Archive | August 2011

Terror on the Bear Camp Road!

The third full day of our short vacation, we made a reservation for a hotel on the beach in Gold Beach, Oregon.  This is further down the Oregon Coast than Jon or I had ever been, so it was a chance to see something new.  But first we had to get there from Medford.  Who knew what an ordeal that would be.

I knew the road that went directly from Medford to Gold Beach was a smaller road – not a highway.  Even some of the highways are really more like country roads.  But given that the GPS had gotten us lost the day before, I double checked the directions the GPS gave us with Expedia directions.  And I talked to the hotel clerk too.  She said, “It’s a small road, but it’s not a bad road.  It is paved the whole way.”  MMMM… HMMM….

So off we went on our way to Gold Beach – we stopped for gas, got some coffee for Jon and set out.  We drove through some scenic countryside and then we got to the road… Bear Camp Road – aka the Coastal Route.  At some point you hit the end of the county road, and end up on the National Forest Service road.  Which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, considering that the roads in the National Forests are Forest Service roads.  And then part of it is a Bureau of Land Management road.  I know nothing about how the BLM maintains its roads…  The one thing that this road had going for it is that there are signs along the side quite frequently marking the Coastal Route.  There are mile posts too – although that isn’t all that helpful when you don’t know which milepost will mark the end of this hell on earth, but we didn’t know that yet…

Bear Camp Road

The Not So Bad Part of Bear Camp Road

So, up we go – and it was paved – and we continued up and up and up.  Basically we were driving straight up a mountain – well really anything but straight.  At first, the road isn’t very narrow and there are other cars and you feel ok about it.  Until you don’t.  Once you get up to the top of the mountain, the road has gradually narrowed down to one lane, with turnouts.  There were hairpin, blind curves, no guard rails and a sheer cliff drop off.  There are logging spurs turning off every so often, and still you have the blind curves.  Every curve is sheer terror, because you don’t know if another car is coming.  Did I mention the cliff and the lack of guard rails?  You are on a tiny one lane road, driving along the edge of a ridge, with nothing but a drop off the side of the road.  Really the scenery is quite beautiful; as you are looking out over miles and miles of forest, it reminded me of some of the hikes that Jon and I have gone on around home.  But the problem is that you are so terrified you can’t take your eyes of the road for a split second to enjoy the view.

Along the Ridge

Along the Ridge – This Photo Doesn’t Do Justice to the Narrowness of the Road, or the Cliff

Side Note:  In the photo above we are driving behind a truck from Wisconsin.  I wondered to myself what they might be thinking of Oregon and the crazy roads!

Jon was driving and I know he was as nervous as I was.  And for me, well this was one of the most terrifying experiences that I have had in my entire life – I’ve never had panic attacks, but on this trip I think I was close!  The entire trip took a little more than three hours.  We were up on the mountain for about two and a half hours of the total trip.  Two and a half hours of white knuckle, afraid to look down, hold your breath around every corner, driving.  The strangest thing was that it really seemed like the Oregonians intend for this to be a regular route.  As I mentioned before, there are milepost markers every mile, and signs every couple of miles marking the Coastal route. There are signs stating the road can be closed in the winter, and isn’t a good route for winter driving.  Hello?  This isn’t a good route for summer driving!  But strangest of all, there are well constructed viewpoint turnouts.  You know the kind that were typically built by the CCC with rock blocks or sandstone?  Yeah those – quite pretty really.  We couldn’t understand why they were built along a Forest Service road or Bureau of Land Management road.

So when we finally got off the mountain and into Gold Beach, our nerves were so frayed that we both needed a drink.  Never mind that it wasn’t yet 2 o’clock.  We went to the Porthole Café for lunch, and we each ordered a beer.  And we split a second one.  The seafood we had there was quite good – I had the sampler platter – but we NEEDED the beer.  We sat there for awhile, just decompressing and savoring the fact that we were still alive!

