PORTLAND, ORE. — In what began as a vague desire to place a pin on a blank area of the map, my wife, Melissa, and I along with two good friends, John and Amie Stagg, traveled this summer to Oregon.
We were in search of two things missing at home: Quiet and temperatures than did not remind you of sub-Saharan Africa. We found both, and, in between, a sun-baked moment of sheer terror.
Upon arriving, we ate Thai in Portland’s trendy downtown. While not there long enough to give an earnest review, I can say if you like craft beer, you can drink your way through Portland.
The weather was perfect, sunny and in the high 60s. Over the four days to follow, the high temperature reached 72 degrees.
Our destination was Seal Rock, south of Newport.
Leaving Portland, you cannot help but gaze on the snow-capped pomposity of Mount Hood. At over 11,000 feet, the mountain dominates the eastern horizon and is so beautiful you feel sad for its ugly and marred, but more interesting, neighbor to the north, Mount St. Helens. The volume of mountain lost in its infamous 1980 eruption is visually staggering.
Newport is mildly charming with shops and restaurants on the waterfront, but the 180-degree view of the Pacific from our elevated home, rented through the website Vacation Rental By Owner, was inspiring. We sighted our first gray whale within minutes. Hundreds of whale, sea lion and seal sightings followed over the days to come.
The best spot for whale watching was Depoe Bay, a deep-water port to the north.
On day two, the better halves spent an enjoyable morning at the Overleaf Lodge and Spa in Yachats (overleaflodge.com), while the guys took to choppy seas with a fount of local knowledge, Captain Greg Niles (alldepthcharters.com). But, first, we set out multiple crab pots. We caught salmon but catching our limit of Dungeness crabs was the singular highlight of the trip. We took our catch to South Beach Fish Market (southbeachfishmarket.com), a local “dive” with a loyal and well-deserved following. For under $10, we had our basketball-sized crabs steamed, salted and ready — deep orange and seashell white perfection.
We spent the rest of our time slowly touring state parks which dot the coast, a number of lighthouses and the nation’s largest sea cave. We even toured the sedate and strangely amusing Tillamook Cheese Factory (tillamook.com) — not my call, but as good a grilled cheese sandwich as can be imagined. In Oregon, Tillamook is more a cheese cult than anything else.
We also ventured south of Seal Rock to an area where the mountains amble inland to host the largest coastal sand dunes in North America. We rented a quad (four wheeler) and spent two hours in the dunes (torexatvrentals.com).
To be more precise, our wives spent 20 minutes in the dunes until they shrewdly demanded a return to the parking lot and the car keys. With suppressed trepidation, we sped back to climb and descend inland dunes of intimidating proportions. The dunes are other-worldly with dry, white sand, hidden drifts and dozens of other riders you hope and pray are not speeding up the other side as you blindly ascend the peak. When our quad stalled out 98.7 percent of the way up the steep face of a dune approaching 200 feet, it was time to go. Moment of terror over and alive, we departed the dunes and took our time as we worked our way back to Seal Rock.
We took our time in Oregon and that may have been the best part.