Last month we took our first *real* family vacation. Our trips up until this point consisted of camping weekends and journeys east to visit family in the Midwest. I decided it was high time we went somewhere that didn’t involve sleeping on the floor at my sister-in-law’s or worrying about whether my kids were extorting too much candy from Grandma.
We settled on Oregon. It’s close, yet far and different enough from Idaho to be “exotic”. I wanted the kids to see the ocean. Hubby wanted to save money by camping. So we traveled the fabled Columbia River route, traveled by scions such as Lewis & Clark and the Oregon Trail pioneers. Here are some highlights:
EBR-1: Atomic City, Idaho
En route to Oregon, we stopped at the very first nuclear reactor that has since been decommissioned and turned into a museum. (Don’t worry, the radiation levels remaining in the building are so low to as not be considered unhealthy for visitors) It was in operation from 1951 to 1964 and is left largely the same as it was when they moved to a new facility. They make it fun for the kids to learn about nuclear energy (and what Daddy’s work is all about).
The kiddos had fun pretending operate the reactor in the control room, walking on the cell where the nuclear reactor used to be, and seeing how “hot” (radioactive) material was handled with robotic arms through an insulated cell.
Probably the most memorable was seeing a pair of young owlings sitting on the abandoned fighter jet reactor in the parking lot. They were very still, just looking at us. I don’t think I have ever seen an owl that close before.
Farewell Bend, Oregon
Just across the border into Oregon is Farewell Bend State Park. It is a really pretty location, on the banks of the Snake River. It is known for being the point where the Oregon Trail pioneers said “farewell” to the Snake River (which winds north from here) as their continued their journey west. You can still see the wagon tracks in the nearby hills.
National Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Baker City, Oregon
I probably date myself a little, but remember that old floppy disk computer game, Oregon Trail? I loved that game. Well, this museum is where you learn the reality of what the game was based upon. They do a good job of helping to re-create the hardships and decisions those emigrants went through to reach the “Eden” of western Oregon. I left the Center
feeling knowing I wouldn’t have had what it took to survive and thrive on the nineteenth century Oregon Trail. Especially since we had only been camping one night and I was already wishing we were staying in hotels!
Bonneville Lock & Dam on the Columbia River
I had wanted to see the Bonneville Dam ever since learning about it in a college history course. It was initially a New-Deal project that created thousands of jobs. Now it powers thousands of homes through hydroelectricity. We were able to tour a powerhouse to learn how it all works, which was cool, but the highlight for Hubby and the kids was the fish ladder. You are able to view it from above and also from below (through windows) to see how the Pacific salmon and other fish are able to navigate the dam safely to swim upriver.
Old Columbia River Highway and Waterfalls
We took this road, reading that it was “the scenic route”, which was definitely true, but traffic was so awful I am not sure it was worth it! Granted, it was a Sunday and there seemed to be lots of weekend Portland visitors, but the road itself is insanely narrow and we had a larger truck with camper insert as well as a trailer, and it was very nerve-wracking for Hubby. The route is through a gorgeous rain-forest and is dotted with waterfalls every few miles. We wanted to stop and see one of the more famous ones, Multomah Falls, but there was no safe place to park. People were parked down the road for a mile or two and walking on the shoulder while cars on the two lane road were trying to avoid hitting pedestrians as well as fellow motorists. There were NO RVs and there is no way we could have found a place to park with our small trailer. So we just kept driving. At one point we were stopped for at least half an hour because pedestrians kept crossing at a crosswalk with no break. Bottom line: it was pretty, but if we did it again it would be on a weekday morning and we would leave the trailer at the hotel.
Willamette Valley west of Portland
The highway we took to the coast was littered with fruit stands and pick-your-own flower gardens. The fertile Willamette valley was where those Oregon Trail pioneers were headed. There is a long growing season and rich soil. We stopped at a cut-your-own flower farm and the kids all helped pick the flowers of their choice. We wound up with a lovely bouquet that became our “camp flowers” throughout the rest of the trip. We stuck them in a gallon water bottle and proudly put them on our picnic table at each camping site. We felt so fancy. Next time Hubby and I will get a babysitter and check out some of the Willamette valley wineries. Not as well-known as Napa or Sonoma (but just as good) the area has hundreds of small vineyards.
Well, that was the first half of the trip….I will separate this post into two to avoid the length of a short novel! Stay tuned for more adventures in Oregon!