the lighhouse next door

 

 
 

The place I really want to stay in, though, when I return to this mesmerising coast (and I will) is Heceta Head Lighthouse B&B, once a keeper’s house next to the soaring white lighthouse dating back to 1894 named after an 18th century Spanish explorer. You can tour the beacon itself, but the white clapboard B&B is much more interesting, not just for its period charm, extensive gourmet breakfast and remarkable views. 

It’s also home to a ghost called Rue, nicknamed ‘The Grey Lady’ because of her wispy appearance, who manifests herself when changes are being made to the house. She may be the spectre of a child who fell off the nearby cliffs and was never found or her distraught mother; the jury’s out. I won’t tell you the bedroom you are most likely to encounter the poor lost soul.

CampChichi period charm of my bedroom at Campbell House

Our next place to stay was also reputedly haunted (a theme developing here), equally boutique Victorian and a fellow member of the Unique Inns confederation. But Campbell House, once home to a timber magnate, was close to the heart of downtown Eugene, a liberal, hippyish college town at the confluence of the Willamette and Mackenzie rivers and incongruously home to Nike. It’s a perfect place to stroll around and catch up with Oregon’s ever-burgeoning craft drinks scene.

Hard cider is what they call cider, ie alcoholic, to distinguish it from their cider, ie apple juice. It’s a throwback to prohibition times. These days there’s an inventiveness to the beverage all across the state. Witness Eugene’s finest, Wildcraft, which has 10 of their artisan ciders on tap – the likes of barrel-aged cherry or quince flavoured – and many guests.

 

The spirits scene is also exciting. We visited Thinking Tree Spirits Distillery, a spanking new grain-to-bottle operation with shiny stills, planning to produce vodka, gin, whiskey and rum.

My own inclination veers towards craft beer and king brewery here is Ninkasi, well worth a tour and a chance to test yourself agains their epic winter ale, Sleighr or the more approachable Dawn of the Red.

The sheer eclecticism of the food scene manifests itself in the Eugene restaurant we dined in. Marché and Le Bar juxtaposes a commitment to sourcing from the Pacific North West with a French attitude and wine list (with a concession to Willamette Pinot Noir, naturally). Loyal to its roots yet sophisticated yet loyal, it’s a liberal world away from Trumpery and xenophobic wall-building. Vive L’Eugene. Vive L’Oregon.

 

Fact file

Neil Sowerby flew from Amsterdam to Portland, Oregon with Delta after a connection from Manchester with partner airline KLM

Check out his big city adventures in Weird and Wonderful Portland

On his road trip he stayed at Timberline Lodge, 27500 E. Timberline Road, OR 97028; Third Street Flats, 219 N,E. Cowls Street, McMinnville, OR 97128; Overleaf Lodge and Spa, 28 Overleaf Lodge Lane, Yachats, OR 97498; Campbell House Inn, 252 Pearl Street, Eugene OR 97401. 

Kieron Weidner was the guide for his party. He runs First Nature Tours, specialising in adventure and ecological tourism trips across the North West states. Highly recommended

For full tourism information on the state visit Travel Oregon

 

SaffronSaffron Salmon in Newport; below, a nautical mural along the Bayfront 

 

Newport

 

Goose barnaclesEdible goose barnacles we plucked off the rocks as a snack in the bay below Heceta Lighthouse