In September I flew to Oregon to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and three year-old niece. I stayed in their new house on the southern edge of Portland, in a town called Oregon City, which was the terminus of the Oregon Trail. Even though I miss them terribly, it seems apt that my sister ended up there since she played that game obsessively in grade school.
I had already spent time exploring northeast Oregon and Washington five years ago, and my family would be at work/preschool during much of the week, so I decided to rent a car and take a few days for a side trip to a new place: Idaho. I ended up doing one giant loop, from Portland southeast to Crater Lake, east to Boise, northwest to Pendleton, and back to Portland, with some detours and stops along the way for good measure. It was a feast for the eyes the entire way around.
I’m splitting up the pictures into three parts. First: Portland and vicinity.
Note that although my niece, Mabel, is the cutest creature on this planet apart from her equally scrumptious cousins, it would be weird to show her face, so I won’t. Sorry to deny you the full measure of her adorableness. But I do want to hint at it, so here is the back of her tiny ginger head, and her smooshy little arms fearlessly rifling through the thorny blackberry bramble that grows in her yard. Eating ripe blackberries straight off the bush is how we spent the first hour of my trip.
Then we drove forty minutes into the country, to a brewery in a red barn. The sun set as we drank a flight of beers and cider and Mabel played with pick-up sticks.
The next morning, we visited a food cart pod in Southeast Portland.
The big draw was Tov, an Egyptian coffee shop that operates out of a double-decker bus.
We ordered the specialities: Egyptian coffee, which comes with cardamom; Turkish tea; and a foamy milk and pistachio drink called sahlep. All were delicious.
Sahlep (and Mabel inhaling a cookie), below.
And the tea…
We got egg sandwiches from the pun-loving food cart next door and then headed to one of Tami and Matthew’s favorite antique stores.
It was there that I first began to notice: Oregon has amazing vintage shops. There’s one in Portland that even has a soda fountain at the back.
Coming from New York, everything seemed ridiculously low-priced. I bought two art deco sconces for five dollars each. It felt like getting away with highway robbery.
Speaking of not-actually-criminal activity… next, we went to the pot dispensary. It was my first time being in a state where marijuana is legal and I was going to make the most of it. I spoke to the salesman as though he were a pharmacist, rattling off all of my predispositions and contraindications and drug interactions and fears and desires until he got an ample enough sense of my neuroses to suggest the following:
Can you believe that packaging? It’s geometric; it opens like origami. And the gummies taste really delicious, too. Most importantly, rather than experiencing panic attacks and hours-long malaise as a result of ingesting one of them (my MJ M.O., as it were), I instead felt loopy and content and relaxed, because they were a mix of CBD oil, indica, and sativa. I did not know any of those words before this summer… How ridiculous would it be if I became a pothead at the age of 39 because of a trip to Portland? It’s a distinct possibility.
After that pit-stop we returned to child-friendly activities and visited a riverside area that I forget the name of. You can see the Portland skyline in the distance.
The city is full of beautiful natural spots, some of which are so secluded that you may as well be in the middle of nowhere.
This, for example, is a city park.
As is this.
Mabel is nicknamed the wood elf because she is always wandering through enchanted-looking forests like a little sprite.
I’ll get to my favorite park in possibly all the world in a minute, but first let’s go off on a brief tangent to talk about Portland’s coffee culture.
They take coffee very seriously.
As do I. I drank a lot of very delicious coffee while there.
I also ate a ton of vegan food. They take vegan food very seriously, too, and I was surprised by how over-the-top tasty it was. Highly recommended: the inari from Sushi Love in SE Portland, and the tofu bowls from the Bye and Bye in the Alberta Arts District/NE Portland (below).
Before I get back to parks, I will go on one more tangent, to show you some of what makes Oregon City special. First, it is home to the country’s only municipal passenger elevator, erected in 1954. (It’s a strange honor, but neat.)
It takes you up to a promenade from which you can see down to the once-beautiful Willamette Falls – the second largest waterfall by volume in the United States – now overshadowed by (and dammed in the service of) a hideous sprawling defunct paper mill.
Finally, let’s get back to the parks… Five years ago, I drove out to Ecola State Park an hour west from Portland at the recommendation of my sister, who had been there on her honeymoon when she still lived in Los Angeles. From the moment I drove past the entrance gate, my mouth hung open in wonder and awe. It was raining when I got on the trail, but the forest was so mossy and overgrown that the raindrops settled as mist in the air rather than falling on my head. Ferns and gullies and babbling brooks and tinkling sounds and every shade of green imaginable overwhelmed my senses. I was sure I had walked into a magical land straight out of the deleted scenes from The Dark Crystal. I was 100% sure that gnomes and/or fairies lived in these woods and were looking at me right then and there from the safety of their tiny houses in empty logs.
So of course I had to go back. This time, I think we chose a different trail, or maybe because of the time of year it wasn’t as lush… I didn’t recognize it as the same place I had been to years before. It didn’t really matter, though. It was wondrous all the same.
When we emerged from the woods, we drove just south of the park to Cannon Beach, site of the famous Haystack Rock. It was freezing, but Mabel threw off her coat and shoes and frolicked anyway.
It was hard to leave her to go off on my road trip… but I did.
Coming up next, Crater Lake and Smith Rock State Park, plus Pendleton (which I visited on the way back from Idaho – but I am throwing chronological accuracy to the wind for the sake of thematic cohesion).