Jon talked to his mom later that day on the phone and told her about our harrowing journey.  That was when she told us that one of the logging spurs off of Bear Camp Road was where James Kim died.  C’mon, you remember the Kims right? Everybody remembers the Kims.  They were the 30 something couple from San Francisco who were driving on the Thanksgiving weekend in 2006 from Portland to Gold Beach with their two little daughters.  It was night, and a snowstorm was rolling in, and they tried taking Bear Camp Road.  After getting stuck in the snow, they waited for 8 days to be rescued.  Finally resigned to the fact that no one was coming, James Kim tried to hike out, and died of hypothermia. Kati Kim and her children were lucky enough to be rescued, although they were suffering from frostbite, hypothermia and starvation.  That was the road.

So that was our trip to the coast on Bear Camp Road – NEVER AGAIN!  Knowing that our drive took place in the late morning of a perfect sunny summer day, I am absolutely convinced that you would have to be insane to drive on that road in the winter, and even more insane to attempt it in the winter, in the snow, in the dark and with a two wheel drive car.  What happened to the Kims was really a tragedy, but Jon and I have wondered more than once how or why they ever went as far up the road as they did without turning around.  You won’t ever catch us on that road again.  Hopefully readers, if you are ever considering taking the “Coastal Route”, you will skip it and head over at Eugene instead.

More on Gold Beach in the next post, once I get a glass of wine. This post is giving me flashbacks!

Southern Oregon GPS madness… but we can always find the wine…

On day two, we decided that we were going to see the Oregon Caves National Monument. We had seen signs for it on the way down, but neither of us had heard of it before. We got on the road with the GPS and headed out. We drove through the lovely Applegate Valley, enjoying the country roads and the scenery. But we didn’t see any signs directing us to the Oregon Caves. When we were led up the Forest Service Road, we knew the GPS had it wrong. If you are ever trying to find Oregon Caves National Monument, don’t trust the GPS!  So, we decided to give up the quest and go wine tasting. We had passed through the lovely historic town of Jacksonville, OR, and decided we would head back there at some point during the day.

So we changed the plan and headed out to Troon Vineyards. Troon is a fairly large winery with some of the oldest plantings in the state, dating back to the 1970s. You drive past vines on the way in the door, and I thought the building looked like some of the places we saw in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. When we got inside we were served by a younger guy named Jimmy – it was quite refreshing in that he actually told us his name and introduced himself with a handshake. He led us through a tasting which included their Dry Riesling and the Druid’s Fluid white, which is a blend of Riesling, Moscato (that gives it more sweetness) and something else that I can’t remember. After sampling the whites, we tried the reds, including their bestseller, the Druid’s Fluid Red, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Zinfandel. The story behind the Druid’s Fluid red is that it started out as a mistake. After growing and blending the grapes one year, the owner and winemaker Dick Troon, was not happy with the way the wine turned out. He bottled it and gave it away to friends and family, who proceeded to tell him that they enjoyed the wine – it was a bit sweeter than other reds. He took their advice and began to produce this wine on purpose – it is now their top seller. As for Jon and me, we liked it but didn’t love it. Jon really enjoyed their Cabernet and bought a couple of bottles to bring home. We asked Jimmy for his recommendations for wineries in the area and ended up going down the road a little way to Schmidt Family Vineyard.

Schmidt Family Vineyard

Schmidt Family Vineyard

Let me just say that Schmidt Family Vineyards is an amazing setup.  The winery and tasting room is huge, built to look like a Mountain Lodge, with exposed wood beams and a huge wall of glass in the front.  The landscaping is phenomenal, and there is a beautiful stone patio with tables to enjoy wine and appetizers.  Or you can head across the lawn to sit in one of the Adirondack chairs and gaze at the pond, stocked with fish!  I had been excited to go there because I had read in the wine guidebook, that they produce an Albariño, which is a relatively rare wine in these parts.  But unfortunately the wine was so-so, and the Albariño was nowhere to be found.  Our server was efficient and polite, but wasn’t very talkative and didn’t explain the wine at all – it felt rather impersonal.  After our tasting, there was nothing that I was even tempted to buy.  Jon enjoyed the Soulea, which was a fairly syrupy Syrah blend, but at $34 a bottle, it certainly wasn’t worth the price.  After our tasting, we picked the best ones (I went with the Sauvignon Blanc and Jon chose the Soulea) and purchased a glass of each to sit out in the chairs.  It was a great mid-afternoon break on a lovely sunny day with a nice breeze to counter the heat.


