Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Half Way to Hood River

Labor Day weekend we traveled to Hood River, OR to meet up with very good friends who moved this summer from southern California to Everett, WA. In previous years we've been able to meet up once or twice for a Harley weekend. Mike is still 'off' the bike and if my backside had an opinion, I'm certain it would agree this was a much better deal! And best of all Hood River is exactly 4-1/2 hours between the middle of our two homes.

Saturday morning we ventured off for the Mt. Hood Fruit Loop. If you've never been and are within driving range, it's a great trip and only a 35 mile scenic drive on Hwy 35. Orchards, nuts, vineyards, bakeries, Country Stores, lavender farms and a couple of alpaca ranches. There are actually published maps showing the designated places that encourage visitors. I went through the list earlier to determine which were most appealing. Several of the orchards were out of season, a couple were 'you pick', and a couple required appointments.

We picked this one because I gave the guys a choice and it was first on the list - how practical - because that's how these two roll. The view was specatular with a glimpse of Mt. Adams in the background. The wine was good even at 11 o'clock in the morning. Wine tasting was $5/person or free if you made a purchase. Mike and I like our "I've been there" wine glasses so we had to buy our logo glasses in addition to a bottle of the local wine.

Our next stop was the Apple Valley Country Store, where they were celebrating Labor Day weekend with an outdoor BBQ and live music. I'm not a big pork eating person, much to Mike's chagrin. He shakes his head when I tell him it 'tastes too porky'. I knew I was going to have a pulled pork sandwich as soon as we walked towards the smoker and my mouth started watering. The meat was smoked with cherry (it was an orchard after all) wood. Our overflowing, large pulled pork sandwich came with a fresh pear cole slaw and a side of delicious apple cider baked beans. YUM. Mike was thrilled with the music as our left-handed guitar player knew many Willie Nelson songs from back then. Our little foursome conceeded the only thing that would have made it better would have been an ice cold beer.

Inside the store we were treated to a large variety of jams and jellies made from the fruit of the apple and pear orchards that surrounded us. My favorite was the raspberry habanero jelly! Fresh-baked, homemade pies were for sale and literally going like hot-cakes. There was a small counter with Tillamook ice cream for the well-behaved as well as a creative selection of crafts for sale.

My favorite stop of the day was the Cascade Alpaca Ranch or more precisely the Foothills Yard and Fiber store found ON the ranch. This is an amazing set up. The owners Tom & Connie, and their alpacas, were filmed for an American Express commercial and the ranch was visited by Jane Pauley in April. My personal ambition is to one day have some acreage and a few alpacas. Originally my kids knew it was going to be "Mama's Llamas" but research has drawn me to the alpacas breed instead. Besides they are just too dang cute - and a much nicer creature. If you are looking for a new watch dog get a llama - very protective.

 Our visit turned into a very informative alpaca update as well as a lesson from the owner as he shared his personal 'therapy' session - spinning the alpaca fur into threads and winding them on bobbins. The yarn feels as soft as silk. It's a haven for those of us who have a Touch Sensory Obsession!

My shopping mission was successful (and then some) and I'm excited to say I have a Christmas gift purchased.

The Ranch has 68 head of Alpaca and the combined group eat only 2 bales of hay a day. The owners offer small dixie cups of feed for the kids to purchase for a quarter, only one per family, as the animals are nibblers. There is a small petting area where the snack ready younger alpacas come to check out the little hands holding the treats. The adorable dog Charlie looks like a giant marshmallow and just follows folks around waiting for someone to notice.

We had a wonderful southern view of Washington's Mt. Adams across the Columbia River gorge when we stopped at Packer Orchard and Bakery. While I'm proud to be a Wisconsin Cheese head and have a birth right as a Green Bay Packer fan, the name of this stop was pure coincidence... it was... honest!

The Packer Bakery offered up delicious LARGE cookies - 5 for $5 or $1.25. My favorite combination was the dried cherry and white chocolate. The orchards surrounding this stop were pears and a large variety were for sale. They offered you a second ice cream temptation and fruit empanadas as well. We sat under the covered patio enjoying our treats.

It was only fair, if I got to go to a yarn store, the guys should get to have a testosterone moment. I found information for the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum located near the Fruit Loop in Hood River. This was a no brainer for our group - all four Navy veterans, Mike and Michael both aviation careers. I won't discuss the usage of GPS to find the address as the guys were leading the way and it might hurt their feelings. In their defense they did stop a young man for directions and he pointed out our turn was just up the road (right past the sign with the same directions...).

There was a $10 veterans admission fee to see the very well restored planes and cars as well as firetrucks, tractors, motorcycles and military vehicles. It's a guy place. Linda and I found a nice corner with tables and chairs (and a child's play area on miniatures) and visited while the guys checked it out. It was actually a surprising, (little) museum nestled next to a small airport with a great view of the area.

The view from the north side of the Museum was Mt. Hood. We were so blessed with good weather all weekend. We've driven back and forth along this stretch of the gorge so many times and never stopped. We've had pouring rains and bitter cold winds. This weekend were were blessed with clear skies, mild temperatures and sunshine!

As our day wound down, we ventured back into Hood River and stopped at the Full Sail Brewing Company, home of Henry Weinhardts beer. We missed the hourly afternoon tours and waited only ten minutes for a cozy little spot on the patio. Finally, we indulged in a few ice cold microbrews, to.die.for.Buffalo wings and delish artichoke dip while contemplating AND solving the problems of the world and watching the brave souls in the Columbia River parasailing!

Sunday morning we enjoyed our coffee and free-with-the-room breakfast at our hotel in The Dalles. We ended up staying at a comfy chain hotel that offered Michael & Linda the ability to bring their dog. It was only 20 miles from the Hood River area and worked out very well for our weekend plans. We found a delicious menu at Casa Del Mirador in The Dalles for dinner - TWICE! :-)

After checking out we followed the suggestion of the hotel staff and went to the west end of The Dalles to visit the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center. Mike has a passion for all things Lewis and Clark as well as the Pacific Northwest Indians. He reads books based on their travels and shares stories about their encounters when we follow their route on our many trips throughout the Pacific Northwest. He was excited to see the Center we've driven by TWICE every trip between Boise and Portland.

The admission fee was reasonable - we were offered Mike's senior discount plus our veteran discount. The view along the river was beautiful and there is a nice scenic walk way on the grounds. Though we didn't see any raptors during our visit, they boast of their presence and offer Raptor talks.

I imagined the Discovery Center to be a great spot for school field trips when the class is studying Lewis and Clark, or Oregon State History. It has much to offer for all ages in addition to the Lewis and Clark details, including an ice-age mammoth and tales of the early missionaries of Wasco County.

We've actually seen mountain goats like this one on our drive along Hwy 84 - usually in the area of milepost 122. The Dalles covers 4-5 miles around milepost 79 and the exit to the Fruit Loop in Hood River was milepost 64.

One last look at the Columbia River. The sky was so clear and blue. The sun warmed our souls as we wound up our weekend spent with dear friends. One thing we learned - there are lots more places in the area to see - and so many other "half way" places we can meet to explore. We are already planning the next trip!

1 comment:

Trana Family said...

I love how you write!!!! I swear you could write something on how warm and inviting a sweater is that would make me want to buy it!