Adirondack Chairs at Schmidt Family Vineyard

Adirondack Chairs at Schmidt Family Vineyard

After leaving Schmidt Family Vineyards, we headed back into Jacksonville to hang out. Jacksonville, Oregon is a historical town outside of Medford. Gold was found there in 1851 and 1852, establishing Jacksonville as the principal financial center for Southern Oregon at the time. It was the county seat until 1927. Once the gold dried up, the town did too, and as a result, progress bypassed Jacksonville and a large number of the commercial and residential buildings were left intact. Lucky for us, because the result is a pleasant trip into yesterday, of a nature that is rarely available on the West Coast. We wandered around and did a little shopping – we got some wine from a wine shop who had a large selection of Washington wines, and I got a cute pair of Ocean Jasper earrings! We visited a tasting room that was completely empty – we looked around for an employee and waited for a few minutes, but saw no one. We did try one more time when we came back to the car and she was there the second time. We did a tasting of River’s Edge and Bradley wineries, comparing and contrasting their Pinot Noir from two different vintages. Oddly, we asked for a tasting of the entire lineup, but she skipped two of the three white wines. But perhaps that is a blessing in disguise, as the first white we tried was awful! The Pinots fortunately, were very good, and very reasonably priced. We purchased a bottle of the Bradley 2008 Pinot Noir. Actually, thinking back, I believe that those were the only Pinots that we were served in a tasting room the whole weekend. Our goal of sampling Pinots and comparing the Southern Oregon wines to the Pinots from the Willamette Valley came up short. But Jacksonville over-delivered, with both Jon and I talking about staying for a night or two next time we are in the area.

Jacksonville Inn in Jacksonville, Oregon

Jacksonville Inn in Jacksonville, Oregon

After visiting Jacksonville, we headed back to the hotel, had a nice quiet dinner and had  swim in the pool.  It topped off another fantastic day!

Crater Lake Beauty and Some Sneezing Too

Once we got to Medford, we had a restful first night and woke up just before 8.  Jon had big plans to take a run in the morning, but he abandoned that idea when it came time to get up early.  To be honest, I’m pretty glad that he decided to relax – he doesn’t do enough of it.  We got up, had some breakfast, and headed out to Crater Lake.  Most of our family and friends have been to Crater Lake, but they have neglected to take me or Jon with them, so it was a first visit for both of us.

After a couple of hours of driving up into the National Forest, along the Rogue River, we made it there.  We did stop along the way at a Rogue River Viewpoint and hiked a little way up the path.  The signs explained that the river is a frigid 44 degrees at this elevation.  Not really water I would be excited to jump into, to be honest.  But the river is beautiful.  After 15 minutes watching the river, we continued the last little way to Crater Lake.

The Rogue River

The Rogue River

WOW – we were not disappointed.  When standing on the rim of the crater, you look down more than 1000 feet to the lake.  The tour boats below look like little bugs on the water.  And everything they say about the pristine cobalt blue color is absolutely true.  The water is the most amazing blue.  The depth of the lake and the clarity of the water make it so all the other colors in the spectrum are lost in the depth of the lake, and only the blue and purple hues are reflected back.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

We looked at the lake from all angles.  We sat on the wall looking down and enjoying the serenity.  Even though there are dozens of people around you, it still feels very peaceful.  We also visited the lodge which was built back in 1915.  It is still operating today, after extensive renovations in the 1990’s.  One day we would like to stay there for a night, but it was booked for the entire summer long before we decided to take this trip.

The unfortunate part of the trip to Crater Lake was that Jon was violently allergic to something that day.  He started sneezing early in the day, and his sneezing kept up even after he took multiple doses of allergy/cold medication.  I felt really bad for him, because I know how drowsy I get when I take those meds.  He was a trooper, and didn’t complain at all, but I could tell it was really getting to him.

On our way back to town, we stopped at our first winery of the trip.  It was an impulse stop, a winery called Agate Ridge that we had never heard of before.  The tasting room manager, Sharryl, served us, and she was welcoming and friendly.  We tasted through 7 wines, starting with a Semillion/Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, a white blend called Weeknight White, Primitivo, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wines were excellent, with the exception of the Viognier, which I didn’t like.  The Cabernet Sauvignon pleased Jon without being overly oaked, so I could enjoy it too.

Agate Ridge Vineyard Tasting Room

Sharryl recommended that we visit a tasting room in Central Point, Oregon that houses Daisy Creek Vineyard and Madrone Mountain Vineyard.  We were served by Don Mixon, the owner and winemaker for Madrone Mountain.  Daisy Creek wines were hit or miss, with some being outstanding, and others being ho-hum.  I really liked their Rose, and bought a bottle.  The reds were decent, but nothing to write home about.

Madrone Mountain Vineyard focuses on Dessert wines.  They had a Riesling and two Cab based Port-style reds out that day.  Apparently when they were first starting out, they had Joe Dobbes from Dobbes Family Estate make the wines for them (the reds we tasted were still from the Joe Dobbes winemaking days, so I’ll be curious to visit again and see how the owner has done).  Since they have learned more about the art of wine production, they have taken over the winemaking.  The wines were very good (the other couples in the tasting room raved about the Riesling).  What surprised me most is that Jon liked the Port-style reds so much.  He couldn’t get enough, so we came home with a bottle of each, the Mundo Novo and the 2004 Vintage (Don explained that he hadn’t yet come up with the cool name yet in 2004).

We ended our day with a visit to RoxyAnn Winery, a large winery located just outside of Medford.  We went on our way back to our hotel.  On our Friday evening visit, the winery was packed!  They were hosting a small farmer’s market, and there was an upcoming concert on the back lawn.  There were so many people there, it felt very impersonal.  Our server was very good, keeping track of where we were even though she was serving about 15 other people, but it was elbow to elbow, and so loud and busy you couldn’t ask any questions.  Again, we thought the wines we decent, but not out of this world.  The exception was the Claret, a red blend that is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Combine the crazy atmosphere with Jon’s horrible allergy attack, and we didn’t spend much time there.

We got some dinner and headed back to the hotel, to enjoy some wine and have a nice relaxing swim in the pool.  A great end to a fantastic day.

Down South – Del Rio Vineyards Pinot Noir

For our first vacation in many moons, Jon and I headed down to southern Oregon to visit Crater Lake and the Rogue River Valley.  Our first day was a long, long drive.  It was made even longer by Jon’s periodic outbursts about the traffic.  UGH.

So, by the time we got down to Medford and checked into the Medford Red Lion, I was completely pooped and ready for a glass of wine.  We went to Safeway and decided to try out a local Pinot Noir, the Del Rio Vineyards 2009 vintage.  The nose is very mild, and doesn’t have much of what I think is the typical Pinot Noir pickle smell.  The taste is very light, with a soft light mouthfeel as well.  I find the taste to be like ripe blackberry, with a hint of Bing cherry.  There was none of the tartness that Pinot Noirs usually have.  Jon says it is more of a French style Pinot.  When we do more tasting in this region, I’ll find out if this is a regional distinction, or just this particular wine.

We both really enjoyed this wine, will certainly get it again.  Jon says, and I quote, “it was delicious… I slurped my tongue on it.”  He said this in a robot voice, by the way.  I’m not sure what that means, but what’s new?